After flames heavily damaged the old Skateland on Summer on a February evening in 2006, the building's owner decided he wouldn't rebuild the aging roller rink. Instead, he pulled up the original maple floor and began selling it to contractors who would use the sturdy wood for, well, flooring.
But Caleb Sweazy had other ideas.
"I drove by the place one day and noticed they had put up signs advertising the floor for sale, and I thought, 'Maybe I can do something with this.' So I went in and looked it over, bought a sheet, and took it home." The result was furniture — end tables, tabletops, bookshelves, and other items handcrafted from the original Skateland floor.
Sweazy, a job superintendent with SAS Construction and also a local singer/songwriter (his latest CD: Goodbye Bonneville ), had constructed furniture for himself years ago, when he was living in California.
"I didn't have any furniture back then and I didn't have any money, and I thought it might be fun to try to build my own. So one day I went to Home Depot and bought a circular saw and some cheap pine and started to make things for my apartment," he says. "I basically learned how to do it by trying. I had a friend who also taught himself to do stuff like that, and he gave me some pointers."
Reusing the roller-rink floors proved something of a challenge. Originally laid down when the rink was erected in 1963, the floor was a jigsaw puzzle of hundreds of three-inch-wide strips of solid maple, securely glued together in a tongue-and-groove joint, and then solidly nailed to a subfloor. The floor was being sold in four-by-eight-foot sheets, still nailed to the heavy subfloor.
"I had to pull the strips off the subfloor, yank all the nails out, and then plane away the tongue-and-groove joint so I could glue the individual strips together evenly," Sweazy says. "It's pretty labor-intensive. Some of it was really nailed down. And you can sit at the joiner [a power tool that shapes straight edges] for 10 minutes just to get one edge right."
The result is a slab of wood with plenty of texture and coloration.
"It's pretty rough. You can see the old scuff marks and toe marks from the skates," he says. "I sand off the old varnish, but I usually leave the old nail holes in the pieces, and even after all the sanding, it still has a nice rustic look, and I like to keep that. If you take all that away, you might as well use new wood."
After the years of varnish and wax are removed, the wood shows a surprising amount of variation. Sweazy sorts through a stack of lumber in the garage that he has converted into a woodshop behind the house in Midtown that he shares with his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Harlow. Picking out several pieces, he shows the "bird's eye" grain patterns and beautiful rippling in the wood that is called "flame" — an ironic term considered what happened to the roller rink.
Sweazy started his Skateland furniture business about a year ago. So far, he has built a couple of end tables that he donated to a charity auction, a vanity, and a sideboard. The top of a small end table being assembled in his shop is composed of almost a dozen pieces of the old flooring, while individual strips form the legs and base. Because of the work involved — there's an awful lot of planing, sanding, gluing, clamping, and more sanding — each piece takes several weeks. Prices begin at $250 for the smaller pieces and "they go up from there."
At the moment, Sweazy is still looking for a way to identify the pieces he makes. He holds up a metal can filled with all the old nails pulled from the flooring, and says, "I'm thinking of melting them down, and then getting somebody to make a tag that I can attach to each piece. That way, the owners will know where it came from."
And maybe, if you put your ear to it, you can hear the swish of roller skates, and the faint music of the "Hokey-Pokey" still resonating from the old wood.
To get your own piece of Skateland, call Caleb Sweazy at 901-359-3246. M