Friday, February 20, 2009

Ski waxing, part 2: how

A while ago, I posted about the rationale behind waxing skis with a promise I’d follow up with a how-to. But first I needed to organize my garage to the point I could actually access my workbench and be in need of applying wax to skis.

The urgency to write this post increased yesterday while I was skiing Superior, since I hit some rocks pretty hard in the chute and put a nice core shot in each ski. So instead of just talking about waxing skis, we’re going to get into some minor base and edge repair as well. If your bases or edges aren’t damaged, and your skis are just dry and in need of some wax, skip ahead.

First of all, I’m not expert on base repair. I consulted this and this as well as the experts at Teton Gravity before embarking just to make sure I was doing it right.

When a gouge goes all the way to the core of the ski or is along the metal edge (or in my case, both), you can’t just put some P-tex on it and expect it to stick, as P-tex won’t adhere to the core or the edge. So you need to either put some epoxy or copolymer in the gouge first to give the P-tex something to stick to. I used epoxy, since that’s what I had readily available. Before applying the epoxy or doing any other work, make sure everything is clean and there’s no dirt or moisture in there or rust on the edge.

With the epoxy in place, I next melted some P-tex into the gouge to fill the hole. I did not use the P-tex candles, as these are softer material and not as durable. I used the harder P-tex string and melted it in with a soldering iron. (Be careful if using a soldering iron, as they will get much hotter than you need them. I would heat mine up, turn it off, and use it until it was too cool to work with, then repeat.)

This works better if you heat the surrounding base first, as the P-tex will bond better to the warm surface. Don’t expect it to be pretty, just get the P-tex in there with enough to overfill the holes. You’ll level it later.

Using a combination of a versaplane, sandpaper, and a metal scraper, remove the excess base material until you have a nice, flat base.

Once the base repair is done, you can move on to the edges. I don’t do a lot of edge work—I just deburr the rough spots and make one or two passes with a flat file. I’ll take my skis in for a stonegrind as needed, as the professional machines just do a much better job than I can at home.

For deburring rough spots, you’ll need a diamond file. Regular files aren’t hard enough. Just file the rough spots until they’re reasonably smooth.

Once I’m finished deburring and making a couple of passes with the flat file, I’ll go over the base one more time with the metal scraper to level any high spots or irregularities. This step is important not so much to make your skis glide better, but because it helps ensure your edges will engage on hard snow.

With the edges and bases finished, I’m ready to start waxing. If you’re not doing any edge or base work, this is where you would begin the process.

First, clean the bases thoroughly to remove old wax and any dirt or other buildup. Metal scraping from the previous step does the rough work. You can then apply base cleaner or citrus degreaser and wipe the bases down with a clean rag.

Melt some wax onto the base using a specialty waxing iron if you’ve got deep pockets, or an old $3 thrift store iron if you’re a dirtbag like me. If you use a regular iron, keep the temperature low (between 1 and 2 on this one). The iron should be just hot enough to melt the wax on contact, but if the wax is smoking at all, it’s too hot.

One slow pass down the middle should be plenty.

Next, take your iron and iron the wax into the base. Again, make sure the iron isn’t too hot or you can bubble the base, which is a pain to repair. You’ll want to make enough passes with the iron to spread the wax evenly from edge to edge and to warm the skis sufficiently that they’re warm (but not hot) to the touch on the other side. Warming the bases like this opens the pores and allows the wax to be absorbed.

With a plastic scraper, remove the excess wax from the surface of the ski until you’re left with a nice, flat surface. Doesn’t need to be super smooth, as that gets taken care of in the next steps. Incidentally, I only apply wax to the running surface of the skis, as you don’t really need it on the tips, and they’re a pain to scrape.

After scraping, brush the bases with a stiff horsehair brush. This will smooth the surface and expose the base structure, as I mentioned in the “why” post. Incidentally, there are various brushes available, each for various stages and layers of wax, but unless you’re a Nordic skier or a racer, universal wax and a horsehair brush will probably be adequate.

At this point, you could be done if you wanted to be. In fact, you could be done after scraping or even waxing if you want. But I like to go over the bases a couple times with a soft abrasive pad (similar to a scotch-brite, but without the cleaning agents). You can get these for cheap at good ski shops. This will give your bases a nice, smooth, consistent finish.

I wipe everything down with a clean rag just to get the wax flakes off and finish with a nice, clean ski.

As you can see in the photo above, I don’t have a specialty ski bench or vises. I just bolted some 2x4 extensions onto the sides of my garage workbench and covered the tops with some silicone so it would grip the skis when I’m scraping. I then made a “T” with a 2x4 and a 4x4, applied silicone to the top of the 4x4, and then clamp that to the front of the workbench to support the middle of the ski. Much cheaper than a specialty bench and allows full non-ski-tuning use of my existing bench. The extensions are also great for hanging tubes, tires, or chains from when I’m working on bikes during the warmer months.

The last step is to test your skis, preferably on a nice powdery slope with some good friends. Here’s a few shots from this morning in Days Fork, accessed from the Big Cottonwood side. Erik joined us today for his first ever backcountry tour. I keep waiting for someone to come out with us who’s NOT a better skier than I am.

From the top, here I am with the North Face of Superior in the background. You probably can’t make out the ski lines on the face behind me. But there were a bunch. The very first one was mine.


Erik (making it look easy on borrowed gear):



  1. "For deburring rough spots, you’ll need a diamond file"

    i just use kim's ring. she never notices.

  2. "I keep waiting for someone to come out with us who’s NOT a better skier than I am."

    I ought to be joining you soon enough.

    Indecently, the word verification thingy for my comment was "hormate". Which really ought to be a real word.

  3. I meant to say incidentally, not indecently. The spell check foiled me again.

  4. GA,

    "Indecently" was far and away more funny.

  5. Thanks for Part 2... This will definitely come in handy.

    Nice looking red rag, btw. The gift that keeps on giving.

  6. Psycho Rider,

    One of the most useful gifts I've every received. That bag of rags seems to be magic in that it never runs out.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Actually, Josh, I got so sick of P-tex and wax stains on my shirts when I'd come to visit that I bought her a new one for her birthday last year.

    That being said, I'm pretty sure the one she was using until I replaced it was the one I used to wax my skis when I was in high school.

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