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Waxing Basics

The three things you need to know about waxing.

  1.     You need to have good bases.
  2.     You need to know your waxing iron.
  3.     The waxing process itself.


1. Good Bases
In order to wax your skis, you need to have good base prep. Most skis have really rough bases with lots of microscopic P-Tex hairs that really slow you down. Likewise, a too-hot iron (see Item #2) will seal over the P-Tex bases, not allowing any wax to soak into the ski. If your bases have a dry, white powdery look to them after just one day of skiing, you probably have sealed bases.

What fixes sealed or rough bases? Elbow grease. There are many great articles on this subject, one at the Star Wax website and another at Toko Wax. Basically, you use sandpaper to take off the top thin layer of P-Tex, once again opening up the pores. Then you scrape the ski to shave off as many of those tiny hairs you just create when you sanded it.

If you live in California you want to use a coarse sandpaper, because while you are opening up the bases, you are also creating some structure. Perfect flat, smooth skis create a suction on the snow so some sort of linear texture is useful to break up this suction. So opening up the pores, creating some structure and eliminating the P-Tex hairies is the goal. Luckily this usually only has to be done once (unless you are racing) provided you don’t use a overheated iron to seal the base pores back up again…

2. A good iron.

The more I play with waxing skis the more I see the important of a good iron. It’s okay to use an iron you found at a garage sale for $2, but be careful! You need to calibrate the iron and the dial probably isn’t even close to the real temperature.

Here’s the problem — you need a iron hot enough to melt the wax and warm the base, but you don’t want it too hot to melt your bases and seal the pores. P-Tex melts at around 275° F (135° C) and the ideal temperature for bases to absorb wax is around 230°-250°F (110°-120° C.)  That’s a rather slim margin of safety between good wax absorption and sealing up the bases.

When you take a household iron and apply it to the ski base, the base “sucks” the heat out of the iron, the temperature drops and all of sudden it seems like it’s not doing a very good job — so naturally, you turn it up. The trouble is, household irons have such a wide temperature range that it has to drop a long way before it clicks on and starts to warm the iron.

The least expensive way to check a cheap iron is to buy a dial thermometer (Tognar Toolworks has them for about $10.) You let the iron warm up, put the thermometer on it and watch while the iron cycles through it’s temperature range. There’s nothing wrong with using a cheap iron for waxing, but you better be sure it’s not so hot it seals up your bases or you have a lot of work ahead of you.

3. The waxing process itself.

Okay, so you took some time to completely rehab your bases (the job’s about half-a-six-pack of root-beer,) you got a thermometer for your iron and watched it go up and down a dozen times, and you’re sure your iron is now properly set for the job.

Now what? 
I assume you have some glide wax. For California you can probably get away with only one glide wax, our temperatures are so consistent. I personally use Swix CH-10 or LF-10 for all my skis. CH-10 is a hydrocarbon wax, is inexpensive (a 60 gram tub is about $10) and should last you about one season. By the way, the LF stands for lo fluoro and has better water repelling properties, a wider temperature range and makes your skis go faster. By comparison, a 60 gram tub sells for about $25. There are many brands of wax — Toko, Star, Swix, Dominator, etc. — just pick one and stick with it.

So you’ve got the wax, the iron is hot and you’re ready to rumble. It’s helpful to put a couple strips of masking tape across the base at the start of the waxless or waxable section. Hold the wax to the iron and drip some “dots” on the tips and tails. Once you get some wax on, start heating the wax into the base.

The secret here is to get the entire ski base up to temperature so the wax can really soak down into the base, but not so hot you seal the bases over. If you bought that thermometer like I told you, you wouldn’t be worrying about this right now. If in doubt, trade time for danger and slowly warm up the base with a cooler iron.

Once you get the base nice and warm and you have lots of wax soaked into the base, let them cool awhile until the wax has hardened, but is still warm and soft. Then take your plastic scraper (again, Tognar Toolworks makes their living from selling only ski tools and waxes) and scrape off the excess wax, going from tip to tail. The bases are harder than the scraper and the scraper is harder than the wax, so go get ’em.

Once you get all the wax scraped off, take a 3M Scotchbrite (fibertex) pad (you know, those green and yellow sponges) and use the green side to burnish the ski. Then consider applying more wax and scraping it again. New bases should be done at least three times. The big secret is every time repeat this process you are making your skis faster. The theory is you are scraping and fibertexing off more of those tiny polyethylene hairs with each waxing.

After you are done waxing, scraping and fibertexing, take a nylon brush (buy a cheap one and work your way up to an expensive Swix brush) and brush the heck out of the base. The idea is to get any wax out of the structure. You need the proper wax to “balance” against any snow condition, but you don’t want the wax to interfere with the structure of the base. Brush, brush, brush.
After you go through the entire process of prepping your bases, calibrating your iron and waxing your skis, you should only have to wax, scrape and brush when your bases start looking really dirty or dry.

At the end of the season, apply a thick coat of wax and don’t scrape it off. It’s a great way to protect your bases against oxidation over the summer.