The more I wax skis the more I see the importance 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 thermostat dial probably isn’t even close to the real temperature. If you use a cheap iron, you better know how much heat it’s really putting out. The reason is simple — the NUMBER ONE problem when waxing skis is the iron gets too hot and melts the polyethylene base and effectively seals the base pores over. No pores, no wax gets in, might as well get snowshoes.
When you take a household iron and apply it to the ski base, the cold 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.
Most ski bases start to melt at around 275° F (135° C), but you need to warm your bases up to around 250° F (120° C) to make them really soak the wax up. That’s a rather slim margin of safety between good wax absorption and sealing up the bases. And cheaper irons often have these huge temperature ranges they will travel before the thermostat kicks on. You turn your iron on until the wax melts and start to iron it into the base. Hmmmmm, it doesn’t seem to be working as well — the wax seems more like a warm paste than a liquid. So naturally, you turn it up. The thermostat kicks in, the iron warms up and life appears good. Before you know it, it zooms past 275° F and BOOM, you just sealed your bases. Start over. Think about this — if you wax your skis, do they look whitish, dry and powdery the very next time you use them? Like the wax is already gone? You likely have sealed bases. The last waxing only put the wax on the surface of the ski and it never penetrated into the base.
Unfortunately, good waxing irons cost near $100. The reason? They have a thermostat in them that is constantly asking the question “Am I too hot? Am I too cold?” If you set the iron at 235° F it is not going to fluctuate very far from there.
So what can you do? Sure, you don’t want to spend $100 on a lousy iron, but by now I’ll bet I’ve got you worried. Well, as long as you know what your iron is doing there is no reason you can’t use a cheap one. Or maybe a preset irons for between $25 and $50 that might also meet your needs. The least expensive way to calibrate a cheap iron is to buy a dial thermometer (Tognar Toolworks has them for $10.)
You let the iron warm up, put the thermometer on it and watch it while the iron cycles through it’s temperature range. As long as your iron never heads too far over 250°F you should be able to warm your skis up to the optimum temperature without melting your bases.
Lastly, a word of advice. Don’t use your wife’s iron. No matter how badly your skis need waxing, it just isn’t worth it. Not that I’ve ever done it…