Ski and Board Tuning: Do it Yourself or Drop Them at the Shop

If you like nice sharp edges and well waxed boards, and who doesn’t, it may be time to learn how to do it at home.

Tools of the Trade
Not many of us have machine grinders and wax machines in their garage but you shouldn’t let that stop you. You should invest in a cheap tuning kit that basically comes with a metal file, a chunk of cork for rubbing that wax in, a rectangular piece of plastic for trimming excess wax and a wire brush to rub the wax into the pores of the board. Some come with a rectangular piece of metal for removing old wax but you’ll probably never need it because we ski all the wax off or we wouldn’t be doing this ourselves would we? Head to your favorite used thrift store and pick up a used iron and now you’re in business.

The Setup
You’ll need somewhere to lay the skis or board out. If you have a workbench in your garage, that would be great or you could follow my lead and use two stepladders (one for the tips, one for the tail) to place the skis right at the proper height. You’ll need some rags to clean the bottoms of your boards and some newspaper or drop cloths for the ground, unless you don’t mind wax drippings on the floor. Thick rubber bands work great to pull back and secure the brakes on skis. If you don’t have good rubber bands, an old fork jammed between the brake and ski works just as well to keep it out of your way. Just make sure and check with the wife to make sure that’s an OLD fork, or there will be trouble, trust me on this. You’ll also need a boom-box or stereo in your garage as everything goes better with Rock and Roll.

The Edges
Just like there are two sides to every story (I swear that fork looked old) there are two edges to each ski or board: the bottom and the side edge. While the ski is lying flat, bottom up, file the edges by holding the file with both hands and sliding down the ski or board from tip to tail with the file at an angle and not perfectly perpendicular. You should be able to feel the burs as you slide down and can tell when they smooth out. You’re not trying to file the edge away, just smooth it out on both sides. Then flip it up and lean it against the vertical rails of your ladder so you can do the same process to both side edges. This gets tricky when using the ladder and of course works best if you had a workbench with vises. It would really work best if you had a whole ski-tuning shop, but then you wouldn’t be reading this anyway.

The Wax
Clean the boards with your rag and warm up the old iron. I say “old” iron because you will ruin a new one and, just like that fork, the wife will not be happy with you. You want it warm enough to melt the wax but if it starts smoking, it’s too hot. Press the wax bar onto the lower corner of the iron and let her drip. You may want to use pliers to hold the wax; this way you can take it down to the nub. I usually cover the whole ski with dots of wax before spreading it all out. Run the iron over the base that is now covered with wax, never leaving it on one spot for too long. Again, we’re working tip to tail, constantly moving the iron and spreading the wax down towards the tail. There are several wax brands on the market, with Swix being the most popular, though. I have been using Demon Wax lately. You don’t need the high dollar racing waxes unless your name starts with Bode or Lindsay. Waxes come in different colors which correspond to the temperature of the snow you’ll ski. Pretty much go with pink in early season, blue in winter and yellow in spring and you’ll be fine.

The Rub
Now you get to use that plastic rectangular tool that looks like a credit card on steroids. Use this to clean of your edges and remove all the wax you dripped all over the top of your boards. You will get better at this over time but don’t worry about wasting wax; too much is way better than not enough. I bet you’re wondering about the wire brush now. Waxing is about getting the wax into the pores of the ski. It’s not so much covering the board with tons of wax because that will ski off right away anyway. The wire brush, again working tip to tail will help load up those pores with wax. Not too much pressure, just run it down a few times. Then just buff that puppy up with a good rub of the cork to seal it all in and you’re ready to fly.

The Cleanup
Don’t forget this part or The Wife will never let you do this at home again. Hopefully you’re doing it in the garage and not the living room, but if you are in the living room, you’re one lucky man. Let the iron run a bit sitting on a newspaper to run the wax off it. Now you may want to use the credit card on steroids to make sure the tops of your board are clean of clumps. You paid big bucks for those graphics, you don’t want them smudged.

The Payoff
Not only will you be flying down the slopes with less effort, but your edges will bite better than ever. You will find yourself tuning after every 4-5 days of skiing because you have seen the benefits of keeping sharp edges and waxed boards. Once I started keeping my boards tuned, folks started mentioning my name along with Bode and Lindsay. They’d say, boy that guy sure is no Bode Miller; he sure can’t ski as fast as Lindsay. But you get my point, right?

by Michael Ryan