Here at the DollarGuide we are always looking for ways to save money. Because, at the end of the day, we will only have cash left over to invest in securities, real estate or financial products if we can live below our means. To this end, we bring you a complete guide to waxing your own skis or snowboard for all of you mountain sports addicts out there.
Although this guide is intended for alpine skiers and snowboarders, cross country skiers may find some of this information to be of value (especially when it comes to waxing the “glide zones” of cross country skis).
Why wax your own skis or snowboard?
While skiing and snowboarding can be relatively expensive past times, waxing your own equipment can result in substantial cost savings over the long term. Here in Toronto, the cost of waxing a pair of skis varies between about ten to twenty dollars per waxing. For example, a cheap belt wax at Sport Chek currently costs $101
while a hand wax at Skiis and Biikes will cost you $202
. Considering that you will want to wax your equipment several times per season and that you can buy a season’s worth of wax for fifteen to thirty dollars, the savings can quickly add up.
Waxing your own skis or snowboard is also, in a way, more convenient. There is no need to haul your equipment to the ski shop and to return to pick it up at a later date. When you wax your own equipment you can also be assured that the quality of the workmanship will be top notch. Because, after all, no one will care as much about your equipment, in which you have invested so much of your own money, as you do.
How often should you wax your skis or snowboard?
There is much debate in the online world as to how often one should wax his or her equipment. We suggest that, for most recreational skiers and snowboarders, the precise frequency of waxing is not of too much importance. This is because most of the glide provided by the equipment comes from having a well-structured base. In fact, up to 80% of the glide can come from having a well-structured base while only about 20% comes from the wax itself2
In general, waxing every 3 to 4 outings is likely a good frequency if you have the time to do so. If you are too busy, you can probably get away with waxing less often. If you are bored, you can wax after each outing for maximum performance.
If you notice that your base is dry, then it is definitely time to wax. A dry base will appear to have white patches, streaks or hairs on it while a sufficiently waxed base will be either completely dark black or another colour, depending on the colour of your base, upon inspection. Likewise, if you find that you are not gliding as well on flat surfaces as you once did and are having to work hard to traverse flat areas at the ski resort then it is likely a good time to add some more wax to your mountain equipment.
We should also note that it is impossible to wax your base too often. Like a sponge, the p-tex material from which are made modern ski and snowboard bases will continue to absorb wax each time you wax. And if you do manage to somehow saturate your base from excessive waxing, you will not damage it by adding more wax (it will simply stop absorbing wax at that point and you will only be wasting your time and money by waxing further).
Will I damage my equipment if I wax it myself?
The only step in which you can damage your equipment is when you are ironing the wax into the base. It is possible to burn your base when doing this. For this reason, we suggest using a proper waxing iron, following our directions closely and paying particular attention to what you are doing during that process.
You will require:
- 2 rubber bands (if you are waxing skis; this is not required for waxing a snowboard)
- 1 block of glide wax
- 1 electric waxing iron
- 1 plastic scraper
- 1 pad of white Swix fibertex (also known as Scotch brite)
- 1 nylon brush
- 1 horsehair brush
- Some paper towels (or, ideally, Swix fiberlene)
- Drop sheet or newspaper
Selecting a glide wax
- 1 bottle of citrus solvent
There are both temperature range specific glide waxes and all temperature glide waxes available for purchase.
If you are uncertain as to what outdoor temperature you will be encountering out on the trails, then an all temperature wax is a good choice.
If, on the other hand, you are fairly certain as to approximately what outdoor temperature you will be riding in, then a temperature range specific wax is a good choice. These waxes will provide better glide performance at those temperatures than an all temperature wax would. We should note that a range specific wax will still work better outside of its stated temperature range than having no wax at all3
When selecting a glide wax, you must also choose between a hydrocarbon wax and a fluorocarbon wax. Fluorocarbon glide waxes provide more glide than hydrocarbon waxes but are more expensive, hardly make a noticeable difference for recreational use and may be carcinogenic3
. For these reasons we suggest that for most recreational skiers and snowboarders, a hydrocarbon wax is the best choice.
Before you start working on your equipment, we suggest that you wear a breathing mask to avoid breathing in fumes from the melting wax and that the room you are working in be well ventilated. Because wax will stick to any surface that it touches and that it can be difficult to remove, it is also advisable to cover the worktable and surrounding floor with newspaper or a drop sheet. For the same reason, you should also wear old clothes and protect your clothes and shoes with a lab coat or apron.
Preparing your equipment
If you are waxing a pair of skis, the first step is to get the brakes that are attached to the bindings out of the way such that they are not sticking out past the base of the skis. This is necessary to allow unobstructed access to the bases from all directions when working on them. Start by pulling on the brakes to retract them. Then run an elastic band around the arms of the brakes and over the heel piece of the bindings to keep them in this position. You can purchase special bands for this purpose from your ski shop. However, it is more economical to use a pair of regular rubber bands that you already have hanging around the house. Experiment with a few different types of bands until you find a couple of rubber bands that have the right lengths and tension to allow you to maintain the ski brakes in a fully retracted position.
If you are waxing a snowboard, you may find it advantageous to remove your bindings before starting to work on your board. Remember to record the angles of your bindings prior to removing them so that you will remember at what angle to set them when reattaching them later on. If you leave the bindings on, you may find that they will get covered with wax, which will be tedious to remove.
Mounting your skis or snowboard
Because we want unfettered access to the bottom of our skis or snowboard, we need to keep them upside down while working on them. This can be accomplished by laying them, bottom-up, across two blocks of wood that are of the same height. Alternatively, you can use two stacks of old books. Remember to cover your wood or books with newspapers or old cloths if you do not want them to get covered in wax. It is also possible to purchase vices that are specifically designed for holding ski equipment. Although such vices are superior in that they will prevent your equipment from moving back and forth while you are working on it, this purchase is likely not worthwhile unless you will be waxing very often.
Cleaning the base
Before you start waxing your base, you want to make sure that it is clean and properly structured. The purpose of cleaning your base is to remove old wax and contaminants that may be present on the surface just above the base.
We have found this to be the most confusing and controversial step of the entire waxing process. In our research, we found all of the following cleaning techniques suggested by various sources: no cleaning (do nothing), wiping the base with a rag soaked in water, brushing using a brass brush, cleaning with a base cleaner or citrus solvent, brushing with a fibertex/scotch-brite pad and hot-scraping (by applying hot wax and scraping it off immediately after application before it has had a chance to cool). With so many techniques, it is understandably difficult for the novice waxer to choose a method. We hope that our guide will provide some clarity when it comes to choosing the correct set of techniques for this step.
If it has been a long time since you last had your equipment professionally tuned, it may be a good idea to have it re-structured by bringing it to a ski shop before applying wax. For most recreational skiers and snowboarders, this can be done about once a year. Stone grinding is considered to be the best method of structuring p-tex bases. So be sure to find a shop that offers stone grinding, with “stone” being the keyword. Because not all ski shops have stone grinding machines, it may be necessary to shop around and you may find that only the higher end shops offer this particular service.
If it is not yet time to structure the base again, you can proceed straight to cleaning.
If the base is especially dirty with grime, oil, pine tar or other contaminants, you can start by removing these using either a base cleaner or a citrus solvent. Such solvents should be used sparingly because these cleaners will remove all of the residual wax left in your base and, ideally, we would like to leave as much wax in the base itself as possible to avoid excessive dryness. Each time we wax, we are adding to the wax that is held in the “sponge” that is our p-tex base so that the wax can be gradually released from the base as we ski or snowboard. By using a base cleaner or citrus solvent, you will be removing all of the wax from this “sponge” and so you may need to wax multiple times to re-saturate your base with wax. For this reason, some skiers and snowboarders will never use such solvents4
. That being said, we suggest that it is reasonable to resort to this technique on occasion when it is required for removing excessive contamination from the surface of the base. If you do need to use this technique, apply only a splash of base cleaner or citrus solvent to a rag, napkin or Swix fiberlene. Then wipe down the surface of your base with that. Once all of the contaminants have been removed, allow the solvent to completely evaporate. It will take about five minutes for the solvent to do so. Touch the surface of your base to make sure it is dry before proceeding to the waxing step3,4
. No further cleaning steps are required if you choose to use a solvent.
Most of the time, it will not be necessary to clean your base using a solvent. In these cases, start by scraping from tip to tail using a plastic scraper to remove old wax that is on the surface of the base. Continue scraping until no more wax is being removed from the surface4
. You can then wipe off the bits of detached wax that are visibly sitting on top of the base with a napkin, rag or Swix fiberlene. Then brush the entire length of your base from tip to tail using a white Swix fibertex pad3
. These pads are made of silicone carbide and are also sold under the Scotch-brite brand. Brushing with the fibertex pad will remove any remaining contaminants and old wax from the surface of the base. When you are done brushing, you can once again remove any extra bits of detached wax and dirt using a paper towel, rag or Swix fiberlene.
An alternative to the above technique is to “hot scrape” your base. Hot scraping involves applying wax to your base and then immediately scraping it off before it has had a chance to cool down. This technique is considered to offer the most thorough cleaning possible. It is however more time consuming and will use up some extra wax. For these reasons, we feel that most recreational skiers and snowboarders will achieve adequate results by simply scraping and brushing with fiberlene as previously described. If you would like to try hot scraping your base, proceed as follows. Use a glide wax that is rated for a temperature above zero degrees Celsius. Melt the wax with an electric waxing iron and allow it to drip onto the base as you would in the waxing step. Then spread the wax evenly over the surface of the base using the waxing iron for 2 to 3 minutes. You can now scrape off the wax with a plastic scraper while it is still hot4
. The hot wax that you are scraping off will contain some old wax and contaminants that we are trying to get rid of.
Applying the gliding wax
This step requires the use of an electric iron. While it is possible to use a household clothes iron, we highly recommend purchasing a waxing iron that is specifically designed for waxing skis and snowboards. Because household irons fluctuate more in temperature than a purpose built waxing iron, there is a greater chance that you could burn your base and permanently damage it if you use one. Although a waxing iron will be more expensive than a cheap clothes iron, we feel that it is worth the extra money given how much we have all invested in purchasing our ski and snowboard equipment. After all, if you have spent over a thousand dollars on your equipment, why risk destroying it just to save fifty bucks? Keep in mind too that the ski wax will also permanently coat your clothes iron, preventing you from using it to iron your clothes in the future. If you do decide to use a clothes iron, despite our warnings, do at least ensure that it does not have any steam holes.
Remember to always wear a breathing mask and to work in a well ventilated area. This is especially critical if you will be working with a fluorocarbon wax.
Start by setting the electric waxing iron to the correct temperature for the wax that you will be using. The temperature at which your wax will melt should be printed on the box in which it was packaged. Once the waxing iron has reached the correct temperature, heat the wax by pressing it against the surface of the iron and allow it to drip onto the surface of the base. Move back and forth across the length of your base (or in a zigzag pattern). Cover about forty percent of the surface area of the base with drops of wax and, as you are doing so, make sure that the wax is not smoking. If it is, then that is a sure sign that your waxing iron is too hot and could damage your base in the next step4
Now place the iron against your base and pass it over the surface of the base a few times to even out the wax and cause it to penetrate deep into your base. Keep the iron moving at a speed of one to two inches per second at all times and never leave it stationary in one spot. You will risk burning and permanently damaging your base if you leave the iron stationary. Also keep in mind that p-tex can retain heat for a prolonged period of time. So if you are revisiting an area with the waxing iron, be sure not to linger on top of that area for very long as it will already be hot3
. It is however recommended that you spend at least five minutes ironing each piece of equipment to allow the wax to fully penetrate into the base4
Allow the wax to cool off completely before proceeding to the next step. It should be completely cool to the touch, which will take at least thirty minutes. The longer you can allow the wax to cool, the better3
Scraping off the excess wax
We suggest always using a plastic scraper whenever you are scraping off wax in any of these steps because metal scrapers require more skill to use as they can more easily damage your base4
Scrape in the direction of tip to tail until there is absolutely no more wax coming off. Be careful not to scrape too hard as that could modify the structure of your base4
If you applied too much wax in the previous step, you may find that quite a bit of wax comes off. When you are done scraping, there should be no more layers of wax visible on the surface of the base. You can then remove any wax that may be present on the metallic edges of your skis or snowboard by using the notch present on the corner of your scraper. If you choose to leave the wax on your edges, you may find your first few post-waxing runs down the hill to be difficult but the wax will eventually be removed from the edges on its own as you use your equipment.
Brushing the base
To remove even more of the excess wax, we can now brush the base using a nylon brush. Brush in the direction of tip to tail. You will notice little particles of wax coming off the base. Keep brushing until there are no more new particles appearing. This will likely take five to ten minutes3,4
Polishing the base
To remove the very last of the excess wax, you can now brush using a horsehair brush, which is finer than the nylon brush used in the previous step4
. Once again, brush in the direction of tip to tail and continue to do so until there are no more particles of wax coming off the base. You can then finish by wiping the base with a paper towel, a kitchen rag or, ideally, Swix fiberlene.
Throughout this tutorial, we have mentioned Swix fiberlene as an alternative to rags or paper towels. Swix fiberlene is particularly well suited to wiping debris off of bases because it will not deposit any lint or other contaminants onto the surfaces and it is strong enough for this purpose. It is, however, fairly expensive and so we would suggest that it is not an absolute necessity to have considering that we are, after all, doing this to save money.
Remove wax from the tops and bindings
Regardless of how careful you have been, you will likely find that some wax has gotten stuck to the top of your equipment as well as to your bindings. If you find that this wax is unsightly and is hiding the beautiful graphics that are imprinted onto the top of your cool equipment, you can remove it by using a citrus solvent.
Simply spray some citrus solvent onto a napkin, rag or Swix fiberlene and use that to wipe off the areas that are covered in wax. Do the same to any other surfaces in your home or garage that have inadvertently been stained with wax.
One last topic that we would like to touch upon is that of storing your equipment in the off-season.
To prevent your bases from drying up and oxidising over the summer months when temperatures and humidity levels invariably rise, it is recommended that a layer of wax be applied over the bases before putting your equipment into storage at the end of the ski season. Summer waxing skis and snowboards is accomplished by simply applying wax without subsequently scraping or brushing it off. In other words, follow steps 1 through 4 only. Before heading out to your favourite resort at the start of the next winter season, you can get your equipment ready by removing the wax that you applied at the end of the previous season. Do so by following steps 5 through 8.
If you are a skier, you should also take the additional step of releasing the tension in your bindings so as to prolong the life of your bindings. There are springs inside the bindings of skis that are under constant strain and these springs can sometimes lose their strength over the years. To prevent this from happening, it is advisable to release all of the tension in the bindings before putting your skis away for the season. Start by recording the DIN number that is indicated on your bindings. Record this number somewhere where you will be able to readily retrieve it at the start of the next season. A good place to keep this record might be on a piece of paper that you keep with your skis. Then set the tension in your bindings to a DIN of zero by using a screw driver of the appropriate type. Before heading out to the slopes at the start of the next season, set the tension back to the original DIN setting using the same screwdriver.
We hope that this tutorial has been helpful to you. Although there is an initial capital investment required to purchase the necessary tools for the job, we are confident that like any good investment you will realise a fair return over the long term.