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Ski Base Waxing

The purpose of base waxing your skis is to fill the micro-pores with wax so that ice will not form using ice formed in the pores as nuclei.

The easiest way to base wax your skis is to have someone else do it for you. If you bought no-wax skis because of their no-hassle feature, you may very well want to have your local mountain shop do the work. But don't be surprised if they don't wax the pattern portion as described below. If they don't, then you need to apply Maxiglide or similar material to the base of your ski each time you venture out. But wax the base, including the pattern, at the beginning of each season and you will have hassle-free skiing.

Images of ski waxing equipmentYou will need a few basic materials if you want to do it yourself. For wax you can use a universal base wax, which is purchased in the form of bars. For an iron you can use a specially designed waxing iron or an old household iron that won't be used for clothes again. A heat gun is also useful, but not necessary. Never use a torch with a flame that directly hits the ski.

Image of scrapers used in waxing ski basesYou will want several scrapers; you might want a carpenters scraper, a chiseled edge putty knife, and a scraper designed to fit in the groove of your skis. If you are base-waxing no-wax skis, you will also need a stiff bristle brush, hand-size with nylon bristles (see image above) or rags (more on this below). You may also want a fine abrasive such as Scotch Bright to finish the waxing process, but it is not absolutely necessary.

A de-greaser such as an environmentally safe citrus-based product (available at bicycle stores) is needed to clean the skis before waxing. Some might disagree, but experience has shown that white gas works great with no damage to the skis.

The final item you need is a mechanism for supporting a ski as you work. It should hold the ski from moving both lengthwise and laterally. The easiest solution is a pair of ski clamps similar to those shown in the photo below. However, the upper edges of many modern skis are rounded and don't work in the ski clamps. Some people build wooden supports.

Image of ski support system

If you are base waxing new skis and the bases appear fuzzy, prepare the bases by scraping them; you do not have to remove every bit of fuzz. If you are base waxing old skis, use a de-greaser to remove all dirt, all old wax, and any residues from anti-icing agents such as Maxiglide. It is important that the base be clean so that only new wax fills the base pores.

Image of melting waxWith the ski base face up, melt wax over their entire length (even the no-wax portion) using an iron. In general, base waxing does not require a large quantity of wax. Dribble it on, a drop every inch on both sides of the groove. You will find that you will need significantly more wax in the no-wax portion. You can always add more wax.

Now remelt the wax using the flat surface of your iron. Keep your iron moving and use its motion to spread the wax over the entire surface, including the groove. It is very important that the temperatures are correct. The iron must be hot enough to melt the wax easily. The iron is too hot if the wax smokes. You must also heat the ski a little so that the wax flows into the pores. However, take care not to heat the ski too hot because permanent damage can be done. Remember to keep the iron moving in order to limit the temperature of the ski — never get the ski so hot that you cannot touch it — and use common sense. Let the skis cool to near room temperature after the wax has been applied.

Image of scraping skiComplete the process by removing all the wax that is on the surfaces of the skis. For the smooth areas use a scraper to remove the wax. Removing the wax from the no-wax pattern area is more complicated and described below.

The removal of excess wax from the tips and tails of your skis, the smooth areas, is not supercritical when no additional wax will be applied. If on the other hand you are going to apply glide wax to the tips and tails or you are base-waxing waxable skis, it is very important that you remove all excess base wax from the surfaces otherwise the added waxes will not adhere well.

I have used two different methods for removing the excess wax from the no wax pattern area.

Method 1

Reheat the wax so that the wax just melts and immediately brush the excess wax off before it hardens again. This can be accomplished by moving the iron slowly along the length of the no-wax area and following behind brushing across the ski width. You will probably need to repeat the process a second time.

This method works pretty well, but you will probably not remove all the excess wax. You should have no problems so long as you remove most of the wax from the pattern. The remainder will come off the next time you ski.

The above method uses the iron that you used to apply the wax. A better method is to replace the iron with a heat gun for the wax removal process. This makes it easier to heat the wax in the grooves of the pattern.

Originally I used a Wagner© Model HT3500 heat gun. The instructions say to use a setting of 250F to 450F to wax skis. I use the maximum setting of 1350F and keep the heat gun farther away from the ski. This allows more room for the "brushing" of the ski. It is easy to see when the wax melts and therefore easy to keep the ski from getting too hot.

Recently I misplaced the HT3500 and replaced it with a less expensive Wagner© Model HT1000. It worked well too.

Image of removing wax using heat gun

Method 2

A better method is to replace the brush with a terrycloth rag. There is essentially zero wax in the no wax pattern after one pass but you can always make a second pass.

A nice feature of the rag method is that you don't get the fine spray of wax that accompanies the use of the brush. If you use a brush, then you will want to provide a method for preventing the spray from going where it is unwanted. In the picture below a vertical wooden board is used to contain the spray.

Image of how to control spray of wax

The final step is scraping the wax from the grooves (if your skis have them). A fine abrasive cloth can be used to polish the tips and tails if you desire.

Image of scraping wax from the ski groove

As you can see the process for waxing skis, including the no-wax pattern, takes a number of pieces of equipment and a bit of time. The reward is skis that don't ice-up under any conditions. I like to invite friends over to wax their skis when I'm waxing mine. It makes a great time to talk about the winter ahead.

Marcus Libkind

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