DIY: Prepare And Repair  Ski Bottoms. Here’s What It Takes.

Crowded ski tool box: There must be a pony in there somewhere. Credit: Marc Liebman

Way back when I used to drive to ski resorts, I used to slide a toolbox into the back of the car with everything needed to tune a pair of skis, fix a gouge in the P-Tex and wax the bottoms. The biggest and most important item was my Toko hot waxer.

Between ski trips, each pair of skis received a coat of paraffin dripped onto the bottom, spread, scraped off and buffed. This was done three times and made the P-Tex rock hard as well as providing a base for any additional wax for the conditions or none at all. The treatment also made the bottoms much more scratch resistant.

As a back-up, or to allow someone called children to do their own skis, I had a simple travel iron. Another vital item was a 12-foot extension cord.

Also in the box was a brick of paraffin used in canning. Back before the turn of the century, each box had four, ¼ pound slabs.

In the box there were a collection of P-Tex “sticks” of varying colors to drip them into gouges. They sat in the same tray in the toolbox with a scraper and butane cigarette lighters I’d use to melt the P-Tex sticks and a soldering iron used to help clean out some of the gouges.

Several flat files were in the bottom for sharpening the bottom part of the ski’s edges. To take burrs off and to sharpen the edges to a perfect right angle, over the years, I’d acquired several different “planes” or edge sharping tools. Then once I was finished with the filing I had small whetstones to take off any microscopic burrs.

Most shops have belt sanders to grind off the bottoms and that just grates on my nerves. For one thing, the sander takes way too much bottom off. And two, the sander leaves burrs that need to be carefully filed off. Too much pressure during a careless pass down the belt sander could ruin a ski.

When finished, the edges could slice paper, which if you ski or race in New England a lot, is very helpful.

Every night after dinner, the family’s skis were waxed. My kids started helping around age eight and by the time they were teenagers, they could wax their own skis (!) And, yes, they could feel the difference between a tuned ski and one that wasn’t. The ritual also gave me a chance to check my family’s skis and bindings.

Also in the box was a box of helicoils which can be inserted in holes to enable a screw to be tightened. Having started skiing way back when metal plates were not built into the ski, they were handy to have around.

Ski tuning, or even de-tuning is an art as well as a science. Today, I can’t tell you how often a shop has given me a pair of high-performance rental skis that was desperately in need of a tune-up.


  1. Alan S Cort says:

    Great article, Marc. Curious – did you use some kind of platform with ski vices, or just prop the ski up against something?

    • if the lodge had a workshop and a bench, I used that. More often than not, worked on the balcony of the condo. If there were chairs, they made great sawhorses, or I stood them up against the wall. If there was no balcony, then I did it inside, again using chair armrests covered with towels or sheets I brought with me to keep the wax off everything.

  2. Richard Kavey says:

    A good tune is a wonderful melody. Waxing for recreational skiing is relatively easy. Hertel Super Hot Sauce has a huge temperature range and stays in the base well. Yes, in … PTex is sintered, it has a honey comb of holes that the wax enters. And this does make the base much harder.

    A wax iron with a thick steel plate is infinitely better than a clothes iron and may have digital temp settings.

    For base work, it is relatively easy to fill small gouges. PTex candles work and are cheap but they contain a lot of wax so they’ll burn. Therefore they’re soft. A PTex extruder emits our PTex. Much harder than candles. If your down to metal base you need a layer of metal grip first.

    Bases tinkering be very careful! Safe to remove burrs from base edge. Best tool is a smooth stone. Files will only be dulled by burrs from the case hardening of the edge from impact that caused the burr.

    It is practically impossible to flatten a ski base with hand tools and you can do a great deal of damage. It is difficult to flatten a base with belt/stone grinder and the machine needs to be calibrated, the stone/belt flat and and operator needs to be expert. Few are. I’ve seen many skis either ruined or seriously damaged from poor professional flattening that wasn’t flat!

    Side edges you can do. Know your bevel. For most it’s one of two degrees on side edge. I like 3 on side and 1/2 to 1 on the base. World Cup skiers on glare ice may use up to 7 on side edge. Anything more than 3 degrees eats up to much edge and kills the ski before it’s time.

    You need holders for files / stones to create the exact angles. The days of free hand filing ended 30 years ago.

    If you’re edges are in good condition a quick pass with a smooth ceramic stone is all you need.

    Next level of aggression is a Diamond stone which cuts by ripping. Great tool for burr removal.

    File is the last resort. After filing you need to smooth and harden with stone and finally ceramic stone.

    After you wax you need to scrape. Thick plexi scraper kept sharp w file is best. After scraping you need to brush out the remaining wax – medium brass brush works well. Then wisk broom off the brushings and cork the wax in. The cork generates heat and seals the wax further into the base.

    And you will need dedicated ski vices and table to make any of this possible.

    When Dick Bass bought the Cliff Lodge and expanded it he removed the benches the original owners installed for use by guests. While having a drink with Mr. Bass he described the expense used to re-do the cliff bathrooms with marble. I did not tell him that the length between wash basins was pretty good in holding a pair of 207’s.

    In closing, a well tuned ski is a fine tool. A poorly tuned ski is miserable. A Porsche 911 drives remarkable well. Pull off 2 distributor wires and it can’t compete with a Yugo. Tune tune tune

    And, don’t ski over rocks and gravel.

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