Those catalogs are really coming now, winter can't be far away and I'll be skiing next weekend. The new equipment brings dreams of skiing through the woods and cruising the downhills, eyes watering as I cut through the winter air. Then reality sets in, I know if I'm going to ski like that I will need fast skis; and to get fast skis I need to work on them. I dig out my wax box to see if everything is in order for another season! After many years of skiing fast I've found there are some tools I will need. I also know there are some toys I wish I had. In this article I'll tell you what is in my wax box. Next time I'll begin to cover waxing.
As technology developed and new tools have been introduced, the gadgets occupying a favorite spot in my wax box have changed. I fondly remember that fancy iron I used to attach to a propane canister in order to burn in pine tar. I was never without this great tool years ago but now I couldn't even tell you where it is. My wax box list might seem a little complicated for some or completely inadequate for the techno-tool junkie. I've tried to provide a good starting point for ideas. Your individual style will require modifications. If your wax box differs let me know and I'll include your tips in future posts.
There is no way I could cover all the various wax choices though. There are just way too many and wax choice is a complicated blend of technology, personal experience, personal preference and economics. I will cover some decisions about waxing in future posts. I'll also cover my wax choices for my ski days. Be sure to check back each week because as the season progresses there'll be much to cover.
After many years of skiing I found that some tools look well worn while others look like new. This is because I only use the tried and true tools that I really need. We all need a complete set, though, because of the prestige factor. You know, that feeling of power when you open the wax box. I remember a persistent classic skier (Bill) who had a collection of grip waxes, every color in every brand. If you looked carefully, though, you would have noticed that only the Swix Blue Extra and Rode Super Blue were used and most of the rest were unopened. Ah, but think of the prestige he got when he opened his wax box and applied grip wax the night before the Birkie, eh? Bill knew he had it covered, no matter what the conditions, he had the wax for it. As you review this list you might note some deficiencies in your wax box. No problem, just click on the Shop-On-Line link at the top left of this page. Ernie will solve your problems. Now for the tools in my wax box…
Plastic Scraper: Probably the most used tool. Buy a good thick one that won't bend, maybe several. Take care of it, keep it sharp and you will be rewarded with easy ski prep that requires minimal force. Using a dull scraper is like using a dull razor, just not worth the effort. Scrapers with logos on them from big races or far off places add to the prestige.
Sharpener: Toko and Swix makes sharpeners for plexi scrapers. The Toko sharpener has a ceramic blade and slots of different widths to hold the sharpener at right angles to the scraper. One or two smooth swipes with this sharpener every other time you scrape your skis will keep your scraper working like new. Just be sure to clean the wax off the scraper before sharpening. As LaNora says, "Mess up my Toko sharpener, and you're toast for the day!" The Swix sharpener is a file with a guide to help hold the scraper at right angles to the file. Both of these do an excellent job of sharpening scrapers.
Klister Paddle: This is that T-shaped plastic gizmo that used to come free in boxes of klister. If you don't use much klister you will have to buy the paddle. Use it to clean hard wax off the base of your skis and pry off old binding sole plates. Klister paddles are usually made of cheap plastic so throw them away when they are nicked and worn. Klister paddles also have a curved edge on each end of the “T.” Usually one side has a short radius curve and the other side is larger. These are great for cleaning the groove of the ski of hard wax, glide wax or klister. Oh, yes, you can use klister paddles to effectively smooth klister. Remember Ralph's third law of klister application, “You can never apply klister too thin.” This connects to my third law of hard waxing, “You cannot apply blue extra too thick.”
Groove Tool: Toko makes a small plastic tool just for cleaning out the groove on your skis. Nice to have, maybe I'll get one some day.
Metal Scraper and/or Base Peeler: Carefully use a sharp stiff metal scraper for peeling base material or removing P-tex hairs after sanding, rilling or base grinding. Be careful, a sharp scraper used lightly will perform miracles but a dull scraper pushed too hard will damage your ski base.
Other Scrapers: There are a variety of other types of scrapers both plastic and metal. Some have a cork attached. I've even seen a Swiss Army Knife with a fold out scraper (right next to the fold out foam cork). These all have uses and each of us generally finds the one scraper that does the greatest variety of scraping. The others are for show.
Waxing Iron: Every skier needs a wax iron. Finally, there are several good models to choose from. Just be sure that the iron will hold a specific temperature with little variation. Cheap irons, especially those you find at garage sales, are OK for clothes but when the element is on they get too hot and when the element turns off they get too cold. Better irons sold by the major wax companies have a more precise thermostat and a heavy heat sink in the base. This keeps the range of temperatures narrow and, if calibrated correctly, protects your ski base from over heating. I seen many ski bases that look white and chalky after only a short time skiing. These bases have most like been overheated by a too hot iron!
Thermomelt Sticks: Use Thermomelt Temp sticks to calibrate your iron. P-tex melts at 250 degrees F and fluorinated waxes melt at a lower temperature. Your iron needs to be warmer than 225 but not as hot as 250 to adequately apply hi-tech waxes. To calibrate my iron I use two Temp sticks, a 225 degree F and a 250 degree F. When your iron is heated properly the 225 stick will melt when touched to the iron and the 250 will not. Skis are expensive, why take chances?
Fiberlene: The all purpose waxing cloth. Use this lint free non absorbant cloth with wax remover to clean skis. It works on dirty bases, klister and wax of all kinds. It’s better than a rag because the Fiberlene will not absorb much wax remover. The wax remover goes on the skis and the dirt and wax goes in the Fiberlene. It sounds simple, but it always isn't so. Bert says Fiberlene is a great strainer for dirty gas too.
Rillers and Structure Tools: Warm days and soft snow means adding structure to your bases. There are two primary strategies for imparting heavy structure on your ski bases. Some cut grooves into the base, others press or roll a broken linear pattern into the base. Cut rills last are pretty much permanent and the only way to get rid of them is to peel or stone grind the base. Rolling a pattern into the base is a better option. This pattern will easily survive the long marathon race but, since it is pressed and not cut into the base, it will eventually smooth out during hot waxing. Another option is different grind patterns for each of several pairs of skis. Each pair might be suited to certain snow conditions.
Fibertex: This is Swix's trade name for abrasive pads (Toko makes some as well) like the ones you use on your pots and pans. These are different though and come in several types: hard, soft and final touch. The hard green pad is quite abrasive and can be used to sand the ski base as well as add structure. The soft pad may be used after scraping to get more of the wax off the base before brushing. The final touch variety can really polish up a ski base nicely after brushing. Watch your pads carefully. Once wax builds up in a pad it loses it effectiveness. Throw it away.
Toko Thermo Pad: This is a real nice soft pad for polishing fluoros. When you use this pad to polish your skis after corking in Streamline or using Helx, your skis will go fast!
Brushes: There are several kinds including nylon, horse hair, brass and copper. Nothing seems to get me hyped for skiing (besides walking out the door with skis) like the final brush strokes on fast skis with a good horse hair brush. Cheap brushes lose hair quickly. Good brushes last a long time. Be careful to treat your good horsehair brush with care. Scrape your skis thoroughly before brushing. Then brush thoroughly with a nylon brush. Follow this with light brushing with a copper brush, then finish the job with a horse hair model. If you don't scrape completely you will leave wax on your skis and clog up your horse hair brush with wax. The next time you use that brush you'll be adding wax instead of removing wax. Like with any good tool, you should let the tool do the work. It isn't necessary to push hard when brushing. A lot of nice long easy strokes will do the job. Continue to brush with nice steady strokes from tip to tail until there are no more wax particles showing up on the ski base in front of the brush. Clean your brush periodically like you used to clean those blackboard erasers in grade school. They do still use black boards and chalk don't they? Another great final touch is to give your skis a quick brush after they have been outside in the cold and just before you put them on. I'm not sure why this works but there always seems to be a little more wax removed with that last rushing on cold bases.
Divinucell Cork: This is “THE” tool for polishing hard waxes. The hard foam corks made of Divinucell work better than cork corks or the soft white plastic imitation corks I've seen around. I usually have at least three foam corks in my wax box. I use one for polishing hard waxes up through Swix special red, Swix VR40 or Toko Viola. I use a second for the softer waxes like Swix VR70 or Toko Silver. The third I hold in reserve for polishing Streamline or solid Cera F. This last one never touches either a classic grip wax or a cork that was used with hard wax. Some people keep a few more corks in their wax box to smooth out klister. After you use a cork to smooth out klister it makes a fine lint remover, just don't press too hard.
Wax Remover: A small container of wax remover goes a long way. Use it to clean the goobers that collect on top of your skis, clean klister or dirt off the bases and, of course, clean scrapers. I recommend using wax remover on your bases infrequently because the solvent penetrates the base, removes wax (duh), and prevents new wax from penetrating. Once you have used wax remover on your bases be sure to let them air dry for at least 30 minutes before applying new wax. If you still smell wax remover on the base, the ski hasn't dried long enough.
Zip Lock Type Reclosable Bags: These are perfect for carrying klister and the softer “hard” waxes on tours to keep the stickies from invading your pockets or fanny pack. Here's a tip: To remove klister from your hands, put on your ski gloves and go ski. When you are done your hands will be clean. You might have to wash your gloves.
Thermometer: It is important to know the either the air or snow temperature when choosing a wax. Be sure to note which temperature (air or sow) your wax depends on.
Hand Lens: Choosing the right wax is part art and part science. A hand lens can help see the snow grain type, size and shape. You might also use it to observe those little snow fleas we are trying to train.
Snow Fleas: The Ski Research Group has been training snow fleas to jump in unison during classic skiing for added push off. Every good wax box needs a small container of live snow fleas. ;)
Notebook: I keep notes of which wax I used and the snow conditions each time I ski. I could never remember all of the stuff I've tried without keeping these notes.
Wax Box: If you have all of the tools on this list your wax box will look like a coffin. Send me a picture of your wax box. I'll post the one with the most tools in the smallest wax box. You must also carry your waxes in the same wax box, that's why we call it a wax box.
More Tools for the Wax Bench at Home
Waxing Bench: Everyone needs a place to wax. You usually go to a ski center that has a convenient area to wax your skis but sometimes when travelling you must be self-sufficient. There are many wax benches available. Just make sure the one you choose is easy to use, is durable, sturdy and will fold up for easy storage.
Rotary Brushes: A really modern tool that speeds up the waxing of skating skis. There are several brands and they all seem to work well. Generally you need a handle that inserts into a drill chuck, then add a variety of brushes. These replace the hard held nylon and horse hair brushes. With a rotary brush brushing can take only a minute and the results are spectacular. Pressing too hard when using a rotary brush creates friction which results in heat. This may soften or melt the wax and it will collect on the bristles and clog the brush. Let the tool do the work. Use long easy relaxed strokes with the rotary brush, finish with some buffing with a Thermo Pad and your skis will fly.
Rotary Cork: This is really a rotary foam but since we still call plastic corks a cork I'll use the old term. The rotary cork is great for polishing pure fluoride materials like streamline or solid Cera. This avoids having to use high heat on your ski bases and the possibility of sealing the bases from further wax penetration. Corked in fluorides don't last as long as when heated and ironed into the base but for skis of up to 10-15 kilometers It’s all you need to do.
Battery Powered Variable Speed Drill: You definitely need a variable speed drill to use with the rotary brushes and corks. Get one that is light and easy to maneuver. Make sure you get two batteries and a battery charger. Another accessory you might want for the drill is a posi-drive screw driver bit for binding replacement.
Apron: Wax drips go everywhere and the fine scrapings have a mind of their own. An apron can keep some of this stuff off your fancy new ski suit.
Respirator or Face Mask: There is concern about the health risks accompanying the fluorinated waxes. Minimize your exposure by working in a well ventilated room free of any open flames. Wear a particle mask to keep dust out of your lungs if heating in pure fluoros. If you are a wax technician or often prepare many skis you should consider a respirator.
Rags: Simple, use them for cleaning up spills as well as wiping off excess wax from the wax iron. You could use Fiberlene for this purpose but It’s much more expensive and not as absorbent.
Isn't all this stuff enough?
Okay, you've got this two ton wax box full of goodies. Not to mention that you also have a pile of waxes. You waxed your skis at home then drove three hours to spend a delightful day of skiing at a trail system where there is no warming hut, no rest room, no hot water, no heat and certainly no electricity. No matter, you're tough and you came to ski. In the first hour you ski over a rock, scratch your base, damage your binding and break the basket on your pole. Oh, yes, in falling, you hit a rose bush and tore your ski suit. What to do?
No problem! First you walk back to your car and get out your wax box. Somewhere in there is your sewing kit to repair your suit. You do this first because you don't want anyone to notice. Then use your posi-drive screw-driver to remove loose screws from your binding. Stuff steel wool in the holes and put the screws back in nice and tight. Maybe find that extra binding you have and replace the whole thing. Get out your steel scrapers and sandpaper to get that nick out of your base. Maybe you need to use a little of your quick set epoxy to reattach the base where you hit that rock. Use your propane torch and torch heated wax iron to re-wax your skis. Now tackle that broken basket. Somewhere at the bottom of your wax box is a replacement basket. Use the propane torch again to melt snow and heat the resultant water in the pot you brought so you can remove the basket then pop on a new one. If it doesn't stick well enough then get out your heat glue and fix it. Be careful that you don't ignite the glue when trying to soften it with the propane torch. Just as you finish with the basket you notice that the strap on you handle is broken as well. No problem, you have a replacement in your wax box, yes you had a right and left strap and basket so it didn't matter which one you broke. All this took some time so maybe you should go back into the wax box and find that snack you brought along.
Only an hour or two has passed and your ready to ski. It’s only about 11:00 so there's plenty of daylight left. Away you go cruising through the woods over hill and dale. Another magic day in the woods, all the result of being prepared with a complete wax box. Maybe next time you'll just let Ernie take care of your problems.