Updated July 1st, 2023
Are your skis or snowboard sticking to the snow? Are you sliding around a lot on hardpack or icy snow? Ski shops are historically busy this winter meaning you have to wait weeks to get your equipment tuned. It’s time to learn how to wax and sharpen skis at home. It’s not that hard and you only need a few simple tools to do it. Let’s get started. Read on to learn how to wax and tune your skis or snowboard at home.
The importance of maintaining your ski / snowboard
Why do we care about maintaining our skis and keeping the edges tuned and bottom waxed? There are 2 main reasons. To get better performance a.k.a. go faster and be in more control. Second, so that your snowboard or skis last longer without falling apart.
For better performance
No one ever said snowboarding and skiing slowly is more fun. Keeping your skis waxed and tuned will make them go faster. A smooth fresh coat of wax will reduce the friction between your boards and the snow. Keeping your edges bur and nick free gives you less drag against the snow and makes it easier to carve rather than skid across the snow.
Keeping your skis tuned will give you more control. I once traded skis with a friend who I don’t think ever had his skis tuned. His skis had absolutely zero grip against the snow. It wasn’t even icy that day. I was happy just making it to the bottom of that run without falling and killing myself. Keeping your edges sharp will give you more control especially in subpar conditions like ice.
Your skis or snowboard will last longer
Your skis and snowboard are glued together. The base contacts the snow. Your base is porous and substances like tree sap or acidic water and other dirt can seep into the base and start degrading the glue that holds everything together. Besides making you go faster, wax is the protective coating that keeps anything bad from seeping into your bases and ruining your skis. Years ago I had a set of skis delaminate. Nothing is sadder than having to trash your favorite pair of skis or snowboard because the bottom peeled off.
How to maintain your board?
There are 3 main things you need to do to maintain your snowboard or skis. You need to tune the edges. You need to wax the bottom. You need to store them properly. Let’s take a look at each one.
The process is exactly the same for both a snowboard and skis. The only difference is that you have to do it repeat it twice for skis.
Edge tuning – Your skis have metal edges on them that dig into the snow and ice so you can turn and stop. A sharp edge on your ski or snowboard means you get much better grip on the snow. Snow is wet. The edges are made of steal. This means that over time they will rust. They need to be kept rust free and sharp to perform at their best.
Waxing – Applying wax to the base of your skis protects your base and reduces the friction with the snow making you go faster. Wax only lasts a few ski days at best before it starts to degrade. If you are not a real serious skier you can get by waxing once a season. If you want optimum performance and don’t want to stick to the snow, you should wax your skis every 2-3 ski days.
There are a lot of skiers out there that wax their skis after every single ski day. In the early season and late season when there is a lot of dirt and sap mixed into the snow, your wax can quickly get saturated with dirt and may be ruined after 1 day.
Storage – Keeping your snowboard or skis somewhere dry is important. Moisture will cause your skis edges to rust much faster. It can also seap into the wood core of your snowboard causing it to fail much sooner. Keep your snowboard or skis in a dry location where it can dry out between uses. Keeping them in a snowboard bag or ski bag is a good idea to help protect them from getting damaged.
How To Wax and Sharpen Skis
Tuning your skis or snowboard at home is a 2 step process. First, you sharpen up the edges and then you wax it. Edge sharpening may not be needed as often as waxing depending on where you ski. Powder days don’t wear the edges out nearly as fast as icy hardpack.
How to sharpen your snowboard or ski’s edges
You can sharpen and wax your skis and snowboard without a set of vices but it’s a lot harder. I recommend getting a set of vices designed to hold the skis or snowboard you have. This keeps the board stable and allows you to work away at it. If you just lay it down on a bench, it will slide all over the place. I know people that turn their skis against the walls. This isn’t great for your walls or the hotel walls your staying at. It’s nowhere near as stable as a set of vices.
- The first thing you should do before working on the edges of your skis is get a towel and rubbing alcohol and clean off the bottom and edges. This keep you from grinding debris into the base of your board.
- Examine your edges for any burs or nicks. These will need to be fixed first with a diamond stone or emory paper. A file will just skip over them. You can find nicks and burs running a towel down the edges of your skis. The towel will snag in any large bur or nick.
- The easiest way to sharpen edges of your ski or snowboard is with an edge sharpening tool or bevel tool. This is a tool that holds a file at the correct angle when you run it down the edges of your snowboard. A good tool should have angles for both the bottom and the side edge. If the tool doesn’t have a base side to it, you can use a handfile and wrap tape around one side to give yourself a small bevel on the bottom. It’s not as precise as a proper edge tool or bevel guide.
Ski edge angle – The most common side angle for skis is 88 degrees. The most common base angles are 0.7 or 1 degree.
Snowboard edge angle – The most common side angle for a snowboard is 89 degrees. The most common base angle is 1 degree.
- Wipe down your board with the towel between passes.
- Run a file down the edges of your skis or snowboard to fix any waviness you see in them.
- You can use an emory cloth or gummy stone to polish up the edges as a final step.
- Some people like to use a file and emory cloth to dull the front few inches and back few inches of their board or skis. This detuning helps the skis or board release out of a turn easier. With modern parabolic and wide all mountain skis it doesn’t have nearly the effect it used to. Some people still swear by this step.
- Clean up your base and edges with a towel and rubbing alcohol before moving on to waxing the bottom.
One thing to check on your skis or snowboard is the flatness of the bottom. Use a metal straight edge or tuning rod and look edge to edge across the base. Your skis or snowboard tend to wear at the edges faster than the middle. Over time the surface will develop a crown to it where the middle of your snowboard base is higher than the edges. When this happens you need to take them to a professional shop and get a base stone grind to restore the surface. On some skis that are new, the edges may be higher than the base, especially at the tip and tail. This condition also needs a base grind to solve.
For a more advanced edge tuning job you can get specialized diamond stones, bevel tools to put a precise edge tune on your skis with the exact angles you want with smooth sharp polished edges.
How to wax your snowboard or skis
- The first thing you want to do is give your skis a thorough base cleaning. Use a metal brush to clean off your skis. Always run the brush from the front to back of your skis or snowboard. Do several passes with the brush. After that use a towel and base cleaner to remove any debris. You can also use rubbing alcohol.
- Heat up your waxing iron. You want the iron to be warm enough to melt the wax but not warm enough to burn it. If you are making smoke with the iron it is too hot. Let it cool down. Overheating your bases can cause them to blister or delaminate off the core which is bad.
A specialized waxing iron makes this a lot easier. They are easier to get the correct temperature range. You can use a home iron assuming it is the variety that doesn’t have steam. You need one with a flat bottom with no holes. I waxed my skis this way for years growing up.
If you are new to waxing, get all temperature wax. This is good for most skiers and snowboarders. If you are a racer or want to squeak out that last bit of performance, you can use waxes designed for the specific snow temperature you will ski on that day.
- Apply wax to the entire base of your board or skis. I like to heat wax up on the bottom of the iron and let it run off onto my skis. Otherpeople like to heat the wax up with the iron and then press the wax bar into their skis. Both ways work. You want to get enough wax down that the iron won’t physically touch the ski bases. Don’t skimp on the wax. Apply wax all the way up and down your board.
- Now that your board or skis are covered with wax, run the iron front to back down your board or skis to work the wax into it. If your iron sticks or drags anywhere add more wax. It should smoothly glide over the surface. Run the iron down the surface 5 times. This will ensure you get the wax worked into the bottom. After 5 times the base will be saturated and you won’t get anymore wax into it doing more passes.
- Let your ski or board cool for at least an hour. Overnight is even better. The longer it has to cool, the more time wax has to absorb into the base.
- Get out your plastic wax scraper. Hold it at a 45 degree angle to your skis and scrape off all the excess wax. Work from front to back.
- Do a few passes to make sure you have all the excess wax out.
- Use a nylon brush to clean the base structure. The base has small grooves in it that run the length of your skis. This channels water and snow and helps you go faster. The nylon brush will clean wax out of the structure. Run the nylon brush front to back down your skis several times.
- Wipe down your skis with a towel to remove any wax kicked up by the brush.
- Run a horsehair brush down your skis from tip to tail. This will smooth out the wax and give you a nice smooth slick surface.
- You can run a scotchbright pad down the bottoms front to back to really make it smooth and fast.
How to repair a scratch or gouge in your ski bottoms with P-Tex
If you get a scratch or gouge in the bottom of your skis or snowboard you can use P-Tex candle to fix it. P-Tex is similar to the base material of your board. If you have a scratch so deep that it goes completely through the base and you can see the core material underneath, you need to take it to a ski shop for a base repair. A gouge that deep needs a base weld. P-Tex won’t stick well enough for a permanent repair. If your scratch isn’t going through the base, chances are good that P-Tex will work.
To use P-Tex you need a P-Tex candle and metal scraper. A file to sharpen the scraper helps also. You need a match or lighter to light the P-Tex or a torch.
P-Tex comes in black or clear. If you have colored bases, use clear. If you have a black base, use black.
- Light the P-Tex and hold it over your metal scraper or somewhere else you don’t care about getting messy or burning. Hold the P-Tex candle as close to the suface as you can so that it drips and isn’t just running onto the surface. The higher you hold the P-Tex, the more oxygen it burns with and the more black and soot filled it will be. The goal is to have a blue flame. If you have a yellow or red flame, the P-Tex is getting too much oxygen.
- Hold the P-Tex candle close to the surface of your skis or snowboard and let it drip into the scratch until the scratch is filled. Rotate the P-Tex candle as it burns so that it doesn’t droop down.
- Move onto the next scratch if you have more than one. If you are done blow out the P-Tex candle. Do not wave it in the air to put it out. You can fling burning P-Tex onto you or your eyes doing this and it’s really going to hurt.
- Let your P-Tex repair cool down to room temperature.
- Scrape off the excess P-Tex. Do this with a metal scraper. Hold it 45 degrees to the surface of your board. Scrape it the same way you did with wax. It’s a much harder substance so it doesn’t scrape as easily. Scrape it from different directions. Scrape until the you get to a smooth flat surface where your patch is applied.
If you finish scraping and you still have a scratch, don’t worry. Light the candle and add more P-Tex and scrape again. A big deep scratch may require a few layers to fix properly.
After this, you are done. If you want to do a really thorough job, your skis or board need to go in for a base grind to put the structure into the P-Tex repair patch. That is only if you care about eeking out every last little bit of performance from your skis or snowboard. The average skier or snowboarder won’t notice the very small amount of extra drag from an unstructured P-Tex patch on their bottoms.
A basic checklist of things you should have in order to maintain your ski or snowboard
What do you need to properly maintain your skis or snowboard? To do basic waxing and edge tuning you can get buy with just a few tools and household items.
- Cleaning cloth / emory paper – An old white T-shirt or other rag will do for a cleaning cloth. Get some emory paper for sanding out burs and nicks and for smoothing things out after sharpening with a file.
- Rubbing alcohol – You want to clean the bottom and get it free of debris and old wax before applying new wax. You don’t want to grind depris into the bases when sharpening. Rubbing alcohol help get everything clean.
- Side Edge Sharpener with multiple degrees – 88-90 – A simple edge sharpening tool is the easiest way to get consistent bevel on your edges. Some tools will do both side edges and base edges. Some will only work for one or the other. If you don’t get one tool prioritize the side edges as these wear down faster than the base edge.
- Waxing iron – Although you can use some household irons for waxing your ski, a waxing iron works a lot better and is worth the investment. Find an iron from a reputable company and it will last you years and years of use. Adjustable temperature is a must have feature. Some have digital thermometers built in which really isn’t necesary. It’s possible to use a household clothes iron but it has to be a dry iron with no steam function and a smooth ironing surface with no holes.
- Ski Wax – Hot wax does a better job of saturating your base than cold wax such as spray on or rub on wax. If you are new to waxing your skis, look for all temperature wax or universal wax. It takes skill picking the right wax for the snow temperature and moisture content. The wrong temperature specific wax for the snow condition will leave your snowboard sticking to the snow.
- A wax scraper – A plastic wax scraper is a must for removing the excess wax after melting and ironing it on.
- Nylon wax brush – This isn’t 100% essential. You will wear off the excess wax in your base structure after a few hours skiing. The nylon brush goes a long way towards making your skis fast right from the start.
- Brake bands or rubber bands – You need to pull the brakes up on your skis so you can work on them. Brake bands are big rubber bands sized for this. If you don’t have them, don’t worry. 5 or 6 regular rubber bands on each brake will also work fine.
- Some way to prop up your skis or snowboard while you work on it – Your skis or snowboard need to be supported somehow while you are working on them. You can use a stack of books or logs. You need to set them bottom up and close to level so you can melt wax on and let it flow. For edge sharpening you can prop a ski against a wall or any other way you can figure out how to hold it. Ski and snowboarding vices work great if you want to spend a tad more.
Nice to have
- Vices for holding your skis or snowboard – Tuning vices are a nice to have bordering on essential if you want to do a really good job. Don’t bother with the rest of this list without getting a set of vices first.
- Bottom edge sharpener with degrees 0.5, 0.7 and 1 – This is for setting the bevel on the base side of your edges.
- Metal file and angle guides – Metal files are used to sharpen your edges. Remove uneveness in your edges and to detune the tips and tails. Many people use files with bevel guides instead of using edge sharpening tools. Once you get more into tuning skis it lets you tune with more precision.
- Diamond stones – Diamond stones are useful for removing nicks and burrs in your edges. You can get them out with emory paper but it takes a lot more effort to do it well. A fine grade diamond stone is useful for cleaning up your edges after using a file or sharpening tool on them.
- Gummy stone – A gummy stone can be used to polish the edges after using a file/sharpener. A polished edge is a fast edge. Gummy stones can also be used to detune the tips and tails of your skis or anywhere else you don’t want the edges to be razor sharp.
- PTEX candles to repair your board base – Wax can only do so much for your board base. If you get a good scratch or gouge in the bottom you need P-Tex to fix it. P-Tex is the same material your base is made out of. It comes in Black and Clear sticks or candles. Hollow sticks are preferred because they burn cleaner and leave less soot.
- Metal scraper – Use this after melting P-tex onto your ski base to smooth out the repair. P-tex is much harder than wax so a plastic scraper won’t work.
- A metal brush and horsehair brush – Use the metal brush to clean your base structure before applying wax. Use the horsehair brush to put a fine smooth finish on your wax after the nylon brush.
- Scotchbright pads – Use these for one final step after the horsehair brush to really make your waxed bases smooth
- A storage bag – You have to keep all these tools and your iron somehow. A nice storage bag helps keep your work room or garage well organized. It keeps you from losing your ski tuning tools during the summer.
- An apron – ski tuning can be a messy job. You want to avoid getting wax, P-Tex and metal filings all over your clothers. An apron with some big pockets gives you somewhere to put tools quick in the middle of the job.
A recommendation for beginners / pros alike
The above lists sound like a lot of stuff. Fortunately, there are wax and tune kits out there that contain all the essentials to get you started waxing and tuning your snowboard and skis. I really like the OutdoorMaster Snowboard Wax Kit. It has a nice waxing iron, sharpening tool, and more. As a bonus it has an apron and storage bag to keep everything organized and some extra snowboard binding bolts because everyone loses them.
☆ Recommended Gear
- WAXING IRON – 110V/800W iron with adjustable temperature and thick metal sole. The adjustable temperature range is 100℃/ 212℉ to 170℃/338℉.
- CLEANING AND WAXING TOOLS – We have a complete waxing kit, including cleaning tools, which include sandpaper (for polishing the edge), fibertex pad, metal scraper, wax scraper (230mm/9.06inch length), and Nylon/Brass/Horsehair Brushes.
- UNIVERSAL WAX – Includes all temperature wax that is simple and efficient to use.
- SHARPEN EDGES AND BASE REPAIRS – 7cm and 20cm files for edge sharpening and detuning and a Side Edge Sharpener which can be set at 86°, 87°, 88°, or 89°
- STORAGE BAG, APRON, AND ACCESSORIES – Includes a handy storage bag that can store all the tools and an apron. As a bonus, there are 2 ski brake retainer bands and a set of snowboard binding screws.
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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.