How to Tune Your Skis at Home

Published on 08/21/2023 · 11 min readLearn how to tune your skis at home with step-by-step instructions. Enhance your skiing experience by maintaining your skis on your own.
Aidan Anderson, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Aidan Anderson

Photo by Frau aus UA

We all love our skis. The feeling of getting new skis and having them be pristine and perfect without a scratch or core shot in sight is amazing. For the first few times you ski them, you’re conscious not to hit rocks and not to knock your edges together, and you put them away carefully at the end of the day. However, as the season goes on, they start to get a little more wear and tear. They start getting thrown in the back of the truck at the end of the day, banged together to get snow off, and rocky landings are sent anyway. By the next season, they get pulled out of the closet with rusty edges, chunks of base material missing, and not a drop of wax in sight. It’s a sad sight to see, but it’s not too late!

While some things might require a trip to your local ski shop to fix, there’s a lot you can do at home for pretty cheap and without much equipment. Let’s break down what can be done in your garage, and what you should seek expert help with.

What You'll Need

Photo by Sergey Novikov

First off, let’s start with some tools that you can get for your home tuning setup. On average, a full tune from a ski shop will run you between $60 and $100, and if you’re skiing a fair amount you’d be best off getting it done at least twice per season (not counting waxing and other minor things). So, based on that estimate, here are a few things you can get for less than that and get a lot more out of.

Take the Dakine Deluxe Tuning Kit for example. The kit comes with all the basics for most home tuning all bundled together. Some wax, a file, an edge tool, some P-Tex, a couple of scrapers, and various other goodies. The price is reasonable, and everything is simple and easy to use. Wax and other materials like P-Tex are cheap and easy to come by at your local shop or online, but it’s the tools like the scrapers and the file that are the key investment. Additionally, maybe the most important piece of gear for home tuning is a waxing iron. I’ll dive more into what a waxing iron is for and how it’s used, but something like the Swix North Premium Iron is a must-have for your toolkit.

Another good piece to your home tuning setup is a place to put your skis where they can sit flat and give you a surface to work on. Something like this Swix vise will clamp on any bench or countertop surface and give you a spot to lay your skis or board flat to work on. Once you’ve got a solid work surface, and some tools to get you going, here are a few of the key things your skis or board will need to stay in tip-top shape.

Waxing Your Skis

Photo by Frau aus UA

Why Wax Your Skis?

Waxing your skis is the number one thing you need to be mindful of throughout the winter season. We all know this, but why is it that you actually need to do it? There are a few key things to know about why skis need wax. The material that your ski bases are made of can vary between manufacturers, but the one commonality is that bases are porous. This means that just like your skin, the base of your skis has pores that are able to absorb and retain the material that you add to them. Think of wax to your skis being like lotion to your skin. Or don’t, because it’s kind of strange. Either way, your skis are able to absorb wax into the base and retain that waxy material for a certain amount of time after that.

Now, why wax of all things? Ski wax is a bit different from candle wax, ear wax, or any other kind of wax. It’s made in different levels of hardness, for different snow temperatures, and it’s meant to make your skis slide on snow with less resistance (check out this article to learn more about the right type of ski wax for you). Less resistance means more speed, and we all like more speed. The way it does this is by preventing the snow from sticking to the base of your ski. Wax is hydrophobic, meaning it will repel water, and essentially can’t get wet. The more the water in the snow is repelled from your skis, the easier it is for your skis to carry speed and not stick. However, the more you use your skis, the faster the wax will wear out. Depending on the skier and the conditions, a fresh wax should last about five to seven days on the snow, though you can get away with a bit longer.

How to Wax Your Skis

Photo by Sergey Novikov

Now, how do you apply wax to your skis? You may have heard the term “hot wax” relating to skis. It is so named because you have to heat the wax up and melt it onto the ski in order for the base to absorb the wax. Using a waxing iron, which is nearly identical to an iron you’d use on your clothes, wax is dripped onto the ski and then melted under the iron into a smooth layer that can be left to cool. Once the wax has cooled and solidified, a plastic scraper is used to scrape the top layer of leftover wax off the base of the ski. Once the excess has been scraped away, a brush or felt pad is used to buff out the base and make it nice and smooth. For a great example and tutorial, check out this video from Outside Magazine.

Edging Your Skis

Photo by Sergey Novikov

In addition to waxing your skis, the next most important piece of upkeep is making sure your edges are in good shape. Sharp edges are what give you control and responsiveness on snow, and a good edge will keep you stuck to the mountain in technical situations. Lots of things will dull your edges, so it's good to always keep an eye on them.

When using something like a pocket edging tool that you’ll find in a tuning kit, you’re looking out for rust spots and burrs on your edge that could grab at the snow. Using your edge tool, you’re removing material from both the base edge and side edge of the ski to bring it back to a sharp corner. This involves using the file in the edge tool to work from tip to tail on the ski and making sure you have a consistent edge the whole way down. Once you’ve sharpened your edges, you can also use something called a gummy stone, which is included in most tuning kits, to de-tune the contact points of your edge on the tip and tail. The reason for de-tuning part of your edge once you’ve just sharpened it is to ensure the tip and tail of your ski isn’t grabbing at the snow when you go to initiate a turn. You want your edge really sharp underfoot, but slightly duller on either end. For a great tutorial and some tips, check out this video from Swix.

Using P-Tex

P-Tex is something you may have heard of but not quite understood its use. Though it comes in different forms, the most commonly used are P-Tex candles. These look like long sticks of plastic, that are lit from one end using a flame, and dripped onto scratches or gouges in the base of your ski as the candle melts. P-Tex is similar to the base material of your ski and is meant to fill in the base where it’s been hit by rocks or other obstacles. When the P-Tex hardens on the base, the excess is scraped off using a metal scraper, leaving the base flat and smooth once again. For a great resource on using P-Tex, check out this video from Swix.

The breadth of different tuning methods may seem a bit confusing at first, but as the ski season goes on it’s easy to get a feel for what your skis or board need, and how to address it. There are too many different tuning styles to count, and it’s up to you to find what works.

The breadth of different tuning methods may seem a bit confusing at first, but as the ski season goes on it’s easy to get a feel for what your skis or board need, and how to address it. There are too many different tuning styles to count, and it’s up to you to find what works.

A Few Pointers

Photo by Wlad Go

While taking a hot iron, diamond stone, and razor blade to your skis can be daunting, here are a few tips you might find helpful when learning how to tune skis at home. DIY ski tuning is a great chance to keep an eye on your ski edges and decide when you need serious ski base repair versus a quick tune-up. Repairing base damage and tuning ski edges at home allows you to do the minimal amount of maintenance necessary.

Your local ski shop most likely has experienced ex-racers who know which nylon brush to use for different snow conditions, what the difference between sidewall bevel angles and the base edge angle is, and every other ski tuning detail there is to know.

However, if you bring your skis in for a ski tune and base repair, these experts in ski tuning will probably suggest getting a base grind and a machine wax. This is a quick, effective, and affordable way to remove grit, grime, and debris, increase glide by structuring and waxing your bases, and restore edge grip by sharpening edges and being sure to remove burrs.

This ski-tuning prescription is a bit overkill for many avid skiers though. With a simple clothes iron and a few Toko or Swix tools, you can learn how to tune skis in a way that does the minimum amount of necessary work, meaning your skis will last longer and you’ll save money on ski tuning as well.

After every few days of skiing, take a few minutes to determine whether your skis are in need of a hot iron or a pass with the old “edge sharpeners”. Most likely, you’ll see a few problem areas where a few inches of base or edge have been damaged. A few focused passes with a diamond stone or razor blade to repair the worst of the damage will also prevent removing excess edge or base material unnecessarily.

When you’re learning how to tune skis, just remember, there are some steps that are reversible, and some that are permanent. Putting excess wax or P-Tex on your skis may require tons of painstaking scraping to fixing, but it is fixable. There’s no way to undo filing away too much metal from an edge though.

Using thick rubber bands to hold your ski binding brakes up can make scraping excess wax from your ski base and sharpening edges with a file guide and diamond stone much easier. By keeping the brakes away from your ski edges, you can maintain a consistent motion for the entire length of your ski.

One of the trickiest aspects when learning how to tune skis is beveled edges. Many people assume their ski’s bevel angle is a perfectly square 90 angle degree. However, by altering the base edge angle and the side edge angle, manufacturers can make their skis feel more stable when running in a straight line, and more responsive and grippier when engaging turns.

If you are just learning how to tune skis, look up your ski’s edge bevel angles. The base edge angle is measured relative to the base of the ski. The side edge angle is sometimes measured relative to the base of the ski (just like the base edge angle), but some manufacturers like Atomic measure the side edge angle relative to a 90-degree sidewall.

Both the base edge angle and side edge angle are measured from the base of the ski, so base edge angles are typically around 1 degree and side edge angles are typically around 87 degrees. The base edge angle helps pick the edges off the snow when running in a straight line, which reduces drag and prevents your edges from engaging a turn unexpectedly, while the sidewall edge angle helps skis bite into firm and icy snow while turning.

These bevel angles help skiing performance, but they do make learning how to tune skis difficult. One of the first few pieces of ski tuning gear you should consider is a file guide with the correct edge bevels for the skis you plan to tune. While ski tuners still use a freehand file to remove burrs or touch up fresh P-Tex, the majority of sharpening is done with the aid of specialized file guides which hold the file at the perfect angle.

If you’re in the market for home tuning equipment, reach out to the Curated Experts! We have access to tons of tuning gear to set you up with, and a huge amount of knowledge to share.

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