Blog » How to Tune Skis, Never Ski on a Dull Edge Again

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How to Tune Skis, Never Ski on a Dull Edge Again

There seems to be the assumption that tuning a pair of skis is really complicated and/or requires a lot of equipment.  Dropping them off at a shop for a tune multiple times a season can amount to a good sum of money and doesn’t include a personal touch. There is also something therapeutic about being at one with your ski. This post will help your wallet and yourself the next time you’re staring down an icy pitch.

It is true that tuning skis could require a lot of equipment, but since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re not on an elite racing team, and only require a basic tune (i.e. sharpen edges and put on a fresh coat of wax). For $170 you can get set up for a basic tune; that’s 6 shop tunes to make it worth it, something quite conceivable in a season. Here’s what you need for a basic tune:

  • Bevelling guide & clamp or Ice Buster edge sharpener
  • Edge File 
  • Wax (if you want to get really technical you can get temperature specific wax)
  • Iron (there are some pretty good ski specific irons out there, ranging from $50-$200, but I use an old clothes iron that’s been doing the job for two decades and those go for $10 at Walmart.)
  • Wax scraper
  • Work bench with vices (a good set of vices will make your ski tuning experience much more effective, they range from $85-$145)
  • Scotch pad (yup, that’s right, the dish cleaning kind)
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You can keep all your tuning equipment in a tool box, which makes it easy to bring with you on ski trips. The blow torch is not required, I just had it in there for doing P-Tex jobs.

Some optional pieces that will turn your tune into a fine tune are:

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Keep your waxes separate from the rest of your equipment, this will prevent contamination. Also keep them separately in plastic bags. I keep mine in a handy little tool box.

I’m only going to go over a basic tune in this post.  Ideally you should be doing this once a month, if you’re skiing every weekend.  There’s no harm in over waxing your skis, but be careful about sharpening your edges after every ski, it’s amazing how quickly you can run your edges down. So here’s how to tune your skis, should take you 30-45min.

1. Prep – Before you start doing anything, set up your tuning station in your garage or basement.  You’ll need a place where things can get a little dirty. Wax will probably drip on the floor and there will be fine metal shavings, this isn’t something you want to do in your living room.

  • Ideally your skis should be room temperature, don’t start tuning them straight out of the Thule box.
  • Use a brake tie back band (big strong elastic bands) or if you don’t have those, you can always use a ski strap.
  • If you have base cleaner, spray a couple shots of it on the ski and rub it off with a cloth or paper towel. Don’t let it sit too long.  You don’t need to do this too often as it will dry out your bases, but its a good idea if you’re skiing on mostly man made snow.

2. Flat File Your Bases – With your skis lying bases up, take your file and run it flat along your bases, working form tip to tail (always work from tip to tail!)

  • Lightly with your finger tips, run the file along the bases.  Focus on the spots where the file catches, this is a burr. This burr is the consequence of going over those rocks in that awesome chute you skied that day.
  • File these down by running back and forth on that spot, pushing with the same light pressure.  Depending on how bad the burr is, it could take a while, which will make you think twice about skiing in mediocre conditions. If it’s really bad, into the shop it goes for a base grind!
  • Repeat for the other ski.
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Keep your files clean! You can make a sheath for them out of cardboard and duct tape. This is an example of an old/bad kept file (bad me)
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This is what we’re trying to file down, you will feel it catch when you run the file over it.


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3. Sharpen Your Edges – Turn your ski onto it’s side, make sure the vices are tightened! with your bevelling guide and clamp OR Ice Buster Edge Sharpener, run the file down your edge, working from tip to tail.

  • You should be applying enough pressure for the file to grab, but not so hard that you’re feeling strained.
  • DO NOT MOVE IN A BACK AND FORTH FASHION, move the file only from tip to tail.
  • You should make about 2-5 passes over the full ski.
  • If you’re worried about taking too much edge off (it’s possible, I’ve seen a fellow ski racer early on in his career completely file down his edge after a few tunes) run a permanent marker down the edge, and sharpen until all the marker is gone.
  • A good way to check the sharpness of your edge is to run your nails down them, and feel how easily it is to scrape a fine layer off (I didn’t want to ruin my nails, so I made Mark, my boyfriend do this for the photos!)
  • Flip your ski and do the other edge.  Run a cloth over the ski to brush off all the metal shavings when you’re done.
  • Repeat for the other ski.
  • If you have a diamond stone, run it up and down the ski after using the file.
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I’m partial to the 87 degree bevel and clamp system. Edge bevel angles range from 87 to 90 degrees.

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See the metal shavings?
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Dip your diamond stone in some water before use, a tip from a wise Kuu rep. Helps with the fine tuning of the edges 😉
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If you have a diamond stone, run it up and down, back and forth, after sharpening with a file. The diamond stone will fine tune that edge into something of infinite sharpness!
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Check the edges sharpness by running your nails across the edge, feeling how easily a layer of nail is scraped off. I wasn’t ruining my nails on this, so Mark had to do it.

4. Wax Your Bases – With your ski lying base up, starting at one end of the ski, run a drizzle of wax up the ski.

  • You do not need to drizzle a lot of wax! Wax is expensive so you want to use it appropriately. If you’re finding your scrapping off handfuls of wax, you’re applying too much! I try to aim for a single line of drops, no doubling back unless it’s at the fat tips and tails.
  • Lightly run the iron flat on the skis, melting and spreading the wax around.  BE SURE NOT PUSH HARD OR HOLD THE IRON IN ONE SPOT FOR TOO LONG, this will delaminate your skis, very bad.
  • Once the wax is spread all around, set aside to cool and repeat with other ski.
  • Try to keep your wax stick as clean as possible, clear your area of all metal shavings before starting to wax, and store/set down your wax in a plastic bag, to avoid contamination.  No one wants to melt metal shavings and dirt into their bases!
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Move fast down the ski, trying to make a single line of drops.
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Spread the wax around, be careful to not stop for too long in one spot.
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See, even a cheap Walmart iron will do the job!

5. Scrape Your Skis – Once your skis have had a chance to cool, about 10 minutes, you can scrape them.  If you’re too impatient, like me, you can always do a hot scrape or just not scrape at all and let the first couple of runs take the wax off (you will be the last one down the run however).

  • Ski lying base up, vices tight (if your vices don’t grip so well cause you’re skies are too fat, you might need an assistant to hold your tips/tails down), scrape from tip to tail, moving only in the one direction (no back and forth action).
  • It should take about 3-6 passes to get most of the wax scraped down.
  • Run the square corner on the scraper on the edges.
  • Finally buff up the bases and make them look all sexy with the scotch pad.  You can buy fancy buffers, but I honestly like the scotch pad the best! Just run it up and down bad and forth until you’re bases are all smooth and shiny.
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If you’re getting handfuls of wax, you’re putting too much on! Waxing requires a lot of pressure compared to all the filing work done previously.

That’s it! Five simple steps that shouldn’t take you more than 45min, that would have cost you $30+ in a shop.  A shop won’t give you wax selection to snow temperature and personal touch to edge sharpness, but you can! Since this is only a guide to a basic tune, if you have any questions about other steps or pieces of tuning equipment, I’d be happy to answer!

Thanks Dad (Larry Kwan) for all the photos and Thanks Mark for assisting!