Tarring the bases of wooden skis is a necessity to help ensure the skis have a long life and are enjoyable to use. Until the early 1970's nordic skis were only made of wood. The advent and rise of the synthetic ski has meant fewer people still use wooden skis. But the craftmanship of wood skis and the memory invoking odour of tarring makes many skiers very nostalgic.
The tar used for base preparation for wooden skis is 100% pine tree tar. You can purchase pine tar from the SkiWax.ca Wooden Skis Specialty Page. You should never use tar that is petroleum-based or that has petroleum or plastic or silicon additives. The wood typically found on the base of a wooden ski is birch or hickory with the edges made of lignastone (a tough wood to keep the ski edge).
The best time of year to tar your wooden skis is in the spring. This ensures that the wood is sealed and protected over the summer & fall. The spring tarring will help keep the camber of the wooden skis. It's never too late to tar your skis if you forgot to earlier in the year! If you ski a lot or have skied in abrasive conditions (i.e. ice crust) you may need to tar more than once a year.
During the ski season regularly check that enough tar remains in the ski base. If a portion of the base appears to be without or with little tar you should re-tar the bases. The needed frequency of re-tarring will depend on the type of wood, amount of skiing, snow conditions, time and method of application.
Before you begin tarring the bases you should check that the base is dry so that the tarring process will not trap water in the wood. Clean the base of any dirt, wax or foreign material. This is most easily done with sharp metal scraper on wood skis. If there is some very sticky wax such as a red kick wax or klister you may need to use some wax remover. You should give the base a light sanding with #100 or #120 grit sandpaper in areas where scrapes have damaged the wood.
You may have heard some skiers with P-Tex ski bases talking about structuring the base of their skis for various temperatures and snow conditions. Wood base skis are not the same as P-Tex base skis. The structuring discussion does not include wood base skis. So don't worry about it.
You should have a work area that is clear of any flamable material such as rags, newspapers and solvents. The tar will have to be heated with the recommended method. The work area should also be well ventilated.
Hot tarring the wood ski bases is the recommended method. It provides the best penetration into the wood giving a longer lasting job. If you are not comfortable with this method you can use Method Two (below).
Apply a thin layer of tar across the entire ski base from tip to tail. Be sure to cover all of the ski base -- even the portion of the ski tip that does not normally come in contact with the ski trail. Heat the tar into the base with either a hot air gun or very hot hair drier. Keep the heating tool moving and work from tip to tail and from side to side so that the tar is heated into the base. You will see the tar bubble slightly. Once the tar has been absorbed let the ski rest at room temperature for 5 to 6 hours. Then wipe any excess tar from the base. Be sure to get all excess off. If any portion of the base appears to absorb the tar completely while being heated then the tar layer may have been too thin. Applying a small amount of additional tar to this area and heat it into the wood. This will ensure complete coverage.
You may use a propane torch with a flare tip instead of the hot air gun suggested above. But you must take extra care not to burn the ski or anything else. Do not use a "pencil tip" for heating the tar on the propane torch; get the flare tip! The pencil tip which comes standard with virtually all propane torches will concentrate the heat making the job take longer and it will increase the chances of you damaging the ski.
Cold tarring is an alternative method for tarring wooden ski bases. While this method is effective, hot tarring will last longer.
Apply a thin layer of tar across the entire ski base from tip to tail. Be sure to cover all of the ski base -- even the portion of the ski tip that does not normally come in contact with the ski trail. Let stand for 24 hours at room temperature (20°C/70°F). Then wipe any excess tar from the base. If there are any bare spots on the base it means that area absorbed all of the tar applied to it. You should apply more in these bare areas to protect the base.
You will need to check the ski bases more often with this method to ensure that enough tar remains in the ski base.
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