How to tar wooden skis

When I want to exercise during the winter, I take my wonderful pair of cross country skis, and hit the tracks maintained by my beloved home town. My skis are very, very light weight, made of glass fiber, and some “nanotech” thingies, which I don’t even try to understand. I just love those skis. They are absolutely perfect for pleasant 10 to 25 km (6 to 15 miles) exercise trips on man made tracks. However, when the man made tracks end, they are also absolutely useless.

For deeper snow, one needs skis wide enough to carry the skiers weight, and, in most of the situations, short enough for convenient handling. For that purpose, whether one wants to conquer the south pole, or just to have a pleasant week long deep snow trip, there are plenty of carbon fiber – titanium composite, honeycomb structure wonders available for only a few hundred euros/dollars.

Well, since my off track skiing is limited to hauling stuff to our hunting cabin, and occasional hunting or ice fishing trips, my choice of off track skis for the last 30 years, has been wooden military skis (Swedish army surplus) worth of 10 euros/dollars (including bindings).

For the last three decades, my 210 cm long, and 10 cm wide (7 ft, 4 in, respectively) wooden skis have been loyal partners in many, many winter trips in various snow conditions, and I’m planning to use the very same pair of skis for the next three decades as well.

To make a pair of wooden skis last for 30 (or 60) years, there are couple of things to remember. 1) The wood has limited flexibility. If you are aiming for the olympic gold in moguls, for training, use skis made of some other material. 2) To maintain the original flexibility of the wood, store your skis outdoors or in cold storage space protected from the direct exposure to the sun. 3) Tar your skis.

There is an ancient Finnish saying: “If sauna, booze, and tar does not cure it, it’ll kill you.”

And what is good for a man, must be good for skis too. Well, sauna may be beneficial for the skis in some situations, and some booze may delight the skier, but tar is absolutely essential for the well being of wooden skis.

OK, why, and how, to give tar to your wooden skis?

First, Why? What does the tar really do?

First of all, the tar protects the wood from water. It has been used for that purpose for thousands of years, and not only for skis. For a very long time, tar was the most important export product of Scandinavia and Finland. It was used for all imaginable items made of wood, including wooden ships. For centuries, the British Royal Navy was the biggest customer of the nordic tar industry.

In addition to protecting naval vessels from water born damage, tar preserved woods original spring like nature. After the end of wooden ship era, and developments in chemistry, tar slowly became less and less important in industrial and household use, but it still is the best thing that can be applied on to wooden skis. It protects the skis as well as it used to protect huge sail ships, but it also acts as an universal ski wax. No other material, as far as I know, has those beneficial properties so perfectly combined.

Then, How?

First, find some good quality tar made from pine trees (should be available at the local hardware store, if not, try some all natural boutique for tree-huggers). Next, find a hot air gun or a blow torch. Then, the only thing missing is a tool to apply the tar. For that, a perfect thing is an old tennis sock or any other cotton rag.

Start the tarring project in a warm day, or by bringing the skis indoors. (if you are doing this indoors, protect the floor. Tar is messy and sticky stuff.)

Pour some tar onto the bases of the skis (as seen on the video). Then heat the tar with the hot air gun or with the blow torch (if you are using the blow torch, do it outdoors). Spread the tar with a cotton cloth (an old tennis sock). Heat the tar again, and rub it in with your old sock (Be careful, not to burn your fingers or to melt the floor cover.)

When the skis have absorbed all the tar, leave the skis indoors for the final drying for few days (or place them into the sauna for few hours), and you are ready to go for the next 100-200 km (65-130 miles).

Now that I have convinced you about the tar’s superiority against anything else, and you have carefully tarred your skis, I must warn you that for the first couple of kilometers, after newly applied tar, the glide of the skis is somewhat questionable, but after that, the skis should serve you really well for the next 200 km at temperatures from 0 to -20. For warmer weather and wet snow, it is a good idea to have a candle stick in your pocket, and when the wet snow begins to stick to the skis, rub some candle paraffin on top of the tar, and just keep on skiing.

Traditional wooden skis are comparable to the Jeep among cars. You wouldn’t race your Jeep against Ferraris or Hummers in their own fields, and there are plenty of better cars for everyday commuting, but if you want to do a little bit of everything with one car, Jeep is not the worst choice.


OpenStreetMaps for Garmin eTrex 10

In my previous post I explained how to install topographic maps into Garmin eTrex 10 GPS navigator.

Unfortunately, it seems like detailed topographic maps are not available everywhere, for free anyway.

Therefore, I felt obligated to present an alternative way to get Garmin eTrex 10 compatible maps.

The first, an probably the best place to start looking for maps are the pages.

Openstreetmaps (I call them OS-maps from now on) are somewhat motoring oriented, and they do not tell you much about the terrain, but most of the roads, trails, waterways, and such are marked pretty well. The coverage varies from place to place, and one has to be aware of that, but, as I have mentioned before, any map is better than the original Garmin World Wide Base Map.

A good thing about the limited details of the OS-maps is that one can easily fit a map covering thousands of square kilometers (or miles) into 8 MB storage space of eTrex 10.

Well then, how to start?

First, go to the page. Pan, zoom, and study the map. (The level of details on the map will be the same on your Garmin eTrex 10). When you have found the area you are interested in, click the “Export” button on top of the screen. Now, if your map area is small enough (openstreetmaps lets you download about 35X35 km (22X22 miles) maps), just click the blue and white “export” button to download the map. If your map is too large, click “Manually select a different area”, and resize your area till the blue and white “export” button appears.

If you are looking for larger maps to download, scroll down a little bit, and click “Planet OSM”. From Planet OSM, you can find several downloading options, but for eTrex 10 maps, I recommend clicking “”. From the, you can download premade maps, or choose your own by clicking “select your own region”. From there, you can pan and zoom to your favorite area, and select the size and shape of your map. Wonderful thing about the, is that when you are selecting your map area, you can see the size of the package at the left side of the window (remember the max limit of 8 MB for eTrex 10. The size of the map decreases a little bit during the further processing, but don’t try to download any GB size maps).

Once you have selected the map area, choose the file format. (I have used “OSM XML 7z (xz)”).

Then wants your e-mail address (I have not had any junk mail or any other trouble after giving my address.), and after couple of minutes, you will receive an e-mail with links to download your new map. Then extract the zip file, and you are ready for the next step.

Now, you should have a xxxxxxx.OSM file in your computer. To convert the OSM file to Garmin accepted IMG file, there are several free programs available. My favorite is the mkgmap, which can be found from or from LINUX repositories. As a Linux user, I have installed two programs, “mkgmap”, which is the converter program itself, and “mkgmapgui”, which is a graphical user interface for the mkgmap.

To operate the mkgmap on Linux, type “mkgmapgui” to the terminal window, and click “enter”.

In an appearing, self-explanatory window, select your newly downloaded OSM file, give it a random number (this is probably for some more complicated map projects, but for some reason, the program asks for a number), and click “Convert”. Next, the program asks you for the saving location and the name for your new IMG file. Give them, click “Save”, and in few seconds you have your map in Garmin compatible IMG format.

The only remaining thing to do is to load your new map into your Garmin eTrex 10, as instructed here.

How to install topographic maps into Garmin Etrex 10

According to the manufacturer, Garmin eTrex 10 has a pre-installed world wide base map in it, and if you need more detailed maps, you should buy one of the more expensive Garmin models.

Yes, Garmin eTrex 10 has a world wide base map in it, and by using it you can easily find features such as continents and oceans, and, if you are seriously lost, the map shows you even smaller land marks, such as the Great lakes, New York city, and LA. “God damn it, I was sure I was approaching either the New york city or LA, but from my trusty Garmin map, I was able to see that the town in front of me was Chicago. Thank you Garmin!!”
Unfortunately, for most of the people who use hand held GPS devices, the knowledge whether the hill in front of them belongs to the Himalayans or to the Andes is not quite enough. Therefore, they have to buy an expensive GPS thingy and loads of maps to it.
Wrong! Although, the Garmin Etrex 10 does not have a slot for external memory cards, or any commercially available maps for it, it has some internal memory space for its own operational purposes, and for the storage of its useless world wide base map.
By replacing the original base map file with your own map file, you can load very, very detailed topographic maps to your Garmin eTrex 10.

First you need to find a map file covering the area of your interest. The requirements for the file are a) .img file format for Garmin devices, and b) size no larger than 8 MB (8MB is the available space after deleting the base map).

The internet is full of sources for right size .img map files, some areas covered better than the others. If you cannot find ready made files for your area, the net is also full of instructions how to chop and convert practically any kind of map files to the .img format.
I may, one day in the future, address the chopping and converting process, but in this entry, I’m only describing how to replace the base map with an existing .img file.

When you have downloaded the .img file, connect your Garmin eTrex 10 to your computer.
After a little while (eTrex is saving the track logs and such) you shall see either a Garmin logo on your screen, or a pop up window asking what to do. Either double click the Garmin logo or click the part that says: “view folders or files”.
In the following window, double click the Garmin folder.
In the next window, among the other files and folders, there is one named “gmapbmap.img” (that is the world wide base map file). If you want to save the base map, copy it first somewhere to your computer. Then right click the gmapbmap.img, and choose Delete.
Next, drag your own .img map file to the Garmin folder. (It may take couple of minutes to copy the file into your Garmin).
When the copying is done, right click your file in the Garmin folder, and choose Rename.
Rename your file to gmapbmap (this way your Garmin device is cheated to believe that the new file is a real Garmin map file.)

An optional way to install maps into your Garmin is to use Garmin’s own MapInstall program (freely available from The program recognizes your Garmin device and available maps in your computer. Then you can choose the map you want to be installed and let the program do the rest. However, you still need to rename the installed file before you can use it.

After these few simple clicks, your Garmin eTrex 10 should be ready for some serious navigation.
A limiting factor in a “maps for Garmin eTrex 10” project is the limited size of storage in the device, which requires computer access when ever you move to a new area. However, a very detailed 8 MB map covers about 1152 square kilometres (24X48) or 450 square miles (15X30), which, in most of the cases, is quite enough for an average hiker.

Well then, if these maps are so great, and easy to install, why don’t Garmin sell these maps to the consumers?

The answer is obvious: if these maps were readily available for an entry level <100 €/$ device, no one would buy those 200-300 €/$ thingies.