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.


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