Buying Guide for Ski Tuning Tools
By Steve Kopitz
This guide will delve into various tools used in tuning. The amount of different files, stones (diamond and ceramic), holders, and other tuning implements can seem endless and overwhelming. However with a little organization anyone can easily navigate all the different tuning tools available. The majority of these tools will be for edge bevel setting, sharpening, and honing. The ability to maintain a ski or snowboard edge will not only effect the overall glide of the ski, but will change how the equipment will hold an edge and the riders ability to get the ski or snowboard onto edge. Proper edge maintenance is a combination of actually choosing edge angles, sharpening edges, and honing or deburring. There are many different ways to determine preferred edge angles that we will discuss in another how-to. For now we are going to explain the difference between files and stones used for each step in the process as well as the tools needed. When maintaining edges both the side and base edges need to be addressed and different holders exist to work on base edges, side edges, or both. These holders will accept different styles of files and stones, making the choice of holder just as important as the tool that it is being used with.
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|File Holders||Sidewall Cutters|
Almost all tuning files are for cutting and shaping edge bevels. The major difference comes in what stage of the process, and how often each type of file is used. The biggest factor for determining where a file falls in the edge maintenance process is the teeth per centimeter (we will call this TPCM from now on). The greater the TPCM the more fine the teeth will be and vise versa. This means a low TPCM will shave a larger amount of material from the edge and a high TPCM file will polish and remove less material. Files will also come in a variety of lengths to fit all the different file holders.
These files will have 10 to 12 TPCM, making them for perfect first cut use. The larger teeth make these files large burrs and changing edge bevels all together. However, due to the amount of material they remove traditional and bastard files need to be followed up by smoother files. So for single file use there are not recommended, but are invaluable to racers that will change edge angles from ski to ski, or freestyle skiers looking to detune for boxes and rails.
Second Cut: Second cut files will typically be 16 TPCM, which makes the teeth quite a bit smaller than bastard files. The smaller teeth on the second cut files can still remove some material, but are ideal for setting up fine file and diamond stone work. The fact that second cut files can remove material, makes it a perfect file for tuners looking to keep things simple and only use one file. While second cut files can renew the sharpness of the edge they do not take off enough metal to truly change an edge bevel.
Fine Cut: Fine cut files will be around 20 TPCM which leaves them with smooth and small teeth. The size and shape of fine cut files allow them to remove the striations left behind by the bastard and second cut files. While very handy fine cut files can be replaced with diamond stones in most situations, the fine cut file will be more durable than the diamond stones.
Tuning stones come in as many, if not more, varieties than files and are equally useful. Diamond stones are the most widely used stones, but gummi, pocket, and ceramic stones all play roles in proper tuning of skis and snowboards. Stones uses range from deburring to polishing and because they are usually must smaller in size are often the choice of on slope emergency edge work.
Diamond stones have the ability to work in the same manner as files, but will also come in varieties that allow for much more detailed work. Most diamond stone will come in different levels of coarseness ranging from 100 to 1000, the higher the number the smoother stone. 100 Grit is considered extra-coarse and is best used for deburring from rock hits or to remove case hardening from stone grinding. 200 Grit is considered coarse and is used very similarly to the extra-coarse stones. While not rough enough to remove case hardening the Coarse stones are great for deburring and because they are slightly less abrasive are very commonly taken for on hill edge maintenance. 400 Grit is considered medium coarse and is the first diamond stone that is primarily used for polishing. Typically used right after a fine cut file or 200 grit diamond stone, the medium coarse stone will start to remove striations and bring a polish to the edge, and a properly polished edge stays sharp longer. 600-800 Grit is considered fine and is used to continue the polishing and honing effect of medium coarse stones. 1000 Grit is considered extra-fine and provides that perfect mirror finish. Extra-fine stones are a must for any race kit as they provide extremely accurate edge accuracy, and leave edges with an ultra smooth finish. Now having every single grit of diamond stone is not essential but the proper combination will leave perfectly set edges. The diamond stones each tuner will select differ depending on the files used but most will have 100, 400, and 1000 grit stones as well as a 200 grit for on hill use.
Gummy stones come in two different styles, soft and hard. The soft stone (usually grey) is wonderful for removing surface rust and light burrs from ski and snowboard edges. Soft stones are particularly useful for people that travel quite a bit or keep their equipment in the car as light burring and rusting tends to happen when edges are put away wet and jostled around. The hard stone is slightly less popular, but works in many of the same ways. Hard stones are also very good at deburring after filing edges and can serve to clean up light rust, but are more abrasive so they take a more steady hand.
Like gummy stones, ceramic stones come in two styles, both coarse and and fine. Ceramic stones are for use after filing and diamond stone use. The coarse stone removes striations and hones edge to hold its sharpness longer. The more common fine ceramic stone is a racing staple. When used as the final treatment for edges the fine stone polishes and hones the edge to the precise angle of the previous tool used, and provides the ultimate polish for a clean edge on the snow.
Miscellaneous Stones and Files
Pocket stones should be in every single tuning kit in the world. Most will be two sided, fine on one side, coarse on the other, and give the most bang of the buck for recreational skiers. Even if sharpening and honing edges seems like too much work, general edge maintenance is still very important. These simple pocket stones are able to deburr and smooth most damage that can be caused while skiing. Having the two grits allow tuners to remove and smooth most rock hits and other edge damage in a small, and durable package. Milled files are very rough panzer files. They are less practical for edge use, and are more for general ski care. These files are great for removing heavy rust on edges, but are not every day type files as they take far too much material off. Also, milled files are helpful for smoothing out top sheet chips and taking leveling off base material before filling gouges.
As is the case with all tuning equipment different file holders exist for all price ranges and uses. The characteristics that define easy to use holders are size, material, and overall weight. Tools that are larger are simply easier to hold, however if the cutting surface is also large it becomes hard to follow the sidecut of the ski. As for materials, metal is better than plastic, as it will last longer and flex less, giving a more consistent cutting plane. Weight tends to mirror material, and the heavier the holder (to an extent) the easier is it to move smooth and even with the tool. So while adjustable holders can provide a multitude of edge angles they often prove to be quirky to adjust, but while single degree holders offer precision they may not be the best choice for recreational tuners that need to use different angles more frequently.
Multiple Angle Holders
Multiple angle edge tools can be used for side edge, base edge, or both and are made in both metal and plastic to suit different price points. Most multi angle holders will only fit up to 40 millimeter files and stones, which greatly limits the options available. For tuners looking for an easy way to change edge bevels they are a great choice, but most lack the ability to truly set a perfect edge as they cannot hold the stones and files used to polish and hone an edge. As with any file or stone holder the nicer the tool the more metal it will have and the larger it will be. The most basic multi angle tools are often made of plastic and will work for two angles. These holders will usually include a small, replaceable file or stone. They also tend to work for both base and side edges, and due to the small file or stone size are very easy to use and follow aggressive side-cut profiles with ease. The largest down side to these basic multi angle tools is the use of plastic, and as a result they will flex during use, leading to an inconsistent cut. More advanced multi angle tools will either use metal pieces or be wholly metal and work for angles from 90 to 85 degrees, in single degree increments. Some will also work for two base edge angles of .5 and 1 degree. These guides also tend to use 40 millimeter files, which are also short enough to fit into most aggressive side-cut profiles as well. Being all or mostly metal will provide a more consistent cut and longer life as well.
Single Angle Holders
Single angle file holders are the choice of professional tuners around the globe. Metal is the material of choice for single angle holders due to the clean and consistent cut it provides as well as the durability. The most significant feature of single angle guides is that they will work with any style or length of file or stone. This allows each guide to be used for every step in the process, producing the best and most consistent finished product. These holders are large, heavy and easy to handle, while allowing the tuner to use a small portion of a file or stone to perfectly contour the edge profile no matter the side-cut. Side edge holders will come one degree steps from 90 to 83 degrees while base edge holders will come in quarter degree steps from .5 to 1.5 degrees. While the angles might change from ski to ski the fact that single angle holders are the best option when a perfect edge is needed will not.
Sidewall Cutters are an under appreciated tool in the tuning arsenal. Most skis or snowboards will have a slight protrusion at the edge leaving room to change side edge bevels. After a few sharpening and bevel changes this protrusion as well as the sidewall, will get in the way making it hard to re-sharpen the edge. This is where a sidewall cutter or remover becomes necessary. It very simply is a tool that shaves back sidewall material at a 90 degree angle to the base, allowing for more aggressive side edge angles. This becomes more important with slalom and giant slalom skis that will use side edge bevels of four degrees or more.
Scrapers are used to remove wax from the base after ironing. Scrapers will come in both plastic and metal options, however plastic is the more popular. Metal scrapers are difficult to use and require a very steady hand because they do remove a small amount of base material and can gouge a base unless careful. Plastic scrapers will vary between three to five millimeters thick and are made of plexi-glass. This keeps the scrapers from easily damaging base material, and makes the scraper easy to re sharpen.
A sharp scraper is a tuners best friend while waxing, and no one wants to buy new scrapers every ten tunes. For this reason scraper sharpeners were made. These sharpeners are 90 degree guides while a panzer file underneath. They easily mount to a bench or table allow scrapers to be used for much longer than they would otherwise. Most scrapers will dull to the point where they become difficult to use after twelve to fifteen pairs of skis and a sharpener at the price of two scrapers will make a scraper last five to six times longer.