When it comes to ski maintenance, brushes are probably the most misunderstood and misused tool. When tuning your equipment brushes serve many valuable functions in the pre and post wax phases of the ski. Between metal, hair, and synthetic fibers it is easy to see why people get confused, not to mention drill powered roto-brushes. The purpose of this guide is to help differentiate between the types and uses of the various brushes, corks, and fiber-tex available.
Let’s cover a few basics before we get into the specifics. The first thing most people notice is that each style of brush will come in many sizes. The reason for the size differences is twofold. The most obvious reason is that the smaller brushes save on cost, but more importantly the larger the brush is the more area it covers. This makes the whole process move more quickly and larger brushes are much easier to hold. You would be hard pressed to find a professional shop that does not employ large oval, rectangle, or roto-brushes for their tuning needs. The two other materials that fall into the brushes category are Fiber-tex and Corks. Fiber-tex plays important roles in pre-wax preparation in removing oxidation on the base and edges. Corks are a handy on hill tool, or inexpensive (although much less effective) iron replacement option.
The single most important feature of a brush is the bristle. Ski Wax Brushes come in a variety of different bristle sizes and amounts of stiffness. Both of these factors dictate what a brush is going to be the most useful for. Larger diameter bristles tend to be better for large area cleaning and rough wax and dirt removal where smaller bristles are finishing brushes meant for polishing and fine wax removal, especially for getting wax out of the base structure. The stiffness of the bristle works in a very similar manner, where the more firm bristles are typically used earlier for cleaning and softer work better as polishing brushes. If having multiple brushes is not an option medium stiffness and size bristles can cover all necessary applications, but is certainly not recommended. Having three to four brushes, and keeping certain brushes for pre-wax preparation and post waxing removal and buffing, will provide the best polished and running bases.
The objective of all pre-waxing tools is to help provide the best canvas for wax absorption. These tools serve to remove imperfections in the base such as oxidation and dirt, while restoring the base structure. Proper care before waxing will make a very noticeable different on the look and feel of the finished result.
Coarse metal brushes are also very useful in pre-wax preparation. Coarse steel, bronze, and copper brushes are used for cleaning bases, removing oxidation, and freeing up the base structure. The end result is more absorbent base that will glide better. Between the two materials the steel brush is a more effective cleaning brush, but the bronze and copper tend to be more versatile. Not as efficient while cleaning and removing oxidation bronze and copper brushes are quite a bit softer and can also be used as the first brush post waxing to reduce the amount of brushes needed. The down side to using one brush for both cleaning and wax removal is that some of the dirt and grime removed from the ski will be forced back into the base.
The two types of fiber-tex that come into play before waxing are aluminum oxide (grey) and extra-fine (red) and both are invaluable in proper ski care. Aluminum oxide fiber-tex is the roughest fiber-tex, allowing it to remove base oxidation and open up the existing base structure, when rubbed on the base before waxing. This serves the two purposes of increasing the longevity of the ski’s structure, meaning fewer trips to your local shop for stone grinding, and allowing the ski to absorb even more wax when applied afterward. The Aluminum oxide fiber-tex does not need to be used before every wax application, just when the structure is beginning to settle or the base is starting to oxidize (turn white and chalky). It is extra-fine fiber-tex that that most tuners will use religiously. Quite a bit less abrasive than the aluminum oxide version, the extra-fine will deburr the ski and remove some oxidation, all while not affecting the structure. This allows extra-fine to be used before every wax application to help create an open canvas to absorb wax. Conveniently fiber-tex is most commonly sold in combination packs, and one sheet will last quite a long time.
After waxing and scraping it is important to clean and polish the base for the best possible glide and feel on the snow. Even after scraping the base a good amount of wax residue will still reside on the base and in the base structure. Without removing this excess wax the base cannot displace the water created when skiing and water suction will build up, preventing a clean glide.
Medium bronze and copper brushes make excellent post scraping brushes. Their mid stiff bristles and smaller bristle size remove a large amount of wax with relative ease. They will commonly be surrounded by a nylon ring to aid in trapping and sweeping the wax dust that is created while brushing. Medium bronze brushes will be found on the bench of any professional tuner for their versatility and first brush cleaning ability, and are often recommended as the one brush to have if you are only going to own one brush.
Where the first use metal brushes leave off is where nylon brushes pick up, but can also serve as a replacement. Nylon brushes will come in a medium white bristle, stiff black bristle and a very soft blue bristle. The white and black nylon bristles are slightly larger in diameter than medium bronze brushes so they can serve the same post wax removal use but tend to take a few more passes on higher end waxes, but are extremely useful on hydrocarbon and bio-degradable waxes. The majority of recreational tuners will stick to a white nylon brush for the ease of use. The mush more fine bristled and softer blue nylon brush is a second of even third pass brush. The very fine and soft texture allows this brush to reach deep into the base structure and pull out all the remaining wax, without affecting the structure. The result is a clean and polished looking base that will have exceptional glide.
Natural fiber brushes are usually reserved for application of pure fluorocarbon waxes, such as Cera F, but can also play a role in day to day maintenance. Horsehair brushes have a similar bristle to most soft nylon options, and therefore can quite easily replace them. The other common natural fiber is wild boar hair. Slightly stiffer and larger in diameter than horsehair, the boar’s hair brushes are kept to use with pure fluorocarbon waxes as a second pass brush. It is important to note that given the difference between the makeup of pure fluorocarbon waxes and everything else separate brushes must to used. If the same brushes are used on both types of wax the pure fluorocarbon wax will become contaminated and therefore much less effective.
The purpose of the roto-brush system is efficiency. Roto-brushes will come in all the standard variations as hand held brushes, but a sized for roto-handles, allowing the user attach the brush and handle combination to a drill. Any standard drill chuck will work with the roto system; however the added torque of a corded drill is usually preferred to cordless drills. By using the drill rotation the constant rubbing and buffing with hand brushes is eliminated, greatly speeding up the process and for bulk tuning is almost necessary.
Corks are generally misunderstood and misused. While Corks share many characteristics with brushes given the handheld nature and similar size they are not intended for the same use. Corks are used in the application of waxes, not the removal. They are handy for a quick on the hill fix, and most racers will use a cork to buff pure fluorocarbon waxes into their skis immediately before a race run. We will discuss the practical uses of cork products more closely in the irons/vices/tables buying guide.