Skin Care – Cleaning Climbing Skins

by Andy Dappen

It inevitably happens to backcountry skiing skins—the glue, especially on the tails, turns into a mess of dirt, pine needles, and wax, causing the skins to peel off in use (a good reason to purchase skincleaningskins that clip to the tail of your skis). For awhile (for several years, that is) you can do the lazy thing—apply a little fresh skin glue over the mess and carry on. But once in awhile—like once every five years—you should strip away all that contamination, get down to the fabric substrate of the skin, and reapply fresh glue.

It’s an easy job but a messy one one — which is why doing this every five years may seem too soon.

Details, Details

Tools and Materials:

  • Wide masking tape.
  • A ski waxing iron or an old clothes iron (not the one your spouse uses on silk shirts).
  • Brown paper bags cut into strips that are an inches wider than your skins (since the advent of “paper or plastic” you may not have paper bags around, so use strips of recycled photocopy paper.
  • A scraper, putty knife, or ski scraper.
  • A strip of cardboard that’s longer than your skins and that you can use outside as a working surface (it will be getting melted glue on it).
  • New glue. I prefer Gold Label made by Ascension/Black Diamond but Colltex glue is fine. Note: Don’t worry about using a new brand of glue as a replacement—a clean skin isn’t going to reject a different brand of glue.
  • Several cotton rags.
  • Acetone or white gas.
  • A wastepaper basket.
  • Disposable rubber gloves or surgical gloves (not mandatory but nice for keeping your hands from becoming a sticky mess)
  • A quality respirator (mask) that filters out organic vapors. If you don’t have such a mask, work outside in a slight breeze.

Where to Work:

Outside. Melting off the old glue and applying new glue creates all manners of fumes you’ll want to share with everyone rather than horde inside your house.skincleaning-7

Photo: A paper-bag strip being ironed to absorb old skin glue.

Removing Old Glue:

  • Cover the nylon plush of each skin (that would be the non-sticky side) with masking tape to keep your skin clean throughout the messy procedures ahead.
  • Lie a skin down on your cardboard working surface, glue-side up, cover a segment of the skin with a strip of brown paper, and iron the paper (medium heat) for about 10 seconds.
  • Lift the strip of paper and much of the glue will transfer off the skin with the paper. You’ll need to experiment with the amount of time needed to iron each strip of paper (the paper should lift off easily carrying a good load of glue). You’ll need to repeat this process several times to remove years of grime from the tips and tails, which are likely to have the highest concentrations of dirty, gummy glue.
  • Right after removing a heated strip of paper, you can also scrape that portion of the skin with a putty knife and the heated glue will wad up nicely on the scraper. Transfer that wad into a rag.
  • Keep repeating the paper-iron-scraping treatment until you have stripped away the mess. If parts of your skins (e.g., the centers) are still clean, you might ignore them—or do a one-strip cleaning of that section.

skincleaning-6Photo: Using a scraper to remove old glue right after heated paper has been peeled off the skin.

Applying New Glue:

Once the skin is clean, it’s time to apply three light coats of new glue.

  •  Hastily paint the edges of your skins with new glue (the Gold Label glue comes with a brush). Then, working quickly while the glue is liquid, use the scraper or putty knife to spread the glue into a thin, uniform film. Note: If you’re working with wide skins for modern telemark and randonnee skis, concentrate on getting a nice film along the edges and on keeping the center of the skin fairly glue free (you might even want to put a strip of thin masking tape down the center) so that you can actually pull the suckers apart in the field. If you’re re-gluing skinny skins for cross-country skis, spread the glue evenly over the whole surface.
  • Set the skins aside for 30 minutes, then repeat the last step.
  • Apply three coats of glue, then hang the skins unfolded for 12 hours so they can vent fumes as the glue cures. Note: Save family brain cells by leaving the skins outside for the first few hours of the curing process, then move them inside.

Clean Up:

When you’re done, old and new skin glue will coat many things—your iron, fingers, scraper….  Turn up the iron to maximum heat and much of the glue will burn off. Then unplug the iron and after a few minutes wipe the base of the hot iron with a clean rag and most of the glue will be gone. A rag soaked with acetone or white gas, will work for cleaning other tools and your fingers.

This article was originally posted on 5/3/11.


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