Anyone who’s been reading the Tech column this season and practicing a bit should be able to accomplish some basic tuning and minor repairs. Now it’s time to ratchet things up a level by covering some techniques used when tuning for the pros.
The real key to unlocking your board’s potential is in the details. Races can be won or lost by nanoseconds, and sometimes the smallest neglected detail is the difference between glorious victory and also-ran status.
We begin looking for extra speed by revisiting base preparation. First, it’s important to have the base “stone ground” at your shop for the prevailing local conditions. Grind textures and patterns have a substantial influence on a board’s ability to accelerate and maintain speed, and there are a near-infinite number of grind combinations available for different conditions–consult your pro shop about their suggestions for where you ride. Remember to tell them you only want the board ground. You’ll finish the tune yourself.
With the grind complete, it’s time to bust out the structure brushes. With a more “open” grind (for wet, granular spring snow), use a nylon or horsehair brush. If the grind’s texture is very fine and tight (cold, mid-winter conditions), use a brass brush. Either way, the same technique applies. Brush the base in longitudinal strokes from nose to tail. What you’re doing is removing all the “micro-hairs” left deep in the grooves by the grinding process. Although minute, these will create speed-robbing drag if neglected. Brush until the small flecks of base material don’t collect on the bristles and the base looks shiny and smooth.
When satisfied that this initial brushing phase is complete, wrap some 320-grit sandpaper (finer for extremely cold conditions) around a rectangular wooden block and, using light pressure, sand the base lengthwise the same way you used the brush. This process removes all the sharp “peaks” from the stone-ground texture, presenting more surface area to absorb wax and leaving the “valleys” to channel moisture. After sanding, brush again to remove any remaining debris.
Now let’s turn our attention to the edges. You’d be surprised how much effect the steel edge can have on a board’s overall performance. It’s vitally important to have the edges honed to a fine, smooth finish.
After filing in the desired bevel [Remember beveling? See Tech, Volume 5, Number 4], begin polishing the edge with a new, flat whetstone or diamond “DMT” stone. Both should be used wet–I like to keep mine soaking in water in an old coffee cup. Position the stone at the same bevel you just filed and, with light pressure and one- to two-foot strokes, begin polishing the edge. If conditions are exceptionally firm, or if the rider prefers a razor-sharp edge, I’ll use a fine, four- or six-inch file and lightly resharpen certain areas of the side edge–between the feet, for example–then work these areas with the stone again. Check your progress by lightly dragging the tip of a fingernail down the edge, feeling for unwanted burrs.
After the edge is properly stoned, I like to take the polishing one step further. Wrap a section of 320-grit “wet-dry” sandpaper tightly around a file. Using it wet and maintaining the same bevel angle, lightly sand the edges–be careful not to dull the edge you’ve just worked so hard to sharpen. Pay extra-close attention to the base edge, which is the most crucial when you’re carving hard; extra polishing here will significantly improve both acceleration while turning hard off the tail and your ability to maintain speed in the flats. Follow the 320 with 600-grit in the same fashion.
Detuning the contact points is a rider-preference thing. However large the actual detuned area may be, make it as smooth as a baby’s butt with your gummy stone. Blend the detuned area from dull to sharp by gradually extending the length of your stroke away from the contact point. Make one final, extra-light gummy pass down the entire edge–nose to tail–to remove any remaining micro-burrs.
Now you’re ready to wax. Be sure the base plastic is clean and dry. Choose a wax that’s correct for the prevailing conditions. All pro tuners have wax preferences, many assuming a level of devotion nearly religious in nature. There are a lot of options–again, it’s a good idea to find out what the wax swami at your favorite shop has to say. After you’ve chosen, follow the manufacturer’s directions and try not to inhale the fumes–some of these highly fluorinated waxes can be pretty noxious.
Always scrape the wax as thin as possible. Remember–”Thin wins, thick sticks.” This axiom is particularly valid in extremely cold conditions. Brush thoroughly between wax coats (yes, multiple coats are in order on a pro-level tune) to ensure a thin application and that the valleys of the base structure are clear of excess wax.
After all the coats have been applied and the board has cooled to room temperature, brush the base lengthwise with long strokes using light to medium pressure.
Finish the job with a soft nylon brush. The base should now have a deep, uniform glow. At this point, sheath the board in protective plastic and keep it out of the sun–it’s ready for that big moment, whether you’re competing for big money or just bragging rights with your crew.
Although there are countless other things you can do to fine-tune your board, the techniques outlined here will significantly improve its performance beyond the realm of a garden-variety tune. If you have questions, hit the e-mail line and lay ’em on me. In the meantime, it’s been fun to spray a little tech-talk with y’all this season. Enjoy the ride, and I’ll see you in the fall.
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