Let’s Talk Brushes
There are lots of brushes out there and many of them serve totally different purposes, simply put all brushes are not made equal.
There are two major styles of brushes: hand brushes and roto brushes.
Hand Brushes: as the name implies, they are held in your hand and require you to put some effort into brushing your boards. The good thing is other than the brush no other tools are needed other than a strong arm.
Roto Brushes: attachments made to fit into an electric drill which spins brush. This definitely negates the need for that strong arm and can really speed the process up.
The average snowboarder with 1 or even 2 boards that is more of a weekend warrior is fine with a good solid set of hand brushes, but it you are riding daily, have several boards, or are maintaining the entire family fleet of boards (or skis) , you may find some serious value in having roto brushes. If you are like me and compete, and compete often and in multiple disciplines, you are going to need both styles of brushes.
Brushes are often highly misunderstood and therefore often misused. You need to understand the different types available to you and when and how they should be used. Considering there are metal, hair, cork, fiber-tex, and synthetic fiber brushes it is easy to see why people get confused.
Let’s start with brush size, to include the roto ones, as they come in different sizes. The reason for the different sizes as basically 2 things:
Smaller brushes are usually cheaper saving you money (they are also easier to hold for children)
Larger brushes are more expensive, but cover more area making the process quicker (they also tend to be easier to hold for adults)
Roto brushes come in a few sizes as well, though the smaller roto brushes are for skis and the larger ones are for snowboards. You can use the ski roto brush on snowboards, but just like a small brush vice a larger brush, it’s going to take you longer. We started with a ski roto brush since my family has both skis and snowboards. After a while, we got snowboard Roto brushes as well simply to save time.
Next you need to understand bristle size and stiffness. Both of these factors dictate what a brush is going to be used for.
In regards to Bristle Diameter:
Larger diameter bristles tend to be better for large area cleaning and rough wax and dirt removal
Smaller bristles are finishing brushes meant for polishing and fine wax removal
In regard to stiffness:
Firm bristles are typically used earlier for cleaning
Softer bristles work better as polishing brushes
If you are again a weekend warrior type, then go for the middle of road with medium stiffness and bristle size. If you are competing, then the base structure of your board is of utmost importance and a variety of brushes (bristle diameter and stiffness) kept for very specific purposes is going to be a necessity. Having three to four brushes and keeping certain ones for pre-wax preparation and post waxing removal and buffing, will provide the best results for your bases.
So, let’s look at the various types of brushes out there. Generally, you can find these in both hand and Roto with a few possible exceptions. Starting with the Pre-Wax Brushes:
Metal Brushes: Coarse metal brushes are useful in pre-wax preparation. Coarse steel, bronze, and copper (my personal choice) brushes are used for cleaning bases, removing oxidation, and freeing up the base structure. This results in a more absorbent base that will glide better. Steel tends to be a more effective cleaning brush, but the bronze and copper tend to be more versatile. It’s not advised to use the same brush for both cleaning and wax removal because some of the dirt and grime removed from the board will be forced back into the base.
Fiber-tex: The two types of fiber-tex that are used before waxing are aluminum oxide (grey) and extra-fine (red) and both are invaluable in proper board care.
Aluminum oxide fiber-tex is the roughest fiber-tex, which better allows you to remove base oxidation and open up the existing base structure, when rubbed on the base before waxing. This will increase the longevity of the board’s structure, reducing how often you need to stone grind, and allows the board to absorb even more wax when applied afterward. Aluminum oxide fiber-tex brushes don’t 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).
Extra-fine (red) fiber-tex is the more commonly used of the two. It's less abrasive than the aluminum oxide version and will deburr the board and remove some oxidation while not affecting the structure. Because it is gentler on your board’s base, you can use this every time before you apply your wax, which helps the wax to absorb better.
Conveniently fiber-tex is most commonly sold in combination packs, and one sheet will last quite a long time.
After waxing and scraping (a quick topic for another day) it is important to clean and polish the base. Even if you do a great job scraping the base a good amount of wax residue will still reside on the base and in the base structure. If you don’t remove this excess wax, the base cannot displace the water created when boarding and water suction will build up, in other words slowing you down. To keep this from happening, let’s look at some post wax brushes.
Metal Brushes: Many people say you can use medium metal brushes after scraping. I find that unless you are doing a horrible job scraping you board, they are not needed and I don’t advise it. Learn to scrape your board properly and don’t try and cheat with a metal brush.
Nylon Brushes: Nylon brushes generally come in a medium white bristle, stiff black bristle, and a very soft blue bristle. The majority of recreational tuners will stick to a white nylon brush for the ease of use. The finer bristled and softer blue nylon brush is a second 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: Natural fiber brushes were generally reserved for application of pure fluorocarbon waxes, but since they are banned now, we won’t be using them for that purpose and if you are going to continue using this type of brush you need to replace the old ones you used with fluoros with new brushes. Horsehair brushes are similar in style and function to the Nylon brushes and can replace them. The other common natural fiber is wild boar hair, but again was more for use with fluorocarbon waxes as a second pass brush.
And finally, the odd man out, the Cork: Corks are commonly 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 many racers used a cork to buff pure fluorocarbon waxes into their boards immediately before a race run, prior to their banning. Just as with the brushes if you used Floros with your cork, you need to replace it as well.
Lastly, a few things to keep in mind specifically for Roto Brushes:
Roto brushes are cylindrical shaped and come in various lengths
100mm & 140mm brushes are the general sizes for skis
300mm lengths for snowboards
A shaft and handle are required to connect the brush to the drill, the shaft spins in the handle and a shield (though not all snowboard length ones have shields) to keep the wax particles from getting in your eyes
Be aware of the recommended drill RPM’s
Use light pressure…don’t bear down
Safety glasses should be worn