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D.I.Y. Skimo Skin Tip Attachments
There are a lot of skin options available these days with retailers like Skimo.co bringing more of the European variety to the USA. Unfortunately, tip attachments on pre-built skins are like cell-phone chargers; they’re unstandardized and are often poorly cross-compatible with other manufacturer’s platforms.
The recent availability of skins sold in bulk (from a roll) makes possible a solution to this problem. You can pick your skin, your width, your length, and put it all together by making your own tip attachment. This is easy, kinda fun in a dorky way, and produces an equal product that is both cheaper and lighter than commercial offerings.
The one caveat here is that we’re making race-style skins, which require a notch in the ski tip for fixation. This style of attachment also doesn’t use a tail-fix, so good skinning technique is required. The advantage of the “tip fix” is that it makes removing the skin from your ski while wearing the ski infinitely easier and faster than traditional fixation methods. The only downside to the system is that the lack of a tail-fix can lead to skin failures in certain conditions, such as breaking trail through steep, loose snow, which leads one to slide backwards slightly with each step.
Still, despite that downside, I’ve converted entirely to skins without a tail-fix. After a short learning curve, they’re just simpler and lighter. An added benefit of using race-style skins is that they are so thin and subsequently light that a backup pair can be carried without being a burden. Black Diamond nylon skins are Hummer H2s compared to these Porsches.
What follows is a step by step pictorial guide to making your own tip fix system at home. This is the second time that I’ve built skins at home, and the process took 25 minutes from start to finish. If this is your first time, allow yourself an hour and measure twice, cut once. Please comment with any questions that you might have. You will need the following equipment, or similar:
- – Sharp knife
- – Stout scissors
- – Sharpie
- – Scrap piece of paperboard
- – Some virgin skins
- – Lighter
- – Two (2) soda bottle tops
- – Three (3) feet of 1/4″ elastic cord
- – Allen wrench or similar metal object
- – A speedy-stitcher or riveter (see below)
Firstly, gather your tools and find a clean working space free of loose materials that could end up in skin glue. Good lighting helps as well. Pictured here is my knife of choice, a speedy-stitcher awl, hardy kitchen scissors, and a repurposed clothing tag.
The soda bottle tops are required, the beer optional. I like the standard tops from a 20 oz soda bottle. I bought two and poured out that swill. Buy Sprite if green would look better, Pepsi for blue, suit your taste.
I chose to use Coltex PDG Race skins, as recommended to me by Jason from Skimo.Co. I wanted a race style, high-glide skin with minimal weight. These fit the bill. Pomoca, CAMP, and others also sell skins by the cm. A good starting point for the length to buy in bulk is [(ski length in cm) x 2] – 10 cm.
The objective when cutting the tip is to create a tab that we can fold over elastic cord. Making the tab 3 cm long makes for a snug fit when sewing, as pictured below. If you’re going to rivet, you’ll need more space, maybe 4.5 cm. I eyeballed a width of about 2.5 cm which worked well for me. If you go wider, the skin can pucker under tension. Skinnier tips could work fine, but give you less material to sew.
Note on sewing/riveting: I used a “Speedy Stitcher” sewing awl. This tool costs about $10-15 and will let you sew anything. While working for NOLS I used a speedy stitcher to sew a boot sole back on to a boot and became a life-long convert. It’s use is anything but speedy, but it does throw a locking sewing pattern of waxed polyester thread that is wickedly strong and will still hold even if a stitch is cut. If this sounds like a P.I.T.A. to you, then there are pre-made tips available which come with rivets that can be used to attach the tip loop with only a hammer. As the speedy-stitch is more redundant than one or two rivets, and has other purposes besides, it’s what I use here. Pre-made tips will cost an additional $10-20. Stitching how-to is described well elsewhere. It will take you 10 minutes to learn and you won’t forget it.
Leave the skin backing on. Using a sharpie, trace your planned cut onto the skin tip. Extend your lines to the edge of the skin if your stencil isn’t wide enough.
Now is a good time to confirm that you are working on the correct end of the skin. Remember that the directionality of the plush will point in the opposite direction from the front. When dealing with the 3+ meters of skin that you get from your order, don’t be a rocket scientist, just fold it in half and cut it with scissors to divide it.
Once you’ve marked your tip, cut it out with scissors. You could use a razor blade, as I have in the past, but it’s a pain. Good scissors are easy.
After cutting, there will be some skin plush that wants to fall off. Don’t panic, this is normal. Remove it by rubbing and clear it from your work surface so that it won’t contaminate the glue.
Flip the skin over so that the glue side is upright. Peel back and cut off enough backing to expose the cut tip.
Divide your elastic cord by folding it to the half and cutting with scissors. Taking one of the cord pieces, center it over the skin tab, and snugly fold over the skin tab. The glue may or may not hold it there for you.
This speedy stitcher is ready to work, with ample tail exposed to make tying knots easy. If using a manufacturer’s tip set, follow their instructions for riveting.
When sewing, I start as close to one edge of the skin as possible and move across to the other end making as many stitches as I can without joining holes. If you orient the speedy stitcher opposite from how it is pictured, the knot will finish on the glue side, protected from the friction of sliding. I remembered to do this neither time and am not worried about it.
The more stitches that you can make, the stronger the tip will be. If you have room, you can make a second row of stitching returning in the opposite direction. Avoid stabbing yourself in the finger. Finish your stitching with a square knot. I throw two square knots for security, cut the loose ends about 4 mm from the knot, and melt the tips with a lighter. Do Not sew through the elastic cord itself. This both weakens it and makes it harder to tie in a loop.
If I were perfect, I would have started closer to the edge on the left. I managed 7-8 stitches here, which is plenty in my book. Once you’ve cut and sewn one skin, repeat with the other, again making sure that you’re cutting and sewing the correct end of the skin.
If you own a drill and a vise, you can try to drill your bottle caps. I don’t, so here’s my easy at-home method: using pliers or vice grips to protect your hands from the incredible heat-conducting properties of metal, heat an allen wrench on your stovetop. It doesn’t need to get glowing hot. After waiting a minute or two, plunge it through the center of the cap.
Voila, hole-in-one, with smooth edges to boot. This may smoke slightly, so turn on that stove fan or do it outside. The allen wrench, and possibly the wrench holding it, can get Hot As Hell. Be careful.
Before threading on the bottle cap, use a knife or razor blade to remove any raised edges which could slowly saw through your cord.
Stick both ends of the elastic cord through the bottle cap, orienting it as pictured. If this is maddening, then widen your hole. It can be easier to pass one end through, and the have a friend hold the cord taut to make it skinny as you pass the other end through. Make sure that the tails are each of equal length and then tie a fat knot to hold the bottle cap in position. Shown is a figure eight, which you can use if you made your hole too big. A simple overhand should suffice and will tighten more easily. I positioned my knots about 4 cm from the skin tip, as I want the skin to be some distance from the tip, but not so far as to drag the very front of the skin along the snow surface. Dress these knots well and pull them as tight as you can get them.
The tied cap sits beautifully in a tip notch, and is easy to see and manipulate with gloves on. I like to tie a second knot about 1 inch away from the first to act as a pull-tab. Cut the remaining material about 1 cm from the knot and melt or tape the ends to prevent fraying, if you care.
The finished tip loop positions the skin well, just ahead of the contact point of the ski. You can now remove the backing paper and stick the skin to the ski. Admire your work! And save the skin backing paper, as it is useful for regluing or ironing skins in the future.
Find a circular object with is the same diameter as your skin width. What you find will depend on how wide your skins are. Use this to trace a semi-circular guide to trim the tail. I attached the skins to my skis with gentle but average tension at the tip and then made my tracing about 10 cm from the tail of the ski. Racier setups may cut shorter, to the heelpiece of the binding at the shortest, but for general climbing purposes I’m starting long and may cut shorter as needed.
Trace out the tail cut with a sharpie and cut with scissors. Try to make the transition at the edges as smooth as possible.
You can use the extra material from the first cut to mark where to cut the second. This makes for a matchy pair.
These skins are now cut and ready to roll. If needed, you can now use a skin cutter to trim the skins at the waist. Cutters from Pomoca and G3 make this really easy. Or, to avoid this, just buy skins that are as wide as the waist of your skis minus the edges.
How do they compare to factory made skins? Here, the atomic rocker skins with lightweight plushless glide tips or whatnot clock in at 329 grams.
The home-made pair, of similar length and without final cord trimming, is 47 grams lighter and significantly cheaper than the pre-made offering.
I hope that this guide proves useful to you. If you do things differently, or have improvements to offer, leave them in the comments and I may be able to incorporate them into this article. Buy cheaply, DIY, and ski more!