For a fencer having the skills to fix and maintain weapons is incredibly important. You could be the greatest fencer in the world but if your swords aren’t working properly it’s game over, especially if you’re like me and live far from a recognised armourer. But fixing a fencing weapon isn’t a daunting task; it isn’t even that difficult if I’m honest. I’ve come up with a quick guide but before I get to it here’s my list of tools:
In my fencing bag I keep;
A 6mm T-bar Allen key, an adjustable wrench, cloth tape (blade), insulating tape (tip), cotton buds, flathead jeweller’s screwdriver, magnetic pick-up tool, pliers, small positive screwdriver, spare grub screws & springs, Swiss army knife, test box, towel and various bodywires.
While in my shed I have;
A small vice, bucket, chain, craft knife, hot air gun, junior hacksaw, junior hacksaw blades, kitchen roll, large file, lighter, masking tape, multimeter, superglue (Zap Thin CA), water, wet and dry paper and the contents of my fencing bag. I also buy spare parts (tips, wires etc) from the internet and competitions when I need to.
And now all the different Problems and Solutions:
Cleaning the Tip – In my experience around 75% of all foil failures are to do with the tip. Thankfully tips are easy to clean although it can be fiddly. To find out whether the tip needs cleaning plug it into a test box and tap the sword. If the green light becomes dim then the likelihood is that it needs a clean. To clean first take the tip tape off the barrel, either using your hands or with a knife. Keep your magnetic pick-up tool nearby as it’s a great place to store grub screws as well being useful if you lose any. Next use the jeweller’s screwdriver and undo the screws making sure to release the spring slowly as it can fly away if you’re not careful. Put the components to one side then clean the barrel by placing a cotton bud inside, circulating the bud with your fingers then remove it. The cotton bud should have a dark ring around the bottom which is the dirt and grime that’s been collected in the tip. Next put the tip back together and compress it when tightening the grub screws. Hopefully when you next test the weapon the light should stay the same shade of green.
What if that hasn’t worked – The flickering light might be caused by the tip becoming loose. To tighten first remove the tip tape and place the blade on a vice, make sure it’s clamped on the foible. Next get an adjustable wrench while pliers and the correct size spanner also work. Locate the indentations at the bottom of the barrel. Place your chosen tool there and rotate clockwise. Be careful as it is possible over tighten and split the barrel while over tightening can dislodge the brass contact meaning that a rewire is inevitable. While if you find the tip becoming loose time and time again, you’re better off doing a rewire.
The light stays on when I press the tip – This can be caused by either one of two things, firstly a trapped wire or lack of insulation. Both will cause the sword to ground itself. A very common mistake when constructing a sword is to place the socket above the wire thereby trapping it. To prevent this make sure to thread the wire through the base of the socket thereby preventing the wire from being crushed by the handle. It’s also possible to trap the wire with the handle by itself. Thankfully this problem is less common as new handles tend to come with larger openings. That said take care when attaching a handle. Trapping the wire will inevitably affect the insulation. After releasing the wire use a 6mm Allen key to remove the handle and pad. Then ask yourself what can you see? When I’m rewiring I prefer to place the top of the plastic sheeting inside the blade. But I see it less and less these days. One solution is pull the sheeting up but this isn’t always possible, failing that remove the socket and guard and place insulating tape on the tang so that it’s plush against the blade. Be careful that it’s not going to cover the guard in anyway. Also observe if there are brakes in the sleeving. If there’s a fault cover the break with insulating tape then reassemble the sword.
There’s no light – It’s going to be caused by either a break or a loose wire. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to locate and quickly fix a break that said if your test box isn’t lighting up it’s a given that you’re going to need to rewire (see below). But before you grab a heat gun, try another bodywire and if that doesn’t work check the wire hasn’t come undone. Fixing it will depend on what type of socket you have (bayonet or two pin) but it’s not unheard of for either to come loose. If you have a bayonet, wrap the copper wire around the screw and tighten it. For a two pin wrap the wire around the socket and tighten it with a pair of plyers and a screwdriver.
How to rewire a fencing sword – I could go into detail, and might do in future, but truth be told it’s been done in the past so rather than covering old ground I’ve provided the best step-by-step guides that I’ve found online. While Andy, the Master Armourer at British Fencing, provides an excellent demonstration. The foil version can be found here while the epee version is here.
- Absolute Fencing Gear’s guide to rewiring a foil
- Leon Paul’s guide on how to rewire a foil
- Absolute Fencing Gear’s guide to rewiring an epée
- Leon Paul’s guide on how to rewire an epée
Thankfully for sabre you don’t have to do either although a broken sabre blade will inevitably mean having to buy a new one.
Cleaning a dirty/rusty blade – More of an aesthetic fix, this applies to every weapon. I have heard various ways of removing rust from a fencing sword. You can buy purpose built cleaning blocks online, while I have heard people use scouring pads, wire wool and WD40. But for me the easiest, cleanest and cheapest way is to use wet and dry paper which is only 60p a sheet in my local DIY store. Get a bucket, pour a bit of water into it, dampen the wet and dry paper and scrub the blade. You will want to rinse the paper now and again to get rid of any residue while I have worn a rain coat in the past while doing this. Once you’re done thoroughly dry the sword with kitchen roll, easy.
The sword isn’t straight – Inevitably all fencing swords will bend in some way or another. It doesn’t matter how good your distance is, you can’t always account for your opponents. My preferred method of straightening is by placing a small towel on the floor, angling the sword on top and placing my foot on the bend. I transfer my weight over the sword and press down. You can correct any imperfections with your hands.
The handle’s loose – Peel back the pad to ensure you’re not about to trap the wire then place a 6mm allen key on top of the nut and rotate clockwise. If you get in a position when you can’t tighten it anymore, but it’s still relatively loose, the chances are the tang is too long and will need to be cut down to accommodate the handle. There are various ways of doing this, bolt cutters, dremmel and even an angle grinder but for a bloke on a budget I prefer the junior hacksaw that I was taught to use in Secondary School. Again place the sword in a vice with the blade clamped on the forte and free the wire from the socket. Next get a 6mm Allen key remove the handle and nut. Then carefully remove the pad, socket and guard while taking a lot of care with the wire. At this point I slowly release the blade from the vice and tape the wire down with masking tape so that the plastic sheeting is sitting on top of forte of the blade. Make sure you leave it in a curve so you’re not forcing too much pressure on the wire. Fencing wire is very delicate so by doing this you’re preventing it from moving about while you cut the tang. Next, place the blade horizontally on the vice again clamped on the forte. Then cut the tang being careful not to cross thread it. Now you want to file down any rough edges, after this reconstruct the sword. If the handle still doesn’t fit repeat the process until it does.
Setting/Canting a blade – Fencing is a sport where millimetres and seconds mean a lot, therefore you want to cover distances with the smallest movements possible. A good way to achieve this is by setting, or canting, your blade. In effect what you’re doing is bending part of the blade so when you’re on guard its closer to your opponent. Unfortunately everyone’s preferences differ. Some fencers prefer a small adjustment while others prefer their blades to be set at large degrees. But if you’re going to set any blade you’re going to need a sturdy vice, combination spanner/wrench and some brute force. Personally I apply masking tape to the circular part of the spanner/wrench to make sure it doesn’t scratch and ruin the tang. Clamp the forte into a vice and bend the tang with the spanner/wrench. It’s not going to be possible to bend every fencing sword with this method, for example you might need another method for maraging blades.