How to Maintain Your Fencing Gear: The Technical Stuff

“Can you fix my son’s weapon?”
“Sure…what problem is he having?”
“I don’t know…he just said it isn’t working.”

And thus starts a day of armory, diagnosing and repairing the gear. Sometimes it’s something easy, like a disconnected wire. Sometimes it’s a bit more challenging, like non-compatible parts being mashed together.

Sometimes you have an armorer at an event, but often you don’t, and knowing how to fix your gear will keep you on the strip (and scoring). With three different weapons, however, the art of armory isn’t exactly simple, and properly repairing your gear requires knowing how it works.

Why should you care about how your fencing gear works?

If you don’t know where the wires go, you might do a repair and have a perfectly non-functioning bit of gear. It does matter which wire goes where in a body cord, what post the wire is attached to on the socket, and that the parts all match.

With that in mind, let’s begin!

Wiring in Your Fencing Weapons

Let’s look at the basic setup.

Electrical power comes into your gear from the box or reel via the body cord. (Keep in mind that you’re not gonna get shocked even if you take hold of the weapon with a bare hand…you’d get a worse jolt if you tongued a 9V battery.)

It travels into the weapon in one of three ways:

Foil

Up the wire in the groove, to the tip, and back down the blade. The blade is part of the system when the weapon is “at rest,” meaning the tip isn’t depressed by hitting target. This is called a “normally closed circuit, where electricity is running through the system at rest.

Epee

At rest, this is a “normally open” circuit, meaning no power flows until the circuit is closed by depressing the tip on a hit.

Sabre

“Normally closed,” but power remains in the socket area until a hit is made.

More detail on this when we get to discussing specific weapons and their issues.

Wiring in Body Cords & Reels

Even though each weapon has a slightly different circuit, the three electrical lines involved in the body cord and reel system are consistent.

The are three pins on the reel-end of a body cord. The one on the side that’s closest to the center pin is called the “A” line. In epee, it’s connected to one of the wires in the groove. In foil and sabre, it’s connected to the alligator clip.

  • The center pin is the “B” pin. This one is connected to the wire in foil and the other wire in epee (there is no wire for sabre).
  • The last pin — the one that’s farther from the B pin than the A pin is, is the “C” line. This one is always the ground line, and is connected to the blade and guard via the socket bracket.
  • The design — with the pins not being the same distance apart — is simply to idiot-proof things so the cord only goes in one way (unless a better idiot comes along, of course).

The weapon end of the cord is another matter.

  • Epee: looks just like the reel end (and in fact, either wend will work in either socket).
  • Foil and Sabre: there are two types, the bayonet and the much more common two pin. They work similarly, but the wires are connected differently (which we’ll get to later).

Of course, the weapons themselves can have issues, as can the connections between the cords and the weapons. Diagnosing and repairing those is the art of armory.

Ready for more information? Check out the next entry, where we discuss some common body cord problems and how to fix them.

Does your gear have a problem and you can’t seem to diagnose or fix it? Get in touch with Sam Signorelli at H.O.M. Fencing Supply, headquartered in the Swordplay LA fencing club.

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