How to Maintain Your Fencing Gear: Épée and Sabre

Épées and sabres are deceptive.

Not that they’re trying to trick you (duh). They’re deceptive in that diagnosing their technical problems can be tricky. Unlike in foil, épée and sabre don’t have the advantage of an off-target light to indicate that something’s gone wrong. You’re just as likely to think you missed that touch because of bad luck as you are to suspect some kind of technical problem.

These weapons’ problems are also trickier to identify because they’re wired differently from a foil, as you learned from our very first article on gear maintenance. That’s why épéeists and sabreists get their very own article dedicated to diagnosing and fixing these weapons’ most common issues.

Let’s talk about épée first.

Épée Problems & How to Fix Them

epee technical problemsUnlike foil, épée is a normally open circuit. That means there’s no power going through the system until the tip is depressed and completes the circuit to fire the light. In many ways, it’s a simpler circuit than foil, but figuring out what’s wrong with your épée can be difficult.

For example, in foil, if your wire breaks at the socket, that will produce a white light, since foil is a normally closed circuit and the wire break opens it. But in épée, your light simply won’t go off. And with épée’s short lockout time — only 40ms long — you’re more likely to attribute that to hitting late or not depressing the tip enough instead of realizing that the wire is broken.

The contact spring is another épée problem. Bashing the weapon around makes the spring move on the mounting post. Sometimes it moves toward the contacts of the blade wire, making it fire early. Other times it moves away, meaning it can’t reach them at all.

Or you might have excess wire coming off the receiving posts on the socket and they’re touching the bracket or guard, either of which will make any hit ground out and not fire.

How do you deal with these issues? You can learn how with these two videos:

Attaching The Wires (Foil/Épée)

Assembling A Foil/Épée

Now that our épée problems are out of the way, let’s address the most common sabre problems.

Sabre Problems & How to Fix Them

sabre technical problems

Sabre won’t have any wire issues, but you can still have problems. For instance, you have to worry about improperly altered sockets.

Sabre uses the same sockets as foil, but they need to be altered to force a permanent connection between the B and C lines. If you put an unaltered foil socket on a saber, you will have a continuous off-target light because the circuit will never close. You can alter it by running a wire from the B receiver under the socket bracket or soldering the same wire to the bracket (but those are just two possibilities).

You also have to worry about inadvertently leaving a pathway for a hit to the blade to light up the box or for your circuit not to close. Here are a few of the things that can cause these inadvertent firings:

  • An uninsulated pommel
  • Chewed up insulation on the guard
  • The guard touching the lamé on a hit
  • A tang sticking out of the pommel

What all these scenarios have in common is that they create a pathway from your opponent’s blade to your weapon’s A line via your lamé. As a result, if the exposed metal touches your lamé while you make contact with your opponent’s weapon — usually while you’re parrying — that sets off the light.

How do you fix these issues? Watch this video to learn how.

Some Issues in Sabre


What’s Next?

Now that we’ve covered the most common weapon problems, we’ll turn to the lamé in the final installment of this series. Stay tuned!

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 in Burbank, California.

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