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Fencing FAQ (part 2)

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Archive-name: sports/fencing-faq/part2
Last-modified: 2002-Nov-18
Version: 5.46

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge


This is Part 2 of the 3-part Frequently Asked
Questions list.  All parts can be found on the UseNet newsgroups, rec.answers, or news.answers.  Otherwise, consult
section 3.8 for information on finding archived copies of this


Equipment & Maintenance:

2.1   Clothing
2.1.1   FIE Uniforms
2.1.2   Colours
2.2   Masks
2.2.1   Bibs
2.3   Shoes
2.4   Gloves
2.5   Metallic Vests and Jackets
2.5.1   Repair
2.6   Armour
2.7   Grips
2.7.1   Traditional
2.7.2   Pistol
2.8   Blades
2.8.1   FIE & Maraging Blades
2.8.2   Tangs
2.8.3   Bends and Curvature
2.9   Guards
2.10  Points & Blade Wires
2.11  Body Wires
2.12  Glue
2.13  Scoring Apparatus
2.13.1  Wireless Systems
2.14  Tools


2.15  Foil
2.16  Epee
2.17  Sabre

NB: equipment merchants are listed in section 3.2.


2.1  Clothing

     Fencing clothing includes the jacket, pants, sous-plastron
     (underarm protector), and socks.  Some companies manufacture
     unitards (combined jacket and pants).  Inexpensive practice gear
     is fashioned of synthetics or heavy cotton, but competition
     clothing is required to pass an 800 N puncture test.  Casual and
     beginner fencers can rely on cotton or synthetic jackets, but
     should consider using a plastron for extra protection.  Track
     pants or baseball knickers are also thrifty alternatives to
     genuine fencing clothing, although they afford little

     Jackets are cut differently for men and women, and also for
     right- and left- handers.  Ambidextrous (back-zip) jackets are
     available, but generally not with homologated fabrics.
     Ambidextrous (double-sided) plastrons are available from some

     Knee-high sport socks (such as for soccer/football or baseball)
     can be purchased from most sporting goods stores.  Skin should
     not show between the socks and pant legs nor the cuff and glove
     of the weapon hand.  The trailing hand and back of the head
     should be the only areas of exposed skin on the fencer's body.

     2.1.1 FIE Uniforms

     FIE-certified (800 N) uniforms are fashioned from special fabrics
     such as kevlar, Startex, or ballistic nylon.  Some uniforms (in
     particular, older uniforms of kevlar construction) offer partial
     800N coverage in vital areas with lighter 350N fabrics used
     elsewhere.  Full-coverage 800N uniforms are now the norm in
     FIE clothing.

     The rules for FIE 'A' level competition demand FIE jacket
     and pants.  As of April 1, 1995, an additional 800N plastron is 
     required.  CFF and USFA competitions have less stringent uniform

     FIE clothing generally provides the highest degree of quality
     and protection available.  It is strongly recommended for serious
     competitors, and for anyone else concerned about their safety.
     Although considerably more expensive than practice gear, many
     fencers find it well worth the price.

     Kevlar clothing should be washed with mild detergent-free soap,
     and no bleach.  Hang dry away from sources of ultraviolet light
     (especially direct sunlight).  Store in a dark place (a closet or
     your fencing bag, for example).

     2.1.2 Colours

     Traditionally, fencing clothing is all white, but the rules have
     recently been relaxed to allow "light" colours on the body.
     Other colours are permitted on the limbs.  The fencer's last name
     and country can appear on the back or the trailing leg in block
     blue letters; this is required in international competition.
     National colours can be worn on an armband on the trailing arm,
     or printed on the leg or sleeve.  Club or association badges can
     be stitched to the upper trailing arm.

2.2  Masks

     Masks must pass a 12 kg punch test to be certified for
     competition.  Consider subjecting a used mask to such a test
     before using/purchasing it.  Older masks can have smaller bibs
     and weaker mesh (rated to 7 kg), making them less safe.  When
     punch testing a mask, depress the punch perpendicular to the mesh
     without wiggling it.  Do not apply more than the required amount
     of pressure.  Pay particular attention to parts of the mesh that
     have already been dented or bent, including the center crease
     line.  Unnatural dents in the mesh can and should be pushed or
     hammered out.

     Masks with a clear lexan panel in front of the face are 
     available from several manufacturers.  Although the FIE has been
     encouraging the use of these masks, there has been resistance
     from fencers concerned about safety, and their future remains

     2.2.1 Bibs

     The best masks have FIE homologated bibs to protect the throat,
     and are required in high-level competition.  1600N bibs are
     standard in FIE competition as of the 1995/96 season.  The CFF
     requires 800N bibs as a minimum in elite competition, while the
     USFA has no FIE bib requirement.

     Although it was announced that the bib would become part of the
     foil target in the 1995-96 season, those plans were dropped.

2.3  Shoes

     Fencing shoes are available from many vendors and manufacturers,
     including Adidas, Asics, PBT, Estoc, Sport-Escrime, Starfighter,
     and various vendor house brands.  Prices typically range from
     US$50 to over US$200 per pair.  Distribution of certain brands is
     often geographically limited, and limited to fencing equipment
     vendors in any case.  In other words, don't bother checking at
     the mall.  The best mass-market substitutes for fencing shoes are
     lightweight indoor court shoes, such as for squash, badminton,
     racquetball, or volleyball.

     Hard heel cups are widely used to absorb the impact of lunges.
     They are integrated into some models of fencing shoe, but can be
     purchased separately from specialty athletic and orthopedics
     stores for other shoes.  Softer rubber (eg. Sorbothane) inserts
     are also commonly used to provide extra cushioning or prevent
     chronic injuries from flaring.
2.4  Gloves

     Gloves should have leather or equivalent construction in the
     fingers and palm, have a long cuff to cover the sleeve opening,
     and have an opening for the bodywire.  They should not fit too
     snugly, or they will be more susceptable to tearing.  Varying
     degrees of padding are available in the back of the hand and
     fingers, which can be useful for epee and sabre fencers.

     Gloves can deteriorate rapidly under heavy use, often lasting a
     single season or less.  Some gloves are washable; saddle soap or
     other leather treatment can extend the lives of other gloves

     Economical alternatives to genuine fencing gloves include
     precision welding gloves, motorcycle gloves, and even common
     workman's gloves available at any hardware store, provided the
     fingers and palm are unpadded and supple enough to maintain the
     feel of the blade.  It may be prudent to hand-stitch a longer
     cuff onto the glove, if the normal one doesn't cover the
     sleeve opening (the cuff should run halfway up the forearm). 
     In all these cases, a small wire opening may have to be cut into 
     the wrist.

2.5  Metallic Vests and Jackets

     The higher quality metallic vests are made of stainless steel,
     which is much more corrosion resistant than copper.  Your foil
     vest should come to your hip bones, and be form-fitting but not
     too tight.  Most vests come in right and left-handed versions,
     but ambidextrous (back-zip) versions are also available and
     sometimes have higher hips.

     Careful rinsing of your stainless steel vest in lukewarm water
     following a tournament or rigourous practice will wash out most
     of the sweat and salts that will damage it.  Old sweat turns
     alkaline and can be quite damaging to the lame' fabric.  The salt
     crystals left behind from dried sweat can also be abrasive and
     conducive to corrosion.  Occasional handwashing in lukewarm water
     with a mild detergent (eg. Woolite or dishsoap) and a small
     amount of ammonia is an excellent way of cleaning your stainless
     steel vest/jacket and prolonging its life.  Some fencers
     recommend neutralizing the alkaline deposits in the vest with
     lemon juice added to the bath.

     Rinse your vest after washing and hang dry on a wooden or
     plastic hanger.  Avoid folding, crumpling, wringing, or abrading
     it.  All of these will fatigue the metallic threads in the

     Similar care should be taken with sabre metallic jackets, cuffs,
     and mask bibs.

     With proper care, quality stainless steel vests and jackets
     should last 3-5 years of regular use.  Copper jackets will
     usually not last more than 1-2 years under regular use.

     2.5.1  Repair

     Electric jackets can go dead for several reasons, including high
     electric resistance due to oxidation and corrosion (usually
     accompanied by visible discolouration), broken metal fibres, or
     tears in the fabric.

     High-resistance areas that are due to oxidation can often be
     temporarily resucitated by moistening them with water.  As the
     moisture soaks up salts and other deposits in the fabric,
     conductivity will increase enough for the material to pass the
     armourer's check.  Sweat from vigourous fencing will have the
     same effect.  Some fabrics do not rely on conductive fibres, but
     rather are coated with metallic powder; these will lose
     conductivity when dirty, and require regular washing.

     Small dead spots can be "field-repaired" with a paper stapler or
     metallic paint.

     Larger dead areas and tears in the fabric can only be reliably
     repaired by stitching new metallic fabric over the affected
     areas.  If no patch material is available, the fabric from one
     dead vest can be cut up and used to repair another (the material
     from the back is generally in better shape).  Note that large
     areas can go dead due to broken fibres in a relatively small
     patch.  Patching only the region of broken fibres can re-activate
     the entire dead area.  Careful testing with an ohmmeter will
     determine where the dead zone exists.  Patches should be folded
     over at the edges, and the stitch should overlap the edge to
     prevent flaps that will catch points.

2.6  Armour

     Padded jackets, plastrons, and gloves are available to take the
     sting out of hard hits.  Most coaches will use special
     heavily-padded jackets or sleeves when giving lessons, but these
     are not intended for competitive use.

     Some masks have extra coverage at the back of the head to protect
     against whip-overs.  Elbow protectors are also commonly worn by

     Athletic cups are important for men, and breast protectors are
     essential for women.  The latter can take the form of individual
     bowls to cover each breast, or more complete full-chest
     protectors that cover the ribs up to the collarbone.  Hard chest
     protectors for men are also available from some suppliers, and
     female groin protectors are available from some martial arts

     Neck gorgets for additional throat protection can be found from
     some hockey equipment suppliers.

2.7  Grips

     For foil and epee, there are a wide variety of grips
     available that fall into two broad categories, traditional and
     pistol.  Sabre grips are all fundamentally of the same design.

     Most grips are fashioned of aluminum or plastic; the latter,
     while lighter, are also much more fragile and prone to cracking.
     Some metal grips are insulated with a layer of enamel (colour
     coded by size) or rubber paint.  Such insulation will turn an
     epee grip into valid target, but it is useful on foils to prevent
     grounding.  Many traditional grips are surfaced with leather,
     rubber, or twine.

     2.7.1  Traditional

     These are the French, Italian, and Spanish grips.  All consist of
     a relatively simple handle, a large, exposed pommel, and in the
     case of the Italian and Spanish grips, crossbars or similar
     prongs for extra grip.

     The French grip is the simplest of all fencing grips in
     construction, and the most economical.  It emphasizes finger
     control over strength, and provides considerable flexibility, and
     a variety of possible hand positions.  It is the most common grip
     used by novices, and remains popular (especially in epee) among
     advanced fencers.

     The Italian grip is noted for its strength, but is fairly rare,
     partially because it requires a special tang on blades that are
     used with it.  It is the only ambidextrous fencing grip.  Italian
     grips are often used with a wrist strap, and contrary to rumour,
     they remain legal in modern competition.

     The Spanish grip is a compromise between the French and Italian
     grips, but is illegal in modern fencing competition, due to a 
     technicality that forbids grips with orthopaedic aids from being
     grasped in more than one manner.  There are modern variants of 
     the Spanish grip that do not use the French pommel, and these may
     be legal in competition if they fix a single hand position.

     2.7.2  Pistol

     These are modern, orthopedic grips, shaped vaguely like a pistol,
     but still grasped in the traditional way.  They provide a
     pronounced strength advantage over the traditional grips, but can
     encourage wrist movement over finger movement.  Pistol grips all
     have the features of a large protuberance below the tang for the
     aids to grasp, a curved prong above the tang that fits in the
     crook of the thumb, and a large prong that extends along the
     inside of the wrist.  There are many variations in shape, size,
     sculpting for the fingers, extra prongs, and so on, although
     certain designs enjoy wide popularity.  Most pistol grip designs
     have names (eg. Visconti, Belgian, German, etc.) but these are
     not always consistent between manufacturers or regions.

2.8  Blades

     There are a large number of variables to consider when shopping
     for blades, including stiffness, length, durability, flex point,
     weight, balance, corrosion resistance, and (of course) price.

     Stiff blades provide better point control, but less
     "flickability".  Some brands of blades (eg. Allstar) are sold in
     different flexibility grades.  Blades that feel heavy in the tip
     often provide better point control, while those that are light in
     the tip often make for faster parries.

     Blades generally come in 5 sizes, 5 being the longest (90 cm for
     foil and epee, not including tang) and by far the most common.
     Shorter blades are somewhat lighter and quicker of action, and
     can be useful for children, fencers who prefer the lighter
     balance, or those who often provoke infighting in which a long
     blade can be disadvantageous.

     Cheap blades (including some Eastern European and Chinese brands)
     are typically not very durable or of poor temper, being inclined
     to snap, bend, and rust easily.  Fencers who are gentle with
     their blades and clean, sand, or oil them regularly may
     nevertheless find them to be a good value.

     Blades typically break at the flex point in the foible.  Less
     commonly the tips will break off, or the tang will snap at the
     base of the blade (this latter failure mode is fairly common in
     sabre).  Other serious modes of failure include sharp bends in
     the middle of the blade and S-bends in the foible, both of which
     are difficult to remove and will rapidly lead to fatiguing and
     eventual breaking of the blade.

     2.8.1 FIE & Maraging Blades

     FIE-certified blades have the FIE logo stamped at the base of the
     blade, along with the code letters for the forge that produced
     the blade (caveat emptor: some disreputable forges have been
     known to falsify these marks).  They are mandatory at official
     FIE and other high-level competitions.

     Maraging steel foil blades have a reputation for lasting
     considerably longer than regular steel blades, and are supposed
     to break more cleanly.  They are made of a special alloy steel
     (incorporating iron, nickel, and titanium) that is only 5% as
     likely to develop the microcracks that lead to eventual breakage.
     Many fencers find them a superior value - although they cost
     twice as much, they last much more than twice as long.  As they
     vary in character in the same way as regular blades, similar
     caution should be exercised when purchasing them.

     Maraging epee blades are also available, although there are
     alternative steels that have also received FIE certification.
     Leon Paul produces a non-maraging FIE epee blade worth
     mentioning; it is stamped from a sheet of steel, rather than
     forged whole.  These blades are lightweight and flexible;  some
     older ones passed the wire through a hole to the underside of the

     FIE 2000 sabre blades are stiffer than older sabre blades, which
     is intended to reduce the incidence of whip-over touches.

     2.8.2  Tangs

     The length and thread of the tang may be an issue; some blades
     are threaded for French or pistol grips only, and some blades
     with French grip tangs require an extra fitting for the thread.
     Italian grips may require a special tang, since part of it is
     exposed in the hilt.  Metric 6x1 threading is standard, but not
     universal (esp. in the USA, where a 12x24 thread may be
     encountered); dies to re-thread the tang can be found at most
     hardware stores.  If the tang must be cut to fit the grip, be
     very careful to leave enough thread to screw on the pommel nut.
     Tangs often have to be filed down to fit in tight grips.

     Tangs are attached by an exterior pommel on traditional grips, or
     by a pommel nut in pistol grips.  Pommel nuts are typically
     fitted for a 6mm Allen wrench or hex key, 8mm socket wrench, or a
     standard screwdriver.

     2.8.3  Bends and Curvature

     Many foil and epee fencers prefer a bend at the join of the tang
     and blade, so that the blade points slightly inside when held in
     sixte.  Such a bend is best applied with a strong vise to avoid
     bowing the tang.  A few fencers prefer to put this bend into the
     forte of the blade instead.  Be gentle; blades will snap if
     handled with too much force.

     A gentle curve in the middle and foible of the blade is also common, 
     and helps to square the point against oblique surfaces.  Such a bend
     must be smooth and gradual.  Sharp kinks are prohibited.  Foible
     bends are best worked into the blade using the sole of one's shoe
     and the floor.

     For foil and epee, the total curvature of the blade is measured
     at the widest separation between the blade and an imaginary line
     drawn between the the join of the forte and tang and the point.
     The blade can be laid across a flat surface such as a table top
     to measure the arch.  Epees must not rise more than 1 cm above
     the surface, while foils are allowed 2 cm.  If the objective is
     to angle the point to hit oblique surfaces better, this is a
     significant amount of curvature.  If the objective is to "hook"
     the blade around blocking parries or body parts, however, these
     limits are fairly restrictive.

     Remember that the wire groove on epee and foil blades goes on the
     top (thumb side) of the blade, and the outside of the blade

     Sabre curvature is handled differently, it being the deflection
     of the point from the line of the forte.  4 cm is all that is

2.9  Guards

     Foil guards vary mostly in diameter, being between 9.5 and 12 cm
     across.  The largest guards (eg. Negrini) may fail the weapon
     guage check if they are dented or misshapen.

     Epee guards are almost always the maximum diameter (13.5 cm) for
     best protection, although they can vary considerably in profile
     shape, depth (3 - 5.5 cm), weight, and eccentricity (up to 3.5 cm
     off of center).

     Sabre guards come in left- and right-handed versions (the outside
     of the guard being larger).  Competition guards may include
     attachments for a capteur sensor.  If not done by the
     manufacturer, sabre fencers may wish to insulate the edges of the
     guard (and the pommel) to prevent it from shorting to their cuff.

2.10 Points & Blade Wires

     Many fencers have experienced trouble mixing their points,
     barrels, and wires.  They are best used in matched sets.  There
     are many brands to consider, each with different qualities.  Some
     brands are cloned by Chinese and eastern manufacturers; you may
     notice a difference in quality or durability when using

     Points are regularly tested in competition.  Both foil and epee
     points must pass a weight test, by lifting a mass (500g for foil;
     750g for epee) after the point is depressed.  (Technically, epees
     only have to lift the mass 0.5 mm, whereas foils must lift it to
     the top of the point travel.)  In addition, epees must pass two
     shim tests, the first to make sure that there is at least 1.5 mm
     of travel in the tip, and the second to make sure that the point
     doesn't light until the last 0.5 mm.

     If the weight test fails, the main spring can be replaced or made
     heavier by lightly stretching it.  If the fencer thinks his point
     is too heavy, the spring can be replaced, compressed, cut down,
     or softened by heating one end in a flame.

     If the epee 0.5 mm shim test fails, the secondary contact spring
     is too long.  It should be adjusted or compressed.  If the 1.5 mm
     shim test fails, your point may be improperly set up, or may be
     mismatched with the barrel.

     Most points are held together by a pair of screws on the side of
     the barrel, and adjusting the springs requires disassembly.  Some
     makes of epee point are adjusted using a small wrench or a single
     screw in the tip.  FIE epee points use a solid contact in place
     of the secondary spring.  Lighting distance can be increased by
     carefully filing the contact.

     Epee points work by closing the circuit between the two blade
     wires when they are depressed.  Dirty or faulty points will
     normally cause the weapon to fail to register touches.  Foil
     points work in the opposite manner, by opening a closed circuit
     between the blade wire and blade.  Dirty or faulty points will
     usually cause the weapon to produce spurious off-target lights.
     See Troubleshooting (sections 2.15, 2.16), below.

     Blade wires are typically insulated with cotton to facilitate
     gluing and cleaning.  Nevertheless, inexpensive wires can be made
     at home using 26 to 36 guage wire-wrap or magnet wire from an
     electronics store.  Use the cup from an old wire, and attach the
     new wire by heating the solder connection with a soldering
     iron.  This is more difficult with epee wires; the contacts may
     have to be removed from the plastic base before soldering -
     whether this is possible depends on the brand of wire.  In a
     pinch, with foils you can spool a bit of wire in the bottom of
     the cup;  this will work for a short period, but eventually the
     spooled wire gets fouled with the spring and causes faults.

     Blade tips are threaded metric 3.5 x 0.60 for foils and 4.0 x
     0.70 for epees.  Rethreading with a die is difficult, but
     possible with adequate preparation.  Pre-filing the tip into a
     long, blunt cone (5.5 mm long with the top 1.5 mm narrower than
     the inside diameter of the die) will assist in guiding the die
     through the initial turns; the extra metal left behind can later
     be removed with a file.  The leading edge of the wire groove
     should be rounded and the groove filled with epoxy putty or
     similar hard compound to prevent the die from jamming on the
     groove edge.  The putty must be removed afterwards, of course.
     No more than 4 mm of threading is needed to affix the barrel.

2.11 Body Wires

     The primary question with foil and sabre body wires is bayonet
     (eg. Paul brand) vs. two-prong (eg. Uhlmann brand).  They are
     equally functional; the primary difference is in cost and

     Two-prong is a simpler design, and usually less expensive, but
     sometimes has a reputation for being less reliable (depending on
     the brand).  On the other hand, bayonet designs have recently
     also acquired a reputation for unreliability; this is probably
     due to the arrival of cheap no-name bayonet body wires that give
     unreliable performance.  Brand-name body wires usually give
     superior reliability.

     Of course, choice of body wire also determines the choice of
     weapon socket (or vice versa).  One of the primary considerations
     in deciding which format to go with should be the prevalent
     format in your club or region.  Going with the local favourite
     will make it easier to borrow weapons or wires when yours

     Epee body wires are all of the same basic 3-prong design.  The
     main reliability concern is how well the prongs maintain contact
     over time.  Some brands accumulate grime or corrosion, while
     others simply wear down and become loose in the socket; sometimes
     the prongs can be periodically re-bent to maintain firm contact.

2.12 Glue

     Recycled blades must be cleaned before they are re-wired.  10
     minutes with a utility knife to remove all traces of glue from
     the groove is usually sufficient, although chemical solvents
     (acetone, nail polish remover) may be helpful with some glues
     such as super-glue.  New blades sometimes require a small amount
     of cleaning as well, to remove grease and grit from the machining

     Popular wiring glues include Duco cement, 5-minute epoxy, and
     cyanoacrylate glues (ie. super-glue).  Some fencers have reported
     success using rubber cement, silicone, and white glue.  Cleaning
     and gluing techniques will vary depending on your choice.  Thin,
     quick-drying glues such as cyanoacrylates are best put down over
     top of the wire as the wire is held in the groove.  If you use a
     thicker glue such as epoxy, you can carefully prepare one surface
     first.  For foil wires, coat the wire in glue, and then gently
     pull it tight and lay it into the groove.  For epees you can
     alternatively lay a bed of glue down before setting the wire in
     the groove, then make a second run of glue over the wire to seal
     it in place.  Top glue the blade, and let it dry while the blade
     is held in a flexed position with the point in the air.

     An acetone bath for cleaning blades can be constructed from a
     length of copper tubing, sealed at one end.  Fill with acetone,
     drop in your blades, and let soak overnight.  White glues can be
     soaked in water to soften them.

     A blade-bowing tool for holding blades flexed while the glue
     dries can be constructed from a length of cord or chain attached
     to some small cups (film canisters work well).  Place the cups
     over either end of the blade, and the tension of the cord will
     hold the blade bent for as long as you need it.  Alternatively,
     stand the blade up with the point bent under the rim of a counter
     or table.

2.13 Scoring Apparatus

     The scoring apparatus consists of the reels, floor wires, and
     indicator box, and optionally a timer and scoring tower(s).

     As of February 1, 2000, the scoring lamps indicate who scored the
     touch.  Older scoring boxes are wired to indicate who received
     the touch.  Reversing the cables on older boxes will cause them
     to function in the new manner.

     Modern foil scoring boxes should display only a coloured light or
     a white light for each fencer.  Older boxes (or ones with older
     firmware) may display both if an off-target touch is immediately
     followed by an on-target touch.  Modern sabre scoring boxes
     should tolerate sabres without capteur sensors.  Older boxes will
     display white lights with capteurless sabres, unless the sensor
     leads are shorted on the weapon.

     It is possible to defeat older foil scoring circuits by grounding
     your own weapon to your lame' (your opponent's touches will fail
     to register, but yours will register).  This is illegal, and
     scoring boxes must be equipped with a grounding light to detect
     when fencers do this.  Newer boxes have an anti-fraud feature to
     eliminate this hazard and allow touches to be scored in spite of
     grounding.  Boxes without such an anti-fraud circuit are useful
     for detecting dead spots on lame's (ground the lame', and then
     touch the opponent's lame'; white lights indicate a dead spot).

     Reels are typically portable, spring-wound devices (either
     "turtles" or "snails").  Less portable (but often more reliable)
     systems involving pulleys and bungee cords are used at some
     salles.  These systems require firm anchor points at the ends and
     middle of the piste, so are not as portable as reel systems.

     2.13.1  Wireless Systems

     Wireless scoring systems are currently prohibited in competition,
     due to the difficulties in distinguishing between real and forged
     signals.  Various modern electronics technologies hold the
     promise of circumventing these problems, and some wireless
     designs are currently in development.  The FIE is experimenting
     with some systems, and is expected to rule on their use in the
     near future.

     Simple "buzzboxes", compact battery-powered devices that signal
     touches with a light or buzzer, are available from various
     sources, but have very limited functionality.  As a rule, they
     cannot distinguish between targets (on/off, bell hits, etc.), or
     distinguish the timing of hits, and do not work with sabre at
     all.  Some manufacturers claim to sell advanced buzzboxes that
     alleviate some of these problems (see, for example,

2.14 Tools

     Every fencer needs a small toolkit for equipment maintenance.  The
     following tools and supplies are essential:
     -- precision screwdrivers for point maintenance and
        assembly; also handy for body wire repair.
     -- pliers for tightening points; wire cutters are also
        useful, and are incorporated into many pliers.
     -- Allen wrench, screwdriver, or socket wrench for pommel nuts.
     -- quick-drying (eg. cyanoacrylate) glue for emergency wire repairs.
     -- cloth tape for insulating foil tips.
     Fencers who do a lot of maintenance will also find the following
     tools useful:
     -- metal file for fitting tangs into guards/grips.
     -- hacksaw for cutting tangs down.
     -- blade-bowing tool (see 2.12) for gluing.
     -- scraping tool for cleaning old glue out of grooves; an
        old jeweller's screwdriver will do, provided you don't mind
        ruining it.  Utility knives will also work.
     -- Lighter for burning off wire insulation or softening springs.
     -- vice-grip pliers for heavy-duty work away from a work bench.
     -- Swiss-army knife for everything else.
     -- weapon-tester box.
     Serious armourers will need many other tools, including:
     -- workbench with vise.
     -- ohmmeter or multimeter.
     -- mask tester.
     -- metallic fabric tester.
     -- body wire tester.
     -- set of weights and shims.
     -- soldering iron (light for wires; heavy duty for pistes).
     -- Dremel tool.

2.15 Foil Troubleshooting

     Weapon fails weight test.
     1) The spring is too soft.
     2) Friction between the barrel and point is overwhelming the
     3) Too much tape on the end of your blade is jamming
        against the hole in the weight.

     Hitting the strip produces a light.
     1) The strip is not grounded, or is dirty/corroded.
     2) The exterior of the foil point is dirty/corroded.

     Valid touch produces a white light.
     1) Opponent's lame' is not connected.
     2) Opponent's body wire is broken.  Diagnose by testing at the
        lame' clip and at the reel wire connection.
     3) Opponent's lame' has a dead spot.  With some boxes, dead spots
        can be diagnosed by grounding the fencer's weapon to his
        suspect lame', and then probing the lame' with the other
        fencer's weapon.  This does not work with boxes that have an
        anti-fraud feature.
     4) Your foil body wire polarity is reversed.
     5) The exterior of your foil point is dirty/corroded.
     6) Foil circuit is breaking just before the touch (see below).

     Foil produces white lights when the tip is not depressed.
     1) The tip is jammed shut.
     2) Grit in the tip is breaking the circuit.
     3) The barrel is loose.
     4) The foil wire is broken.  If the lights are intermittent, try
        flexing the blade to trigger the white lights; success means
        the blade wire is probably broken.  If the lights are
        triggered by shaking the blade, the point or clip may be to
     5) The body wire is insecurely clipped to the weapon.
     6) The body wire is broken.  Diagnose by shorting the two
        connections on the weapon end of the body wire.  If the lights
        continue, the body wire or reel is at fault.  Short the two
        close prongs at the other end of the body wire;  if the lights
        stop, the body wire is to blame.  If not see (7).
     7) The scoring apparatus is broken.  The connections, reel wire,
        reel contacts, floor wire, or scoring box may be at fault.
        Short the same wires as in (6) at the various points of
        connection to successively eliminate each.
     8) The pommel is loose.

     Foil produces coloured lights when the tip is not depressed but
     is in contact with the opponent's lame'.
     1) The circuit is broken;  see previous problem.
     2) The circuit is breaking when the blade flexes as it contacts
        the lame' or when the point is jarred.  Could be caused by
        grit in the tip, a broken wire whose ends normally remain in
        contact, or a separated wire and cup.
     3) The box is on the wrong weapon setting.

     There is no light when a touch is made.
     1) You are not hitting properly.
     2) Friction between the barrel and point is preventing the
        point from depressing.
     3) Spring is too heavy.
     4) Opponent is grounding his weapon to his lame'.
     5) You are grounding your own foil to your opponent's lame'.
        Improve the insulation on your foible (15 cm is required).
     6) The foil wire is shorting to the weapon.  Check the integrity
        of the insulation along the wire and beneath the cushion.
        Also make sure no wire ends at the clip are touching the rest
        of the weapon.
     7) The scoring box is on the wrong weapon setting.
     8) There is a short in your body wire.  If there are no lights
        when the weapon is unplugged, but there are lights when the
        body wire is unplugged from the reel, the body wire is at
     9) There is a short in the scoring apparatus.  If there are no
        lights when the fencer unplugs from the reel, this is the
        problem.  It can be isolated by successively unplugging
        connections to the box.

     Wrong lights go off when a touch is made.
     1) The scoring box is on the wrong weapon setting.
     2) The floor wires are reversed.

2.16 Epee Troubleshooting

     Weapon fails weight test.
     1) The main spring is too soft.
     2) Friction between the barrel and point is overwhelming the

     Weapon fails shim tests.
     1) The contact spring is too long.
     2) Point and barrel are mismatched.

     Hitting the strip produces a light.
     1) The strip is not grounded, or is dirty/corroded.
     2) The tip is dirty/corroded.

     A touch to the guard produces a light.
     1) The guard is dirty/corroded.
     2) The exterior of the tip is dirty/corroded.
     3) The body wire (in particular the ground) is faulty (test
        against the ground pin of the body cord; if the lights
        continue, the body wire or reel is at fault).
     4) The contact between the clip and weapon is faulty or corroded.
     5) The guard is loose.
     6) The ground pin socket is loose in the weapon clip.

     Epee produces lights when the tip is not depressed.
     1) The tip is jammed shut.
     2) Grit in the tip is shorting the circuit.
     3) The blade wires are shorting to each other.
     4) The scoring box is on the wrong weapon setting.

     There is no light when a touch is made.
     1) You are not hitting properly.
     2) Friction between the barrel and point is preventing the point
        from depressing.
     3) Main spring is too heavy.
     4) Contact spring is too short.
     5) The barrel is loose.
     6) Point contacts are dirty/corroded.
     7) The blade wire is broken.
     8) The blade wire is shorting to the weapon.
     9) Something has come unplugged between you and the box.
     10) The wires are improperly fastened to the weapon clip.
     11) The body wire is broken.
     12) The reel or floor wire is broken.
     13) The scoring box is on the wrong weapon setting.

2.17 Sabre Troubleshooting

     Box displays white lights.
     1) The box requires sensors; or the sabre is not shorted
        for sensorless operation.
     2) The sensor is malfunctioning or jammed.
     3) The wire in the sabre is broken, or not fastened securely.
     4) The mounting bracket for the sensor is loose.
     5) The body wire is loose in the socket.
     6) The body wire is broken.  Switch to foil setting, and diagnose
        as for foil.
     7) The scoring apparatus is broken.  Switch to foil setting and
        diagnose as for foil.

     There is no light when a touch is made.
     1) You are not hitting hard enough (with sensors).
     2) The opponent's lame' has dead spots.
     3) The opponent's lame' or mask is not connected.
     4) The sensor is malfunctioning.
     5) The clip is not properly wired to the weapon.
     6) The opponent's body wire is broken.
     7) There is a break in the scoring apparatus on the opponent's
        side.  This may be in the reel, floor cable, or scoring box.
     8) There is a short in the body wire.  Switch to foil setting and
        diagnose as for foil.
     9) There is a short in the scoring apparatus.  Switch to foil
        setting and diagnose as for foil.

     Box indicates a touch following weapon contact or a parry.
     1) You aren't parrying well enough.
     2) The weapon is shorting to the lame'.  Insulate the edges of
        the guard and the pommel, or hold the weapon in such a way as
        to prevent the contact.

     Wrong lights go off when a touch is made.
     1) The scoring box is on the wrong weapon setting.
     2) The floor cables are reversed at the box.


Author: Morgan Burke (
Contributors: special thanks to Suman Palit, Guy Smith, Greg Dilworth,
        Kevin Taylor, Eric Anderson, Blaine Price, Steve Hick, Kim
        Moser, David Glasser, Bryan Mansfield, Donald Lane, Ann McBain,
        Hagen Lieffertz, Mark C. Orton, Mike Buckley, Dirk Goldgar,
        Scott Holmes, Arild Dyrseth, David Airey, Renee Mcmeeken, Marc
        Walch, Eric Speicher, Anton Oskamp, Bernard Hunt, Francis Cordero,
        Kent Krumvieda, David Van Houten, John Crawford, Kim Taylor,
        Brendan Robertson, Ivo Volf, Kevin Wechtaluk, Frank Messemer,
        Benerson Little, Mark Crocker, Eileen Tan, Mark Tebault, Tim
        Schofield, Peter Gustafsson, Kevin Haidl, Peter Crawford,
        Camille Fabian, Matt Davis, Fernando Diaz, Anders Haavie,
        Rüdiger Schierz, Todd Ellner, George Kolombatovich,
        Padraig Coogan, Steve Lawrence, Bryan J. Maloney, Colin Walls

(C) 1993-2002 Morgan Burke
Permission is granted to copy and distribute all or part of this document
for non-profit purposes.

End of FAQ part II
 of FAQ part II

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