Why pay for all those lessons and practice all those hits when your épée point may not be as sensitive and healthy as possible? A well looked after weapon may give you the edge over your next opponent.
Let's first consider what you should have with you at a competition in the way of spares, tools and something to keep them in. This will help you to repair and maintain your weapons without the panic.
Anything will do that has a close fitting lid. I favour something with some compartments in because I hate raking through miscellaneous dross when I am looking for my little screwdriver and a grub screw. I believe those of you that are keen photographers and/or wear contact lenses are at an added advantage because you can recycle those film canisters and little lens soak pots in clear plastic as storage jars. Use one container for each spare (e.g. one each for grub screws, pressure springs and spare points), I find them far more convenient than using those little self seal bags.
Carry with you anything that can fall out, get lost or just damaged during point adjustments. As a minimum I would suggest you have the following:
- grub screws
- pressure springs
- travel springs
- at least a couple of spare points
- a few 6mm spring washers
If you have room I would also include:
- a small tube of Evostick
- a container of graphite powder
- a roll of insulation tape
As a matter of interest I never carry superglue in my toolbox because unless you can store it tip-uppermost the top always seems to bond itself to the tube making it useless.
These can be classified into two distinct groups and assumes that you have a test box, weight and gauge:
Need to Have:
- a point screwdriver for the grub screws (I keep mine magnetised to minimise the number of lost screws)
- a larger screwdriver that will fit the slotted heads in the terminal block (inside the guard)
- a small penknife (I use a Swiss army knife that also has a large screwdriver incorporated)
- a small pair of wire cutters (I use a flat faced one)
- an Allen key
- some very fine wet and dry cloth
- some coarser wet and dry
- a clean paper handkerchief
Nice to Have:
(but somebody else may have it with them!)
- a pair of pliers
- a small mole grip
- an ohm meter
- a small file
- a disposable cigarette lighter
So you have sorted out your toolbox, bought some spares and found some tools, what do you do now?
- Grungy points: This must be one of the most common complaints heard from fencers and one that is easily resolved. A clean point is a smooth running point. Take out the point and using a piece of the smooth wet and dry polish the sides of the point (you may remember seeing it a long time ago when it was new and shiny, try and get it back to that condition). Next roll-up a piece of the smooth wet and dry (like a cigarette shape) so that it just fits in the barrel, use this to polish the inside surface of the barrel. After both these steps use the tissue to finish off the polishing process and clean off the grime that may be remaining. Reassemble, but as you have it all apart now take advantage and adjust the pressure and travel springs to just meet the legal settings. For an emergency quick fix for a grungy point, without removing it, try puffing in a little graphite powder and working the point up and down so that the graphite coats the surfaces between the point and the barrel.
- Loose points: borrow the pair of pliers and mole grip that you have not got and hold the blade just below the point with the pliers and then with the mole grips CAREFULLY turn the point clockwise until it is tight. Too much of this tightening can eventually dislodge the wires within the point and it will be necessary to rewire the blade.
- Broken wires in the guard:If necessary, use the penknife to cut off a short section of the plastic outer sheath to expose about 15mm of wire. Take the cigarette lighter and carefully burn off the insulation and clean the "soot" off with your fingers or the tissue paper (you can scrape the insulation off with the knife but it takes longer and the insulation has a tendency to fray using this method). Slacken off the appropriate screw in the connector block with your larger screwdriver, slip the bared wire from the guard side of the connector block under the left-hand side of the screw (the small point screwdriver is useful for guiding it into position). Tighten the screw with the large screwdriver, do not use excessive force otherwise the wire is likely to crush and you will have to start again.
- Loose handles:Are often the result of the tang being too long for the retaining nut to be tightened sufficiently and if left the guard can chafe and eventually break the wires where they pass through. Take out the retaining nut leaving the handle in position, select two or three spring washers and (trust me) thread them on to your point screwdriver. Holding the washers on the screwdriver with a spare finger, place the point of the screwdriver in the centre of the tang and release the washers and they should fall over the tang, if not, either prod them into position with the screwdriver or shake them out and try again. Once they are all safely over the tang replace the retaining nut and it should now tighten satisfactorily. Consider using a hacksaw to cut 5-6mm off the tang the next time it's apart and you will not need the washers anymore.
- "Unstuck" wire:Along the blade can be refixed. I have had limited success using superglue for this purpose. I suspect it is because superglue works best when the surfaces to be glued are clean, which is rarely the case in a repair situation. Evostick is a contact adhesive and is far more forgiving even if it takes a little longer. Take the black applicator cap off the Evostick to expose the bare nozzle, squeeze an even line of glue on the metal of the blade under the wire (using the nozzle to gently lift the wire clear of the blade). Press the wire into the glue, find a quiet location in the sports hall where you can wedge the blade so that it maintains an even curve (so putting the wire into tension). Leave for 15 minutes (until the glue is dry to the touch) and then go back and (leaving the blade bent) use your thumb to push the wire firmly onto the blade for the length of the repair. If possible leave the repair undisturbed for a little longer after this last step. This repair is not a pretty sight and should only be considered a short term measure, you should consider rewiring the blade when convenient. If doing this repair at home you can accelerate the setting of the glue by using a hair dryer to blow over the affected area, the blade should not get so hot that you cannot touch the metal with your bare fingers!
- How to magnetise your screwdriver:Find a strong permanent magnet (e.g. a fridge magnet) and stroke the screwdriver with it in the same direction repeatedly using an exaggerated circular "looping movement". After five or six passes your screwdriver will be magnetic.
This is something that you can either carry out at your leisure in the peace and comfort of your own home or, if you work better under pressure, should be left to the last possible minute before you go on the piste.
- Body wires:Make sure that all the pins on the plugs are bright and shiny, use the coarser wet and dry cloth to polish them if not. Use the ohm meter to check the resistance of each of the three wires individually, if the reading is greater than 1 ohm or you are unable to obtain a constant reading it is a sign that something is wrong, check for breaks in the wire and the tightness of the connections within the plugs themselves.
- Rust:Rust is something you should not have anywhere on your equipment, clean guards and blades with the coarser wet and dry if necessary.
- Points:Clean them as previously described. Set them as follows:
- With the épée connected to your test box, the pressure (big) spring out of the barrel and with the box positioned behind the point (if you haven't a "buzzing box") check the travel with the point with the 0.5mm thick gauge.
- If it fails then turn the small travel spring clockwise so that it screws its way onto the threaded part of the point. Test repeatedly in small increments until the spring is at a length where it is only just the correct length and that if it was any longer the point would fail the gauge. Obviously you could wind the point in so that it passed the gauge test comfortably, but that would not be an optimal set for competitive use.
- If it passes check to see how "optimal" the distance is. If it appears too comfortable try unscrewing (i.e. turning anti-clockwise) the travel spring until the travel distance is fractionally smaller than 0.5mm. Match-up the grub screw holes with the slots in the barrel before carrying out the final gauge check.
- If the travel spring will not turn either way you can strip out the old spring by pulling it out with a pair of pliers and then replacing it with a new one from your spares.
- With the épée connected to your test box, the pressure spring in the barrel and with the box positioned so that you can see it (if you haven't a "buzzing box") check the weight with the point loose (i.e. the grub screws out and the point balanced precariously on the weight spring).
- If it fails you can do one of two things. If it only just fails and the spring looks in good condition you can try to stretch the spring slightly by pulling it in opposite directions with the spring gripped tightly between the thumb and index finger of each hand. Repeat the weight test until the spring will just lift the weight. For the price of a spring it is worth just replacing it with a new one. Generally if used "straight from the packet" they will be overly efficient (i.e. not competative), using the wire cutters snip off small sections of the spring (generally, until you have a feel for it, snip off about a third of a single "loop" at a time). Test repeatedly after each cut, the spring is set optimally when, with the weight on the point, only a small additional pressure is needed for a hit to be recorded.
- If it passes check to see how "optimal" the weight is. If it is too heavy trim the pressure spring as described above.
- Having carried out the adjustments reassemble the point. When replacing the grub screws make sure that they are located in the matching threads in the point. If care is not taken you risk damaging the threads in the "grub screw holes" and they will never hold another grub screw again, the point will be useless. When I put a grub screw in I locate the screw in the hole on the end of my (magnetised) point screwdriver and then turn it slowly anti-clockwise until I can feel the screw slot into place, only then do I gently try turning the screw clock-wise (the screw should tighten smoothly without the use of undue force). For my own peace of mind I always check the weight and gauge again before putting in the second grub screw.
I am sure many people know that I am not a fencer. The foregoing has been learnt over the last few years after initial instruction from John Llewellyn so that I could maintain my (then) little lads weapons as I did not want to be dependent on help from others. I would not be surprised to hear that there are better ways to do some of the things that are described above, but mine all must work as I get far too much repeat business!
Colin Barbasiewicz (parent)