After hundreds of years, the sport of fencing has become much more technical. Not only have the five judges for a bout been replaced by an electric scoring box, but the fencing weapons have become much more complicated. No longer is there solely a bendy blade, guard and grip, but a bendy blade, wire, barrel (the housing for the tip and spring), tip and socket assembly - the list goes on.
The task of rewiring the fencing foil1 is almost unavoidable to a fencer. The bout begins, the fencers move back and forth on the strip, and all of a sudden, the first fencer lunges. The attack looks good, but a yellow light shows up for an off target hit on the scoring box. The director looks puzzled. It was quite obviously a good touch. He glances at the first fencer's gear and then dashes forward. The barrel on the fencer's foil is gone!
It's never a good thing when your equipment goes bad, yet it is inevitable. To lessen the likelihood of this happening, a fencer needs to know how to care for his/her equipment. When the gear does indeed break, there is usually someone around who knows how to fix it - however, it's always much more satisfying to know you can fix it yourself.
Depending on the severity of the damage to the foil, various things may need to be done. The barrel may be loose, or the tip missing. It's always good to consult an armourer before attempting to mend the weapon. If indeed the foil needs rewiring, certain tools and supplies are required. Rewiring is much like putting together a new foil, except that some of the parts you already have. There are of course other parts and equipment, such as glue, wrench, pliers, etc.
The Parts and Supplies
- Quick-drying glue or slower glue
- Replacement wire
- A new barrel (if the old one is damaged)
- 6mm inside hex wrench
- Small size locking pliers
- Needle nose pliers
- Jeweller's or small magnetic screwdrivers (set)
- Four-inch vice clamped securely on a tabletop or workbench
- Sharp yet thin knife
- Small file (very small, 3/8 inch/side 6 inches long)
- Roll of ¾ inch masking tape
- Small strip of magnetic material (optional)
Examine the wire coming from the socket assembly and disconnect it from the old wire with the needle nose and locking pliers.
Remove the pommel nut with the inside hex or locking pliers from the end of the French or Italian grip, or the opening at the end of the orthopaedic.
Remove the grip, socket assembly, padding and pommel from the tang2.
Peel off all the tape on the other end of the blade, including that covering the barrel.
Depress the tip and unscrew the two screws holding it in the barrel. (If you're using the same barrel but replacing the screws, remember, the French have different screws from the Germans.)
Place the tip aside and remove the spring by slowly tilting the blade until gravity works its magic.
Unscrew the barrel from the blade by inserting the blade upright in the vice, with approximately one inch of blade visible above the vice and below the barrel. Apply the locking pliers to the two flat surfaces of the barrel and proceed to unscrew counter-clockwise. It may be unscrewed with ease or may require some muscle.
If the glue holding the wire in place is old, the wire may come out with only the fingers. If it's a fairly recent wiring, a solvent and multiple applications may be necessary to free it. If effort is needed, apply the solvent and then score the top of the glued surface with the screwdriver, observing caution so as not to score too deeply. Use the needle nose pliers to grasp one end of the wire, and proceed to roll it to the other end.
With the wire out, the wire's groove needs to be cleaned. Place it horizontally in the vice and use the screwdrivers to scratch out visible glue until steel is visible along the entire length.
Make sure the thread on the tip is still in working order, and all glue particles are gone before proceeding.
Uncoil the new wire and remove all kinks. Make sure the threads in the barrel are still usable. Take the free end (the one without the cup) and run it through the wider end of the barrel, coming out the narrower end. Don't put the wire completely in and don't allow the cup to reach the barrel; leave it approximately 4 inches from the barrel opening.
This step is the most important. Put an acute amount of glue on the threads of the blade and tighten the barrel onto the tip by hand, making sure the wire is securely in the groove. Make sure the wire is not restrained and can move in and out with ease.
Lock the locking pliers onto the barrel while moving the wire consistently in and out so as to make sure it is still mobile. Carefully tighten the barrel clockwise, until it feels as though it is sitting firmly. If the wire gets caught, stop and loosen slightly until the wire can move with ease again. This may ruin several barrels, so be sure you have spares. Pull a small bit of wire through to clear debris from prior work and try tightening again.
The cup must now be placed in the barrel. Draw the wire through the barrel slowly until the cup reaches the barrel. Press it into the barrel, while pressuring the wire with the other hand to make it somewhat taut. When the cup is seated at the bottom, place the screwdriver edge on the groove in the centre of the cup and depress slightly to set.
Gluing With Slow Gluers
Clamp the blade horizontally in the vice approx 10 inches from the tang.
Let the first glue droplet into the groove and let it run down the entire blade, but stopping right before the tang.
Take the loose wire end and pull it gently taut, while laying it in the groove. To guide the wire in, a thin hard edge (fingernail, toothpick, not a metal tool) may be used.
With the wire in the groove, take all the slack from the wire by pulling it taut, gently. Approx ¼ inch of slack should be apparent, but don't pull too hard as the wire is likely to break.
Hold the wire onto the tang with one finger while taping it to the base of the tang with a small bit of masking tape. Check again to make sure the wire is in the blade. Press any protruding wire in the groove with the fingernail or toothpick.
Wrap the rest of the wire around the tang for now and tape it in place.
Remove any excess glue, before placing a second drop of glue on the blade, letting it run just as before.
Set the blade so it is bent and let it sit for some 18 hours.
Quick Drying Glue
Caution: Quick drying glue adheres and sticks within 10 seconds, including skin to blade.
Insert the tang in the vice so the blade rises at 45°. Don't damage the tang thread.
Make sure your wire is held away from the blade and place several drops of glue in the groove and let it sidle down the blade. Add enough glue so that the first third is glued. Grasp the tip and bend the blade down, while pulling the wire into the top third of blade, ensuring it is both taut and flat in the groove. Make sue the glue doesn't exceed the line where the wire leaves the blade. Hold wire in this way until it is set.
Repeat for the last two thirds of the blade.
Assemble the foil (just like taking it apart in earlier steps).