Epee Upkeep - Troubleshooting and Repair

Michael McDarby

Swords and Strategy Fencing Club  and

Fulton-Montgomery Community College Fencing Club (Upstate NY)





           Weapon doesn't work.
               Dead - Body Cord Check.
               Dead - Ground Check.
          Fails Referee's Test.
          Fails Bell-Guard Test.
          Fails During Fencing.
Grip becomes loose.
          After a Bout - Check.
          Between Bouts.
               Tip Screws.
               Tip Travel.
               Tip Weight.
          Strip Kit Tools.


     At the workbench.
          Initial Analysis.
          Grounding Weapons.
          Non-Grounding Issues.
          Dead Weapon.
          Fails Weight.
          Fails Shim Test.

             Putting the Tip Back Together.

             Mounting New Wired Blades.
          Wiring Blades.





In a competition, you need to bring a working, legal epee to the on-guard line.  Actually, you need two, plus an extra body cord, according to the rules, but at most local competitions this is rarely expected.  You plug into the reel (if you find this difficult, don't hesitate to ask for help - we were all inexperienced once).  At this point you should test your weapon - poke the top of your foot.  Hitting the floor can be a bad idea - hard surfaces hit on one edge of the tip can push the tip very laterally up the barrel and cause it to jam slightly and not register.  You may see this happen on hits to the mask or breast protectors as well.  But you want to know, before you present the weapon to the referee, that it is at least working.  If you test it and the wrong light goes on, the box may not be set to epee, a good thing to know. I also recommend, if you're on a grounded strip, testing that as well, but you should ask the referee's permission - it's technically illegal to purposely hit the strip without their okay.

The referee will check four things:  1) that there are two screws or pins holding the tip in the barrel;  2) that the main spring is powerful enough to lift a 750-gram weight once depressed;  3)  that the tip clears the barrel by a minimum gap (the thick part of the shim);  4)  when depressed, the tip does not register too quickly (with the thin shim in place, it can be depressed and not register).  They may also check other things at high-level competitions:  your checked equipment (mask and body cords that have been tested and marked prior to the competition);  your connection to the reel, making sure it's secured;  your front socket, and that the wires leading to it are properly positioned and insulated.  A problem with any one of these things is a problem for you:  a yellow card for each violation (and the second-and-beyond yellow is a red card, point for your opponent).  In higher-level competition, a non-working piece of equipment is taken, so as not to brought back up.  You can get it later - how much later depends upon the circumstances, but it might be held to the end of the round.


 - Weapon doesn't work.  Try it a couple of times with your fingers - does it work at all?

             If it goes off intermittently, try pushing on the edges of the tip - there may be an angle at which it works and an angle at which it doesn't.  That is probably a contact spring or contact problem, although sometimes it's a symptom of a missing tip screw.

            If it seems dead, first unplug your body cord and touch the two pins closest to each other to the bell guard - that will close the circuit that closes when the epee hits, and if the light doesn't light, it isn't your weapon that's the problem.  Try then to cross the close pins where the body cord plugs into the reel (a screwdriver, often available from someone on the strip, inserted at an angle between the pins is good for this, but the testing shims will work, as will putting the end of a weapon - an unplugged weapon -  between them).  If there's no light, the problem isn't you, it's the strip equipment - then a similar test needs to be made where the floor cord plugs into the reel, and where the reel plugs into the machine.

            If it seems dead but the body cord works, there is one possibility that might be immediately solvable.  Plug the body cord into the two close holes but turned so that the distant pin is free.  Make sure the pin isn't touching the bell guard and test the tip.  If the weapon works, you have a grounding problem, somewhere a bare wire is touching the metal of the weapon.  Loosening the grip, resetting the wires in the gap at the base, and retightening may solve the problem on the spot.  It may not - the problem may be at the bell guard but not prone to a quick fix;  it may be in the tip;  it may be along the blade.  In that case, you're going to need to fix this later.

 - Weapon fails referee's test.  There's really not much you can do on strip.  If it fails weight, you can place the back of the grip or the edge of the bell guard on a hard surface and retry - the "give" of holding it in your hand when the tip is pressed can counteract a bit of the spring's rebound energy, so putting it on a surface with no give brings all of the spring to play.  If it passes with this addition, however, it's unlikely to pass when tested for the next bout.  If it fails shim, the best you can do is examine the shim - some referees rotate the shim with the tip depressed, which can wear them down, and this leaves a telltale mark.  You can ask for another shim, but the odds of this being an issue is small, and you take the chance of holding up the competition and alienating the referee (not as bad as in foil or sabre, but potentially something you don't want).  If the weapon needs a screw, sometimes a referee will let you pass it to a teammate to be fixed rather than confiscating it, but they won't stand and wait for that - you'll need your back-up weapon.

 - Weapon fails bell-guard test.  The two weapons are not target and are grounded, so each fencer hits the other's bell guard to check that it doesn't register a touch.  If it does, there are four possibilities.   1) The circuit is bad, which means any hit anywhere on the bell guard will register.  This is almost never a problem with the weapon, but with the wiring beyond it, most likely the body cord, occasionally the contact in the plug.  Pressing the epee tip down with the ground prong on other fencer's the body cord (the outside prong with the widest gap) will tell you if it's in the wires, pressing the tip with the ground contact on the reel socket will tell you if it's the fencer or the system.   2)  There's a spot of corrosion on the bell guard, and that's the only spot that will register.  This should be scraped with steep wool or sandpaper, but on strip sometimes rubbing it vigorously with a sleeve will eliminate the problem.  3)  There's a problem with the striking weapon's tip.  This is rarely an issue, but an intermittent grounding issue (or repeated problems with different bell guards) warrants a look at the tip - they do get corrosive spots occasionally.   4)  The epee hit something other than the bell guard.  Some people don't pay much attention while testing (which is why your face should be protected), and may ricochet off to non-grounded areas like the plug or edge of the glove.  Sometimes they hit along the top of the blade, which should be grounded but may be coated with a spot of glue (which can be scraped off usually with a fingernail).

 - Weapon fails during fencing.  It's very easy for a hit to "feel" legitimate and not register, but any time you think there's a decent possibility that your weapon has failed to work, you should test it.  The best time is between points (but if you do it too much you'll annoy everybody and possibly get carded for delaying the bout), but if while fencing you're pretty sure it's stopped working, back away from your opponent and ask for time - wave your back arm, stomp your back foot and call "Sir!" or "Ma'am!"  And don't stop fencing until they call "Halt."
           It is customary - to the point of being applied as if by rule - that you are not to test the weapon yourself if you think it has failed during fencing.  This is important mostly if the other fencer has registered a touch, which can be negated if your weapon isn't working.  Hold your weapon toward the referee and ask them to test it.  There are reasons why they should be the first to try it, but it's not worth going into here.  Anyway, for reasons that are a lot less rational, the referee will generally check to see that your body cord is plugged in at both ends before trying the tip.  If the weapon is working but intermittent, it's considered to be not working. A failed weapon may be confiscated the same way that a weapon can that fails at the beginning of the bout.
           There may be a problem with your opponent.  Epee fencers should not be allowed to fence with foil or sabre lame coverings - body or masks.  Your epee is grounded from the ring around the tip backwards, and if any part of that touches the lame during a touch, it will ground the surface and the touch will not register.

- Grip becomes loose.  You'll feel, or sometimes hear, extra vibration when you move the weapon.  It could be a loose tip (you can turn that tight by hand to get through a bout, but you'll probably have to keep checking it and occasionally hand-tightening it between touches), it rarely is something loose in your body cord socket, and it most likely is a loose grip.  The grip is held on either by a pommel (for French grips), tightenable by hand, or a nut, which is recessed inside the grip and may require any of a few different tools.  Some need a flat-head screwdriver, some need an allen wrench (many can use either of the first two), and some need an outside hex driver.  Before tightening the pommel or nut, check that the grip hasn't slipped around the tang and that the wires go through the recess at the grip's front top - otherwise tightening it can break the wire or pinch it and ground the weapon out.  Always check that your weapon works after tightening it.  When putting a weapon together (or fixing one that always is coming loose), it's a good idea to put a locking washer (the ones that have a gap and a bit of a spiral to them) under the nut.



You'll sometimes notice fencers who test their weapons - usually with the weight - before detaching at the end of the bout.  They are keeping their weapons at the very edge of that weight limit.  This is a fine balance between having a bit of an edge in equipment (the "lighter" the weapon, the more easily it goes off) and the distraction of knowing that the weapon could fail at any moment.  Since so much of epee is mental, this approach can be advantageous to some fencers and detrimental to others.  But if you suspect that the weapon has become illegal, you'd probably better check it!  You should also test it as soon as you plug in at the end of the strip - if you wait and it doesn't work when you present it to the referee, it's a yellow card for you.  A weapon that fails once you begin fencing will not get you carded, though.


BETWEEN BOUTS -  Fixing in a tight timeframe.

If you have the time, the floor space, and the calmness to try to fix your weapon between bouts (don't try if you're already on deck), some things are easier to fix than others -

TIP SCREWS.  These are the easiest "quick fix."  Have screws, a suitable screwdriver, and do it close to a surface that will catch and show the screws you will inevitably drop trying to do this quickly.

TIP TRAVEL.  If the tip failed the thick shim, there's probably nothing you can do quickly - you can try a different tip, but this is often a problem with barrel mounting.  If the tip failed the thin shim, take the tip out (cautions above about screw-drops apply).  French tips have adjustable contact springs mounted on a sort of screw - you can gently turn the tip with fine-tip pliers, or sometimes your fingertips, to shorten it.  I haven't worked with German tips, which apparently aren't adjustable and fail travel less often - I guess you just need a lot of back-up tips set to different travel distances. 
         This isn't worth doing if you don't have a tester of some sort and shims to check it witho.

INTERMITTENT.  This similar to fixing tip travel, but you're looking for different things.  Check that the contact spring is straight (including the tip).  It might be worth putting something blunt (an allen wrench (internal hex) is good for this) and pushing slightly - occasionally the problem is one contact sticking out slightly more than the other.  Sometimes the quickest fix is to rotate the tip around and try it - in one orientation it may be intermittent, but not so much the other way around.

TIP WEIGHT.  If your tip couldn't push the weight back up, the best fix is to change springs, but temporary legality can come from taking the spring out and stretching it a bit - pull at both ends.  If the spring has become weakened and compressed, this will work, but the problem will eventually return.

GROUNDING.  This is tough to fix quickly without an ohm meter (see tool list below), or at least a ground-circuit indicator.  The first thing to check is your plug - has a bit of wire worked out from the edge of a nut to touch the metal of the mount?  That's easy to tuck back in.  If you have an ohm meter (set to ohms, which tell you whether a circuit is conducting electricity or not), hook a line to the ground and one to a grounded circuit (it probably is just one, so only one will show electrical flow).  This is easiest if you attach to body cord pins and plug in the body cord.
        Once you have the grounded circuit on the meter, loosen the grip.  If the flow lessens or stops, this is the source of the problem.  Try repositioning the wires and retightening - if the wire is being pinched, that's how the electricity is getting into the ground circuit.
        If it's not the grip, check your blade.  Sometimes a bit of wire slips and gets hit by an opponent's blade, not enough to break it but enough the take some insulation off and push it against the blade.  Lifting it free and putting some glue under it may reinsulate it, but the glue needs to get very tacky before you push the wire gently into it.  That weapon should not be used again that day, but may be fine to use after the glue has set.
        The weapon may be grounding in the tip.  Try very gently turning the barrel with a pair of pliers - if this is the issue, the ohm meter should at least change readings.  You may be able to position the tip so that the problem goes away, but this indicates that the wires are twisted in there, and a bit of torque on the tip could bring the problem back while you're fencing.
        Another tip issue is incompatibility of parts - if you've been fixing weapons for a while and have a lot of parts, you may have a spring in that is touching the contacts when depressed and grounding the circuit through the barrel.  This is a very tricky problem to diagnose, for the weapon only grounds when the tip is in.



        Depending upon how much heavy-duty fixing you're planning to do, the list of needed tools will vary.  If also will vary between the tools you want to bring in a "strip kit" and those you want in a workbench setting.

STRIP KIT TOOLS.  These are things you can reasonably expect to use at a tournament:

                Line tester.  This can be an ohm meter or one of the body-cord-plug-in types.
                                Something to tell where the electricity is and isn't going in cords and

                Weapon testers.  If you plan to be fixing weapons regularly, you'll really need a
                                set of weight and shims.  Be warned that, although it's not supposed to
                                be true, your stuff and the venue's stuff may not agree on the parameters
                                of "legal," and there's very little you can do if your equipment passes with
                                yours but fails with theirs.

                Jeweler's screwdrivers and forceps/ tweezers.  A couple of different-sized
                                screwdrivers, one for tip screws, one for plug screws, will be useful.
                                Magnetized or not is a personal preference.

                Bits and pieces.  Tip screws, springs, spare tips, even blade nuts and washers and
                                body cord plugs, things you may need to and actually will be able to replace
                                on a venue floor.  It might be a good idea to also bring a magnifier,
                                like reading glasses - even good eyes may have trouble with small items
                                under bad venue lighting.

                Bit and piece catcher.  You're going to drop things - bring a surface that, if items
                                drop, you'll be able to find them.  This can be a shallow bowl, container
                                lid, non-fluffy towel - whatever works.

                Pliers.  Needle-nose for manipulating things like plug nuts, and larger for tightening tips.
                                I also prefer a small vise-grips.  A wrench can be handy for holding blades in
                                place as well.

                Blade tightener.  I'm a fan of carrying everything - screwdriver, allen wrench, socket -
                                but definitely bring whatever it takes to tighten a loose grip.

                Super Glue.  For loose blade wires.  Tubes have limited life expectancy, however - rotate
                                new ones in often.

                Sharp blade.  An exacto-knife, or box cutters, or single-edged razor.  A broken wire at the
                                plug will need the insulation sheath carefully clipped.

                Lighter.  For burning off cloth insulation when you've trimmed back a broken wire.

                Sharpie marker.  Good for when you realize you never did put your name on whatever
                                piece of equipment you've noticed (or for new stuff).  Blue can be good if
                                someone decides your jacket name is too faded.

                Colored tape.  This can be useful for marking a non-working weapon in a way that
                                 provides a clue for what's wrong with it - if you set it aside to check it
                                 later, it can be useful to know where the problem appeared to be.

                Something to hold it all in.  Many people use small tackle boxes or folded plastic pockets.
                                Whatever works.


At the Workbench

I do the repairs for a club, and so I often have several weapons and cords set aside until I can get to them - that means that my process is probably more complicated than a lone fencer with a single weapon will need.  But the basic steps can be necessary even for one weapon.

Usually a workbench can get by mostly with the same tools you carry for competitions, but it's good to also have a vise, a couple of wrenches, and maybe a hacksaw.

NOTE:  I use epees with French-spec tips, which are different from German-spec tips.  That means sections on tips will not necessarily tell you what you need to know, if you have German.

INITIAL ANALYSIS.  I prefer an analog ohm meter for this stage - it's easier to see subtle problems with a meter, and I find a swinging needle easier to track than a digital readout or a simple on/off/ flickering light.  The easiest way to use the meter is attached to the "live" leads of a body cord, and then use the body cord to plug into the weapons.  This will not pick up grounding problems (you need to shift the attachments for that), so a test meter can be a good first step to separate out grounding weapons.  If you are going to have to take the tip apart, set the weapon horizontally with the bell on something that will hold it steady but allow it to be rotated (a duct tape roll will do);  place the tip on/ across/ over something that will catch and hold any dropped parts.  If you need magnification and/or extra light, put it in place so you aren't holding it.

GROUNDING WEAPONS.  Clip a lead to the ground prong, and then to each of the other leads - if both leads are grounding, the problem is probably in the tip (most likely through a slipped spring).  If only one lead is grounding, the problem may be in the plug (a loosened wire touching the metal of the weapon - rare but easy to check), the base of the grip (loosen the grip while watching for the meter to "jump" - reseating the wire before tightening should fix that), or the tip (a loose barrel is the most likely culprit - turn the barrel just a bit while watching the meter - this type of problem may be fixable but may come back).

NON-GROUNDING ISSUES.  Pressing the tip down should close the circuit - if it does (and the weapon isn't grounding, then this may be a problem with legality - check with a weight and shim.  We'll deal with the problems individually...

DEAD WEAPON.  When the tip is depressed, the meter does not respond - the circuit is not being closed.   Set the weapon up on your "holder" with the tip above the "catcher."  Remove the tip screws and then, grab the tip and rotate it a half-turn and depress it - this sometimes works for contact springs that have become slightly bent.  If that doesn't make the meter jump, slide out the tip and pressure spring.  Put the tip in by itself to see if it can make contact (it probably won't).  Put something down the barrel that can reach and cross-connect the contacts - I use a smallish allen wrench or an old tip with a very long contact spring.  You may need to wiggle your device a bit.  If you can't make the meter jump, you probably have a broken wire somewhere.  Remove each wire from the plug and pull on the wire itself - if it's broken, it will pull free.  If it's broken near the contact, you can trim or shorten the insulation and reconnect the shortened wire.  If the wire is broken too close to the blade to reconnect, or along the blade, or in the tip, you should need to rewire the weapon (wire can be spliced inside the spaghetti, but this is difficult and not a legal configuration) - that's covered elsewhere.  If you can make the meter jump by crossing the contacts, your contact spring has lost contact;  proceed below to fails shim test and adjust the contact spring out.

WEAPON FAILS STRIP CHECK / IS INTERMITTENT.  Fails check = a) when the tip is depressed by the 750 gram weight, the pressure spring won't push the weight back up;  b)  when the tip is depressed onto the 0.5 millimeter shim, the weapon goes off.  There are other ways for it to fail, but except for missing tips screws, they're pretty rare.  An intermittent weapon works, but not all the time.  When you depress the tip and shift your pressure to different edges of the tip, the meter will jump, or the meter jumps just sometimes when the tip is depressed.  For all of these, you're going to have to take the tip apart.  Set the weapon up on your "holder" with the tip above the "catcher."  You can then remove the tip screws and slide out the tip and pressure spring (but that may not be the first step for some problems - check your particular problem section before taking the tip out).  We'll cover putting the tip back together after dealing with the different problems.

FAILS WEIGHT.  Make sure the tip slides smoothly in the barrel - rarely, the tip "catches" and doesn't push the weight back up.  The vast majority of the time, the pressure spring has gotten too weak.  Your best choice is to put in a new one, but you can stretch a failed one out if you don't have another.  Try to stretch gently, evenly, and not too far.  Put the tip back in (without the screws) and carefully try the weight before you reassemble it.

FAILS SHIM TEST.  This may work for intermittents, too.    Remove the tip and spring.  The contact spring on the tip is on a tiny screw and can be rotated to move it up or down - clockwise makes the spring shorter, which you want for failed shim, counterclockwise longer, for a weapon that's dead but whose contacts are live.  For some tips, this can be done by hand;  for some, a narrow-tip set of pliers are necessary to grip the spring.  Be gentle and patient!  Don't turn more than a half-rotation at a time, then recheck with a shim for contact and legality.  Some contact springs just won't adjust, and may become a twirled mess;  they can be removed and replaced, but if the first one was uncooperative, often replacements will be too.  Spare tips are less annoying than spare contact springs, even if a bit more costly.  If a contact spring gets bent, it may still work, but only oriented one way in the barrel;  pay attention and don't put it in the wrong way 'round.  Also, unless this is purely a competition weapon, don't just barely fix it, as practice use will tend to bring back the problem.

INTERMITTENT.   Hook your ohm meter to a body cord (two prongs closest together) and press in the tip - if the meter doesn't jump, try pressing on the edge of the tip, and work the pressure around.  If the meter jumps immediately, do the same thing.  In both cases, look for a change in conductivity.  If you can't get the meter to jump, your intermittent appears to have become dead - treat it as such (the passage for dead weapons is above).  If it seems to be working fine, hold the tip down and bend the blade - sometimes there's a loose connection in the tip that separates when the blade bends.  Try to jiggle the weapon with the tip down (this isn't the easiest thing to do).  Test for an intermittent grounding event - change the connection on your body cord to one live circuit and the other on the ground (the outside one with the farthest gap) and do all of the depressed-tip tests - do it with the other live circuit as well.  Sometimes a spring or other part of the tip will touch the barrel when the tip is in, grounding the weapon.  If you can't get the weapon to be intermittent, maybe it isn't - when body cords go bad, the copper breaks inside the insulation or the wire comes loose from a prong connection, but often not completely, giving intermittent contact.   A true intermittent, though, is usually a tip problem.  With the ohm meter on the live circuits of the body cord, take the tip apart.  Clean the tip with alcohol and a cotton-tip swab - if it's dirty, you'll see, and dirt can interfere with the electricity.  Check how far down the tip depresses before some contact is made - the contact spring may be just barely touching the contacts, and not doing it every time (extend the contact spring by rotating it gently counterclockwise, or stretching it a bit).  Put a flat-surfaced conductive tool down the barrel (an allen wrench works well for this) and push, making the ohm meter jump - sometimes one or the other contacts shift, making them uneven so they don't always both make contact with the spring.  If nothing work, try rotating the barrel a tiny bit - you may have a loosened connection coming into the contacts;  this will probably just get worse, but sometimes rotating the barrel relaxes the stress on the wire and the problem goes away.

PUTTING THE TIP BACK TOGETHER.  Once you think you have the problem fixed, put the big spring into the barrel, put in the tip, line the holes in the tip with the slots in the barrel, and push the tip in - watch the ohm meter to make sure everything is working.  Sometimes, the contact seems better with the tip a particular way around - if the  conductance isn't what you would like, try both ways.  If it still isn't as good as you'd like, and the tip has been cleaned, try cleaning the end of the contact spring - I very gentle drag it across a flat file surface to clean possible corrosion off the end of the spring.

But if everything seems fine, put your tip over your parts catcher and secure the weapon so that you can rotate it but it won't roll on its own, and leave it plugged in.  On my catcher, off to the side, I place a small drop of Loc-Tite - it's a chemical that helps to hold screws in.  I use the non-permanent variety, since I may want to get the screws back out.  This is tricky - if the chemical gets into the tip, the tip will stick (it can be worked out, usually, but it's still a pain).  You're trying to get a tiny drop of it on the tip screw threads and nowhere else.

I use a fine-tipped forceps.  I dip the forceps tip in the Loc-Tite, touch the screw threads, wipe excess off the forceps, and use the forceps to put the screw into the hole.

When you tighten the screw, pay attention to whether it is going straight in or not - they can go in tilted, but that can strip the screws and the tips threads, as well as affecting the travel of the tip (and the screws pop out more easily).  I find that turning the screws the wrong way slightly is the best way to get them to "drop" properly in the hole.

Tighten the screw until it won't turn anymore - they are pretty hardy, but you can force them to the point of stripping them.  If the screw never seems to stop turning, a few things could be wrong - you might have an incompatible screw (I've never gotten a supplier to admit that the screws occasionally change, or that all French screws aren't the same, but it's true), or the screw or tip has stripped threads.  This is why I try to put back the screws I took off - those give you fewer problems here.  But try another screw (preferably a new one, but whatever);  if a  few screws all fail to catch, you have a stripped hole, and the tip needs to be discarded.

Once the tip is reassembled, check it for everything - I've had tips fine at every stage fail at the very end.  Check with shims and weight - it's just a good habit to make sure.


MOUNTING NEW WIRED BLADES.  Since I have a vast variety of weapons accumulated over many years, I always order wired blades with the tangs uncut and unbent;  if you have used the same vendor for replacements, you can tell them your grip and let them cut / bend the tangs before they send them.  But the "same" grips may have tang holes of very different depths, so don't assume that, for example, a Belgian bought one place will fit a blade "cut for a Belgian" somewhere else.  A new blade is replacing an old broken one.  Don't forget to salvage the tip of the broken weapon - I keep whole tips for rewiring, but maybe you want to split the parts up.  A small warning:  a whole tip may, with time and under some conditions, "freeze up" so they can no longer be taken apart.

So, if you get them cut, ignore this paragraph about tang cutting.  I secure the new blade (unwrapping the wires so I won't accidentally cut them);  a vise is good for this, or even a hole in the side of something (I have a bookcase / tool shelves with a hole that I slide the tang into.  Use the old blade as a measurement for proper tang length (note when you take the old weapon apart whether the length is ideal - here's your chance to lengthen it or shorten it).  I cut with a hacksaw - some people use wire-type cutters, but I find the threads are less affected by a careful saw cut.  Once cut, check that your nut will go on easily;  you may need to file the end slightly.

Unwrap the wires from the tang.  At this point, I clip the ohm meter to the wires and test the weapon, even shims and weight, but it's good to know if it at least works before you put a lot of effort into it (and they don't always work, and they're not legal an alarming amount of the time).  If all is well, unclip the ohm meter and feed the ends of the wires through the bell guard.  The bell guard is asymmetrical - it has two wide sides to protect your knuckles and fingers (but possibly your over-the-top hand for a French grip), and need to be slid along the tang into the proper position.  There are wire notches in the square opening, but be careful sliding the guard on - draw the wires through, and don't let them shift to another side of the blade.  It is fairly easy to break the wires while fitting the bell guard.

Push the wires through the hole at the bottom of the body cord plug assembly and slide the assembly up against the bell guard, being careful not to pinch the wires against the blade or let a loop form between the assembly and the guard. If you want to stick the wires through the plug (some of them have a channel for this), I think you may need to do this now;  I don't do it, so I'm not sure when the best time is.  Position the plug where you want it (usually where your fingertips are);  some plugs will stay in place, while others need to be held during assembly.  Slide the pad in - these can get worn center holes, and may need to be positioned so the grip will hold them in place.

Check that everything lines up properly with the top of the blade - some pieces, once in position, stay, but others may shift around, possibly breaking your wires.  I rung the blade through a hole in my work table to hold it upright during this part of the assembly.  Slide the grip on so that the notch lines up with the wires, and make sure that the wires come straight up inside the bell guard so they are in that notch.

Lock washers are your friends, and you can buy them at hardware stores (I think they are 9 mm, but I may be remembering wrong).  Slide one (you may need more, but one is usually enough) into the grip hole and make sure that it goes around the tang (I open the forceps inside the hole and use the forceps to position the washer properly).  Position your nut and start to tighten it, making sure that it's on straight.

Tang length can be critical for the nuts that are screwdriver or allen wrench tightened - they will only go on so far and won't go further.  Nuts tightened with an outside gripper will let the tang come completely through and more - they'll stop when tight, or if they reach the end of the threads on the tang (not all tangs are threaded all the way down).  Outside grippers don't always fit into the hole, however - the ones made especially for fencers are good (I bought one on a hardware store and had to grind the outside down to make it fit), but don't always fit.

When the bolt won't tighten anymore, take the weapon in your hand and shake it - you'll be able to tell if it's tight or not.  If it won't tighten, you may have hit the end of the threads (more washers needed), or the bolt isn't the right bolt (not all equipment is exactly the same), or the bolt isn't on straight, or sometimes the washers have slipped deeper into the hole suddenly.

Clip the wires so maybe an inch / 2 cm of wire sticks out of the separate insulation.  I use a flame to burn off the cloth or ceramic insulation, and fine steel wool to scrape off the residue.  Not everyone positions the wires the same way on the plugs, but I have found that my way produces few wire breaks during use:  I get the end of the separate insulation under the washer of a plug bolt, use forceps to wrap the wire tightly around it, and then tighten the bolt down onto the washer, pinching it underneath - this puts stresses on the outer insulation rather than the wire.



This will cover rewiring blades - if you have a new, "naked" blade, just skip the old wire removal stage.

Take off the old tip - the easiest way is to secure the blade and use a wrench on the barrel base to screw it off.  I try to use "whole" tips for rewiring.  If the old tip isn't usable, I'll use a tip salvaged from a broken weapon.  I don't take the tips apart;  as long as you have them where they won't get corroded, it's just easier to use parts that once were working as a unit.

Remove the old wire from the blade.  This may be easy, or you may need to dig the wire out with a pointed tool (you can wedge the point under the wire and lever it out a bit at a time).  Scrape the old glue out with a sharp blade (I use an exacto-knife and box cutter), which may have to be used to cut through old epoxy.  Get as much of any visible residue out as humanly possible, then go down the furrow with steel wool (push it in with a fingernail or a screwdriver).  Make sure the deep furrows at each end are completely free of glue.

At this point, take the tip apart over some shallow container (I use the top from a Chinese soup container).  Remove the old contact cup (push it through from the base) and clean the tip with a q-tip and some alcohol.

Take the new wire and carefully unroll it - avoid kinking it.  Once it's unrolled, pinch it between two fingers and draw it through, straightening it as much as you can.  Insert the ends into the barrel top and push a small bit through - maybe 6 inches / 15 cm.

Turn the blade over and put a drop of Loctite on the threads.  Turn it over again and put the wire in the end furrow firmly, then carefully screw the barrel on the blade - if you feel a catch, don't force it.  By having the far end of the wire there, close to the end, if you screw up and break the wire, it'll be all right - you have more wire than you're going to use anyway.  Secure the blade and use a wrench to tighten the barrel.  You want it tight, but it is possible to damage the barrel if you tighten it too much.

Feed the wire through carefully (you can strip the insulation off of it if you pull too hard / too fast), then carefully seat the contact cup and feed it down the barrel.  Strip the far end of the wires (burn off the insulation and strip the residue with steel wool) and clip your meter to them.  Assemble the tip, checking with the shims for legality and putting a tiny bit of Loctite on the bottom threads of the tip screws (I touch my fine forceps into a drop of Loctite, touch the threads, and wipe the excess off the forceps before using them to move the screws).

Lay the wire down.  Separate the wires - they will stay down better if not wrapped around each other.  Grab them near the base of the blade and hold them in the furrow.  Put super glue on the wire starting at the tip - enough the make the cloth insulation look wet.  After doing maybe half the blade, take the head of a screw driver and gently push the wire you've glued into the base of the furrow.  Do the other half, following with the screwdriver, and bend the wire so that at the blade base it sticks straight up - that will keep glue off of it.  Set the blade aside to dry.  Do not bend the blade - if you seated the wire properly, it will stay, and bending it will put more wire in the furrow than should be there, making its popping out later a real possibility.  Not bending it does slightly increase the chance that a major blade bend will break your wire, but they do, amazingly enough, stretch to some degree.

Once everything is dry, select the proper length of "spaghetti" insulation (more is better than less).  Carefully feed the wire into the insulation, and as you get to the cloth insulation, begin to rotate the spaghetti - it will slip along the underlying cloth better if it's spinning.  You may need to reverse the direction of the rotation occasionally.  Once the wire slips out the far end, you can grab it and slide the spaghetti the rest of the way.  You may need to shorten the wire and restrip the cloth insulation.

At this point, you have a wired blade - see instructions above for handling that.



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