Different Fencing Sword Types Guide

Our fencing swords guide should give you a basic overview of each sword, their differences and how fencing rules differ with each sword.

Read on to learn more about the different types of fencing swords.

Different Fencing Sword Types

There are three main types of sword in fencing - foil, epee and sabre. There’s also the electric and non-electric variants of each sword.

Each sword has a set of rules which affect the nature of fencing with that sword.

Electric and Non-Electric

fencer fencing with electric scoring equipment

When choosing a fencing sword you will be able to buy electric and non-electric versions. Electric swords are for wired, electric fencing where you are connected to scoring equipment.

Non-electric swords are used for ‘dry’ fencing practice, normally done at your local club.

When choosing which sword to buy, you should consider your level of fencing and whether you compete regularly. If you do, you should choose an electric sword.

If you are new to the sport and perhaps buying your first non-club gear, you may want to buy a non-electric sword so you can have your own weapon to use during fencing practice. You could then use a club electric sword when you do need to fenced wired-up.


Fencer holding a foil sword pointed towards the ground

A foil is one of the three main types of fencing sword, and the most popular. It is a thrusting weapon, like epee, where points are scored with the tip of the sword hitting the opponent’s valid target area.

There are two varieties, first is the electric foil, which has a spring-loaded button at the end of the sword, which, when compressed, registers on the scoring equipment. The ‘dry’ or ‘steam’, non-electric variant has a rubber tip on the end and is used for practice.

It has a square cross-section, with a bendy blade and a small guard compared to the other swords.

The target area when fencing foil is the torso, groin and lower neck, with priority or ‘right of way’ being used to determine which fencer scored the touch in the event there are conflicting hits within a single engagement.


fencer holding an epee sword

Epee, similar to foil, is a thrusting weapon with points scored with the tip of the blade. There are also electric and non-electric variants.

The epee has a triangular cross-section and is less bendy than a foil, with a larger guard for greater protection. Unlike foil, there are no right of way rules, and touches are scored according to which fencer hit the target first. As there is no right of way, epee tends to feature more rapid, counter-attacking movement.

The target in epee is the entire body. This combined with the lack of right of way means that the tempo of epee can be cautious, followed by rapid attacks and counters.


fencer holding a sabre sword

In sabre, unlike foil and epee, points are scored with the edge of the blade. This means that there is little difference between an electric and non-electric sabre, as there is no need for a spring button at the end of the sword.

Sabres are shorter than both foil and epee, and lighter than epee swords. They also have a noticeably larger bell guard, which covers the fencer’s hand, creating a curved dome from the top of the handle to the bottom.

Like foil, sabre operates according to priority rules. The target area for sabre is different however, with the above-the waist torso, arms, neck and head all being valid for touches.

Sabre is a very fast form of fencing, with Olympic sabre fencing looking extremely quick and simple relative to the other swords. However, sabre is no less advanced or complex than foil or epee, it is simply how the sport has evolved.

How Much Does A Fencing Sword Cost?

A fencing sword can cost anywhere between £50 and £250. The cost factors that influence the price of a fencing sword includes:

  • The weapon you choose
  • Grip type
  • Blade quality
  • Guard quality
  • Socket quality
  • Pad quality
  • Pommel quality
  • Electric or non-electric

You can use a club sword if you are starting out, or buy fencing swords secondhand if you are budget-conscious. As with all secondhand goods you should ensure it is in the condition needed for its intended purpose.

For more detail on the above sword parts and further terminology, see our fencing glossary.

Fencing Sword Sizes

  • A foil is 110cm, with a blade of 90cm. It must weigh less than 500g.
  • An epee is 110cm, with a blade of 90cm. It must weigh less than 770g.
  • A sabre is 105cm, with a blade of 88cm. It must weigh less than 500g.

Fencing swords are graded from 0 to 5 for simplicity, with 0 being the smallest and 5 being the biggest.

Under 10 10-14 Over 15
Foil 0 3 (UK) 2 (Global) 5
Epee 0 2 5
Sabre 0 2 5


Fencing Sword Anatomy & Parts

There are many different parts to a fencing sword:

  • Point - Tip of the blade
  • Blade - Core part of the weapon, used for attacking and defending.
  • Guard - Protects the fencer’s hand from the opponent.
  • Socket - Connecting the weapon to the scoring apparatus via a body wire
  • Pad - Protects the fencer’s hand against the underside of the guard
  • Grip/handle - Held by the fencer
  • Pommel - End of the handle if the fencer is using a french grip


Fencing Sword Grips

There are two main types of fencing sword grips - the french grip and the pistol grip.

French Grip

fencing sword with french grip

Most fencers will begin learning to fence with a french grip due to its simplicity. A french grip is straight, with slight curves in the design. There are multiple variations of a french grip, and no manufacturer will be exactly the same.

The benefits of a french grip are that you are able to hold the grip slightly lower down, meaning you gain additional reach while fencing. However, this reach comes at the cost of reduced agility and maneuverability.

Sabreurs will use a french grip by default (or one of its variations) as a pistol grip is incompatible with the sabre guard.

Pistol Grip

Three fencing swords with pistol grips

A pistol grip too has many variations, but in general a pistol grip has multiple ridges and protrusions so that the grip fits ergonomically and securely in the fencer’s hand.

Most elite and competition-level fencers use pistol grips (with the exception of sabre) as it offers greater control over the blade, allowing for stronger parries and attacks.

However, due to its design, you gain no reach advantage over your opponent.

A fencer’s choice of grip is personal and ultimately down to what works for them. It’s best to try both and see which you feel more comfortable with.

Now you know the basics of fencing swords, be sure to check out our ten top beginner fencing tips for more general advice for those new to fencing.


Are Fencing Swords Heavy?

Epee is the heaviest sword, and should weigh less than 770g, and less for smaller sizes suitable for children. However, if you are new to fencing any sword may feel heavy initially, but you will soon get used to it.

Do You Need a Licence to Own a Fencing Sword?

You do not need a licence to own a fencing sword in the UK.

You should only ever use a fencing sword for its intended purpose. In public it should be kept in a fencing bag along with your other equipment.

While you do not need a licence to own a fencing sword, it does not mean that it is not dangerous if used incorrectly.

Can You Modify a Fencing Sword?

Many fencing sword suppliers will allow you to modify or customise your fencing sword to your requirements with their parts, providing it is within the rules, manufacturing and safety standards for the particular sword.

Are Fencing Swords Dangerous?

Fencing swords can be dangerous if used inappropriately. They are fundamentally weapons and should be held with caution.

The point at the end of the sword could cause eye injuries to an unmasked fencer. Our guide to fencing masks covers all you need to know about the essential protection they provide to fencers.

Even with all appropriate fencing clothing, it is possible to sustain an injury from a fencing sword, thankfully these are rare, especially if both fencers are coached.

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