Extending the Life of your Fencing Mask
by Steven Lawrence
Ever have those dents and scratches on your mask start to rust? You brush it off here and there but it keeps coming back and finally that 12k punch at the armorers table goes through a small hole. Time to buy a new mask and the padding had not even worn out yet.
Probably the highest wear on a fencing mask is on the padding and material around the bib. Occasional rinsing of the inside or if your lucky enough to have a bib liner that's washable, will really help extend the life of your mask. The problem with rinsing is the rust that can form on all that mesh where the paint's been scratched off. The wire mesh is the one part of your mask that you can't really repair but you can do some maintenance to make it last longer.
While fencing, especially in epee, you will eventually take a few hits in the mask, putting a few dents and scratches in the mesh. Over time, corrosion can begin to form on the mesh where the paint has been scratched off. This will cause points of weakness if left alone, making the mask unsafe and it may even fail a punch test at your next tournament. This can happen to the most expensive FIE masks as well as the cheaper models. As soon as any armorer at a tournament sees a rust spot on your mask, that's right where he is going to push that 12k punch.
First push back out the dents from the inside of your mask. You can use the wooden handle of a hammer or the blunt metal end of a ratchet handle from your tool set. I use the ratchet handle because it works well with small dents. You can place it face down on a carpet to do this. Once you have done this, look over the outside of your mask and straighten any mesh that has been pushed askew using needle nose pliers or a small screwdriver. Don't get to critical with this, you only want the shape of the square holes to be uniform not perfect.
You will need a paper towel, a small bottle of black gloss enamel paint and some Q-tip type cotton swabs. Place the paper towel on the inside of your mask against the mesh. Make sure it covers your padding so that no paint will go through the mesh onto the inside of your mask. I use the small bottles of enamel paint that you find in the hobby section of department stores for model cars etc., Testors brand works well. Use the Q-Tip to dip in the paint, roll it between your fingers with the cotton on the edge of the paint bottle so that you don't have too much paint on the Q-Tip. Now on the outside of the mask's mesh ROLL the paint on the scratches with the Q-Tip. If you use too much paint and it fills the little square holes, simply blow through the filled hole as if you were blowing dust off. The paint will go through onto the paper towel and the hole will open up like new. If you find the cotton on your Q-Tip starting to fray, throw it away it use another one. With practice you will see how much paint to use, it doesn't take much. Keep this up until you are satisfied that all the scratches are covered. Remove the paper towel and let your mask dry overnight.
This works much better than a brush or spray for maintenance. It only takes about ten minutes and there's no mess. Not only does your mask look better but it will keep rust from forming on those scratched mesh wires and can get you an extra year or two out of your mask depending on how often you do it.
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