Sooner or later it’s going to happen. Your weapon is going to fail. While a common cause of weapon problems in epee is the body cord, problems with the epee tip are a very close second. In addition, keeping your epee tip well maintained will get you some extra touches as your point won’t be “sticky”.
I can relate from personal experience that it is very helpful to get good at changing out the tips. When you get into competition, you (or your fencer) will be hitting harder and going faster than they ever have before. This leads to a lot of tip failures and not infrequent failures of the thin shim test or weight test for epee. We’ve definitely had our fair share of weapon problems and I’ve learned to mostly fix epees on the sidelines between matches. One good step in learning to manage the weapon is to learn what happens inside. Here’s a cool video of the inner workings of an epee tip:
Another thing that has really helped me to succeed in doing this is replacing the point screws in all of Lex’s epee with NEPS (new epee point screws). They come with a special screwdriver that sticks inside the screw so the screws don’t fall off. I am old and blind and I cannot for the life of me generally see the small screws, but once you get one of these attached to the end of the special screwdriver, it’s pretty smooth sailing for there. Definitely consider buying a pack of them. Here’s a picture of the screwdriver where you can see the layered tip that fits inside the screw and there’s a link below where Absolute Fencing sells them.
As you can see from the video above, the things that go into your epee tip are the tip itself, a contact spring (the small spring that winds onto the tip and registers the touch), a pressure spring (the large spring that provides resistance), and two screws. Links for purchasing epee tips and screws are below. Most of the weapons in the club use German or standard parts. French parts are used for some weapons so you may want to review what weapon you own before you buy parts to make sure you get the right ones.
For routine maintenance of your epee, unscrew the current tip. I often place the screws onto a magnet (like a kitchen refrigerator magnet) so they don’t get lost. Remove the tip and pressure spring. You can use a Q-tip with isopropryl alcohol to clean the barrel. The wet Q-tip fits perfectly inside the barrel and you can gently scrub up and down. You’ll be amazed at the grime you can remove. It turns out that as the tip goes in and out it creates a small vacuum that sucks in dust particles. After cleaning, return the pressure spring to the barrel and place the tip on top. Make sure it slides smoothly up and down. If it is really rough/stuck, consider using a new epee tip. Once that has gone well, replace the screws. When your weapon is reassembled, you should test it to make sure it will pass inspection. The tests for epee include the thick shim—showing that the thick shim fits in the space between the tip and the barrel; the thin shim—showing that when the thin shim is placed between the tip and barrel that it prevents the small spring from contacting and producing a light; and the weight test which shows that the tip and pressure spring can hold up the 750g weight without setting off the light. If you fail the thick shim, this is often due to problems with the point screws not being equally screwed in. Failing the thin shim is generally due to the contact spring being too long; you can shorten it by further twisting it onto the tip but you may need to replace it. Failing the weight test is generally due to a failed pressure spring which you should replace. Sometimes stretching the pressure spring can let you get another bout or two. You should have a weapon test kit to check all these things, such as this one again from Absolute:
The club does not presently have an armorer. I will sometimes do some minor repairs, but it is awfully nice if the fencer has their own replacement parts (as mentioned, I am also very partial to NEPS screws for epee if I am fixing things because I am terrible with the other types of screws). Coach will also do some repairs. The cost for materials for a complete tip replacement is around $10 between parts and labor if you don't have the parts so it is a great thing to learn to do yourself and can be life-saving on the strip on competition day. I don’t know much about foil, but if you need to learn more about epee weapon maintenance, I am happy to help you/your fencer learn.