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The M 1860 Light Cavalry Saber

The ideal weapon for le sabrage du champagne
John Fuhring

Presented here is an excellent reproduction of the M 1860 Light Cavalry Saber that is perfect for doing a very authentic and impressive "le sabrage du champagne."  The sword and scabbard are actually better made than the originals because the modern homogeneous steel is harder, tougher and more springy than the originals.  Breakage of the steel blade is never a problem, but this sword is even less prone to breakage than an original because of the quality of its steel.

The M 1860 saber was designed after the French sabers of the time, but despite its official designation, it wasn't actually issued to the Union Army until after 1862, hence the date on the ricasso.  Up until that time, the older longer and heavier "Dragoon" model, also known as "Old Wrist Breaker," was in use by cavalry units of both sides of the Civil War.

This particular sword is actually noticeably lighter than the original M 1860 sabers and has a thinner blade, thinner, yet stronger.  The sword is very supple and is easily handled even by people not trained in saber handling.  The edge of the blade is purposely made dull for safety reasons.    The saber and its steel sheath has been expertly polished to a high degree of brilliance in my workshop and any honor guard would be proud to carry it.  Although it looks like highly polished stainless steel or chrome plated steel, the sword and scabbard are actually composed of "Silver Spring Carbon Steel" which means that without proper care they can rust.  After handling and after a sabrage, the blade must be wiped dry and a light coating of oil must be applied to both the blade and the scabbard to keep the polish brilliant and prevent rust.

The point of the saber is always the most dangerous part.  Even though this blade is not sharp, the point can readily penetrate a person's body and is extremely dangerous.  You are urged to always be aware where the point of the saber is and to hold it up or down, but never in a position where an accidental thrust would send the sword through somebody's body.  When the sword is out of the sheath, it should be carried resting on the shoulder much like a rifle is carried by a soldier.  When actually performing le sabrage du champagne, you must assure that there are no persons nearby who might be struck by the blade and especially by the heavy chunk of sharp glass that will shoot like a dangerous bullet from the champagne bottle as it separates from the bottle.  As when shooting a gun, the range must be clear before shooting.

Drinking Champagne after Le Sabrage
Many people are, at first, reluctant to drink champagne from a bottle opened this way for fear of ingesting glass particles.  For hundreds of years people have been drinking wine opened this way and there is no record of anybody being harmed.  Because of the pressure in the champagne bottle, any glass shards are blown out.  Because of the cleanness of the break, no shards are created anyway and even if they were, they are heavier than champagne and will sink to the bottom of the bottle.  Finally if there are any shards present, you will see them in the bottom of your glass and if you drink them, you will feel them in your mouth and will spit them out.  All these explanations are moot because creating and ingesting glass shards during a sabrage is impossible.

Final Warning
Having said that, the edges of the bottle are extremely sharp and utmost caution must be exercised when serving the champagne.  When empty, the bottle must be handled and disposed of with utmost care lest somebody be cut by it.  The broken neck piece, with its cork, must also be recovered because it too is sharp.

Performing Le Sabrage
The sabrage is best done with the bottle in the left hand and the saber in the right hand since these sabers come only in right hand models.  Left handed people are mostly ambidextrous, so this shouldn't present a problem.  The bottle is prepared by cooling it to an ice cold temperature long enough for the wine to be very cold and the wine should not be shaken up to any degree.  The wire retaining the cork should be carefully removed pointing in a safe direction while realizing the cork may unexpectedly fly out.  The champagne bottle must be held at a greater than 45 degree angle so that champagne won't gush out and be wasted.  Hold the bottle in such a way that the top side in your hand is clear of your fingers and thumb and there is a glass "path" for the sword to travel.  With the saber in your right hand, hold the blade horizontal with the edge of the blade resting near the base of the bottle.  Grip the saber tightly and press down as hard as is convenient on the bottle with the blade.  With a very quick, very sharp stroke, slide the blade up the bottle while maintaining pressure against the bottle.

1)  Thoroughly chill the bottle and wine it contains.
2)  carefully remove the wire cork retainer and paper and foil around the neck.  
3)  Hold the bottle in the left hand at greater than 45 degrees.
4)  Hold the bottle so your fingers and thumb are clear of the top side.
5)  Hold the saber in the right hand and press the blade down on the bottle's base.
6)  With the blade pressing on the bottle, execute a very quick, sharp stroke as you slide the blade up the bottle.

When the fast moving blade encounters the very weak neck of a traditional champagne bottle, the top of the neck with the cork will fracture and will cleanly break off because structurally, this is the weakest part of the bottle and, in the old days, when wine bottles were first designed, the neck was supposed to break off easily and cleanly.  Some of the modern (less expensive) sparkling wine bottles have necks that are too thick and glass that is too tough.  In those cases, the bottle should be held nearly vertical and the horizontal blade must be swung hard and sharply as if cutting off a head.

For reasons yet to be explained, champagne drunk form a bottle that has been sabraged is far more delicious than if opened by popping the cork.


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