Sabrage, or how to show off at parties

You have all seen old Hollywood movies showing Napoleonic cavalry officers celebrating by cutting the tops off of champagne bottles. The name for this is sabrage.

As with most things in movies there is some truth and a lot of illusion. The trick became popular in France when Napoleon’s armies were conquering much of Europe and was apparently popular with Napoleon’s light cavalry or Hussars. These troops used the sabre and from this the technique gets its name.

So much for the truth, the illusion as any magician knows is where the trick lies. Firstly, the top of the bottle is not cut off, in fact the back of the sabre, which is unsharpened is used. In fact, any suitable blunt length of metal can be used; I have seen video of someone opening a bottle with a ski, impressive but awkward.

The sword is slid up along the bottle seam of the bottle to the lip and creates a fracture at the top of the neck, the pressure of the gas in the wine does the rest and breaks the neck of the bottle and the cork and collar fly off together. The lip of the bottle creates a stress concentration, the thin seam which runs up the length of the bottle provides another stress concentration, and where they meet is the weak point of the bottle.

Bottle showing seam

Champagne swords are available, these are made for the purpose and have a short blunt blade, however, unless you plan to do this on a regular basis it is probably a waste of money. The blunt side of a substantial bread knife would probably work, but you would need to be very careful about the sharp side of the blade. A length of steel rectangular bar, around 3mm thick and 18 inches to 2 feet long would probably work.

I am fortunate as I do have a choice of swords to use from my hobby of historical fencing. I have used a longsword, but this like a ski is really a bit too big and awkward for the job. As with the Hussars a single-handed sword such as a sabre (not a modern fencing one), arming sword, backsword or basket hilt is ideal. As in historic fencing we are not trying to kill each other the blades are blunt which makes the action straightforward.

So that is the history, and explanation of the trick, now how to do it.


  • Bottle of sparkling wine, chilled but not too cold (I have done it with Champagne, but budget usually means I do it with other sparkling wines such as prosecco or cava. I have been told that the dark almost black bottles of cava made by Freixenet are too strong to break in this way, but I have not tried it)
  • A sword (in this case a Chinese replica of an English Civil War mortuary hilt sword, basically a straight blade with a simple basket)
  • Someone with a glass nearby


While this can be done inside, I normally do it outside to minimise the risks of spraying wine or broken glass everywhere, so far this has not proved to be a problem.

First to prepare the bottle, remove the foil and the wire cage. A light tap of the base of the bottle on a table or the ground to help release the gas is useful.

Locate the seam and orient the bottle so the seam is uppermost in your left hand (assuming you are right-handed) at an angle of about 20 degrees (make sure it is not pointing at anybody or anything that you don’t want to hit) and bring the sword into contact with the bottle. You should aim to hit the collar with the sword between halfway and three quarters of the way up the blade. I usually run the sword up and down the seam a couple of times gently to get used to the feel, and then strike with speed and power.

If all goes to plan the cork and collar will fly off into the distance to great applause. If not entirely to plan, then you may have to repeat the operation.

Warning. In theory there is a risk of broken glass in the first spray of champagne, I have never seen it yet, but it is a good idea to check the glass. However, the broken neck of the bottle and the collar around the cork will have very sharp edges, so be careful. The racing drivers drinking straight from the bottle approach is a definite no-no.

As with all tricks it is a good idea to practice before showing off to an audience.

So, swords and alcohol, what could possibly go wrong…

Corks and collars

The end result


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