Making Chainmail
by Chad Parker
Copyright ©2000, Chad Parker. All rights reserved.
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If you have any questions, please let me know by emailing me at cvpark@frii.com.

A Little History

Chainmail or Maille as is probably more accurate, has been around for centuries, and from the various sources I have checked out, it seems to have first been developed in Northern France. Rusted masses of iron links have been found in Celtic graves in the United Kingdom, so we know the Celts used it. The Romans acquired it from the Celts during their occupation of the British Isles probably sometime during the First Century A.D.

Here are a couple of links that can give you more regarding the history of Maille:

A Brief History of Chainmail
A Small History of Mail (Chainmail)

The original idea behind Maille was to provide a mesh of metal that a warrior would wear to prevent penetrating weapons such as swords or spears. Modern day uses for Maille include butcher's gloves and aprons, and shark suits worn by SCUBA divers when diving with these animals. A couple of characteristics that maille has however, make it fun to incorporate into jewelry designs. First, when you handle some maille, the first thing you notice is that it is fun to touch, because of its unique ability to sort of roll off of your skin. In other words, the mesh is just plain fun to play with. The second characteristic is that the mesh creates a repeating pattern that is pleasing to the eye. It can be used to make bracelets, belts, necklaces, and many other types of adornment. It can be made from just about any metal that is flexible enough to bend as well. When I was attending college, I was interested in medieval history, and in particular, weapons and armor of the time, so I researched and learned how to make maille. For a while, I made steel belts and bracelets and consigned them at a local trendy store to make a little extra cash, but sort of quit doing it once I was finished with college. This being a metalworking site, and maille being the sort of metalwork that could be incorporated into jewelry designs, I decided to create an online class that demonstrates how to make it.

Supplies and Tools

You will need a sturdy pair of side cutters. I bought this pair years ago at Walmart for about $3.00 after first trying several different name brands. Each of the name brand cutters' tips broke after about 100 rings were cut with them. They need to have very strong tips, as that is the only part you really use for making chainmail. If you are using a metal other than steel, you will probably want to use a jeweler's saw or a jump ring maker for cutting rings so the ends are neater.

This is another $2.00 to $3.00 item you will need. Again, you won't need a name brand.

You will need a couple pairs of pliers. When making chainmail from steel, I use two pairs of needle nose pliers with teeth, as the steel is hard enough to bend to require a better grip. When using precious metal, you can probably skip using pliers with teeth.

You may want to use a glove when winding the rings.

I have found that the type of steel dowel that can be obtained at your local hardware store for about $2.00 works great for creating the rings. I believe that this one is 5/8 inch in diameter. I have also used 1/4 inch diameter before. You could use any number of other cylindrical objects in different diameters if you desire different sized rings.

The wire I used for these rings is 12 or 14 guage electric fence wire. It is galvanized, so it won't rust. Depending on the size of rings you want, you can use various sizes of wire. As I said before, You can use any metal for this you want.

Examples

This and the next few pictures are examples of chainmail projects in progress. This first one is a coif that is not finished. A coif would be worn over a padded skull cap and is designed to protect the head and neck. Notice that the pattern in this is larger and larger concentric circles.

This is a close up of the standard 4 in 1 pattern typically used for chainmail.

Here is a partially completed shirt of chainmail. It is approximately 1/3 finished if that, and it has about 5-6000 rings. When finished, it would weigh about 50 pounds.

This piece is made from premade brass jump rings.

Steps

The first thing you need to do is to cut off a piece of wire appropriate to your needs. The piece I used here is about 8 or 9 feet long. Your next step is to bend the end around your dowel so the curve of the wire matches it.

Next, adjust your vise grips so that they will hold the wire tightly to the dowel.

Next, put on your glove, and brace the dowel against something solid. Using your thumb to guide how the wire lays down, begin spinning the dowel using the vise grips for leverage. Try to create a uniform spring without gaps if you can.

Spin the dowel until all of the wire is wrapped.

Slide your spring off of the dowel.

cut off the end where the vise grips held it to the dowel.

If you are using a jeweler's saw, you will start cutting off rings here. Try to keep the blade as close to the end sticking out as possible to create uniform rings.

When making steel chainmail, I use side cutters. Side cutters generally have the blade closer to one side than the other. I press the side with the blade against the previously cut end to make the most uniform rings. Snip off only one ring at a time for consistancy.

When cutting steel, you may find your hand getting tired pretty quickly. It takes quite a bit of pressure.

Here I have finished the entire spring, and am ready to move to the next step. When I got to the end, I trimmed off a small unusable portion.

This is what the each of the rings should look like.

Using your two pairs of pliers, you should spread open some of the rings.

For the others, you should grasp each end with a pair of pliers, and then push the ends past each other to create a slight springiness. After this, pull them back and line up the two ends.

Check to make sure that ends are closed, and try running your finger over the gap to check to see that the ring doesn't have any catches.


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