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How to make Chainmail
Chainmail is some pretty amazing stuff. And I think that the person who first thought it up must have been a genius. It is just so different from other armor and yet it is just so effective.
Now, we don't actually do any blacksmithing with the chainmail but I put it in this section of my website because its a reasonably good fit. And, at some point in the future I may expand this tutorial so I actually forge or forge weld the links.
This is a tutorial (that includes a video) on how to actually build the fabric of chainmail in the 4 in 1 pattern which is the most frequently used pattern.
Video Tutorial: I also have a complete video tutorial that shows how to make chainmail. It is at the bottom of this page.
Some quick Notes about Chainmail
The Term "ChainMail" is actually a pretty modern term. In centuries gone by they simply called it "Mail" or "Maille". Occasionally it was refered to as "RingMail". These are all good and chainmail is popularly accepted in modern times but you just should know its a modern term for this type of fabric and armor.
This picture shows a piece of chainmail that I wove. This is two or three hours of solid work. It takes time to make!
ChainMail has a very long history going back centuries and even more. It's beginnings are pretty much lost to time and tracking down techniques of mail making is very tricky because armorers were secretive about their tools and techniques.
Here is a wonderful print of a German Armor maker from the Middle Ages. You can see lots of chainmail in his workshop. And I wonder what that big wheel in the background does.
Can you make chainmail? You sure can! Here is a picture of a piece made by Maxwell. My thanks go to him for sending in the pic.
Can you do a chainmail setup and get yourself going on lots of rings? You sure can. Check out this page with a setup that Peter (a web visitor) has made. Peter's Chainmail setup.
Want to wind your chainmail links faster, easier and more reliably? a web visitor (Sander) has designed a made a neat little tool that will help. It is a piece of wood, a washer and three screws and it help you wind the links. Make a chainmail winding tool
Before we start actually making some chainmail we should take a look at some important and basic information like ring size and metals used.
Here is a picture of two different link sizes. The wire is steel wire a nd 14 Gauge in both cases. The top set of links has an internal diameter of 3/8 inch. And the lower set of links has an internal diameter of 5/16 inch.
If you are working with 14 gauge wire I recommend you go with one of these two sizes to do the 4 in 1 pattern. I prefer the larger of the two. Its easier to work with.
So, for the most part this tutorial will focus on using 14 Gauge steel wire and 3/8 inch links.
If you go with a thinner wire (16 gauge) the smaller link size probably would be terrific. Make a more finely detail chain. I will be posting pictures of that variation.
Steel Wire - If you want to make real chainmail that has some weight and durability to it you should go with steel. The downfall is that it takes a lot of work and a lot of hand labor. Really. I am talking a lot of hours. Probably around 100 hours to make a chainmail shirt.
Safety Note about working with galvanized wire! Please be safe. I got an email from a web visitor who worked very closely with it and started experiencing breathing problems. So, if you are going to work very closely with it you might want to wear a breathing mask! And, galvanized wire gives off a toxic fume when heated so don't heat it!
Here is the exact spool of steel wire that I use in this tutorial. It is 14 gauge. Getting wire like this can sometimes be problematic. You can try farm supply stores or even fencing places. It is Steel Electric fence wire. I ordered this spool from amazon.com. Here is the exact stuff that I got: Steel Electric Fence Wire 14 GA. Galvanized Steel Wire - 1/4 Mile for Electric Fence
It is important to note that this wire is galvanized so it shoudn't be heated in the forge. It creates a toxic gas if heated.
Aluminum Wire - This is much easier to work with and with 16 gauge you can open and close the links with your fingers. It is a lot faster and a lot easier. It will take you half the time to make the same object as with steel wire. Maybe even less than half the time.
The picture here shows a great alternative to buying big spools of wire. Arts and crafts stores like Michael's and AC Moore typically carry lots of jewelry wire. Aluminum, steel, copper and brass are some of the various metals they have. So, you can get a few spools of these wires. It is much cheaper and the gold chainmail you see in this picture is how much I got by using two of the spools of wire.
Ok, on the next page we are going to start making chainmail. Let's first take a look at the springs that we roll of wire. We have to turn the plain wire into lots of loops and we do this by rolling it into springs. I have a little setup that I made and let's take a look at it.
You are looking at one pound of quality Bright Aluminum jump rings for making outstanding jewelery or mail armor. These rings are saw cut by an extremely precise jewelers saw (0.008" thick) to make perfect closings for your projects. They are made of Aluminum Alloy 5356, which has 5% Magnesium and makes for a much brighter finish than regular aluminum and doesn't oxidize(no blackness ruboff). They have been cleaned and polished and are ready to use!
Few historical icons can match the evocative power of the medieval suit of armour, and this epic new book is a complete course in the tools and techniques of the modern armourer's art. Through more than 1,000 detailed photos and clear instruction, Brian Price presents a working handbook for aspiring and active armourers who want to develop their skills in the production of medieval armour in the style of the 14th century. The book is divided into four sections: a sweeping history of armour and its production from its medieval roots to its modern revival; a practical introduction to all the tools and supplies necessary to equip a modern workshop; a thorough review of key techniques; and a series of actual courses in constructing armoured defenses for the head, body, arm, hand and leg. Taking the reader through the construction of an authentic medieval harness from conception to completion, Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction is a vital addition to the libraries of serious craftsmen, historians, collectors and researchers.
Note from Will: I have this book and it is terrific. It also has a small but useful section on ChainMail.
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