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Chainmail (or mail or maille) refers to armor that made from metal rings that are joined together in a pattern to form a protective mesh. Historically this kind of armor was used to protect soldiers on the battlefield from slashing and stabbing injuries. This kind of protective gear is still used by some butchers and shark divers.

In addition to being able to protect the wearer from sharp objects, it is also useful for protecting against high voltage electricity. Many people who work with high voltage devices such as Tesla coils use chainmail as a wearable faraday cage. The metal is very conductive and it is able to safely redirect electricity around their bodies.

Chainmail is also commonly used as a decorative element. The simple elegance of interwoven rings makes it ideal for jewelry making.

In this project, I am going to give you a basic introduction to the art of making chainmail in its various forms.

Steps

Step #1: Materials

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  • The only material that you need to make basic chainmail is metal wire. The kind of wire that you need depends on the specific application. Chainmail armor is typically made from steel wire with a thickness between 18 gauge and 14 gauge. A shirt of chainmail will require about 1/2 mile (0.8km) of wire. You can buy large spools of wire at any store that sells fencing supplies. If you are making jewelry, you will want to get thinner wire that has a non-reactive coating. You can find appropriate wire in a variety of color at most craft stores.
  • You will also need some basic tools. You need a dowel to wrap the wire around. You need wire cutters or bolt cutters to cut out the individual rings. Then to bend the wires into their final shape, you will need two pairs of needle nose pliers.

Step #2: Winding the Rings

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  • The rings are made by wrapping the wire around a cylinder to create long springs. The springs are then cut into individual rings. So the first thing that you need to do is select a rod to wrap the wire around. A wooden dowel rod usually works fine. The diameter of the rod will depend on the size of the rings that you want to use. Chainmail armor is typically made with 16 gauge wire with rings that are about 3/8 of an inch. Keep in mind that the finished rings will be a little bigger than the rod because they will spring back after being bent into shape.
  • Once you have the rod, you just need to wrap the wire around it. There are several things that you can do to make this easier. First, I highly recommend that you wear gloves. Most projects require a lot of rings and your hands will get sore and blistered after a while.
  • You can drill a hole through the rod that is the same diameter as your wire. You can then insert one end of the wire through the hole to hold it in place as you are winding. You can wind rings a lot faster if you only have to hold onto one end of the wire.
  • To hold the rod steady, you can make a winding stand. You can see a simple example in this instructable by user matthewbeckler: http://www.instructables.com/id/Ye-Olde-Chain-Maille-Rings/ It take far less effort to turn the rod if you have it supported and stabilized on a stand.
  • Lastly, you can use a motor to turn the rod for you. If you are using a rod that is 3/8" in diameter or smaller you can insert the end directly into a drill. This makes the process much faster and easier. Then the only thing that you have to do is guide the wire as it is wound up into a coil.

Step #3: Cutting the Rings

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  • Now that you have a long coil of wire, you need to cut it into individual springs. If you are using steel wire, you will probably need to use bolt cutters. I do not recommend using a high speed cutting tool unless you have a strong vacuum set up with it. Most steel wire is galvanized to prevent rust and high speed cutters can throw zinc dust into the air that is bad to breathe.
  • For softer wires such as copper, gold or silver, you can use simple handheld wire cutters.

Step #4: Joining the Rings

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  • There are three main ways that the rings can be joined together. They can be butted, riveted or welded.
  • When making butted rings the coils are cut in a straight line. This produces simple rings with end that are slightly offset from each other. These rings can easily be bent open with pliers to connect them to other rings and then bent back to close them. This is called butted mail because the ends of the rings are just butted up against each other. This is by far the fastest and easiest method. So it is the method that is most commonly used.
  • To make riveted rings, the rings are cut so that the two ends overlap. They are then hammers flat. A hole is punched in the overlapping section. Then a small piece of wire is inserted into the hole and hammered so that the ends flatten and lock it in place. This method produces very strong rings but is extremely time intensive.
  • Welded rings are cut the same as a butted ring. But after closing the ring, the ends are welded together. This is usually done with a high current electric welder such as a pulse arc welder. This makes rings with superior strength and it is much faster than making riveted but it requires you to purchase special welding equipment. You can find a few examples at theringlord.com.

Step #5: The Basic

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  • Now that you have your rings, you need to link them together in a pattern. The most common pattern for chainmail armor is called the "European" weave. (However it was also commonly used outside of Europe.) In this style, the rings are laid out in two sets of parallel rows that intersect each other at a slight angle. Each ring is angled relative to the other rings that it is attached to. This creates a rippled surface.
  • The most basic version of this pattern is the "European 4 in 1." It is called this because each ring is linked to four other rings in the opposite orientation. To assemble the rings, take four closed rings and connect them all with a fifth ring. Then lay then on the table so that the four rings are all in the same orientation (opposite of the center ring). Then lay another two closed rings beside them in the same orientation as the first four. Then use another ring to link then to the two end rings as shown in the picture. You can continue this pattern in both directions until you have a sheet of chainmail. You can then shape it into whatever you want.
  • There are several other variations of this pattern. "European 6 in 1" is the same as "4 in 1" except that each ring is linked to six other rings instead of just 4. "King's mail" is the same as "4 in 1" except that each ring in the pattern is replaced with two rings.

Step #6: The Basic

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  • In the "Japanese weave" one set of rings lays flat and they are connected by a second set of rings that are perpendicular to the first set. In "Japanese 4 in 1" the connecting rings are set at 90 degree angles to each other. In "Japaese 6 in 1" the connecting rings are set a 60 degree angles. In some cases the connecting rings are made smaller in order to make the armor more dense.
  • "Japanese" chainmail is less dense and protective than "European" chainmail. This is because the chainmail was rarely the primary armor. It was often used to hold together other armor such as metal plates.

Step #7: Make a Suit of Chainmail Armor

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  • To make a shirt of chainmail, start by making a strip of chainmail that is several inches wide and long enough to comfortably go around your chest at the widest point. The lines that are created by the ripple pattern should be oriented vertically. This makes the shirt more flexible and helps keep the rings from deforming under the weight of the shirt. Connect the ends of the strap into a loop.
  • Then make two other strips that will connect to the first as shoulder straps. Again, the ridges of the chainmail should be oriented vertically. Connect these straps in the locations that correspond to the middle of the shoulder.
  • Add rings to the bottom of the first strap and continue the pattern down until the bottom hangs several inches below your belt when worn. Add rings to the top to give the desired neck and arm holes.
  • To make sleeves, start by extending the pattern of the arm straps out to each side. Once the sleeves extend several inches past the side of the shirt, add rings to connect the bottom edges into a tube. Keep in mind that you want the sleeves to be fairly baggy in order to get the shirt on and off. Lastly connect the inner edge of the sleeve to side to close off the arm pits. It is a good idea to try on the shirt periodically to see if it needs any adjustments.
  • To make pants, use the same basic procedure. Make a strip that fits around the widest part of your hips. Then continue the pattern up to your waste where you can tie it with a rope belt. Then continue the pattern down to a few inches past where your pants normally split into separate legs. Then make two separate tubes for your legs and join them together at the top.

Step #8: Weaves for Jewelry

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  • The art of making chainmail isn't just restricted to the construction of armor. It can also be used to make decorative elements such as jewelry. The simplest examples are chain necklaces and bracelets. The are countless ways that rings can be woven together to make beautiful patterns. Here are a few examples that are commonly used for necklaces and bracelets.
  • The Box Chain. This chain is made by taking a "European 4 in 1" pattern, folding it in half and connecting the two sides.
  • The Byzantine Chain. In this chain the links are put together in a pattern that is similar to the box chain. However, each section is set in the opposite direction from the previous one and they are connected with straight links.
  • The Serpentine Chain. The Serpentine chain is a simple spiral. As you add rings, insert them through the center of the two of three rings above it and twist the chain into a spiral.
  • The Queen's Braid Chain. This chain is similar to the Serpentine chain, except instead of continuously twisting the chain in one direction, each addition ring is turned in the opposite direction. This makes the pattern alternate back and forth instead of making a spiral.
  • These are just a few examples. There are many other patterns that you can use ("Simple European," "Simple Japanese," "King's Braid", and "Flower Chain.") Or you can make up your own design. You can add stars, crosses, or ring knots. Try experimenting with different patterns and see what you can come up with.

Step #9: Other Chainmail Resources

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Here are some other resources for making chainmail that you can check out if you are interested in learning more. http://www.mailleartisans.org/ http://www.maileofthedreamseeker.com/designs/ropes.html

Jason Poel Smith

My name is Jason Poel Smith. I have an undergraduate degree in Engineering that is 50% Mechanical Engineering and 50% Electrical Engineering. I have worked in a variety of industries from hydraulic aerial lifts to aircraft tooling. I currently spend most of my time chasing around my new baby. In my spare time I make the how-to series "DIY Hacks and How Tos."