Armour/Making Period Mail
Golden Rules of Making Mail
The first rule if you are going to make chainmail is To Be Careful, and where you hold the wire, wear thick leather gloves. This is because the wire will be running through your hands at a rapid rate and you could get serious cuts. The second rule is wear glasses when you knit the wire, even if you don’t need them. If you don’t do this you will get some serious eye strain. And lastly the third rule is that if you want battle ready mail for the Society for Creative Anachronism or Adrian Empire, don’t use aluminium mail, use steel, at least 16 gauge, preferably riveted. In other words if you're are going to be hit—wear steel.
The Types of Wire
Here are some of the best types of wire to use, both for the armour and inlays. Aluminium isn’t good for either, as it is too weak and brittle, and the mail will soon start to fall apart when used.
- Mild steel: Mild steel is plain low carbon steel that is the closest material we have to what real maille was made from. It doesn't stink and isn't carcinogenic like galvanized steel, but will rust.
- Spring steel: Spring steel is a high carbon steel that can be tempered but is otherwise like mild steel.
- Galvanized steel: Galvanized steel is good—it is cheap, it won't rust easily and is durable, and easy to work with. Plus you can find it at just about any hardware store.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is more expensive than galvanized steel, but is more durable, and won’t rust, but is harder to work with.
- Brass rod: Brass rod isn’t good for making the armour itself, but is used for inlays and edging.
- Copper: Copper wire is good for inlays and edging. It is fairly cheap and common. However after a while it will form a blue-green layer of patina upon contact with air, so you will want to work that into your pattern, unless you want to polish the links about once a week. Also note that the Patina will rub off and leave stains on light-colored clothes and skin (especially when the links become wet from sweat or rain), so be careful where you use copper links.
Other: You can also use plastic coated wire for inlays. Some people will use titanium wire to make the chainmail, but it is hard to find and expensive, although it is tough and lightweight.
The Sizes of Wire
Generally, an internal link diameter 6 or 7 times the wire gauge (6.5 if you prefer) will give a good looking mail. Most armour work can be done in 14 gauge wire with a 5/16" ID.
A higher wire gauge indicates thinner wire. Larger wire sizes give heavier links, but links can be larger and take less time to make. Smaller wire sizes give lighter links, with smaller IDs (internal diameter), and it will take longer to make something with them, but feel better when worn.
Tools You Will Need
These are the tools you need:
- A reversible, variable speed drill, or some kind of crank
- A stand for the drill.
- Thick leather gloves.
- Something to cut the wire with. Aviation snips are fine; jewellers saws give the smoothest edge (get plenty of extra blades), but are slower; you could also try heating the metal to red hot, and using a hot chisel (I don't know what how clean the cut would be though)
- For knitting the chain, pairs of needle nose pliers are good. You have to be careful of your fingers though. You can also use different pliers, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
The most common pattern is the four in one. This means that each link has four others going through it. There is also six in one, where each link has six links going through it, and eight in one, with eight links going through one. There is also the double mail, which is a doubled four in one, or eight in two (also known as king's mail). This has every link in the four in one pattern doubled. Beware though; the double mail is twice as heavy as the four in one.
Making the Links
First wind your chosen wire (if you decide that you want to make a lot of mail, you can make thousands of links and put them in containers marked according to what they're made of, gauge, and inner diameter), and slip it off the rod. You then cut the individual rings with your cutting tool (in this case, aviation snips), and close about half of the rings. You then take four closed rings, and thread them onto one open ring. You then make a running chain by hooking the little sets of four in one together. You then lay two running chains out together, and link the sets of two together with another open link. Close the link. You do this over and over again until you have a ribbon of the desired length.
Step One - Wind some coils For this step you will need:
- Winding Jig w/Mandrel
- Wire Cutters
When winding coils, put safety first. It is possible to bend your mandrel into a crank and wind by hand, or to chuck a straight mandrel into a variable speed power drill for faster production. I recommend starting out winding by hand (I did so for 7 years before moving to power winding) until you have a good feel for the process. If and when you begin using a power drill to wind, make sure you use a variable speed drill and start out slowly! Winding your hand into the coil can break bones at worst and is generally painful at best. A scrap lumber winding jig is shown at right  - these are easy to make with an extra dresser drawer or scrap lumber - a hot rolled steel rod can be easily had at most hardware stores, and it is fairly easy to drill a starting hole with most drill bits.
To wind a coil, insert the wire into the hole in the dowel. Guide the wire with one hand and operate the crank or drill with the other. Go slowly at first and increase speed as you gain proficiency. When you finish winding a coil, cut off the wire and slide the coil off the dowel. Repeat until you have run out of wire or have enough coils to keep you busy for a while.
Making 4-in-1 mail - Step by step
- Necessary Tools:
- 2 Flat Pliers (Depending on material used, but with most materials you will hurt yourself and get blisters if you bend them with your fingers)
- 1 Steel Rod or similar thin stick
- First take the rod and fix it horizontally somewhere on a table with a vice or clamp. Fasten it in a place that is a bit higher than your face so you can work downwards without having to bend down all the time.
2. The first row
- Take a number of closed chain links (close them with the pliers if they're open) and thread them on the rod but don't link those together. This will be the first row of your chain mail sheet. Arrange them so that they all face in the same direction, left side behind the rod and right side in front of it.
3. The second row
- In this step you will link each two adjacent rings of row one with a ring of row two. Note that every ring of row two goes through two rings of row one, but not through a ring of row two. Rings in the same row are not linked together, they are linked to two rings from the row above (row one) and two rings of the row below (row three, which we will add in the next step). Hence the name "4-in-1", because every ring is linked to 4 other rings. Look at the picture above to see where a ring of row two goes through behind a ring of row one and where it goes through in front. Use the pliers to close the rings or you will hurt your fingers.
4. The third and all following rows
- From now on you build every row like you build row two. Every ring goes through two adjacent rings from the row above and rings in the same row are not linked. Take care to check that all rings of a finished row are flipped in the same direction before you start the next row. The sheet of mail needs to look regular, If any part of it looks twisted or the sheet bends somewhere a ring was flipped or twisted the wrong way. This takes a bit of practice but after a few rows you'll be able to do it pretty fast.
- Thinning and widening
- You can thin or widen the sheet if necessary. Just take less rings in that row and link every ring of a row to three rings of the row above (which will give you a with reduction to 2/3) or you can link 2-3-2-3 (one ring linked normally, one linked to three). The row below links normally again. Experiment to find the right reduction factor. Widening works the other way round, you take more rings in a row and you get a widening. Again, experiment.
- Apparent source page: http://www.lindell.us/chain/Untitled-2.htm