The following is one of my very first Internet publications concerning riveted maille. I have it here to show my beginnings; much of this I no longer consider accurate or applicable, but some of it is.
Secret in the Maille
one were going to name one type of armor that would be considered
“universal” to warriors of the time period represented in the SCA, it would
arguably be maille. Maille armor
was used by the Romans, possibly obtained from their encounters with the Celts,
and continued to be used as fighting armor even into the early 20th
century. This puts maille easily
within the time frame of the SCA, and in fact, one might be hard pressed to find
a warrior from our time frame that did wear some form of maille armor.
then, do we see so little of maille on our fields of battle?
Aside from the occasional camail, coif, or bishop’s mantle, maille is
virtually ignored by our fighters. The
reason, I believe is two-fold, though because one of the reasons is a
consequence of the other, it boils down to one reason: for the protection maille
armor affords, it weighs too much. I
will discuss these two problems briefly, and then get to the “solution”,
it is important to understand the kind of attack that maille armor is designed
to protect one from. Being that
maille virtually provides the area covered on a fighter with a skin of metal, it
provides a very good defense against getting cut. But, like skin, maille is very flexible, and does not provide
much protection at all against heavy blows, such as those delivered by a “mass
weapon”, such as a mace, or a rattan sword.
It is true that maille hanging like a curtain will absorb some energy
from a blow. Examples of this type
of defense are a camail hanging from the edge of a helm, a skirt of maille
hanging off the hips, or a kevlar curtain hanging inside the doorframe of a
bulletproof automobile. But as a
body defense, where maille lays directly against the body, maille is ill suited
for protecting the wearer against mass weapon blows.
one must consider the weight of the type of maille most of us are familiar with,
which is butted maille. Butted
maille is heavy because it derives its strength from the strength of the wire of
which the rings are made, without the benefit of a rivet holding the butted ends
together. What this means is that
there is a direct relationship between the gauge (thickness) of wire used to
make the rings and how large in diameter the rings can be made and still be
strong enough not to pull apart. My
experience has shown that most SCA butted maille rings will have an inside
diameter (I.D.) of 5/16” to 3/8”, and at this diameter, one needs to use 14
gauge wire to get the needed strength. One
can make the rings smaller in diameter, and get away with a higher gauge wire
(smaller thickness), but this increases the number of rings in a piece of armor,
increasing assembly time and causing negligible change in the weight of the
piece. Conversely, one can make the
rings larger in diameter, but one would need to choose a smaller gauge wire
(greater thickness) to preserve the strength of the ring.
While assembly time would decrease as the piece would use fewer rings,
the weight change would again probably be negligible due to the thicker wire.
it is easy to understand why one does not see more of maille on the SCA combat
field. It doesn’t afford much
protection, and it’s heavy. For
all practical purposes, it is a decoration.
Fighters don’t mind wearing decorations, but they’re not going to
fight under a fifty pound steel blanket, even if it does look cool.
The solution to this dillema? Riveted,
instead of butted, maille.
maille gets around the Gauge/I.D. ratio problem mentioned above because rather
than relying on the thickness of wire for ring strength, it uses a rivet to
essentially make the rings solid. Because
of this, one can use wire perhaps as much as half the thickness as would be used
in butted maille, for the same ring diameter.
This immediately cuts the weight of a given piece in half.
One can also increase the diameter of the rings used, which decreases
assembly time by lowering the ring count and again cuts the weight of the piece. Increasing the diameter of the rings to 3/8” or larger does
make a 4-in-1 weave seem a little “open”, but since this is a decoration and
we aren’t terribly concerned with real arrows or spear points going through
it, it’s O.K.
of the arguments for riveted maille. Let’s
get on to the business of how it’s done.
of all, it is not the intention of this article to explain how to “knit”
maille. There are many resources,
particularly on the web, which fully detail how to weave rings of metal into the
standard 4-in-1, 6-in-1, or other patterns. Rather, this article will assume that the reader has a basic
knowledge of how to construct butted maille, and instead explain the details
specific to riveted maille. An
excellent web page, Sara’s Chainmail Connection, can be found at http://goddess.coe.missouri.edu/~sara/chainmail.
you aren’t going to find any historical references called out by this article.
I have undertaken no formal research about maille, though I have read
quite a bit about armor in general. From
what I have read, when most works on armor mention maille, the most detailed an
explanation you get is, “They wound the rings, they flattened the rings, they
punched a hole in the flats, and set a rivet in the hole”.
Well, no kidding. But this
information is next to useless for actually reconstructing maille armor. To reconstruct riveted maille I have basically used the trial
and error approach. I have tried to
stick to two goals: one, provide a construction technique that anyone who can
use hand tools can duplicate, and two, find a construction technique as close to
authentic as possible, with emphasis on rule #1. I guess there is actually a third goal, and that is that the
end result looks authentic, regardless
of any authentic construction deviations.
the obligatory comment on safety. You
will be working with sharp, pointy, red-hot, and brittle metal.
Wear safety glasses during all operations of maille making.
are 5 basic steps to creating riveted maille.
Step 1: Winding the Coils
is thought that traditionally maille was wound from short segments of wire on a
small hand held mandrel, much like a screwdriver with the head cut off.
You may follow this example, or, more preferably, make a winding machine
(The Palmer House Brewery and Smithy has a nice maille web site, which can be
found at: http://realbeer.com/jjpalmer/HowtoChain.html).
However you decide to go about it, the coils for riveted maille are wound
the same as when you make butted. Since
you will likely be using thinner wire (16GA wire on a 7/16” diameter mandrel
works nicely), you will get more rings per coil than you do when coiling the
thicker wire usually used for butted maille.
Be sure to use a slightly larger mandrel than you do for winding a given
diameter butted maille coil, to allow for the overlap of the flattened ring
note on choosing wire for your maille: Although galvanized steel wire has nice
corrosion properties, it is somewhat more difficult to punch (though not
impossible). I have been using
annealed (soft), non-plated steel wire for my riveted maille rings.
Because the wire is already annealed, it saves me a step.
Also, being non-plated, it is also more authentic.
Never try and anneal galvanized wire – the anti-corrosion coating
supposedly gives off a toxic gas when heated.
Step 2: Cutting the Rings
winding a few coils worth of wire, you must cut the rings from the coil.
During the manufacture of butted maille, the cutting operation is the
most critical part of the construction, for the quality of the cut determines
the quality of the fit when the rings are butted back together.
With riveted maille, the cutting operation is the least important
operation of all, for all evidence of how you cut the rings will be obliterated
during the flattening process. Thus
it doesn’t matter whether you use a rotary cut-off tool, snippers, nippers, a
chisel, or what have you. I
personally prefer Cooper-Wiss M3 aviation shears. With 7/16” diameter 16GA
wire one can cut ten or so rings per snip, as opposed to three or so when
cutting thicker gauged, butted maille rings.
However you choose to cut them, go for speed.
Quality doesn’t matter for this step.
Step 3: Flattening the Rings
quality is important again. It is
important to note that you need not flatten the smithereens out of the ends of
the ring. The novice often feels
that in order to get a satisfactory target area to punch a hole in, he needs a
large flat. This is not so.
Within an hour or so of punching rivet holes in the rings you will find
that you need very little flat at all, in fact the flat is there more than
anything to keep the punch from skipping off the rounded side of the ring during
punching. It also provides somewhat
of a recess for the rivet heads so they do not irritate the wearer of the
maille. What you want to achieve
are small, consistent flats. You will find that as your proficiency at punching the rivet
holes increases, you will make smaller and smaller flats.
You can create the flats in a couple of ways. The easiest, though least consistent (at least at first, for you can get very good with practice) is a simple hammer. Simply trap the ring under your thumb on your anvil, and smack the ends of the ring flat. Be careful not to smack your thumb flat. The drawback to this method is speed. Nonetheless, with practice you should be able to flatten a ring every five seconds or so.
Step 4: Punching the Rivet Holes
we come to the step that is the trick
when producing quality riveted maille with any kind of speed.
I will spare the reader the tales of woe I could recount on my way to
discovering an efficient way to do this, but suffice it to say that I ran the
gamut from ground-down drill bits to pin punches with only moderate success.
I spill the beans on the clever tool for punching rings, let me explain a little
about the punching operation, in case you are tempted to find other punching
tools. It is important to
distinguish between piercing metal and
Do you remember being in grade school and needing to put a piece of paper
in your three-ring binder that didn’t have holes already punched in it?
What did you do? You took
out your freshly sharpened pencil and poked three holes in the paper. You pierced three
holes in the paper. And, likely as
not, rather than a nice, clean hole, you got a ragged, torn hole, usually
tearing right through the edge of the paper if you weren’t careful, right?
Well, the same thing will happen to the flats of your rings if you
attempt to pierce holes in them.
This is why tools with a conical (pointy) punch tip will
not work well for making the holes in riveted maille. I’m not saying it can’t be done, and I’m not saying
this isn’t they way it was done in period.
What I’m saying is that if you want faster, cleaner holes punched in
your rings, you want to punch the
holes, not pierce them.
Unmodified bit (left), modified bit (right)
Another important part of the punching operation is the “punch block”. A small block of metal will do. What you need to do is drill a 1/16” diameter hole into the block. Then drill a large (1/4” diameter or so) hole in the opposite side of the block, drilling through until you meet up with the 1/16” hole from the first side. This is where the little metal disks you will be punching out will go. The 1/16” diameter hole is what you will be punching into, so that the punch doesn’t drive into the metal of the punch block. To punch a ring, simply place the flat of a ring over the hole in the punch block, position your punch over the flat (over the punch hole), and give it a tap or two with a small hammer (I use an 8 ounce ball peen). You should be able to punch a nice, clean hole right through the flat with little to no effort.
doing this, you may find it difficult to hold onto the small 3” shaft of the
Dremel™ bit with just your fingers. An
Exacto™ knife blade handle makes an excellent handle for our Dremel™ tool
punch. To modify the Exacto™
knife blade handle, drill out the 4-jaw chuck, which normally holds a knife
blade, with a 1/16” diameter hole so that it can hold your punch.
This makes it much easier to hold the punch tool.
However, if you really want to get clever, you can modify a pair of pliers (good pliers – ones with no “slop” in them. It’s important to keep good alignment between the punch and the punch hole), so that the punch tool is recessed in one jaw of the pliers and the matching punch hole is in the other jaw. You will probably want to cross-drill the hole that holds the punch tool so that you can tap and insert a set screw to keep it in place. I have created such a tool, and I can easily say that with the advent of this tool I have made what was the most labor and time intensive part of the operation the easiest part of the operation.
thing to remember: When you have driven the punch into the ring, do not
“bend” the punch in your attempt to remove it from the pierced ring.
You will break the tip of the punch off if you try to do so.
Instead, twist the punch until it comes free.
You may find that the punch will “stick” in the ring less if you dip
the point in oil periodically while punching.
Step 5: Closing the Rings
you have mastered flattening and punching rings, the last step is to close them
and set a rivet in them. To make
rivets, I use steel straight pins, which one can find in the sewing section of
any Wal-Mart. Before using the pins
as rivets, one must anneal them (make them soft).
To do this, you will need a stainless steel bowl and a propane blowtorch.
Take the stainless steel bowl (also available at Wal-Mart), turn it
upside down, and beat a bowl shape into the bottom of it with a hammer.
This provides a nice bowl to heat the pins on. Other containers tend to suck the heat away from the pins
where they touch the container, causing incomplete annealing.
Stack the pins on top of the upside down bowl, and heat the entire stack
to cherry red with the torch. Allow
the pins to air cool slowly back to room temperature.
They should now be black and bend very easily.
Presto – instant maille rivets.
close the ring, simply use your fingers to overlap the ends of a punched ring.
If you are using a heavier gauge of wire (which you shouldn’t need to
do), or if you have weak fingers, you may need to use pliers to do this.
After you have overlapped the ring ends, aligning the holes punched in
them, take a pin, and drop it through the holes, until the head of the pin
bottoms out against the flat. Then
use an end nipper to trim off the excess pin shaft on the opposite side.
You want to leave approximately a sixteenth of an inch of pin shaft
standing proud of the ring flat. Next,
take a nice, hefty set of pliers (I use 8” linesman’s pliers) and squash the
pin shaft until it forms a rivet head. The
objective is to get the pin shaft to “mushroom”, forming a rivet head, not
to fold the shaft over (though I have read that folded rivets were period,
rounded rivet heads look nicer and don’t abrade the wearer as badly).
I don’t try and “finish” the rivet with the pliers; I just want to
get the rivet head started. I then
lay the ring on my anvil, and tap it lightly with an 8 ounce ball peen hammer,
finishing the rivet.
this process may seem lengthy in print, it is actually very simple to execute.
Let’s face it – making maille is an extremely time consuming hobby
anyway, even if you make the butted stuff.
I believe that with a little practice, and refining of the tools, making
riveted maille need not be that much more labor intensive than making butted
maille. It is my hope that anyone who is interested in maille
sufficiently to make butted maille will, upon finding out how little extra
effort is required, decide to make authentic, riveted maille instead.
Stephen of Forth Castle