Introduction: Chainmail

Picture of Chainmail

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.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

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

Picture of Winding the Rings

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. 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

Picture of Cutting the Rings

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

Picture of Joining the Rings

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. If you are interested in learning how to make riveted mail you can check out this instructable from user armourkris.

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

Step 5: The Basic "European" Weave

Picture of The Basic "European" Weave

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 "Japanese" Weave

Picture of The Basic "Japanese" Weave

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

Picture of Make a Suit of Chainmail Armor

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

Picture of Weaves for Jewelry

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 Instructables

Picture of Other Chainmail Instructables

Here are some other resources for making chainmail that you can check out if you are interested in learning more. 


winding box

Plastic Chainmail

Other Chainmail Resources


KarenC163 (author)2016-05-14

That is a great idea for a lot of things! Thank you!

Leathaldose (author)2015-11-18

If you use gold or silver DO not use cutters, use a jewlers saw, looks 100% better because the ends meet flush, and do not have that nasty side cutter mark on the edge.

cervezameho (author)Leathaldose2015-11-22

Going to make mine out of solder , So I can rip it off like superman !

Leathaldose (author)cervezameho2015-11-23

solder won't even hold up under its own weight. However, you can get aluminum rings that rip like a solder mail suit would.

building expert (author)2015-10-12

I am going to make this and wear it to school for a laugh.

Halloween costume for the win.

Dr.Duckhunt (author)2015-04-17

Here's mine, 270 hours later thanks for the help

wemja (author)Dr.Duckhunt2015-08-25

That is nice, what weave did you use (it looks like 6 in one but I may be wrong)?

What is the aspect ratio of the rings and the wire diameter ?

Did you make your rings or did you but them?

This is the look that I would want to achieve so its nice to see that its doable.

Dr.Duckhunt (author)wemja2015-09-05

it is a 4in 1 weave. Ar 4.8 ,3/8" id 14gauge wire, I made all the rings from electric fence wire. 2/3 mile in total. It's very doable and is worth the payoff, this one weighs about 30 pounds and is very durable, already withstanding dagger stabs, katana slashes, kitchen knife set test. Nothing has broken the weave.

rpape (author)Dr.Duckhunt2015-05-09

have you finished the sleves? how long did/ do you think it would take?

Dr.Duckhunt (author)rpape2015-06-03

No haven't finished the sleeves yet, I have no idea
How long it will take, it will take longer to just actually start
The sleeves then it will to make, after that, my
Hands need to recover:)

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Fission Chips (author)2014-10-21

Cool! Could be entered in the Halloween Costume contest.

Green X (author)2014-05-06


wfarnham (author)2013-12-03

This is a cool instructible with useful info, I was looking into this myself for a while but have been held up.
A couple of things though, in researching this topic myself I read that a wood dowel was a bad choice as the wood can compress and give you odd shaped rings as such a metal rod was the material of choice.
Also it became apparent that the alignment of the links was an important factor in defence, for example with your alignment a person would have higher defence from horizontal strikes than they would from vertical strikes, and vertical strikes were the more common of the two apparently.

Also I've read that one of the hardest areas to do is the armpit and most opt to simply leave it bare, did you have this same problem?

Your Arm guards look cool did you make them?

Those arm guards

Don't be afraid of trying things with mail , its very easy to add or remove rings if you make a mistake

I purchased the arm guards from a leather craftsman at a renaissance festival.

Gelfling6 (author)2013-12-03

For cutting the steel, Look for 16-Inch bolt cutters, where the end of the jaws meet in a -) Not a -{.. Another alternative, though more expensive, a metal cutting saw wheel and a constant supply of lubricant/coolant. to cut the coil on an angle, and as the wire cuts through, the rings simply slide off, and fall to a bin. That, or look for what they call a jump-ring saw. It'll look like a small table saw, but with an adjustable block frame above the cutting wheel.

jklovance (author)2013-12-01

A few comments;
Metal rods are better. Wooden dowels have a tendency to crush eventually making the rings smaller. They also break and inopportune times.
Fence wire is generally too soft for maille. While galvanized is ok, aluminum is much too soft. A friend of mine has an aluminum fence wire shirt that I can tear apart by hand with little effort. Welding wire is a much better option.
Galvanized wire works but will eventually lose it's shine and begin to smell like a wet dog.
Avoid using pliers with teeth. They improve grip but scratch the rings significantly. Try to find pliers with short jaws. Long jawed pliers decrease leverage and therefore grip.
A great place for tools, wire and rings is The Ring Lord. They have an excellent selection, great prices and ship almost anywhere.

Gelfling6 (author)jklovance2013-12-03

I've dealt with TRL, They're a great source for everything involved in the hobby! (tools, materials, patterns, tips, and even finished pieces.) My favorite knitting tools are a pair of duck-bill pliers from Sears. Yes, and despite the zinc, Galvenized WILL eventually rust as well. (smelling even worse!) In the past 5 years, I've been using 14-Guage Fy-Shock Aluminum electric fence wire from Tractor Supply Co.. It still oxidizes, but it maintains the shininess, but obviously a weaker metal. I went with the aluminum mainly because the less cleaning needed, but mostly my back was giving out from the 100-Lb Copper/Steel.

bgelb (author)jklovance2013-12-01

Couldn't agree more. I've been making chainmaille for over 8 years and could disagree with much from this tutorial. I would also add:
- 16g 3/8" even in galvanized steel is not a sufficient armor quality shirt. More like 14g 3/8"
- Steel rod is the only way to go. Wood will give way too inconsistent results and will not hold up to the abuse if you want to do a lot of mailling.

panzerfaust379 (author)2013-12-01

looks good. Great instructions, How many hours did you have invested?

The shirt pictured took me about 40 hours of dedicated work. But keep in mind that this is a small shirt without sleeves. A typical shirt could take up to double that.

depends on the material.. Steel, brass, copper, aluminum. My aluminum 14-USWG 5/16"-Dia whole costume was initially a 2-month rush job. (A), I was already on the front-gate criers guild at a fair, (B), I wanted it ready for a 'Blackmore's Night' concert here in Connecticut, (the shirt was 3/4 done, about hip-length, with a 5" square patch still not finished on the back-left. had to go in for the concert.) Some, it takes a few more months. My Steel/Copper that I named 'Falcon Spirit' (inlayed the Iowa Jayhawks insignia to the chest of the hauberk, and to the back of the coif.) took 3 months alone, building the chest inlay, then another 2 months the rest of the hauberk around it. Then another 3 weeks putting the entire coif together.) the harder the material, the harder it is to wind, and the even harder to knit.

fantine (author)2013-12-01

Wow! Can you say how many rings and of what dimensions were used to make the shirt displayed?

For the shirt pictured, I would estimate about 10,000 rings. It took about 1/4 mile of wire. But keep in mind this is a small shirt and the rings are slightly bigger than average and there are no sleeves. A typical shirt would probably have double that.

Thanks for the reply. If I don't have arthritis now, I would by the time I finished that work. Bravo to you.

I have a chainmail bra I purchased at a Ren Faire many long years ago. It is a well loved piece of my costumery. Taught me something about posture and balance carrying that weight.

Gelfling6 (author)fantine2013-12-03

LOL, Arthritis comes in a few years.. Callouses, In less than 4 weeks. You can delay the Arthritis by doing finger exercises (touch each finder to the thumb, but in an 'Every Other Finger' pattern. (pointer, ring, middle, pinky) for a few minutes, backward stretching (both hands, fingers interlocked to eachother, and as if you were cracking the knuckles.) Don't laugh, but liniments, hand cream, help soften the callouses. There's one I've seen called 'Bag Balm' at most hardware stores. (initially was for cow udders, on the farm. It's a zinc based liniment.). works great after a lot of cutting. Yes, You do find your upper torso a little heavier with the armor.. Surprisingly, I've managed to stay standing, despite the top-heavy feeling of mine. (47Lb 3/4 long-sleeve hauberk (shirt) and an additional 10Lb coif w/mantle and a twisted-rope coronal.).. You really get used to it, til you take everything off, and then... you feel uneven in weight like you're ready to float up.

dozer789 (author)2013-12-03

Nice job! Looks pretty cool!

kurtnotkirk (author)2013-12-02

Nicely done!

nidhug (author)2013-12-02

Nice instructable.
I have made many kilos of mail over the years (but never made an instructable... might be time :) ) and have a few pointers that will greatly save your time.
Logically you should touch each ring as few times as possible after cutting (ideally only once).

The way I see it there are two basic ways to do this (if we are talking "european" mail)):
- 1: Make long "chains" of the three wide pattern you show - using 1/2 closed rings and 1/4 open rings, and later join the chains together to form larger pieces (with the last 1/4 open rings).
- 2: Add all open rings one by one to an existing piece ot chain started with method 1 (or on peg board for beginning).

One might think at first that method 1 is much faster as you only have to close half the rings, but unless you have punched the closed rings from sheet metal (which is a very good way to make mail that actually has to be stab-proof (as butted mail opens when stabbed)), you have already closed the closed rings after cutting them.
That means that you have worked/manipulated min. half the rings rings twice after cutting; once to either open or fully close them and once to close half the rings durin assembly.

So here is the tip: Use method 2 and -
Pull the coils slightly before cutting. Enough to allow the cut ring to be slipped on two others. Then cut the coils and you have 100% open rings. Practice the angle of cut.

Then take a peg board or pin board and attach a single row (or the three- wide chain) across the top of the board and start adding new (only open) rings one by one to the piece. In that way you will only have touched/manipulated each ring once in the process of - picking up the ring - inserting ring through two rings of the working section - closing the ring. Next ring! Next ring...

Also - on pliers - my favorite are quality bent-nose pliers. With them you can pick up the rings with the points, insert ring, grip with other pliers, get better grip with first pliers and close. In that way you don´t even have to put down the pliers. Also add padding to the grips to avoid blisters and mayby a thumb-loop allowing use of the fingers without dropping the pliers. I don´t worry about scratching the rings too much (using only steel or iron rings) - marks will be smoothend by wear :)

billbillt (author)2013-12-01


JJVOgre (author)2013-12-01

Good job on the video, but wanted to say if you're gonna hand cut then use smaller cutters or buy rings already made. New site just coming up w/ cheap shipping in the states and will ship internationally is which supply rings in a variety of materials, gauges and ring diameters.

Note, if you're gonna hand coil your rings be careful, look at lathe injuries and you'll understand.

craft-n-genius (author)2013-12-01

Wonderful! Looks like the real stuff:) Would make this in a heart beat.

theminecraftman (author)2013-11-30

dude... this is awesome. soooooo cool!!!

CJR2115 (author)2013-11-27

If I got hit by a sword with this on would it hurt me

Yes! It would hurt as much as it would to get hit with a metal baseball bat. But if it is made properly, you probably won't get cut or impaled.

GoranUvDenRimboe (author)2013-11-27

You can also purchase the rings premade and in Stainless steel from Rosco. I've bought from them many times and the rings are very strong and the sizes make for very wonderful projects. Plus you don't have to worry about rust or having the zinc rub off on you.

cal287 (author)2013-11-27

Very cool! I was just thinking about making something but wasn't sure how. Thanks for all the info!

!KnexMaster! (author)2013-11-26

I actually have been doing chainmaille for about a month now. Great way to pass the time! I plan on making a "dice bag" for my uncle so he can use it as a coin purse -cause he plays card games with us on the holidays- and give it to him for Christmas. Great projects and gift ideas come out of this!

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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