First of all: maille, mail, chainmail... their all different words for the same thing. I like to use the word maille, but I'm sure some like the other words better.
Maille is a form of armour. It was invented by the Celts and it became very popular in the middle ages, where it was used as 'standard' armour for allmost all soldiers, because it's flexible and prevents cuts from swords, knives etc. Nowadays maille is made for other re-enactments, as 'alternative' clothing, or just for fun like I do.
Back in the days maille was made out of mild steel rings which were riveted. Which means: a lot of work. Today most of the maille is made out of steel wire. And it's not riveted anymore. It's called "butted".
The most common weave is without a doubt "European 4-in-1" (or E 4-1). This is the way the rings were linked in Europe in the middle ages. I'll come back later on the 4-in-1 thing.
I'm Belgian and I live in Brugge (Bruges). But when I was a child, I visited the "Gravensteen" (that's a castle castle) in Gent. There, someone was making maille at the time. I found it very fascinating and the thought of making some my own never leaved my mind really. Some time ago I started making my own maille. Currently I'm making a coif (have a look on Google Images if you don't know what a coif is).
The technique I use is called "speedweaving" because it's one of the fastest ways to make maille. What I will describe is not the only way to speedweave, but this is the one I use, and which works great for me. I did not invent this technique. I'm just sharing it with the world...
Step 1: Making the rings
Let's start making rings.
I used galvanised steel wire. For two reasons: it's easily obtainable and it's cheap. My wire is 1,5 mm thick.
Making rings starts with transforming your wire into coils. And than cutting the coils with a mini bolt-cutter. I won't describe the whole coil-making process but I'll include some pictures of the way I do it. Perhaps I will come back to writing this piece out one day.
My coils have an inner diameter (ID) of 6 mm, but because of a thing called "springback" the rings have a real inner diameter (RID) of 6,4 mm). My rings have an aspect ratio (AR) of 4,3. This is the ratio of RID and the wire size.