How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

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Posted in CostumesWeapons-and-armor

Introduction: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

In this instructable I will teach you how to make a shirt of real chainmail. It will take a lot of time and patience but is a very rewarding project when you finish. To do this project you will need:
  • 1-2 years of time
  • A very strong will
  • 1200-2000 feet of wire (6000-10000 links)
  • 2 pairs of small blunt nose pliers
  • A drill (with a chuck)
  • ½ inch or ¼ inch metal rod
  • A dremel or other cutting device
  • A vice or strong clamp
  • Some 2 by 4s
  • 4 screws

For an interview with me about my chainmail click Here

Step 1: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

    The first step is to be able to make the links of the chainmail. If you have some money you can buy them at theringlord.com as well as other jewelry stores. If you plan on buying links you can skip this step and the next.

    First with the 2by4s you need to build a rig to support the rod (fig 1) that the links will be made on. Attach the 3 pieces together with the screws.  Drill a hole in both sides of the wood, big enough for your rod to pass through easily. Now drill a small hole through the rod that your wire can get through. For wire I used a multi-purpose galvanized 16-gauge wire from Lowes. It is sold in 200ft lengths for around $8.
    When you have all this assembled put the rod and drill into the jig (which should be clamped on a table) insert the wire into the hole and start the drill turning slowly. The wire will wrap it's self around the rod making a nice little spring. Use pliers to pull the wire out of the hole and slide the spring off the rod.

Step 2: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

     Now that you have the spring, it needs to get cut into individual links. When I started I was using a hacksaw, which did not work very well and took a long time. Then I got a dremel, which is a rotary cutting tool, and it got the job done very quickly.
     To cut the spring, slide it on to another rod of the same diameter and put both in the vice or other clamp. When you are cutting it with the dremel be sure to wear safety glasses and do it in an area with no combustible gasses.
     Depending on the length of the spring it should take around 5 min to cut and then you will have roughly 40 links that you can start using.

Step 3: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

     Now that you have links to start working with you need to know the pattern to attach them in. It is a very simple pattern, called 4 in 1 European mail; basically it means that every link is connected to 4 others. This makes a very strong and, depending on the size of links, a very dense fabric. For my chainmail I used 3/8” links, which are really too big to be protective or historically correct, I would recommend using ¼” links instead.

     You will need a pair of blunt nose pliers that preferably do not have teeth. First take 4 links and close them so they will lie flat on the table. Then take a fifth link and open it so that you can slide the 4 other links on to it, then close the fifth link. This is the building block of your chainmail. (Fig 1, 2, 3)

     Now that you have the basic building block of the shirt you will need to make many more. To attach them together line the 4in1s up so that the pattern matches. Then take another link and connect the 4 rings that are in the center. This makes another 4in1 within the first 2.

Step 4: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

     Now we can finally start making our shirt. I warn you this is a very long step and will require the most time and patience.      First you will need to make a strip that is one 4in1 wide and the length of you waist. Once it is finished find the middle and put a link there to mark it. Now measure about 4” over on both sides. This will be your head hole, so 8” may be to big or too small, a good way to find out is to measure a t-shirt; but remember chainmail doesn't stretch so bigger is always better. Mark both sides of the head hole with links and remove the center link. On either side of the head hole you will add rectangles that will be the shoulders. I would recommend that the head hole be around 20 links or 6” deep so that it will not slide around too much when you bend forwards.      Now comes the longest part. You have the head hole and shoulders you need to make the front and back pieces. I found the best way to do this is to make strips of the correct length 7-11 rows wide. Just keep adding on rows until it is as long as you want it, probably just past you waist. When you are done it should look like a tunic that fits over your head but has no sleeves and is not connected at the sides.            This step will take around 1-2 years (depending on the size of the links and length of the tunic.)

Step 5: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

     Now that you have your chainmail tunic you need sides and sleeves. I would recommend doing the sleeves first. I made my sleeves 7in wide to make sure that they would not be too tight. A good way to estimate your width is to measure a t-shirt the fits loosely and then add 2-3in on that. Now you have to decide how long you want your sleeves to be: 6-18”. I made mine t-shirt length of around 6in but it is completely your choice.

     Once you have these 2 dimensions you need to double the width so it goes back and front. Now take a ruler and stretch out part of the mail and count how many rows are in 1” so that you will know how many rows you will need for the sleeves.

     You are know ready to make to identical rectangles that will become the sleeves of your shirt, once you have them attach the center of the sleeve to the center of the head hole. Do not connect the sleeves at the bottom.

Step 6: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

     Now comes the final step; attaching the sides. This step varies for everyone so I will give just basic instructions. Put on your chainmail tunic and with the help of a friend measure the distance between the 2 sides, don't pull it too tight across your body or you won't be able to get it on (or off). Depending on how loose you want it to be you can add a few rows to the initial measurement.
     
     Make 2 rectangles that are that wide and long enough to reach from the bottom of the sleeve to the edge. Go ahead and connect your sidepieces.
     
     Finally you will need a small piece to connect the sleeves at the bottom if they do not already meet. Once again measure and add more if necessary.
     
     When you have these pieces connected all you have to do is attach under the arms. Unfortunately the pattern does not match up here so just improvise: it is not too critical.
     
You’re done!!!!!!

Step 7: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt - You Are DONE!

     Congratulations on finishing your chainmail shirt! I am sure that you are very happy now and have a new sense of achievement. This is a very long, and at times boring project, but it is rewarding like nothing else you have ever done.

For more information on Chainmail I would recommend these websites:
•  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mail_(armour)
•  http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/chainmail.htm
•  https://www.instructables.com/id/European-4-in-1-maille-chainmail-speedweaving/
•  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBQjp_oZ0Z8
•  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXz3aOz3HbM

Step 8: Make-to-Learn Youth Contest Questions

     My name is Bronwyn Erb and I am in grade 9. I made a nearly historically correct chainmail shirt.
     Over the course of 10 months (Nov 2011- Aug 2012) I, link by link, put it together by my-self in the way you have just read. I worked mainly in the basement of my house but also at my cottage during the summer. This project gave me something to work towards, I have a tendency to just sit in front of the computer all day but instead I would watch Netflix while putting together links. This impacted on my family and friends because if anyone came over to our house or asked what was up with me I would say that I was making a chainmail shirt and then explain what that was. My aunt is a teacher so recently I went to her school to tell the grade 4s and 5s about chainmail and show them how to do it.

     I learned a lot from making the chainmail but the most important things would be patients and the meaning of silence. Patients is pretty self-explanatory because there are over 6000 links in my chainmail, all of which were connected by hand. The meaning of silence is more difficult to explain: what I mean by it is that in our society there is a constant flow of information and garbage being thrown at us from TV, billboards, and shopping mails. Basically I found that when I turned off my computer and just sat and did chainmail I rediscovered silence and it is a beautiful thing.

     If I was ever going to do this again there are a few changes I would make. First I would use smaller links (¼”) so that it would more correct. Also I would have a better pattern of cutting a lot of links and then putting them all together. Finally I would use the dremel for all of the cutting instead of a hacksaw because it takes a lot less time.

Make-to-Learn Youth Contest

First Prize in the
Make-to-Learn Youth Contest

Indestructibles Contest

Second Prize in the
Indestructibles Contest

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    I'm wondering how you figure it would take a year or 2 to make a chainmaille shirt? Making your own rings, using bolt cutters rather than a dremel, which, by the way, would be safer for young people, at an hour a day, should take maybe 4 or 5 months. I can make a shirt, making my own rings in 35 to 45 hours. And with the way you do your neck hole, theoretically, it should take less time. For a beginner, the way you sgow in your instructable, it should only take 60 hours at the most.

    165 Comments

    Congratulations! Not only do you have an awesome new shirt, but you have learned two of the most valuable lessons in life -- patience and silence. Peace and the ability to appreciate it are wealth beyond measure and few among us learn that in scores of years. Very impressive indeed!

    Wow! Well done. I always wondered how chain mail was made. You have the utmost respect from this (nearly) 50 old learner from the UK.

    1 reply

    Thanks! That means a lot to me.

    Mithril, would require something thin, like 22-guage wire, at <1/4-inch Dia. rings... Not impossible, but seriously time consuming in the making. Believe it or not, though, shark suits are made of this, using stainless steel wire. Pretty sure they're also machine woven (Yes, you can make a machine to knit chain.) and pretty sure the ends are spot-welded while it's being woven.

    Mithril is actually fiction. It was made with magic, and not possible in real life. And 1/4" rings in 22 guage wouldn't hold as a shirt, they would be too weak.

    I was kidding! but ask Gandalf anyway ;-)

    I was being technical, but that's me anyways.. LOL!

    An acquaintance has a grandson who makes chain mail. He asked her to test it using her compound bow and a hunting arrow (broadhead). The chain mail failed the test.
    BTW, the grandson was NOT wearing the shirt at the time. ;^)

    6 replies

    I think chainmail was mainly used in slashing defense. Crushing weapons like flails and maces would mutilate the mail and possibly imbed it in the user and small stabbing weapons like arrows and daggers would find their way through the links or possibly opening a few links. I'm not sure about historical accuracy but I think welded links would deter the small stabbing weapons from penetrating far.

    They couldn't weld the rings back then, welding was done in a forge. I believe they riveted the rings closed. The they also wire padding underneath to help protect against that.

    You are correct. Chainmail was worn to protect from swords and arrows but could not handle clubs, maces, crossbow bolts, or guns

    As I've told kids and parents who've asked at renaissance faires, swords, knives, axes.. Short-bow arrows, had a tough time, but long-bow, pikes, spears, and worse, war-hammers with a pike on them, would go right through. That was why they developed riveted, but even that had problems because of the weakened flat & rivet. And even with the edged weapons, It was still like getting slammed with a hammer. You may not get cut, but broken bones were not uncommon. So, the 'Impermeable' chain maille used in the movie, "Wild-Wild West" (Will Smith, Kevin Kline), being used a bullet-proof vest, was total myth!

    From Wikipedia:
    Mail armour provided an effective defence against slashing blows by an edged weapon and penetration by thrusting and piercing weapons; in fact a study conducted at the Royal Armouries at Leeds concluded that "it is almost impossible to penetrate using any conventional medieval weapon"[35][36] Generally speaking, mail's resistance to weapons is determined by four factors: linkage type (riveted, butted, or welded), material used (iron versus bronze or steel), weave density (a tighter weave needs a thinner weapon to surpass), and ring thickness (generally ranging from 18 to 14 gauge in most examples). Mail, if a warrior could afford it, provided a significant advantage to a warrior when combined with competent fighting techniques. When the mail was not riveted, a well placed thrust from a spear or thin sword could penetrate, and a pollaxe or halberd blow could break through the armour. In India, punching daggers known as katars were developed that could pierce the light butted mail used in the area. Some evidence indicates that during armoured combat the intention was to actually get around the armour rather than through it—according to a study of skeletons found in Visby, Sweden, a majority of the skeletons showed wounds on less well protected legs

    Nope, long-bows were the improvement over the old bows. The Yew tree strips were far harder to break, and super strong on spring-back! I heard an interesting bit of info, under most chain maille, the knight wore a silk shirt. The reason being, the obvious barb of the arrow head, would be spinning as it was in flight, and when it penetrated the maille, the spinning head would grab the silk, and form a ball around the head. Now, granted, the point of the arrow would pierce the skin, but the rest, jammed up with silk, would stop.. Also, less chance of needing to yank the arrow out, and having the arrow heat cut the skin even worse. the wool & cotton, were just padding against the impact from edged weapons. (like a padding under a football jersey.)

    I am curious why you saw cut them? I tried it with the dremel and gave up after about 3 rings and when back to my aviation snips. Saw cutting seemed to take forever. I also read this "WARNING! Galvanized steel should never be saw cut - Zinc fumes are very deadly."

    1 reply

    I find mini bolt cutters give a nicer cut than aviation snips. I find you don't get sharp edges that way.

    Wow! What a great instructable! This was very inspiring.

    awesome job. i made some out of stripped copper wire when i was younger. even that softer metal was a tedious pain in the butt.. and blister inducing! lol

    and definatly time consuming

    Well done, looks good. I have been making chainmail for 15+ years now and I have made several shirts; I know how tedious and long it takes. Might I also suggest using expansions and contractions, they help make the shirt more form-fitting. If you don't know what those are, an expansion is where you add a ring to a row to widen it and a contraction is where you subtract a ring in a row to make it more narrow. To make an expansion, lay the piece with the rows going horizontal, like how you have the pattern on the torso of the shirt, then, between two of the normal rings that each go through two rings, add another ring that just goes through the ring that connects those two rings. To make a contraction, instead of putting a new ring through two rings in the previous row, put it through three. There should be a line of nine expansions, spaced three rows apart, going over the shoulder, starting at a row just below the collar, and then a line of nine contractions going down the back, below the shoulder-blades; this allows for more stretch in the upper back for you to bring your arms forward. Also, there should be about four contractions at stomach/waist level to narrow the shirt in that area, one in the front, the back, and the sides; and depending on how narrow you want it, you may have to put several, spaced a few rows apart. And then if you want to widen the hip area, add some expansions starting at about waist level. Here is a link to the webpage I used to start making chainmail; it has pictures showing expansions and contractions, and instructions on how to make a shirt and a coif (hood):

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/trevor.barker/farisles/guilds/armour/mail.htm