Picture of 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

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Step 1: How to Make a Chainmail Shirt

Picture of 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 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.
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repguy20202 years ago
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!
Kevanf12 years ago
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.
Ringer1633 (author)  Kevanf12 years ago
Thanks! That means a lot to me.
ShalevZ3 months ago

I have two months to make a chainmail armor, maybe without sleeves, I am a small person, and I don't want the shirt to be long, just under the waist. I buy the rings ready. I've never done something like that before... so my question is: Should I even try? Is it possible? What can I do during the making of the chainmail (like listening to music)? Is there something I can do to make it less boring?

Ringer1633 (author)  ShalevZ2 months ago

You should definitely try. It is possible as you can see and buying, not making, the links will help a lot. Chainmail is tons of fun to make as long as you have the patience. To make it less boring I watched tv shows and movies on my computer while putting the links together. Good luck!

jkyser19823 months ago

This is a very, very good instructible, and guide to making chain. However,I would add a couple cautionary tips for safety, and I might recommend a change in the cutting process, to improve the final product slightly (I'm very particular about rings, having made both armor and jewelry for around 12 years). While I wrote a long post, don't take it negatively. I think you did very, very good work, and ended up with an impressive result.

When you cut rings, there are basically three processes you can go with. Material removal, as with the abrasive cutting wheel the dremel uses, or "crimping", which a set of standard diag cutters will get you. Last is the flush cutter, or even better, double flush cutter. This is the preferred tool, if you can get a good set. They don't remove enough material to leave the crimps and odd-shaped rings the other methods do, and are relatively easy to use, on the hand. The dremel and abrasive cutting wheels remove a significant amount of metal, resulting in a slightly oblong ring. Not a huge deal in armor, moreso in jewelry. The crimp and tear method removes far less material, but leaves a pair of points where you crimped the ring. You cut about halfway through the wire, then grab the back end (away from where you cut) and flip it towards the front, fast. The twisting will break the ring free, resulting in a relatively clean cut.

Because you need to keep the wire tight when winding onto a mandrel, a drill can be a very dangerous implement to use. There are other methods, of course (I've used a bent steel rod, screwdriver, bic pen, a nail, and a variety of other random items, personally), none of which are nearly as time-efficient. I would just recommend caution during this part of the project, so as to keep all fingers firmly attached :D

Zinc fumes from galvanized wire are dangerous. The symptoms generally pass within a day or so, and feels much like the flu, but it is a valid concern. A respirator or sufficient airflow is plenty to get around this... don't saw cut (with power tools) indoors.

Last, the dremel tool itself isn't great for this application, though it will do the trick. Something to watch out for with rotary tools is that, under load and at speed, those cutting discs don't just break when they fail, they effectively explode. Proper eye protection is highly recommended, I also recommend gloves and a long sleeve shirt.

(removed by author or community request)
Galvanized fumes will NOT kill you! At the very worst, if you breath them in high concentrations and for longer than you'd want to, you'll develop flu-like symptoms that will abate in a day or two. Drinking milk apparently helps. Galvanized "poisoning" is simply an overdose of zinc, an element your body needs and uses--not pleasant, but not deadly. Generally, this is only an issue if you heat the galvanizing to the point where if vaporizes. Just wear a dust mask and or work in an open, breezy area, if you are concerned at all.

No, not in and of itself, but it can lead to pneumonia. Jim 'Paw Paw' Wilson of died as a direct result of Metal Fume Fever. Of course, as the original comment on this was removed, I cannot tell what he thought was going on, but the important thing about Metal Fume Fever is that you breath the FUMES. A Rototool isn't exactly going to be burning zinc off of the wire.

And 'poisoning' in this case is understood to mean 'overdose,' just like lead poisoning, arsenic poisoning, and mercury poisoning.

Any time that you think that you are dealing with a substance that can poison you, you need an actual respirator, not a dust mask.

You are wrong, galvanized fumes can kill you. It is a matter of how much you inhale, and you should be concerned.

A dust mask is a good idea when grinding anything (cutting with an abrasive disk is grinding), however it will not stop fumes. Avoid pushing the the grinding tool and generating excess heat (steel turning blue is very hot, then red, orange, white is melting steel). Working outdoors or using a fan, possibly with ducting, to control the flow of air away from you and direct the fumes outdoors are common cheap remedies. Using a respirator is a good idea if you have one. I seriously doubt that this pretty lady is in any danger as probably very little if any galvanizing vaporized during her cutting of the links.

However, anyone that welds or melts galvanized steel (foundry or forge) should take measures to avoid breathing the fumes. Burning the galvanizing off of the steel is a particularly bad idea and has killed at least 1 blacksmith who was trying to burn off the galvanizing on some pipe so he could use it for a project. He was generating serious clouds of fumes. First he got really sick for a few days, then he got better, then he died. Admittedly, this guy took it to extremes, but he is still dead.

If you look at the white/yellow powder and spider web like white stuff that floats around while you're welding it, I'm sure that you will realize that you don't want to breathe that stuff.
Although I have not been able to find documentation of a single incident of a person dying from breathing zinc fumes, most anything is toxic in sufficient concentration. And yes, I do agree you're probably better off not breathing fumes from burning galvanized coating--I certainly try not to. But simple precautions, like reasonable ventilation, washing your hands before you eat/drink/smoke, and wearing a dust mask if you are generating dust are more than enough to guarantee safety, especially doing a project like this one. Just a touch of common sense is all it takes--we shouldn't be afraid of our shadows, or a little zinc.
That's odd, I entered the search terms "zinc poisoning death" in Yahoo and instantly found this link
I've always used bolt cutters. Either 8" hand version, or 14-inch (more like the traditional type) Yes, the zinc fumes are poisonous, so if you use cut-off wheels or saws without any form of cooling medium (water, oil) to minimize fumes/sparks/dust, you'll need something to carry-off the fumes.
Just cut it outdoors, with a stiff breeze.
davidgun1 year ago
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."
TeleDex2 years ago
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. ;^)
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 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.
Ringer1633 (author)  gumbytig2 years ago
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
great! can you make a mithril one? ;-)
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.
I was kidding! but ask Gandalf anyway ;-)
I was being technical, but that's me anyways.. LOL!
Jordans1141 year ago
DO you know where you would be able to get Stainless Steel wire to make this? Around the 14 gauge size. I live in Canada, and I am having trouble finding any...
At the risk of breaking a rule, there's a website which deals with making chainmaille (from the raw materials, tools, pre-cut rings, and even finished pieces.), that might be a source.. , which is based in Canada. they also supply spools of raw wire, in various materials. I bought some pre-cut alloy 304 (1/4-hard stainless) from them a few years ago.. They also sell bulk wire.. Just read on their page, approx 57-feet per 1-Pound, roughly $5.65/Lb.
Ringer1633 (author)  Jordans1141 year ago
Have you tried Lowes and Canadian Tire?
JermsG2 years ago
Very good instructable! And a very nice result of shirt. :)
A few points, from my 15+ years of chainmail experience...
The strength of the links comes from three things: a) the material they're made out of. The wire you used is a good option for chainmail, but other options are available which are stronger/weaker/shinier/more rust-resistant/less rust-resistant/etc. b) The ratio between the thickness of the wire and the diameter of the link (which comes from the diameter of your coiling rod). The ideal ratio depends on the material the links are made out of, what the chainmail will be used for and so on, so largely relies on trial and error to get that right. c) The way that the links are closed. When you bend the ends of the links closed like you did, it's called 'butted' mail. It's by far the most common way to do it, since any other option such as riveting - although it makes the chainmail stronger - it makes this tedious job take a heck of a lot longer. :/
I agree with some of the comments about using the dremel to cut the spring into links. It provides a nice cut where the cross-section of the link is flat and easy to butt closed, but it has a few drawbacks such as it being easy to slip and ruin a few dozen links at once. Personally I use bolt cutters, or sidecutters for smaller links. The cross-section of the cut links are then V-shaped, but still can be made to butt together nicely enough.
When using the drill to coil the wire into a spring, there are two things to be careful of: The main one is the rotating end of the wire. I still have a scar on my finger from one of those, and it hurt a LOT. The second thing is to try to get the spring as tight as possible, without the wire overlapping a previous link. When it overlaps, that's a waste of wire. When the spring isn't tight, you can end up with links that are slightly larger diameter and you may not notice until they're in the middle of a shirt, but then they look REALLY out of place.
To keep track of main seam features such as the centre of the neck, the crest of the shoulder or whatever, you can attach a spare link like you suggested, but I find it a bit quicker and easier just to use a small wire tie.

Keep up the great work!
JermsG JermsG2 years ago
Oh, and, the coiling rod MUST be a strong material such as metal. I've tried wooden and plastic rods, but they don't work at all.
Go to any hardware store, and ask for steel welding rod. they come in 1/4, 5/16. 1/2. 3/8 size.. the coated type (galvanized, chrome, etc.) aren't necessary.. they usually sell it in 3-foot or 6-foot lengths. the only drawback with the 6-foot, is you'll end-up with "Wobble".. the rod bends, and stays bend in a bow.) simply slow-down the winding as this happens.. It depends on how many rings you want to have on the coil.. HAHA, my first mandrel, was a 4-inch axle I pulled out of an old copy machine, and the shaft collar was a idler roller from the same machine.. Didn't need the extra length as I was only winding un-bent coat hangers at the time.
Ringer1633 (author)  JermsG2 years ago
yeah mine was copper.
Ringer1633 (author)  JermsG2 years ago
Thanks for the advice. What chainmail projects have you done?
Whew! You want the whole list?!!
Um... bikini tops and bottoms, g-strings, shirts, halbergs, necklaces, bracelets, slave bracelets, chokers, hackey sacks, juggling balls, neckties, dreadlocks, eyepieces, manes, coifs, leggings, booties, gloves...
I'm thinking of making myself an assassin's mail halberg soon, which is standard 4-in-1 chainmail but with a small piece of leather glued onto each link so that the whole item is non-shiny, non-reflective, and silent. But glueing each piece of leather on individually will be very tedious, and I'm trying to gather enthusiasm for it. :/
Ringer1633 (author)  JermsG1 year ago
Thats and an amazing list! I am planning on a making a full suit of armor.
valgard2 years ago
another alternative to standard pliers are linesman's pliers as they have a short flat section at the end of the jaws so you wont mar the rings. if your on a budget why did you saw cut? i would imagine the cost in replacement cutting discs would have been more than the cost of a pair of mini bolt cutters and new pliers.
There was a version of lineman's pliers that Ace Hardware had, which had a wide but thin flat end to them.. Haven't been able to find them lately, and a little expensive. Sears, Sears Hardware, have what they call Duck-Bill pliers.. the jaws are about 2-inch long, and wide-flat end. I use those as my main pliers pair for my work.. they went for something like $17.95 each. Last seen, they were only available in the 5-piece (cutters, adjustable wrench, needle-nose, regular, and duck-bill.) set.
actually that size is really cheap for cutting wheels. i got a dremel and 25 discs, plus over a dozen other attachments for like $6 US
alcurb1 year ago
I like your work.

Any chance you would post a video for at least the part where you make the rings? I'm trying to visualize the fabrication process of the rings from the winding to the cutting with the Dremel tool. Although the pictures are good, I would like to see how you handle the materials and the tools.
alcurb, depends on which direction you wind the coils, but usually a slow steady turning of the mandrel (bar) in the jig frame, and keeping the wire fed, close to but not allowing it to overlap the already wound coil. I've tried guides, only to have it jump and either jumble in the same place (ruining the guide) or if the wire is soft, (Aluminum, Copper) 'Ding' the wire, requiring a cut right there. When winding, I usually stop about an inch from the end of the mandrel, holding the wire about 3-4 inches away from the mandrel, and make a cut (with 8" bolt cutters), only 1 inch from the mandrel. Be prepared for back-lash! (where the coil will partially loosen, and that wire end will swing around like a weed whacker.) the mandrels I make, I drill a hole through, on the driven end of the mandrel, with a shaft-collar, and a hitch-clip, and a hole drilled through the side of the collar, to fit an "L"-bend in the end of the wire, before winding. This way, when I finish winding the coil, I pull the hitch clip, slide the mandrel out, and slide the finished coil off.slide the mandrel back in, put the shaft collar over the hole, and insert the hitch clip again. As for cutting, I've tried 3 methods.. Bolt cutters, dremel w/a cutting wheel, and a jewlers saw (available at most hobby stores, in their tools section. They're like a coping saw, but with a super-thin scroll-saw blade between two pin vices.).. The cutting wheel & jewelers saw methods, you're always losing a little material at the cut, so sometimes, the rings might look egg-shaped. the bolt-cutter method, You're spreading the material. It causes a ><-style cut. but no loss of material. but is also makes for extra burrs on the outside edge. The jewlers saw, over the cutting wheel, thinner cut, BUT lots of metal dust. with the cutting wheel, you end-up with lots of metal dust, and flying sparks! but, all three methods, You're simply cutting down the side of the coil, at the same point, so the ring ends are off-set. From there, You simply butt the ends together by twisting the sides with pliers. (so the ring goes from / to |).. Riveted rings, You're closing the ring so the ends over-lap. done either by squeezing the rings, or using a cutter with a gap to allow the wire not to cut, to have it already overlapped. but, this now requires flattening the overlapped ends.. then, punching a hold through the flattened ends, and using a small piece of metal (either wire or, as they used in olden days, a triangular piece,) both of which were inserted into the holes, and peened over to hold in place. The drawback, I've found with riveted, is You've already weakened the ring, by the flattening, and now, 3 points above and below the rivet, and pulling the rivet itself out.
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