Introduction: Introduction to Chainmaille

Picture of Introduction to Chainmaille

Have you ever started knitting a sweater and thought, "I wish this had better protection against arrows?" You may want to consider putting down your knitting needles for a pair of pliers and start making some chainmaille.*

Chainmaille is a strong yet flexible metallic fabric constructed from rings. Though I would strongly recommend against relying on it to block a sword or arrow, chainmaille armor can be constructed for such uses. Today, chainmaille is used for a variety of purposes. The most obvious is probably reenactments and Live Action Role Playing (LARPing). However, one can also find chainmaille used for several uses: from armor against sharks to attractive jewelry. If nothing else, maybe you just want a nice hobby with a tangible product.

Actually making chainmaille can be a fun and relaxing task; though it may seem slow, at times. I started making chainmaille about eight years ago out of curiosity. In that time, I have started and completed several projects: including several bracelets and necklaces, a pair of gloves, a coif (headgear), a couple bags, and much of a shirt.

For this introduction, I will describe how to make chainmaille starting from rings. Specifically, I will describe how to make 4 in 1 European pattern: a fairly basic but useful pattern.

*EDIT: As it has been (reasonably) pointed out, chainmaille is NOT good protection against piercing blows, such as arrows. Regardless, I ask that you please, PLEASE, do not run a "will this kill me" test. Especially in an amateur setting.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

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You will only need a few supplies for this project:

  • Metal rings
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Towel (optional)

If you are having trouble choosing metal rings, I generally use rings made from 16 AWG galvanized wire with an internal diameter of 1/4". I find this a good aspect ratio for this pattern (i.e., the ratio between the diameter of the ring and and diameter of the wire). Galvanized wire is strong and rust-resistant, though I have found that it can lose its shine over time.

You also may want to consider making your own rings.

Step 2: What We Will Do and Some Conventions

I will be describing how to make 4 in 1 European pattern. This is a very simple, yet useful pattern. The “4 in 1” just means that each ring is connected to four others (except on the edge). Similarly, you can have an “even number” (except 2, which would be a chain!) “in 1” European pattern.

Throughout this project, you may want to place a towel under your work to collect pieces of metal.

For this purpose, all rings in the pattern will be “tilted” along a horizontal axis. “Tilted down” means that the far side of the ring is lower while “tilted up” means that the far side of the ring is higher.

Step 3: Prepare the First Rings

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Close four rings with pliers.

Open a fifth ring (so a single squeeze with the pliers closes it).

Step 4: Things Are Coming Together

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Place four closed rings in the open ring and close it.

Orient rings so the previously open ring is tilted down, and two closed rings are tilted up on the left and right.

Step 5: Add Rings Horizontally

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Make another open ring and two closed rings.

Attach open ring through the two rings on the right tilted down.

Feed the two closed rings through the open one on the right tilted up.

Close the open ring.

Step 6: Add Rings Vertically

Picture of Add Rings Vertically

Make another open ring and two closed rings.

Attach open ring to the top two tilted up rings on the left.

Feed the two closed rings (tilted up) through the open one: above the ring on the left and right.

Close the open ring

Step 7: Finish the Row and Beyond...

Picture of Finish the Row and Beyond...

Note the top right corner appears missing; let’s fill that up.

Make one open and one closed ring.

Feed the open ring through the three “tilted up” rings that make up the corner.

Attach the closed ring (tilted up) on the upper left.

Close the open ring

Add more horizontal and vertical row

Step 8: Conclusion

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From this pattern and variants on it, you can make most patterns. Do not be afraid to experiment: try adding more rings (or fewer) in places, try connecting the edges of your sheet into a loop, etc. If you have colored rings, you can even make some pretty cool patterns. Need some inspiration? Check out some of my projects (image).


Mex5150 (author)2016-04-24

Sorry to be 'that guy' but referring to your first paragraph, I have to point out chainmaille is actually very poor protection against arrows ;^p

billbillt (author)Mex51502016-04-24

Has anyone actually tested this against arrows?.. Would be nice to know what kind WILL block arrows!...

Mex5150 (author)billbillt2016-04-24

There is no type of chail/ringmaile that will work against (good) arrows, having said that a good gambeson worn under the maile will stop a great many, (good) plate would stop all but the best arrows fired at high velocity. Ring/Chainmaile were designed to protect against percussive blows (swords, clubs, etc) rather than than sharp pointed attacks (arrows, stiletto blades, etc)

Zaacharia (author)Mex51502016-09-06

In any case, I always recommend wearing a tightly knit silk shirt under it all just in case anything gets through. Almost nothing pierces silk so it is dragged into the body which will keep germs out and will help with removal.

BakerV (author)Mex51502016-07-23

You could add scales to the maille and get scale maille, which works better, especially if you have a leather shirt underneath.

Daisy1209 (author)Mex51502016-04-24

there for a second I thought you was referring to a shoe ---stiletto, had me laughing until I read the next word...made my day nonetheless

Mex5150 (author)Daisy12092016-04-27

Always happy to bring someone a smile, but the shoe is actually named after the dagger,as the heel resembles a stiletto blade :^>

JuanR153 (author)Mex51502016-05-09

hi may i ask you something? you show a lot of knowledge on the subject: I´ve seen etchings of retractable daggers of some kind at the boots (it´s plainly presented at the "cloack n´ dagger" wikipedia entry). Is that the boot-shoe you are referring to? Greets!

Daisy1209 (author)Mex51502016-04-27

You do learn something new everyday...thanks for sharing.

JuanR153 (author)Mex51502016-05-09

As Mex stated please don´t ever try shooting an arrow to test the endurance of a chainmaille. Archers were the first line of fire and with longbows that would shoot 50 mts with the added terminal velocity given by their higher ground. Some arrows would pierce through shields so chainmaille and arrows don´t mix. I´d at the same time add that maybe, were the rings smaller and if you have in handy some peasants (they are usually revolting) ready to lend you a "childe" to probably get blind at the end of the job.... It´d be a pretty good protection but again terminal velocity, skills, position and a rain of arrows no chainmaille owner would be safe XD

knutknackebröd (author)Mex51502016-04-27

Mostly true, however. Historically accurate chainmaille is made in quite a drifferent fasion; driven, not punched or drilled, riveted, heat treated to be quite soft, close weave. This all combined makes the chainmaille rings stretch upon inpact instead of splitting open, thus redistributing a great deal of the force. You still need a good gambeson though......

Cheers, knut.

Bosonic (author)Mex51502016-04-24

Thanks for the comment! Someone else also mentioned this to me since I made this instructable. I added a footnote in the intro to reflect this.

WpA09 (author)billbillt2016-05-28

There are a lot of videos on the internet testing arrows and chainmaille. Although most of them are using butted maille (the maille in this instructable) there are riveted maille (which is more historically correct), which offers far greater protection as the rings won't spring open as easy. This, however, doesn't mean it is impenetrable to arrows.

To be noted is that there are actual arrows meant to penetrate plate armor and chainmaille; the bodkin arrow. The broadhead arrow is not as good for penetrating chainmaille, although it will do significant damage to the wearer, should he be shot with either arrow type. This goes with bullets as well. Chainmaille is NOT bulletproof and should one be shot while wearing chainmaille, the rings will spring open and land inside the wound, causing more damage. I suppose this will happen to some extent if one was shot with arrows as well. Although not bulletproof, chainmaille "aventails" were used in First World War to protect from shrapnel.

Nevertheless, nice ible! Sorry for the quite long post haha

AlexD137 (author)Mex51502016-05-09

Nevertheless, I'd bet if you ran a test of this chain mail vs the referenced knitted sweater, the chain mail would, in fact, do a better job blocking arrows - with a large enough sample size and all, ya know.

knutknackebröd (author)2016-04-27

Don't start kids! At first you'll make some fun stuff from butted fencing wire, after a few years you'll spend your free time riveting 12000 rings by hand.

Great ible! Cheers, Knut.

StephenH54 (author)2016-04-24

I have made this stuff before. Those of you wishing to find the stuff that is impervious to arrows have a little work set out for yourselves. While this is considered 'dress' or 'play' maille, the real stuff was drawn iron. It was sorked into rings but each ring was flattened at each end at the split. A small hole was punched in each end and a triangular rivet was hammered home. FOR EVERY RING!!!

Easy ways to clean this version made of galvanized fencing wire is to keep it in a suede/leather drawstring bag with a handful of sand to abraid it while carrying it.

One problem you will find if you make a maille shirt with this method is that you will find the upper rings will begin to open after a while. The weight of the bottom rings becomes too heavy for the upper rings to support and movement will cause them to begin to open. (Hence the other reason for riveting the rings closed.)

Other problems: using a Dremel produces a nice edge but unless you offset the Dremel by a fraction by the width of the blade or stone you are using, the 'rings' will close into small football shapes ... ovals.

Wire cutters work and will produce a round ring however each end will be nipped into a little wedge shape.

All in all, the stuff looks good from a distance and will stand up to close scrutiny unless a person knows about maille.

Other wires can be used such as copper wrapped around a healthy sized nail and the resulting rings being made into earrings, cuffs tapering to a middle finger ring from the wrist, etc. Just remember that the size of what you make is proportionate to the guage of the wire and it's own ability to support its own weight without bending open.

There are some samples found that contain punched washers, so you'll only need to rivet 50%...... given the couple thousand rings in a shirt......still quite some work. Currently working on a historically "acurate" shirt using half washers half riveted.

Cheers, Knut.

frarugi87 (author)2016-04-26

Just a question: you made several bracelets, but... Did you put something to open/close them? do you ask them to saw away their hands to wear them? Or you simply make them on their arm and say "Chainmail is Forever"?

Bosonic (author)frarugi872016-04-26

I make a hook in the shape of an S in the back, though "Chainmaille is Forever" seems like a nice alternative :)

ryniablackfox.inesory (author)2016-04-24

i have never asked that while knitting.. mainly because i don't knit.

Torrach (author)2016-04-24

Now this brings back memories.

Coat hangers coiled in a handmade mandrel (BTW, a single coat hanger will make about 22 rings at 3/8" ID). I modified a bolt cutter so there was a 3/8" lip large enough to cut two links at a time.

Suit was made from shoulders to knees, coif and mantle are one piece. I don't know how many rings were used, but it weighs about 65lb. That was a LOT of coat hangers.

I wore that suit with sword for halloween one year, went around visiting all my clients. I'm still getting comments, and people are still bragging to others that they were there to see it.

I now keep it on a half mannequin in the hall, great conversation piece.

And for those commenting that arrows will go through the chainmaille? The chainmalle will take a lot of the shock before breaking down. If I'm about to be shot with an arrow, I'd rather be wearing my chainmaille suit than just a shirt. I've shot into the chainmaille that was in my hand with a mini crossbow, and I can tell you that it feels just like someone hit my open hand with a large heavy book. And finally before someone wants to try this, I have a scar on my wrist where the last bolt fired into my hand skipped out of the crossbow sideways. I only had about a foot square of maille over my hand, not my whole arm. That was the last time I tried that!

Shingay (author)2016-04-24

Rings are opened and closed by holding with two pairs of pliers and twisting the ring into a spiral shape. Close the spirals by twisting them slightly past the closed position and letting them
spring back to the closed position. Most pliers have serrated jaws (to hold the wire more securely), to prevent the serrations marking the rings you can glue some thin plastic sheet over the serrations. It is also possible to buy smooth jaw pliers, sold as jewellers tools, or to grind the (hardened) serrations until smooth.

Laral (author)2016-04-24

Thanks for this Instructable. I found out about this stainless steel chain-mail cast iron pot scrubber CM Scrubber by KnappMade ($19.98) in Cook's Country book Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All.
It is pretty pricey ($19.98+) for a small 4" square pad. So I have it
in mind to make a larger one using your instructions. I found cheap
($.99 for 100 1/4" OD rings) stainless steel jump rings from China on eBay which look like they will be perfect for this purpose.

Momable (author)Laral2016-04-24

Thanks for the direct link. Never purchased this stuff before, but want to try it out. You made it easy.

Laral (author)Momable2016-04-24

Welcome. Do you plan on making a pot scrubber?

EmmitS (author)2016-04-24

I have found two better substitutes for galvanized steel.One is aircraft stainless steel lockwire. Lockwire is an annealed stainless steel which is very malleable. It can be polished to a high shine, and doesn't tend to spring back open after the rings are closed, which I found to be a problem with the stainless steel jumprings I found online. It comes in one pound plastic cans, and a pound of wire is a lot of wire. I is described by decimal diameters, but these are equivalent to AWG sizes. It runs from .020 to .051. .051 is app. 16 gauge. I get it on EBay, but it's made by the Malin company, The only drawback I have found is that, if you cut your jumprings with a jewelers saw, it is very hard on blades. The other steel substitute I'm have found is nickel silver. Nickel silver is a alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper. Usually it's 60% copper, 20% zinc, and 20% nickel. Technically, it's considered a form of brass, but it has no trace of yellow in its coloration. It's about the same color as stainless steel. I takes a high polish, and is highly resistant to corrosion. If left in a drawer for a long time, It will darken to about the color of a nickel coin, but can be easily polished back to a bright luster. It can be plated with gold, silver, rhodium or any other metal if you wish. It is very malleable and handles just like copper, brass, or silver. I get mine in one pound spools from Rio Grande Jewelers Supply, but it's available from several other sources. The stainless steel wire would be the strongest for most purposes, but the nickel silver is much easier to work with. However, I wouldn't want to stand in front of an archery target in mail made from either.

Momable (author)EmmitS2016-04-24

Wow! Thanks for sharing all the details of your craft. I appreciate it.

Mojang (author)2016-04-24

Ordinary flat arrow heads would probably don't kill but as with all 'military evolution' they came up with the so called bodkin arrow head that easily penetrate any chainmail. I believe it was worn mostly against swordcuts in the good ol' days.

SherpaDoug (author)2016-04-24

Make sure to reduce springback by opening and closing the rings by twisting them into a spiral instead of opening them into a 'C'. You close the spirals by twisting them back beyond closed and letting them spring back to the closed position.

studleylee (author)2016-04-24

The walking dead people need this asap for zombie bite protection!!!!

BorgDog (author)2016-04-24

I've moved away from galvanized, while it is cheap and readily available and relatively easy to work with it does leave powder behind, and more as it weathers. I much prefer stainless steel as it's clean and shiney. but may not be the look you are going for. Brass is great as well. The ultimate is titanium, love the look, great to work with, lightweight but plenty spendy.

Yonatan24 (author)2016-04-24

If you make soooooo many of those, Is it possible to get zinc fever from the rings (similar to welder's fever)?

Bosonic (author)Yonatan242016-04-24

Zinc does have some mild toxicity. If I remember correctly, it reacts exothermically (releases heat) with stomach acid (HCl). However, the key word is MILD. As long as you do not consume or try smelting it, you should be fine. Other than that, just use common sense: like, if you find your hands covered in metal dust, wash them. Plus zinc is a fairly common metal: it is a dietary need, is found in sunblock, and galvanization (zinc coating) is a common process for metals, etc.

If you want to read more about zinc poisoning:

idrojdtoys (author)Yonatan242016-04-24

I don't think you know how someone will get welder's fever, so I will explain it to you hopefully in a clear way. You get welder's fever if you inhale chemical / toxic fumes, those fumes will spread / become fumes when the metal / toxic is melted to a fluid or if it becomes a gas. You can also get it by repeatedly licking the metal. So, if you don't eat / lick / melt down the zinc you won't get zinc fever. (Do note that I'm not a researcher and also note that english is not my native language so I could've made sentences that were grammaticaly not correct.) I hope it helped.

Yonatan24 (author)idrojdtoys2016-04-24

I see...

Maybe someone should warn Miley Cyrus...

SherpaDoug (author)2016-04-24

When I made chain mail for the SCA about 30 years ago we used screen door springs that we slit with a Dremel tool to make the rings. The hardened steel of the springs made chain mail that could really take a whacking. We never tried it on arrows though.

Laral (author)SherpaDoug2016-04-24

That's a great idea.

billbillt (author)2016-04-24

great idea

Draculorum (author)2016-04-24

Despite the fact that I have yet to wish my sweater offered better protection against arrows, this was a great instructable. Very helpful, thanks.

Gelfling6 (author)2016-04-10

Making the rings isn't too hard either.. Winding the raw wire on a mandrel (steel or wooden bar, then cutting down the side of the coil to create the rings.) Dependent on the hardness of the wire, there will ALWAYS be some spring-back. I've used the hardened (old style) galvanized electric fence wire (that used to come in 3-Foot hoops), and it's DANGEROUS! (Bad spring-back, brutal on cutters and saws.) softer steel electric fence wire (1/2 or 1/4-mile spools,) has some spring back, but the softer steel cuts easier. 1/4-mile Aluminum spools are SUPER easy to wind, cut, and knit, BUT.. the softer metal also expands too easily. (rings tear apart) I've done Steel, Aluminum, Copper, and an alloy, called Nickle-Silver (It's a Nickle Alloy, that looks like sterling silver, but corrodes like Brass/Copper) Needle-Nose pliers are good for knitting, I've used "Duck-Bill" pliers (flat-jaw, but tapered to the flat tip), and a simpler tool, like the makers of old, a simple "L" shaped bar, with a vertical notch cut into the end. ( | ) just enough to fit the wire into. Great Instructable!!!

Icesphere (author)Gelfling62016-04-12

I was about to say this actually, it makes the process a lot easier and faster but you added more detail and tips than I ever could have. Thanks for the advice!

Bosonic (author)Gelfling62016-04-10

Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed this!
I actually make my rings: I wind the wire around a metal rod with the aid of a handheld drill. I actually have written instructions for this (though no pictures), but I decided not to post them, mainly because I think the way I do it is a bit dangerous. I do not have a rig to hold everything in place, so I mostly just use my feet and am careful not to get anything caught in the coil!
Oh, and one note on using aluminum fencing wire: in my experience, this is a nice, soft wire, but you get a lot of metal dust on your hands while handling it.

Gelfling6 (author)Bosonic2016-04-11

You'd love an idea I ran across.. not perfect, but you can imagine the length of the coils, and the amount of cutting afterwards.. Drill a hole through a 2X4, the size of the mandrel. then using a small ball-bearing, wood-screw it just above the hold, with the outer side of the bearing about the thickness of the wire, away from the hold. the idea, is to use the bearing as a guide to hold the wire from whipping around, as it's winding. (and you simply let it hold the wire against the mandrel. Also 'crimps-down' on the end of the wire when it reaches. Then, It's simply forming the coil with the drill, and you can go as far back as you want. (5.5-foot coils! YIPES!) I've found it works best with steel and harder metals, but it's brutal on softer.. (flattens the outer side of the ring.) Not 100% fool-proof either, as the wire can still jump and cross over the coil.. If I had the time, I've been mulling over a all-wooden assembly., 2X4 piece, with all mandrel sizes, and a moveable/clamped block above the holes that can be adjusted to the wire size..

Yes, I've also used leather gloves for the reason of possibly getting caught in the winding.. I've made a "U" frame jig, with a 2X4, and a 3-foot mandrel, and powering it either with a hand crank, or power drill, and I know the possibility of the wire springing back.. Even with gloves, My attempt at the hardened older galvanized resulted in a ripped leaver glove, and a deep cut to the bottom of my pointer finger above the palm. I've always grabbed the wire end with a pair of long pliers since!

Yes, the aluminum wire is non-anodized, hence it's still in a constant oxidizing state.. Nothing says authentic, like leaving a ren faire wearing a nice grey hue to make you look battle weary LOL! Whenever people asked me about it at faires, I've told them it was actually normal, Even with steel, and no-one ever said war was a clean sport.. I used to wear a thin sweatshirt and a nomex firefighter's/welder's hood to keep the metal off the skin as much as possible, but it still left some oxidation. At least the oxide cleans off with soap & water, and as far as the maille, I've always cleaned mine with, putting it in a 5-gallon pail, adding a cup of straight simple-green, agitating it, rinse it off with hot water, and air-dry.

Heaviest I ever wore, 8+ hours straight, was one I made as a tribute to a school system I drove school buses for. (Actually wore it for Halloween quite a few years too, while driving.) A 3/4-length long-sleeve hauberk, with a separate coif & mantle. Inlayed on the chest, and a smaller version on the back of the coif, I had knitted in copper, the Iowa Jayhawk symbol, (at the time, the high school I drove for, their team figure was a falcon, and I spotted one of their team spirit decals had the same symbol.) 12-guage, 5/16" rings, total weight, 95Lbs. Borderline battle-ready. Even that used to leave a grey coating after a few hours.

studleylee (author)2016-04-10

The Walking Dead cast needs this asap!!!!!!!!!

studleylee (author)2016-04-10

The Walking Dead cast needs this asap!!!!!!!!!

diy tech (author)2016-04-10

spam much

diy tech (author)2016-04-10

spam a saurus rex

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Bio: Not many people know this about me, but I often experience gravity.
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