Introduction to Chainmaille

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Introduction: Introduction to Chainmaille

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

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

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

Close four rings with pliers.

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

Step 4: Things Are Coming Together

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

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

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...

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

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).

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    47 Comments

    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

    13 replies

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

    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)

    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.

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

    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

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

    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!

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

    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

    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.

    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.

    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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    1 reply

    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.

    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"?

    1 reply

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

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