Introduction: Riveted Maille From Scratch.

Picture of Riveted Maille From Scratch.

There are already a number of Instructables on making maille, and making various projects from maille. The one thing that I found was missing was how to make riveted maille.

Now, in the past I've dabbled in riveted maille a bit, my maille and plates cuise (that's thigh armour) and all the repairs on my cuirass. Thing is, for those projects I went and bought pre-made rings and rivets then just assembled them. That is hardly the DIY ethic that Instructables espouses now is it? So with a quick prayer to the gods of tedium and insanity I decided to try my hand at making my own riveted maille, from scratch.

Riveted maille is really done 2 ways, wedge rivets and Round rivets. the difference is pretty self explanatory. Wedge rivets are tiny triangles, Round rivets are tiny bits of wire. To the best of my knowledge maille started out with round rivets, then at some point, around the 14th century i think, a lot of European armouries switched over to wedge rivets, whereas maille from the middle east and Asia stuck with the round rivets. that's all pretty generalized, but it gets the idea across.
In any case, I'm making maille sleeves for my armour and my armour is a near/middle eastern style. So, round Rivets it is.

Enough of my babbling, this seems like a decent enough intro. Now onto the good stuff.

Step 1: The Tools I Use.

Picture of The Tools I Use.

Tool wise you only really need a few more tools then you need to make butted maille.
Here is what you'll need.

Standard maille tools:
-A pair of small pliers
-a mandrel for winding coils
-side cutters to cut the coils (these will be modified slightly)

The special stuff
-Rivet setting tongs
-a ring flatener
-a hammer
-a punch.

Now, to start with You'll need to grind or file a notch in your side cutters a little back from the tip. this will let you cut your rings with a little overlap. that's pretty simple.

Rivet setting tongs are pretty simple too. I made mine from a $4 pair of carpenters nippers. You could also make them from some linesman pliers, or really any pliers with about 6 inches of handle. just grind the jaws down till they are smooth and close flush, then take a 1/8" drill bit and put a little divot into one side of the jaws. that's all there is to it.

For flattening my rings I use a piston setup. I scrounged and scavenged mine. it's just a really big brake caliper from something, and 2 chunks of 1" steel plate, one of which has hole that's about the same size as the caliper on it. alternately, with some practice you can skip the piston and flatten your rings with just a hammer, or I've seen pictures of a Whitney punch with bits modified to flatten rings. My experience is that the piston setup has the quickest learning curve and gives me the most consistent results.

the hammer is pretty self explanatory, use it to bash stuff.

That just leaves the punch. Historically speaking you'd most likely have a set of tongs with a drift and a matching hole in them and you would just pierce a hole in your rings. A lot of people still use variations on this method. I've also seen arbor presses modded to hold punches or drifts. Myself, I'm using my knock off Whitney punch with a 1/16" punch and die in it. In the future I'd like to try re-working a punch into a drift to see how that works, but until then, I'll just punch holes.

Step 2: Making Rings

Picture of Making Rings

Ok, so making rings for riveted maille is almost exactly the same as it is for butted maille. The only 2 differences are that you can use thinner wire, and you need to cut them with an overlap.

In this case I'm using 16ga. tie wire. you can usually find this stuff pretty cheap in most hardware stores. You're looking for the black stuff that leaves black crud on your hands as it is not galvanized and is already annealed.
My mandrel is an old roller from a garage door and is about half way between 3/8" and 1/2" I couldn't tell you exactly what size that it is but the rings look about right for the larger rings that seem to be common with near eastern armour.

Anyways, just wind your coil like you would for any other maille, then cut them with your freshly modded side cutters. You'll want to leave 3/16" to 1/4" of overlap.

Once you've got your rings all cut it's time to normalize them. This step isn't strictly necessary, but I
find it does help a bit. I get about 10% less bunk rings in the flattening stage if I normalize them first.

To normalize them I string them onto a loop of wire, then heat them up red hot and let them cool to room temperature. I'd heard you can do this on a gas stove, but my stove was taking too long. I prefer to use a blowtorch. Alternately I'm sure a BBQ would work wonders, or a fireplace.

Lastly, do not hold the wire with your fingers while you are blow torching the rings, it is a bad idea. Also, do not put the recently red hot rings onto anything flammable while they are cooling, it is also a bad idea.

Step 3: Flattening Your Rings

Picture of Flattening Your Rings

Flattening the rings with a piston is as simple as putting a ring in the hole, placing the piston on the ring, and bashing it with a hammer. on my thigh it takes me 6 or 8 strokes. when i can put the anvil on something solid it takes me 4 strokes.
I find I get the most consistent results if i place the overlap facing away from me, parallel to the hammer handle.

Step 4: Punching the Rings

Picture of Punching the Rings

To punch my rings I use a knockoff Whitney punch with a 1/16" bit. I think it's important to mention that historically the rings would have been pierced rather than punched as punching the rings removes a small amount of metal weakening the ring slightly. To this end I'm planning on buying another 1/16" punch and re-grinding the punch into a piercing drift. I'll update the instructable when I get to that point. In the meanwhile.....

The first thing to keep in mind punching the rings is that your overlap is sufficiently flattened, i try and have my overlaps flattened to the point where they are at least 1/8" wide and preferably a little closer to 3/16". I can still punch a hole in less, but i find that during the riveting stage the swelling rivet will often cause the sides to tear out if they are to thin.

Actually punching the rings is simple enough with the ton or so of pressure coming from the punch. just center the overlap on the die, under the punch and squeeze the handles.
Sometimes the punch will catch on one half of the overlap. if this happens and you pull the punch back the rings get deformed and are a pain to get out. to counter this problem I took a short strip of pallet banding and cut a small slit down one end with some tin snips. After I punch a ring I slip the strip of banding over the ring and around the punch then retract the punch. the banding stops the ring from getting sucked up into the punch housing and keeps everything laying nice and flat.

Step 5: Riveting the Rings

Picture of Riveting the Rings

To rivet your rings shut the first thing you'll need are rivets. fortunately 16ga. wire happens to be 1/16" in diameter so it fits in the holes we punched perfectly. To make rivets just grab a foot or so of wire and cut it down into bits about 1/8" long. Now you have your rivets. Pretty simple eh?

To rivet a ring shut start by slipping a rivet through the hole. try and get it more or less centered.

Next take your set tongs and grab the rivet so that one end is in the divot then with smooth even pressure squeeze the tongs shut. This should compress the rived lengthwise causing it to swell on either side of the hole,leaving a flat bump on the bottom and a domed one on the top.

When it comes time to actually weave maille I like to rivet 4 rings, feed them onto a fifth ring then rivet it. I usually make a few dozen of these at a time then connect them all together. I don't think it's actually any faster than going one ring at a time, but it looks like it goes together faster, and that helps keep me sane.

As well riveted maille has an inside and an outside. if you're making for example a shirt the inside should have the flat sides of the rivets and the domed side should be the outside. I'm not sure if it really makes much difference in the long run, but that's how it was done back then, so that's how I'm doing it now.


GlenB41 (author)2017-11-25

How long did it take you? Like how many rings in an hour? Did you do anything with them beyond just making the rings?

nofreewill (author)2016-01-08

How does cutting a notch into the side cutters create an overlap in the rings? There's something about the physics of that that I missed.

armourkris (author)nofreewill2016-01-11

The notch lets you skip the outermost ring and cut the ring behind it, If you do that 1/8" or so to the side of the end of the wire then it leaves that bit of overlap. The notch just gives the outermost ring a place to go without getting cut.

nofreewill (author)armourkris2016-01-23

So basically, the notch somehow causes the rings to overlap when they get flattened?

nofreewill (author)nofreewill2016-01-23

Also, is it possible to hammer a rivet instead of squeeze it?

armourkris (author)nofreewill2016-04-09

I don't see why you couldn't hammer the rivets, but i suspect it would be a real pain to do it, especially when it's connected into other rings. compared to the ring and rivet the face of a hammer is relativley large and with other rings in there as well i think you'll have a hell of a time holding the ring in place and hammering just the rivet without hammering everything else as well.

quietforest (author)armourkris2016-11-23

Excellent tutorial. I believe that period armorers used a punch and anvil to set the rivet while an assistant held the work. It would be quite a juggling act to do it by yourself that way. Do you heat treat the finished maille in any way? I think originals were often case hardened.

armourkris (author)nofreewill2016-04-09

I don't see why you couldn't hammer the rivets, but i suspect it would be a real pain to do it, especially when it's connected into other rings. compared to the ring and rivet the face of a hammer is relativley large and with other rings in there as well i think you'll have a hell of a time holding the ring in place and hammering just the rivet without hammering everything else as well.

armourkris (author)nofreewill2016-04-09

I don't see why you couldn't hammer the rivets, but i suspect it would be a real pain to do it, especially when it's connected into other rings. compared to the ring and rivet the face of a hammer is relativley large and with other rings in there as well i think you'll have a hell of a time holding the ring in place and hammering just the rivet without hammering everything else as well.

DonK15 (author)nofreewill2016-01-31

No, the notch allows you to NOT cut the first part of the coil, and instead cut the second coil. That way, you can create your own overlap when you cut the rings.

MrMxylptlyk (author)2016-03-13

Hey, where can I buy a ring flatner or the punch? Or so I have to make my own?

armourkris (author)MrMxylptlyk2016-04-09

ad far as i know you need to make your own. i remember seeing a website some years ago that was selling kits for making riveted maille, but as far as i can tell they have vanished from the face of the internet.

MrMxylptlyk (author)armourkris2016-04-09

Can you do a tutorial on the flatner or ring punch? Thanks.

Paj Lee (author)2015-12-28

Fantastic tutorial... if I ever have access to a work shop again, I'll be getting on this - man, I miss re-enactment!

Lafein (author)2015-08-18

Fantastic tutorial!

I'm following this in my own maille project, and this has helped my immeasurably.

Did you ever happen to fashion a 1/16 bit into a piercing drift?

armourkris (author)Lafein2015-12-03

nope, never did. not to long after i made this insructable i gave up and bought another batch of pre-made rings. when you need thousands of rings making them at a minute or 2 per ring gets pretty unreasonable.

Tim P (author)2015-10-15

wow, that is cool, but i think that you could cut down on some of the time by not making the medal rings flat or using rivets. but if you want it to look cool, those are some key steps!

armourkris (author)Tim P2015-12-03

yeah, just using butted rings would be faster, but the riveted rings are 10x as strong and half the weight, those are both important to me since i fight in my armour.

armourkris (author)Tim P2015-12-03

yeah, just using butted rings would be faster, but the riveted rings are 10x as strong and half the weight, those are both important to me since i fight in my armour.

JiddipawarP (author)2015-11-23

I am making long rivet but how sale

armourkris (author)JiddipawarP2015-12-03

Sorry but I don't understand the question, care to rephrase it?

Silverblade3 (author)2015-03-09

I have some questions. What is the purpose of stringing the rings you make onto a length of wire and heating them until they are red hot? Does that make the steel stronger or something? You called it Normalizing the rings. What does this mean? What effect does it have on the rings and on any armour you make from them?

Also I was wondering if this maille would provide a person wearing it as much protection as chainmaille armour made in the medieval era? Or do you need a different kind of steel wire or chainmaille making process in order to get that level of protection. Would I be better protected buying a hauberk online rather than making one like this?

Have you ever tested your chainmaille to see if it can be used in battle to stop a sword blow or a dagger thrust?

armourkris (author)Silverblade32015-03-11

I'll try and give some good answers.
The steel in the wire work hardens when you wind the rings. In any other circumstances it would be negligible and really not matter, but when the rings get flattened it does make a difference. Instead of flattening evenly the overlaps on the hardened rings tend to skip off each other.
Normalizing is heating the steel to it's critical temperature, basically red hot, and letting it air cool. this more or less returns the steel to it's default settings.
The softer rings flatten more consistently and the flattening work hardens the rings more than the original winding would have.

Protection wise I can attest that this stuff holds up well to all manner of abuse from blunted swords and spears and axes, I've never tested it against sharp weapons though. I trust it would work perectly fine against sharp edges, but i think I could put a solid spear shot through it. Mail is pretty week against blunt things in general, thats for padding and plate to deal with.

I think that medieval maille would be stronger than this stuff, for starters the ring size I used on this is up at the upper extremes for historical maille. this stuff is 7/16" id. if i recall, historical stuff tends more towards 1/4-5/16" id. Smaller rings make for stronger maille.
The other thing is that I punched holes for the rivets, This removes material and leaves a weak spot in the rings. Medieval rings on the other hand had the holes drifted. basically a small spike pierces the ring to make the hole. That way you don't remove any metal and weaken the ring.

For ultimate protection I would go with stainless steel welded maille, but not the super fine butchers stuff.
Depending on how you make your rings a purely home made shirt could be stronger or weaker than a store bought one. it'll cost less than $50 in supplies but It will take hundreds if not thousands of hours to build totally from scratch.
Store bought rings shorten that to probably a couple hundred hours but make it considerably more expensive.
Meanwhile, a store bought shirt on the low end will run between $300 and $1000 depending on materials, rivet style, sleeve length etcetera.

charlesian2000 (author)2015-01-04

Really awesome tutorial.

jackowens (author)2014-10-24

You are awesome! I love your tutorials!

mathew.naylor.9 (author)2014-10-13

I am having an issue where I lay the ring on the anvil and when I attempt to flatten it with the punch it lays the overlap over no matter what I do. I cannot seem to find any consistent results and would love any ideas why the overlap keeps rolling over instead of just flattening. If anyone has a fix for this I would greatly appreciate it!

All I can say is persistence. I found that some would do that no matter what i did, but i just kept at it and with enough practice they got more and more consistent

I am just using a barbecue to normalize my rings so it cannot quite get it to critical temp but I tried to get them as close as I could and it did make a big difference, especially if the rings are untreated. I don't know if it is something to do with the zinc coating of the galvanized rings I am using right now but it is about impossible to smash the rings without the overlap folding over until the rings are heat treated. But that you very much for the swift response! I also got a whitney punch and altered one of the larger tips after my 1/16" inch one broke. I make it so instead of cutting the metal it punches through it with a point. All I did was grind it down until it just barely fit into the 1/16'" socket. It has done several dozen rings so far with no sign of wear that I can see. If you ever decide to try making rings again I find this specific alteration works much better for ring making than the stock tips.

brett1213 (author)2014-09-04

Armourkris you just buy rings now? I was going to do this but I dont want to if its not worth it. I mean with the hole punches going bad and all. Is it cheaper to just go out and buy some rings?

Rongconvn (author)2013-08-25

Love this

Timfee (author)2012-05-01

Man, this is fantastic . I wonder how you don't get mad doing this, but the result is beautiful . I love it . Congrats !

armourkris (author)Timfee2012-05-02

patience seasoned with insanity, lots and lots of insanity, you see, I do get mad, just not the angry kind of mad.

Gelfling6 (author)armourkris2013-03-11

Too true! I usually save that anger mad for the LARP, where its allowed (within a certain degree.) But, the insanity part? Oh yes, it's definitely a madness! As someone once put on the forum of "The", "You have not attained the true insanity, until you have been commissioned to knit your own straight-jacket in E6-in-1" (Someone had that as their forum tagline many years ago.)

Gelfling6 (author)armourkris2012-05-14

I resemble that remark! :-D I've been making butted maille for close to 28 years, and I tried to make some rivited rings once.. after a few failed attempts to get the ends to stay parallel, I gave-up.. (not out of lack of patience, more lack of good fingers.. began suffering a BAD case of carpal-tunnel!) Right now, have been keeping a 4 year old aluminum hauberk & coif mended for local faires.. Just noted in someone else's instructable on pop-top tab maille, I've still got the same duck-bill pliers from 11 years ago, when I finished my 1st hauberk. (made from recycled coat hangers.. I kept running out of hangars?!?!?!) My method for softening the metal, was similar.. I modified a Coleman camp stove to burn hotter, and using Propane, to anneal the metal... I later stepped back in time, taking a cast-iron pot, filling it with rings, putting a few pieces of paraffin wax (about 1/4 a slab from a box of 4), and a little gasoline to get it started, sitting on the same stove to keep it going. (nothing says psycho, like a blazing cauldron full of metal rings!) Alas, age, time constraints with my job (school bus driver), and a weak back told me to stop using the steel rings (especially when the last one weighed 95Lbs!) and I started looking to the aluminum. (quite a few spools of Fy-Shock 14-guage)..

Gelfling6 (author)Timfee2013-03-11

it takes eons of patience! I've been knitting for close to 30 years now.. so, it takes patience, and lots of callouses.. (even with padded tools, you're going to compress skin at the finger joints.. it's unavoidable!) It's kind of a lost art that many still try to maintain.

SacredDemon (author)2012-11-05

Quick question, how would it affect the strength of the rings if you only flattened the overlapping part? Now i know that would take more time, but would it be stronger or weaker?

Gelfling6 (author)SacredDemon2013-03-11

Usually, that is the only party that gets flattened.. The weak point, would be right at the rivot, though.. Because you have already weakened it by flattening the ends, then creating a fault above & below >|o|< with the hole through.. Now, mind you, the idea is to make the maille less likely to fall apart or tear, like butted, but now, enough force to strike, would cause the links to tear right at the hole through.. I like the design, but round rivots? I seem to remember the rivots were actually triangular. /\ , cut from a strip, (/\/\/\/\/\) but inserted/peened the same method. the actual rivot would be a little longer width.. =,.. I learned this back when I started tinkering with chain.. Now, I stick strictly to costume quality.. (aluminum.. Lighter, butted, easier to fix, far easier to keep clean.) The last steel one I made, was killing my back after 9 hours straight... (I was 45 at the time. I'm 49 now. yeah, I'm getting old...)

moe88 (author)2012-05-02

hello armourkris, have you had any problems with the whitney 1/16 punch braking while punching the ring?

armourkris (author)moe882012-05-02

I went through 4 punches before i decided to just buy pre made rings. Of those 4 punches only 1 of them broke, the other 3 just wore out

moe88 (author)armourkris2012-05-03

I'm on my 3rd punch now, the last two broke after a couple of rings, i'm going to start annealing the rings again before i punch them. By the way where do you buy the pre made rings?

armourkris (author)moe882012-05-04

I got my rings from Ice Falcon Armoury, Kult of Athena and Historic Enterprises also carry them though.

moe88 (author)2012-04-18

Hello, i have the same knock off Whitney punch as yours but it does not include the 1/16 punch and die. where did you get the 1/16 punch and die set?
love your tutorials

armourkris (author)moe882012-04-19

I went to the roper whitney website, i think it was and ordered it from them, i nded up gwtting 3 sets of punches and dies for $33 .

moe88 (author)armourkris2012-04-19

Ok thank you

seabee890 (author)2011-02-19

If you can find a bar with a slot in it, or grind one into the bar that you want to use. you can use a dremel tool to cut a bunch of rings faster. I undrstand wanting to do this some- what old-school (can't remember where to put the damn dashes) however, the sheer volume of rings needed to complete any project might turn some people to the amazing art of mail working, good luck i am looking forward to see what readers create. ( and you also)

armourkris (author)seabee8902011-02-21

That's true, but it doesn't leave the overlap I need for riveting the rings and when I'm making butted maille I cut my rings with a pair of tin snips, but first i stretch the coil open. it doesn't leave as nice of a cut as a dremel and cut off disc, but it's way faster, leaves me with pre-opened rings, and 1 pair of snips has made 2 shirts and i don't know hoe many small pieces, so it's a lot cheaper than getting a new cut off wheel every couple hundred rings.

Rowen27 (author)armourkris2012-03-16

I know this goes back a ways but, in an old Stephen Biesty 'Cross-Sections Castle' book I had as a kid, it gave a fairly detailed description of how wedge riveted maille was made, along with diagrams of the tools used (For what was essentially a children's book, it was surprisingly comprehensive). I seem to recall that for labor saving purposes it described cutting the rings in a line the way seabea890 posited, and then performing the added step of passing them through a plate with a vaguely funnel shaped hole (similar to a draw plate) that created the overlap as they were constricted. This may be more trouble than necessary, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Great instructable!

armourkris (author)Rowen272012-03-18

I've seen pictures of similar setups, but in the end i just opted to notch my sidecutters so that i can just clip them with the overlap built in. Glad you like the instructable

bmelton1 (author)2011-11-12

I do not care how long this has been here. It is absolutely fantastic.

Aklash, The hunchback (author)2010-12-01

Could you make an instructable for wedge rivets? I checked and there don't seem to be any

About This Instructable




More by armourkris:Building a Turban Helm for all sorts of fightingA quick and dirty VoulgeHow to Blacken Armour
Add instructable to: