Introduction: Ye Olde Chain Maille Rings

Picture of Ye Olde Chain Maille Rings

There are many websites that will show you how to manufacture chain maille items, focusing on the different styles of 'weave' (how to combine metal rings together to make a protective and attractive garment) that you can use. Unfortunately, most of these guides assume that the reader already has a supply of suitable rings, and seldom guide the reader in creation of their own rings. While you can purchase pre-made rings from a number of places online, I wanted to make my own rings.

In this Instructable, I describe how to take steel wire for making electrical fences and turn it into split rings suitable for creating a chain maille garment.

While other instructables document weaving rings into garments, or how to construct a mandrel (winding rod and stand), the originality in this instructable is in the winding tool that allows for very reliable, high speed winding, that creates perfect coils of wire every time. (see step 3)

This project is also documented at my personal website.

Step 1: Problem Description

Picture of Problem Description

Our raw material is steel wire used for electric fences on farms and ranches. The wire that I found at the hardware store was made by a company called Oklahoma Steel & Wire. Since I purchased this wire probably five years ago at this point (around 2003), I think they have changed tag colors, as this is a 1/2 mile spool, not a 1/4 mile spool as the yellow tag would indicated (at least according to their website).

We need a way to make this wire into small, consistent rings. We're going to build a machine capable of winding this wire onto a metal rod to make a long coil of wire. We will then cut individual rings off of this coil.

Step 2: Winder Construction

Picture of Winder Construction

Using the materials we had sitting around in the garage, we used a piece of an old shelf for the base. Standard 2x4 pine studs were used for the rest of the construction.

We used a 3/8" steel rod as our primary winding rod. A couple of bends were added to one end to allow it to be used as a hand crank. Be sure that the crank part extends off the edge of your base, as you don't want to be bashing your knuckles into the base with every turn of the crank. Later on, we discovered that the power drill could fit the rod into the chuck, and we cut off the handle so that we could run the winder at high speeds without danger.

You'll need to drill a hole in each support for the winding rod. Try to get them aligned as best you can. The friction from the turning rod will wear on the wood a bit, and makes the bearing smoother the more you use it.

To get the wire firmly anchored to the winding rod, we decided to drill a hole straight through the winding rod for the wire to slip into. This allows us to make a very tightly wound coil of wire.

The basic idea is to crank the winding rod, and guide the wire onto the rod directly adjacent to the rest of the coil. Initially, we used hand-cranking, with hand guided wire. Eventually, we upgraded to using the power drill for winding, and created a pretty cool winding tool that will be explained in the next step.

The washers you see at the left are used to offset the coil from the support post. When winding, you will need to keep pressure on the winding rod so that the wire through the hole is pushing on the washers, which are then pushing on the support.

Step 3: Winding Tool Details

Picture of Winding Tool Details

A major problem with trying to wind too fast, such as with a power drill, is that it's very hard to guide the wire by hand. The difficulty comes from the fact that you're trying to keep the new wire right next to the existing wire coil, without getting gaps in the windings, or overlapping the already-wound coil. To facilitate high-speed wrapping, we created a tool that greatly reduces the error rate when winding at high speeds.

We started with a piece of 1" diameter brass barstock laying around the scrap pile. We first drilled a hole just slightly larger than 3/8". Remember that 3/8" is the diameter of our winding rod. The extra size is to allow the finished coil, which is slightly larger than the winding rod, to fit inside the winding tool. We also drilled a small hole perpendicular to the main hole, which is for the wire to feed into the tool from the spool.

See the attached images for a diagram of the two drill holes in the tool, and also a rotating 3D animation of the bar, to fully illustrate the construction. As shown in the bottom image of the diagram image, you feed the raw wire in from the top, which is then wound around the winding rod. The finished coil will grow out the side of the winder tool.

This winding tool solves the main hand-wrapping issues of gaps and overlapping quite nicely. It allows you to put solid pressure towards the washers and the completed coil, which eliminates gaps in the coil. Since the winding tool is tight around the finished coil, it's not possible for the wire to overlap the finished coil, as there is no room inside the winding tool.

Using this tool, we are able to easily wind a complete 12" coil with the electric drill in under a minute, without worrying about the quality of the finished coil.

Step 4: Usage

Picture of Usage

Having described the construction of the chainmaille winder, I will now describe how to use this tool and stand to create perfect coils of wire.

A quick note: These pictures were taken a few years after I stopped doing chainmaille very much, so my 3/8" winding rod had gone missing. I substituted with a smaller winding rod. Also, I couldn't find all of my washers, so I only have one washer in the pictures. Normally, you'll want to have a few more washers than pictured, although a single washer will work. Also, I couldn't find the brass winding tool anymore. The next few steps will describe how to wind wire coils without the winding tool.

First, start out by cutting a length of wire from the spool. Try to straighten the wire, as it will be all coiled up from the spool.

You can see in the pictures that I am wearing heavy leather work gloves. This is a really good idea, as fast-moving wire can cut your fingers, and the sharp ends of the cut wire will cut your skin if it rubs you the wrong way.

Feed the wire through the little hole, and leave some wire hanging out the other side, at least 1/2" worth. In this picture, I've left about 2" hanging out, but you don't need to leave quite that much.

Step 5: Usage With Winding Tool

Picture of Usage With Winding Tool

See the included image for a depiction of how to start winding with the brass winding tool. Basically, you need to insert the end of the wire through the small feed hole in the winder, and align it with the hole through the winding rod. Once you feel the wire slide through the winding rod's hole and hit the other side of the brass winding tool, you can start to turn the winding rod by hand, which will wind a small coil of wire. Once the coil has emerged from the side of the winding tool, feel free to attach the electric motor/drill and start your high-speed winding.

Step 6: Feed the Wire Onto the Shaft

Picture of Feed the Wire Onto the Shaft

While maintaining pressure to the left, towards the washer(s), have your friend slowly crank the winding rod while you feed the wire on the rod. In these pictures I'm not using the winding tool, in order to demonstrate the overall process.

Keep cranking and winding until you run out of wire, or you reach the right-most end of the winding rod.

Step 7: Free the Coil

Picture of Free the Coil

Once you have finished winding, you need to cut the coil off the winding rod. To do this, we used a diagonal cutters.

You want to cut the wire right where it enters the pilot hole in the winding rod.

Slide the winding rod to the right, and slide the coil off the end of the winding rod.

Step 8: Cutting Individual Rings

Picture of Cutting Individual Rings

Having made a big pile of coils, we now need to cut them into individual rings. I have heard of people using tiny jewelers' saws, but we don't have one of those, so we just use a diagonal cutter.

Step 9: Weaving Rings

Picture of Weaving Rings

Having produced a pile of freshly-cut rings, now is the time to weave them into a cool garment. The most difficult part of starting out is learning to recognize the pattern when you have very few rings woven together. There are other pages on the internet describing how to weave chainmaille, but I will put a brief description here as well.

I will be using a weave called "European 4-in-1". Check out or a great instructable about European 4-in-1 maille (chainmail) speedweaving.

The first thing to do is to open up one of the rings. I used a pair of linesman's pliers for this operation, as they have very nice and square jaws. Once you have opened the ring to have about a 1/4" gap, you're ready to continue on to the next step.

Step 10: Weaving Rings

Picture of Weaving Rings

Line up the finished chainmaille piece so the rings lie as flat as they can be. Take the open ring and weave it into the edge, being sure to match the existing pattern. Once in place, close the ring with the pliers.

Step 11: Finished Product

Picture of Finished Product

This is a large piece of chainmaille that could be used as part of a shirt (haubrek).


aelwero (author)2008-09-19

That brass winding tool is absolute Genius! I'm goin to the store today ;) I usually feed and crank by hand because i've been working 8GA steel tension wire lately (which a friend of mine is convinced would stop a bullet, but is VERY heavy. My wife had me knit her a purse and it ended up weighing about 15 pounds...) coil by hand and straight cut with an angle grinder. heavy duty stuff but it's really hard on your hands.

haloisbeast504 (author)2016-03-12

Hmm... That looks more like a sun chip

Good point. I honestly don't remember at this point.

AJMansfield (author)2013-11-13

Would be even better if you made the non-coiling half of the hole smaller, at only the diameter of the rod, not rod+wire. Add a large spring, interior ball threads, and a motor, and it could become completely automatic.

de0509 (author)2012-05-06

I like the idea. Just asking. Based on estimation, these shouls work excellently for slash attacks. But will these be strong enough to stop stabs from a knife? Not that Im gonna test them, just that, I want a functional armour and easily concealed so they can be worn in public. just to feel safer. I learnt martial arts and we do learn techniques to counter knife attacks but im not too agile until all attacks can be deflected. the armour is like an add on

cdando (author)2012-04-30

I've been doing this for a week and the plying is absolute murder on my hands. You need to have the forearms of a tiger to do this quickly. I'm just using a plier and I actually sweat just from that small motion lol. still, so worth it

zigzagchris (author)2010-02-19

how is c oat hangers as a wire?

Wow! Coat hanger wire would make for very thick rings and _very_ heavy chain maille. If you wanted to do it "my" way, by wrapping it around a metal rod and cutting rings off, you would need a strong metal rod and lots of torque to wrap the thick wire. If you try it out, please post pictures and let us know how it works. Good luck! uncle has been working on a knee length Hauberk made out of a 10ga (i think) copper wire for about 4 yeasr...i told him he was nuts!! just a 1'x1' section that i picked up weighed 10lb easy...the worst part is he hand coils and hand cuts ALL of his rings.

thepelton (author)matthewbeckler2010-02-27

The one thing I heard about using coat hanger wire is that not all coat hangers are the same color, so you end up with motley colored chain mail.

jeffconnelly (author)thepelton2010-05-28

 With a bit of time and sandpaper, you could get it down to the bare wire fairly quickly

thepelton (author)jeffconnelly2010-06-02

The way I made chain mail was to get 16g galvanized electrical fence wire, available in a livestock feed and tack store, and wrap it around a threaded rod, turned in a frame by a reversible electric drill.  It has a hole drilled through the rod near the end opposite the drill to secure the wire in place.  I feed it on in short, slow spurts.  You end up losing about an inch (2.54cm) this way, but it is securely attached to the threaded rod, which is much less capable of breaking than would be a dowel.

zigzagchris (author)thepelton2010-02-28

ya and not the same guage. the first wire i tried broke the dowel and the second i used was softer but still dificult

I managed haha. i used a dowel in my room and and swissarmy knife to make a hole in it. spun it into circles fairly well. cutting it with the wier cutters was the hardest part. verry tough becuase i had to use the tips of the cutters as to not cut more then one wire. i managed 15 links with one closehanger. I did the 4-1 pattern succesfully using needle noses and a swiss knife. I would have made more but my parents aren't fond of disapearing coat hangers.

Id post a picture of my work but my phone hasn't been returned from my sibling yet. mabee later

zigzagchris (author)zigzagchris2010-02-20

one coat hanger worth...

I often use coat hanger, the trick is to make larger rings than you otherwise would because that way the rings don't fit too tightly

corey11 (author)zigzagchris2010-08-14

I've used the thinnest coat hanger I could find. I used a propane torch and heated it red hot inch by inch to anneal the steel, then it was way easier to work with. You can do it, just like the author said, it would make for very heavy chain maille.

arlon17 (author)2010-10-25

what is the most effective device to cut a door spring?

sokamiwohali (author)arlon172012-03-03

i agree wit Lord_Merlin, EXCEPT if you want to work with door springs, you would be wasting your time. because of the springyness of the metal, it would be very difficult to get the rings to close properly...especially if you were working on a large the time you got done messin with cutting and closing the rings while weaving, you could easilly done at least 2x that by making your own maille. good idea non the less!!

Lord_Merlin (author)arlon172010-10-27

A door spring is pretty hard stuff and therefore difficult to cut. Probably your best bet would be a pair of mini bolt cutters such as the ones made by Knipex. You could also use a Dremel (or similar rotary tool) with a cut off wheel. The cut off wheel would be pretty time consuming and you would probably go through a lot of them to get enough rings to do anything. There are several good tutorials on cutting coils at you can check out for more info.

sokamiwohali (author)2011-11-27

ok, for all you who think that "bulletmaille" will stop a bullet...just one wont. ive made it before and shot at it with a 7.62mm and it cut through it like butter...also, this stuff is credited to the Celts originating from the idea of Scale Mail and chain mail comes from europe then spread to northern africa, middle east, asia, and india. For all of your information...the mail in THIS instructable would NOT hold up against a knife, sword, nor arrow (really none would up against an arrow). i made chain mail out of 16GA aluminum electrical wire fence, and then stabbed my hand with a butcher knife and my hand survived...i then proceded to chop my hand in half and my hand survived...@ being 16GA chain mail is classified decorative and not for use as a means of defense or re-enactment in any way, especially if its aluminum. Riveted chain mail did not spring to life until the 19th & 20th centuries, and because they used it as a "bullet proof vest...didnt work well, but worked somewhat against 3oz fragmentation.

eddiecroft (author)sokamiwohali2012-03-03

who ever said a high powered rifle they could just mean a .22 a 7.62 is a little over kill for a maille a good piece can possibly stop a bullet .223 probably not 9mm possible unlikely but possible

DarkestDreams (author)2011-07-11

This great. This will defantly help me make the chainmail for my Monster Hunter Rathain Heart armor cosplay.

bluestone52 (author)2010-08-29

i decided to try this: very tightly woven 12 gauge will easily stop a small caliber bullet

ill get my .22 s&w and we can try it out you where it LOL

Mr. Thirty6 (author)2010-11-17

LOL... I have that brand of wire.

w00ty32 (author)2010-05-20

Nice 'ible, but the chainmail itself looks bad. You really need to make rings that big with a thicker wire, or use a smaller rod.

golddigger1559 (author)2009-03-13

I'm new to weaving and I was wondering where I can get the wire I need and what kind of wire because I'm not really comfortable using pasture wire for paintball armer

daltonjcw (author)golddigger15592009-04-14

whoa, you can do that?

thepelton (author)daltonjcw2010-03-01

Yes, you can if you have the blacksmithing tools for working with sheet metal.

thoraxe (author)golddigger15592009-06-02

lol paintball armor? why not just hammer out a pieces of sheet metal and connect them with rings, chain mail isnt gonna do you much good

Vfef (author)golddigger15592009-03-14

Its a good place to get wire, Galvanized steel or Stainless are good choices

only problem for me is that they are in Canada and makes shipping like 20 bucks for 3 day and 14-17 for 5-7 day. Also means I cant get a job there XD

Shipping Depends on what you buy >.>

Tommyhzy (author)Vfef2009-03-14

Yay I live in Canada The shipping to my house is still 12.00 for 12 pounds though...

skimmo (author)2010-02-28

you use to bull nose pliers, ive always need at least no needle nose?

thepelton (author)2010-02-26

This is similar to the way that I was making chain mail.  The one problem that you can have with it is that you have to run the motor in short, slow spurts, not at high for any amount of time, or you run the risk of having your wire overlap itself. 

matthewbeckler (author)thepelton2010-02-27

That "overlapping" problem is the main reason we designed and built the winding tool. It's a little too tight inside the tool to allow the wire to overlap itself, and let us make high-quality (dare I say perfect?) coils at very high speeds. Good luck!

thepelton (author)matthewbeckler2010-02-27

I was winding it onto threaded stock, which kept it spaced well as long as I did it in short slow spurts, and as long as I stayed attentive.

JermsG (author)2010-02-25

Nice instructable. I particularly like the winding tool - wish I'd thought of that before I sliced the tip of my finger open, the first time I tried using a variable-speed drill to coil. Can still see the scar.

My two cents: "Bullets were the main reason that men first went from chainmail to platemail" - I understand plate doesn't stop a bullet either, so I think one of us is wrong.

Also, stiletto-type blades were invented specifically to get through chainmail. There's a particular name for these type of "link-breaking" blades, but I forget what. Maybe it's "link-breakers".

thepelton (author)JermsG2010-02-26

Perhaps the first platemail could deflect the first bullets, long before the gunsmiths knew much about ballistics.  Another possibility is that they were a little too overconfident, which has happened more times than anyone could imagine.

Ghalko (author)2010-02-05

This is awesome. Partly why I stopped doing chain-maille is that it is so tough to get a consistent spring. Now to get my brother to machine something like this... Even if I just use it for hand-powered it will be that much better.

Oorspronklikheid (author)2010-01-27

so you are saying that not even two layers of maille made by 2 cm thick iron rings will stop bullets , there is absolutely no limit to how thick the material can be of which the ring are made. yeah i know most chain mailes will not stop a bullet bue that does not in any way mean that one person with access to the right tools can't make bullet proof maille

red-king (author)2009-10-22

 how would you know? did anyone try it? i think we should test it on you for using caps in inappropriate places. =P

MaggieTCat (author)2009-09-10

If you open the rings by turning one edge up and the other down, you'll preserve the shape of the ring and it will be easier to weave and close. This is a trick that all jewelry makers know, since it is difficult to maintain that lovely round shape if you just pull the edges apart. =.=

An Villain (author)MaggieTCat2009-09-13

lots of people know that, but nice of you to tell him.

An Villain (author)2009-09-13

cool looking coils.

thepelton (author)2009-02-12

Bullets were the main reason that men first went from chainmail to platemail, then went to hiding behind rocks and trees until the gunfire stopped before proceeding on. It also will not stop a long thin stabbing instrument like a stilletto or an icepick. R1Ch0 has a point, however. Bullet proof vests make you look like a guy being dragged to court for murder these days.

thoraxe (author)thepelton2009-06-02

this chainmail would also not stop a powerful arrow of sword stab, the rings would just open up. that's why riveted chain mail was invented

An Villain (author)thoraxe2009-09-13

actually, maces were invented to crush chainmaille, swords were ineffectve against modern day chainmaille.

Jim C Diver (author)thoraxe2009-06-28

Butted mail was virtually non-existent in Europe precisely because it was almost useless as armor. It wonl't even stop a decent hacking cut or a good draw cut with a sharp sword. Mail was ether round, wdge riveted or welded iron (not steel). It was highly effective with proper padding under it against stabs and arrows simply because the rings just didn't open up. You had to break the rings to get though the stuff. There are dozens of historical references of this as well as a number of modern tests. Riveted mail wasn't impervious but it damn good, evidenced by its span of life on the field of war. Transitional plate armours started to showed up almost exactly as more industrialization happened with water powered trip hammers (12th century) and steal plate becoming readily available and cheaper. Coincide this with a plague (14th century) whipping out most of your cheap labor. Suddenly plate was available in quantity and cheaper to make than mail. Guns actually made plate armour more valuable with some examples of thick steal chest plates being used into WW1. Even today a modern combat armour has steel and ceramic plates in it.

thepelton (author)thoraxe2009-06-03

Nor can they stop a stilleto. They work the best against slashing attacks or axes.

About This Instructable




Bio: If you need to get in touch, please email me instead of sending an instructables message. matthew dot beckler at gmail dot com
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