Interested in historically accurate chainmail for costuming or display? You may have found that a single chainmail shirt can run up in the range of $1000!
Now you can make your own chainmail out of pvc pipe for only a few dollars, just like they did in movies such as Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean!
Step 1: What You Will Need
1. Several feet of PVC plastic tubing, about 1/2 inch in diameter. The kind I got only costs about $1 for 5 feet
Tip: Using pipe with a low pressure rating will make it easier to manipulate.
2. A band saw, jig saw, scroll saw, or PVC cutters. I am using a scroll saw because it is what I have on hand.
3. Tin snips or a table saw.
4. C clamp and block
5. Nimble fingers
Step 2: Cutting the Pipe
First cut your pipe into manigable pieces, about a foot. The shorter the piece, the easier it is to handle, however the more waste that will be produced. I've found once I have about 2 inches left I cannot cut any further without risking cutting myself (which would seriously slow down this process!).
Now, if you have a table saw, set the blade very low and cut all the way down one side of the pipe. If you are using the tin snips, we will do this later.
Now you are ready. Using a few test cuts, find the thickness that you want for all of your rings. Mine are about 3 milimeters. Use your C clamp and block to ensure that they are all the desired size.
Now start cutting! Including mistakes, I've found that you get just over 100 rings per foot. This takes about 5 minutes.
If you have PVC cutters, just cut the rings one by one. This probably takes a lot longer, but I haven't tried it so I can't tell you from experience.
Step 3: Finishing
Now you will probably have many rings that all have little "fuzzies" on them, little bits of PVC that don't come off in the cutting process. Simply take a handful of rings in both hands and rub them together vigorously. This will get them off of the outside. For inside the ring, push your finger through and brush them off.
If this hurts your finger or is just annoying, try gluing sandpaper to a dowel that fits inside the rings and using that as you would your finger.
Using pvc cutters may not create the "fuzzies" in the first place, but I haven't tried that yet, and that seems like a lot more work.
EDIT: meburnfire says "Don't use PVC cutters on this.... 30 minutes yeilded 50 rings and a extremely sore hand. After a few hours, your hand will bleed :D" That's pretty much what I was expecting, but if anyone has had good luck with them, let us know.
Now if you haven't used the table saw to get this shape, use the tin snips to cut one side now. This doesn't take nearly as long as you would think.
Step 4: Weaving the Mail and Finishing.
I used a standard European 4 in 1 mail pattern for this sheet. It is called this because each ring has four other rings looping through it.
Start by putting two rings into one as shown. Then add another between them, overlapping onto the first one. Then put two in that ring overlapping the first two, and continue that pattern until you get a chain, probably about a foot long. Then add more rows going down until you have whatever size sheet you want.
Congradulations, you've made PVC chainmail!
Now with this skill, you can make whatever you want. Shirts, Coifs, I've even seen patterns for coasters and penguins!
When you are done with what you are making, you can spray paint with plastic bonding paint. It's a little more expensive, but won't scratch off like normal paint.
Step 5: Tips
Here are some helpful tips that aren't neccessary, but might help the process go smoothly.
Take breaks every few minutes while cutting. Its never happened to me, but I have heard saws can overheat when cutting plastic for too long, which can damage the saw and possibly make it break. Better safe than sorry.
You can try putting the rings in an old pillow case or burlap sack (sealed) in the dryer on air only cycle for ten minutes or so. I've found certain types of tubing works for this, but with others the "fuzzies" harden and this process does almost nothing.
Try buying PVC with a low pressure rating. It makes it easier to work with.
You can glue the rings together with super glue and a quick drying formula to make it stronger, but it takes longer, and I haven't found it necessary.
Don't paint until you are done with your project, and then use a paint like Krylon Fusion, which is specifically designed to bond to plastic. Spray a coat, shake it to get the areas that were covered, and spray again.
EDIT: I no longer work with chainmail. I never really made anything out of this, but I still think its a worthwhile project, so I will leave it up for those of you who have a better work ethic than me.