Ye Olde Chain Maille Rings




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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    84 Discussions


    10 years ago on Step 4

    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.


    5 years ago on Step 3

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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


    7 years ago on Step 8

    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

    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.

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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!!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.