Last updated on August 10th, 2015
Who here hasn’t at some point in their life had the desire to walk around with some sort of armor and slay dragons, demons or puppies* or something? Well, since the article title has “chainmail” as the lead word I’m assuming all of you. Unless you’re a Patricia Pulling disciple here to connect this to D&D and Satanism that is. Back on track here Skare, back on track….
So anyway, armor is badass right? But it’s also expensive as all get out and we have more important things to spend our money on (like fast food and booze to fuel our armored escapades). A long time ago (anyone thinking a Patricia Pulling reference is still a contemporary joke has to be old) a friend of mine told me the secrets of making chainmail. He showed me the steps from making the links to weaving, etc. In all, I believe I learned two weave types from him that are classically used to make chainmail. Ultimately I said “nuts to that” and came up with my own weave type, promptly forgetting the ones I was taught. So the Skarekrow13 way can also be called the “wrong” way, but also the “extremely useful for many circumstances” way. Let’s begin shall we?
First off, a disclaimer is absolutely warranted. While the materials you will need are exceedingly inexpensive to obtain, the investment is more than you can imagine, I promise you. The time and effort to do even a small piece is astronomical and anyone thinking they’re going to jump right into a chain shirt after this article will quickly gain a check from reality.
What you will need:
- Fencing wire. A lot of it. Like this electric fence wire for cattle. A 1/4 mile is plenty to get started. If you’re looking for just a taste you can get a smaller amount
- Wire cutters, such as these
- One aluminum arrow shaft. The longer the better. Make sure not to add a broadhead tip to it (or any tip for that matter). You can get one online but it’s likely a much better deal for you locally
- Pliers, needle nose preferably and you might actually want two.
- A large container such as a coffee can, large bowl, etc. You should have something around the house I assume
That’s it. We’ll cover some other possible items to have on hand later but that’s all that’s necessary to get started.
What you’ll need for this phase is the spool of wire, the arrow, the wire cutters and your large container. One optional thing you can buy is aluminum wire to replace the steel. Your final product will be far less “battle ready” but you’ll see very quickly from this point on why you might make the change anyway. Speaking of aluminum, do not substitute the aluminum arrow for a wood one or a dowel rod of similar size. As you repeat the steps below, it can damage the wood and alter the quality of your final piece drastically.
1. Start by coiling the wire in VERY TIGHT spirals around the arrow. How tight exactly? Try to get zero gap between passes of the wire (you won’t but try anyway). The final result will look like a spring with little to no space between the wire if done right. Now, if you happen to leave a big gap on accident…don’t panic, don’t stop. Just remember it for later. Coil the wire around as much of the arrow shaft as you can while maintaining quality coils. Usually this will mean everything but the feathers (even if removed) and maybe a half inch at the other end where it gets tougher to wrap the wire.
2. Clip the wire from the spool and carefully remove it from the arrow shaft. It should come off easy but if you pull and stretch the coil it will be problematic later. If you used a wood shaft here you might cause grooves in the wood meaning you have to use force to remove the coil and will almost certainly stretch it. Shop smart. Shop “S” Mart! and buy an aluminum arrow shaft. The picture below shows a coil with good and bad results. The part in red will lead to inconsistent rings and possible problems. The blue section, you may have noted, does have gaps on the back end. That’s normal as the coil will often twist a little like a spring as it’s removed. Another disclaimer here. I made the coil and rings larger than normal for the demonstration pictures to be more “photogenic.”
3. Using the wire cutters, cut down the coil, one piece of wire at a time along as straight of a line as you can. You will notice at this point that every time you cut, you are left with one near perfect circular ring with a small gap just waiting to be joined to other near perfect circular rings. Your brain might start pumping chemicals of joy around in anticipation of doing so as your mind now sees where this is heading. Use those chemicals to work fast as this step is going to start dragging. By the time you finish the first coil of rings you might notice blisters start to form on your hand. Unless you use your hands a lot with similar tools you will almost certainly blister if you persist. And persist you must since I personally wouldn’t start linking the rings unless I had 1,000 or better rings made. That’s what the large container is for. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have many, many rings. Buying a durable and quality set of cutters will be nice for this step as cutting through galvanized steel 1,000 times or more is a chore. And that’s the “get started” amount of rings. You will likely not finish many projects with this small amount. Also make sure you buy the “side cutter” version of wire cutters as only the tip of them can be used (since one side must be inside the ring). Remember how I said you should make a note if you left a gap while coiling the wire? Here’s where you bring that back up. If you did leave a gap it means that there will be several rings (two at the least) affected by that error and have to be thrown away. Here’s a nice picture of some rings.
Making the weave:
Here’s where you may decide, “Hell with you, I’ve already learned enough here” and move on to learn from someone else. I’ve forgotten the weaves I was taught and only recall my personal one which increases the work load. Now, if you want EFFECTIVE armor that still looks neat this is actually an improvement on the styles I was taught. If you want it to be more decorative, faster to make and lighter, I suggest you do look up someone else’s weave. Why is that? Well I noticed from the samples of other styles that they were vulnerable to piercing attacks as is historically well known about chain mail. I altered the style to account for this which means that the Skarekrow13 way of chainmail is a tighter weave which in turn means that it will take a lot more rings to make and the final piece will be a lot heavier. I’ll let you know if it’s worth it through some anecdotal evidence later. Using aluminum wire will make it lighter as well (and adds a different, more mithril like luster) but we’ll both know it’s not battle ready armor.
1. Pick your piece. You need to have a goal in mind which will lead to a pattern. If you want a large piece (shirt or hood) I recommend getting clothes that fit you that represent what you want and just making the weave on that article of clothing. However, you’re actually crazy if you pick that as a first project so let’s mirror what I did. My particular brand of combat relies on speed and maneuverability so I would be unlikely to wear a large piece anyway. My personal armor is intended to replace a shield and as such, I made two pieces, both fitted for my left arm (pictured at top).
2. Before you weave metal, let’s do some prep:
A. Choose the spot you want to protect (back of hand is a great place to start).
B. Cut cloth (denim is great for durability and comfort) so that it fits the area to be protected
C. Sew or otherwise add straps to ensure that it will fit, and fit TIGHTLY over the area. Notice the different straps on my hand piece. Make sure the straps are strong as you will be adding a lot of weight to the cloth and you’ll want it to survive an impact if necessary (hopefully it won’t be necessary). The hand piece has straps around the wrist, palm near the fingers and a loop around the fingers. It’s not going anywhere. The arm piece has two straps. The wrist strap has a button that is very difficult to use. Again, very tight. The bamboo ensures that the cloth/chain doesn’t slide down the arm.
3. Now we’re ready to start the metal weave. If you did a hand piece it will roughly be a rectangle. First off, make simple chains of interlocking rings. Use your pliers to close the circles as you go. Now you know why it’s called “chain”mail. You start with chains. If the dimension you’re looking to fit the chain onto is three inches, make the chain about five inches. As you bind the chains together they will constrict. If you’re unsure about this, always go longer than you think you need as it’s a lot easier to remove rings than add new sections when you’re first learning (although I’ll teach you to make it longer in just a minute). Make enough chains to again exceed the other dimension you’re looking at. For the math minded, if the piece is 3×4 make enough chains to LOOK like it will cover 5×7. Chains should essentially be laying right next to each other while you estimate to make sure you make enough.
See, below where I have three chains of four links set up. You can use this for reference as we go along. Blue numbers denote the chain number and red are the link numbers.
4. It’s time to start linking the chains. Take your first two lengths of chain and interlock one ring into the top TWO of each chain (ring 1 and ring 2 of chains 1 and 2). It should look something like this:
5. Now that the ever crucial first bind is done it’s time to make it difficult. We’re still going to stick with chains 1 and 2 but this time you will interlock it with rings 2 and 3 of both chains AND the ring you just used to bind in the last step. After this, you guessed it, interlock another ring with rings 3 and 4 of chains 1 and 2 AND the ring that started this step. You’ll likely notice it’s already starting to bind up some. Keep repeating this pattern and keep an eye on the length compared to your final piece. If it’s getting too short from constriction then, prior to adding the last ring between chains 1 and 2, make those chains longer. Count the number of rings you added to these chains and add the same amount to EVERY chain you’ve already prepped. Here’s a pic after the second binding ring has been added.
6. Once you’re done binding chains 1 and 2 you will repeat the process with chains 2 and 3. At this point you will question your sanity as, having just constricted chain 2, the difficulty of linking rings steps up several notches. Repeat this until you have enough mail to cover the intended cloth piece. For illustration purposes I added a binding ring between chains 2 and 3 (rings 1 and 2 on each chain). Compare it to the chains reference picture and you might see what I mean about the metal weave constricting.
7. Sew the mail onto the cloth. Edges for sure but I would also add some thread in the middle to hold the chain still from moving. I know what you’re thinking, what if the thread gets cut? First off, use upholstery thread or dental floss (please no cinnamon or mint, that just cheapens the experience) as they’re a lot stronger. Next thing to note is that any hit that damages thread will also be damaging you or the mail since it has to go through the metal or around it to cut the thread. Ouch! And if you wondered earlier about the bamboo on the arm piece breaking, it’s outside the zone of the mail meaning a hit that breaks the bamboo is breaking more than that. Take the hit ON the armor whenever possible.
And now for the question you’ve been dying to ask…
How effective is the Skarekrow13 weave?
Here are my two pieces custom fit for me and very battle ready. Chain mail is often thought to be vulnerable to piercing and crushing attacks. The added tightness of this weave prevents piercing from all but massive weapons (picks for example). How do I know this? I tried stabbing through it with a large knife. Nothing except for a couple minor repairs. A few rings needed to be closed again you can see a couple areas in the picture where it’s bunched a little more. Then I put the armor on my arm and repeated the test several times with a lot of force. I can safely say that the knife walked away the loser; dulled and defeated. My arm was fine. Not even a bruise. So the tighter weave is also more effective at displacing force and preventing crush damage. I would not test it against an ax or any club larger than a small baton willingly (although I’d rather take the hit WITH the armor on if I had to) but unless you’re expecting a medieval armory to come at you, most modern melee weapons have no chance against this. That’s of course in addition to the more than adequate defense against slashing attacks already attributed to chain armor. It’s not as pretty and it’s a lot heavier but this **** works. Now another disclaimer, despite the battle readiness of this, I’m not actually advocating you use it to get in fights. It’s just cool to know it works.
Okay I lied
I do remember alternate weaves. Recall the chain/ring designations we did earlier. I’ll throw two other weaves at you. They’re very similar and still considered to be actual armor. They’ll offer less protection than what we already learned but they’ll be easier to weave and a lot lighter.
1. For chains 1 and 2 you start with rings 1 and 2 on each exactly like you did before. However, instead of then using rings 2 and 3 (and the first binding ring) you will instead move on to rings 3 and 4 (and avoid interlocking with the first binding ring). This constricts the chains much less and leads to a lighter weave. Now, when you get to chains 2 and 3, repeat the process with rings 1 and 2 followed by rings 3 and 4, etc. The pictures below show chains 1 and 2 with two binding rings followed by the same picture but with a binding ring added between chains 2 and 3.
2. This method starts off the same as the above one. Bind chains 1 and 2 exactly the same way. However, when binding chains 2 and 3, interlock rings 2 and 3 first (you will not bind ring 1 at all between these two chains). When binding chains 3 and 4, you again will start with rings 1 and 2. Chains 4 and 5 will start with rings 2 and 3 and so on. The picture here shows chains 1 and 2 bound just like the method directly above with the difference being the binding ring placement between chains 2 and 3. It looks funny here due to the gap up top between chains 2 and 3 but would look normal when done over a much larger piece.
Enjoy! Once your blisters heal that is…
*Skarekrow13 and all related affiliates do not condone the wanton killing of puppies in the name of fantasy cosplay. No puppies were harmed in the making of this article and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, adding puppies to the list was a joke and no one should harm puppies. Puppies, puppies, puppies.