Chainmaille

Yes, I make Chainmaille. I learned how in college in 1985, and have been tinkering with it ever since. Recently, I joined M.A.I.L. and learned how to make bracelets and chains and whatnot.

Weaving chainmaille is amazingly time consuming. The coif below took me a week! The time is not lost, however, as weaving chainmaille is very relaxing - almost mesmerizing. You get into the rhythm of it and just let your mind wander. Next thing you know, you've got blisters.

Anyone who rides motorbikes should seriously consider a chainmaille shirt for protection from road rash. The time you spend making one will probably not be more than the time you'd spend in the hospital growing new skin, and it doesn't hurt anywhere near as much.

Here are a few of my creations.


A Coif for my Son

Ain't he handsome? He's probably thinking "I'm gonna kill you in your sleep, Dad." He hates the coif because it's cold and it pulls his hair, two problems that are both addressed by an arming cap - basically a cloth liner. By the time I make him one, he'll have outgrown it. You can't really tell in this picture, but the face opening is trimmed with a row of brass rings.


Sir Billsalot, Brave Knight of the Picnictable

You can see the brass trim a lot better here, and also the longer "chin" to cover the throat, added in preparation for expanding the bottom out into a mantle. I'm trying to convince him to wear it to work.


1/4" Euro 6-in-1 Belt

I wore this for a while, but the buckle never worked right, so I turned it into a pair of suspenders. Yes, chainmaille suspenders! Is that cool or what? Okay, maybe it isn't. I'll take a picture when I get the chance.


1/8" Euro 4-in-1 Roundmaille Bracelet with Bias

This is a nice little bracelet, very tightly woven. It looks really nice on my daughter. Roundmaille is a tube, made by weaving together the edges of a strip of chainmaille. In this case I offset the edges by a row or two to produce a spiral effect.


1/4" Full Persian 6-in-1 Bracelet

I love Full Persian. It has nothing to do with the Persians, however, being a fairly recent invention.


Closeup of 1/4" Full Persian 6-in-1


Closeup of 1/8" Byzantine Pocket Watch Chain

Like Persian, Byzantine has nothing to do with Byzantium, having been invented maybe a century ago. It's a nice weave, however. I've made a chain for my pocket watch, and a longer strap for my digital camera, from Byzantine.


Making a Worm on the Lathe

I make all my own rings. I wind them around a mandrel (rod) on the lathe, to form a long coil, or "worm". (This is the same process as making a spring.) Then I cut the coils into individual rings using a pair of wire cutters. It takes forever.

I get lots of grief about this picture - "That's dangerous! Don't do that! You'll rip your arm off!" It's not as dangerous as it looks. I wind very slowly, around 300 rpm (often slower), and the lathe isn't so powerful that it would not stop if I got tangled up. (It's barely up to winding the wire, let alone my hand.)


Stereogram of Lathe

I mostly use 20 gauge galvanized wire. In use, it takes on a brilliant shine, but if you leave it for a while it turns grey. I've experimented with stainless wire, but it's pretty tough stuff, and I'm looking for a better way to cut the rings. I've also used brass, which is nice, and I'd like to try silver or gold plated wire.

Right now I'm looking for a way to cut the rings from the worm by machine - I've played with a slitting saw, but the kerf (0.020") of the saws I've tried is too large a portion (16%) of the diameter (0.125") of the ring. Not to mention that the saw tends to grab the rings and instantly convert a worm into a psychedelic wire doodle. Jeweller's saws work nicely down to 0.006", but they're slow and won't work on harder wire. I wonder if wire EDM would work (down to 0.004")?

Aspect Ratios

Aspect Ratio, or AR, is a measure of how "fat" a ring is for it's diameter. Mathematically, it is the ratio of wire diameter to ring inner diameter.

Different weaves work better with different ARs, and I've compiled here a short table of ARs that work for various weaves. I did this by coiling three kinds of wire around five different mandrels and computed the AR for each type of ring.

16g (0.0641") 18g (0.0471") 20g (0.0357")
1/8" 1.95 2.65 3.50
5/32" 2.43 3.32 4.37
3/16" 2.92 3.98 5.25
7/32" 3.41 4.64 6.12
1/4" 3.90 5.31 7.00

Note that the 16g wire is brass, which for reasons entirely beyond the ken of man uses a different gauge system (swg) than steel wire (awg). To avoid confusion, I've included the actual diameter of the wire, as determined by my micrometer.

Of these fifteen ARs, I tested thirteen by weaving (or at least trying to weave) a small bit of each of my three favorite jewelry weaves and recording how well they came out. The two untested ARs were very close to some that were.

Jens Pind Persian Byzantine
1.95 Too tight Too tight Too tight
2.43 Too tight Too tight Too tight
2.65 Tight Too tight Too tight
2.92 Very nice! Too tight Too tight
3.32 Loose Too tight Barely too tight
3.41 Too loose Too tight Loose
3.50 Too loose Too tight Loose
3.98 Too loose Too tight Loose
4.37 Too loose Too tight Too loose
4.64 Too loose Barely too tight Too loose
5.25 Too loose Very nice! Too loose
6.12 Too loose Loose Too loose
7.00 Too loose Too loose Too loose

References

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© 2003 W. E. Johns