MAIL Header Image M.A.I.L. (Maille Artisans International League) is an international community of artisans and volunteers dedicated to the advancement of the chainmaille artform. We aim to encourage the sharing and spreading of information, archiving as many techniques and weaves as possible.


Frequently Asked Questions
(About Maille)

A work in progress...

Contents

1   Basics

1.1   What is maille?
1.2   How do you make maille?
1.3   Is maille bullet-proof?
1.4   What should I make first?
1.5   Should I buy rings pre-made, or make them myself?
1.6   What will I need to get started?
1.7   Is it 'chainmail', 'mail', 'maille', 'chainmaille', 'chain mail' or what?

2   Terminology

2.1   What do all these terms mean?
2.2   What's this "Aspect Ratio" (aka A.R.) that I keep hearing about?
2.3   What do "Temper" and "Tempering" mean?
2.4   What is "Speed Weaving"?
2.5   What do AWG and SWG mean?
2.6   What is a "weave"?

3   Tools

3.1   What pliers should I get?
3.2   What do I use to cut rings/coils?

4   Techniques

4.1   What's the difference between hand-winding (coiling) and power-winding?
4.2   What is an inlay, and how do I make one?
4.3   How do I clean or polish aluminum, steel, silver, or any metal of interest?
4.4   Where can I find tutorials for weave X?
4.5   What rings size should I use for weave X?

5   Supplies

5.1   Where do I buy wire?
5.2   Where do I buy rings?
5.3   How much is all this going to cost me?
5.4   What are the most common types of metals used?

6   Academic Stuff

6.1   Where and when did maille come from?
6.2   What's rivetted maille?
6.3   How does temper affect my mailling?

7   Using Maille

7.1   I want to sell my maille. What price should I charge?
7.2   Is this stuff just for costumes, or is anyone really wearing maille as armor today?
7.3   How do I go about marketing my chainmaille products?

8   Making Armor/Clothing

8.1   How many rings will I need for a shirt (or coif, or...)?
8.2   How do I size/tailor my shirt?
8.3   Which way are the European weaves supposed to hang in a piece of armor?

9   Safety

9.1   What are the basic rules for mailling safety?
9.2   Is galvanized steel really dangerous?

20   About M.A.I.L.

20.1   Is it possible to become an admin or moderator, and if so, how?
20.2   Can I edit or remove the items I've submitted to M.A.I.L.?
20.3   Where can I find more information on the Maille Artisans' International League?
20.4   Can I reproduce an article or graphic I found on M.A.I.L.?


1   Basics

1.1   What is maille?

Maille, also known as chain mail, chainmail, chainmaille, mayle, or just plain mail, is a flexible material composed of small interlocking metal rings or loops of chain. It was historically used to make body armor, but is commonly seen today in jewelry, sculpture, and fashions, as well.

1.2   How do you make maille?

There are innumerable techniques for making maille, but the basic process usually starts something like this:
  1. Make Rings - Usually by wrapping wire tightly around a rod (called a mandrel), and then cutting the coil produced into individual rings.
  2. Weave Rings - Using (usually) two pair of pliers, one twists each ring open enough to pass it through one or more others, then twists it closed after it is linked.
Here at M.A.I.L. we have a large library of weave sample images, and an extensive list of tutorials on how to make many of them.

1.3   Is maille bullet-proof?

NO! No, No, No, No! Please don't get yourself killed!!!

Every recorded instance of maille worn into battle against comparatively modern weapons has left the wearers in significantly worse shape then they would have been in with no armor at all. Links get sprung open and dragged through the wound behind the bullet. Then you die.

There are always stories in the mailling world about some new bullet-proof maille idea or "some guy who demonstrated his bullet-proof maille by shooting a 45 at it". These stories are either a) made up fantasies, b) outright lies, or c) exaggerations based on badly performed tests using tiny patches of maille made from rings and patterns that would be wholly impractical to use in a real piece of armor, unless you can move about easily wearing 150 pounds (70Kg) of metal.

Once again, maille is NOT BULLET PROOF!

1.4   What should I make first?

Start small. Try to learn the basic weaves, like European 4-1, byzantine, box chain, spiral and also some of the japanese weaves; these weaves will be useful in making bracelets, necklaces, and hand flowers, which are all short projects. Once you know these things, learn how to expand euro 4-1 by making a hackey sack, a pouch, or a coif. Then you might try constructing a shirt. It is important to start small for two reasons. First, you will finish something quickly (shirts take a long time), and that helps build confidence. Second, your closures and other mailling skills will improve with time, and starting on a shirt may give you a shirt with a lot of mistakes.

1.5   Should I buy rings pre-made, or make them myself?

Making rings yourself is cheaper, but time consuming. Starting out, coiling and cutting rings can add as much as 2 seconds per ring to your final product (which can add up if you are making a 10,000 ring piece). If you buy pre-made rings, the process is faster(no coiling and cutting), but more expensive, with middle-men and shipping. Let your wallet and your free time be your guides...

1.6   What will I need to get started?

At the absolute minimum, you will need rings (made or purchased) and two pair of pliers (perhaps one, if you use really soft metal). If you make your rings, you will need wire, a pair of wire cutters, a mandrel (ie. a metal rod around which to wrap wire into coils), and at least one glove, to protect your hand while winding.

1.7   Is it 'chainmail', 'mail', 'maille', 'chainmaille', 'chain mail' or what?

Technically, most scholarly sources agree that in the English language, it should be 'mail'. 'Maille' is the French spelling, but it is also probably more commonly used, even among English speakers, as a way to differentiate it from the postal mail.

'Chainmail' and all its variants are actually based on misunderstandings caused by Victorian age scholars who took some liberties with the language to romanticize it. By definition, 'mail' means 'armor made of chain', so 'chainmail', 'chain mail', 'chainmaille', and suchlike are pointless redundancies. However, most maillers are forced to use the term 'chainmail' when explaining the art to the uninitiated, since it has become ingrained in popular culture. Many have begun to use 'chainmaille', so as to differentiate it from chain letters, which in recent years have often been mislabeled as chainmail on the internet.

A small minority of maillers are considering the use of 'mayle', which is how the very first references to it in early modern English were spelled. Theoretically, this unusual spelling would help to differentiate the term, while still using a correct English word.

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2   Terminology

2.1   What do all these terms mean?

The words used to describe maille today are often quite technical. M.A.I.L. has an extensive glossary to help you along, and several articles on the subject for beginners, as well (Hint: Look in the "Beginners" category).

2.2   What's this "Aspect Ratio" (aka A.R.) that I keep hearing about?

Aspect Ratio is the mathematical ratio between the inner diameter of a ring (i.d.) and the diameter of the wire from which it is made. Often referred to as 'a.r.' or 'AR'.

Formula:
AR = Ring Inner Diameter/Wire Diameter.

Aspect Ratio is used to maintain a constant "look and feel" for a maille weave regardless of the actual size of the rings being used. A weave composed of rings made from 20AWG wire at 1/8 inch inner diameter will look and work the same way as the same weave made from 16 SWG wire at 1/4 inch, because the AR's of the two ring sizes are both roughly the same (4).

All weaves have a minumum AR below which the rings are too tight to make them. Some weaves have an AR above which they will not work.

M.A.I.L. has many articles and charts that go into more detail on this topic. (Hint: Look in the "Ring Sizes" section of the "Construction" category).

2.3   What do "Temper" and "Tempering" mean?

In metallurgical terms, tempering (v. "to temper") is a process in which a material is brought down from its maximum hardness, usually via heat treatments, in an attempt to balance strength with brittleness. In modern maille makers' terms, temper simply refers to the hardness of your wire. This is usually expressed in terms like "Spring Temper", "1/2 Hard Temper", "Dead Soft Temper", etc...

2.4   What is "Speed Weaving"?

Speed Weaving is a term that describes any number of methods by which a weaver can supposedly decrease the time it takes to make a particular weave. These methods usually, but not always, involve attaching one or more pre-closed rings to the piece for every open ring one adds. There is no one "right" way to speed weave, it's just a matter of preference and technique.

2.5   What do AWG and SWG mean?

They are different systems for measuring the thickness of wire. For more information, see this article.

2.6   What is a "weave"?

"Weave" refers to the unique pattern of ring linking chosen to be used in a particular piece of maille. For a more technical definition, see the M.A.I.L. glossary definition. For a comprehensive library of weaves, have a look at the Weaves library.

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3   Tools

3.1   What pliers should I get?

This article should cover you on that topic: Know Your Pliers

3.2   What do I use to cut rings/coils?

And this one covers that: Cutter Discussion

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4   Techniques

4.1   What's the difference between hand-winding (coiling) and power-winding?

Both are terms to describe the process of turning wire into coils. As the name suggests, hand-winding uses human-power to turn the mandrel for coiling wire. Power-winding uses some form of machine instead of human-power, be it a power-drill, lathe or other motor. This category of the articles section contains more info. (Hint: Look under "Wrapping Wire into Coils")

4.2   What is an inlay, and how do I make one?

From the chainmailler's perspective, an inlay is a piece of chainmail with a design or image set into it. Check out the Inlays section of the Gallery for examples. There are a few differnet methods to make an inlay, which include the use of different (usually sheet) weaves in the same piece, or the much more common use of different coloured rings. Different colours can be achieved by using different metals, or by using coloured rings (anodized aluminum, enameled copper, etc.). Also check out the Inlays section of the Articles & Tutorials.

Zlosk has created a free program that will allow you to create inlay designs from simple bitmaps. You can find it here. Also, you can download inlay graph paper from Mailleworks

4.3   How do I clean or polish aluminum, steel, silver, or any metal of interest?

We have a large number of articles that discuss ways to clean various types of metals.

4.4   Where can I find tutorials for weave X?

The weaves category of the articles section contains tutorials for many different weaves. You can also find excellent tutorials at the following websites:

4.5   What rings size should I use for weave X?

This is a difficult question to answer simply. To start, look up Aspect Ratio(here and here), and understand it thoroughly. If the weave you have chosen uses only one ring size, there are a set of rules that can guide you. If it uses two or more ring sizes, it's mostly a question of trial and error.

Zlosk, Venom's Pit, Metal Designz, and Chainmailbasket_com have all prepared charts of experimentally verified successful ring sizes and/or ARs for some common weaves. You can find Zlosk's here, Venom's here (AR) and here (ring size), Metal Designz' here, and Chainmailbasket_com's here.

Every single ring weave has up to three limits imposed on it, based on ring aspect ratio:

  • Absolute Minimum, which is the smallest A.R. at which the weave can be started, but locks up after a certain length as slack runs out. Not every weave has this.
  • Practical Minimum, which is the smallest A.R. at which a continuous weave can be made successfully.
  • Maximum, which is the largest A.R. that can be used for a weave, beyond which it will collapse into either another weave, or an unidentifiable mass of rings. Many weaves do not have a maximum aspect ratio.

Once you have determined at least one working size of ring for a weave, you can calculate its aspect ratio, and scale it to whatever size you like, assuming you have the required rings available. If you are interested in more technical information on aspect ratios, try the following links:

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5   Supplies

5.1   Where do I buy wire?

There are numerous sources from which to obtain your mailling wire:
  1. Several on-line vendors cater to the specific needs of maillers for wire, as well as pre-made rings. While sometimes more expensive than other options (especially with shipping), these can offer the best selection of materials and hardnesses, and make it easier to ensure you get exactly what you are ordering. They also provide the convenience of one-stop shopping. See M.A.I.L.'s Links page.
  2. Hardware stores, farm supply stores, and Home improvement superstores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) can usually provide you with a good number of basic options, such as galvinized steel, mild steel (usually sold as black-annealed, re-bar wire, or tie-wire), copper (smaller amounts sold coiled, larger amounts need to be untwisted from multi-strand grounding cable), and aluminum (AKA fencing wire or electric fence wire). They can be less expensive and have the added bonus of usually being nearby, hence no shipping charges, but watch out for sales tax and salespeople that stare increasingly blankly at you as you try to explain what you need!
  3. Specialty shops, such as beading supply, jewelry supply and rock shops, are good places to look for precious metals such as silver, gold and gold-fill. You'll usually pay more per ounce here than anywhere else, but you can buy extremely small quantities, and the salespeople usually have a clue as to what you are asking for.
  4. Any online and/or industrial wire supplier can probably fulfill your needs as well, but there will probably be minimum orders involved, and possible problems with getting the diameter measurements you specify, since most use decimal inches or metric rather than guage.

5.2   Where do I buy rings?

Our links section contains information for a number of commercial vendors. Have a look!

5.3   How much is all this going to cost me?

Typically, to start making maille your first time, you are going to need a simple mandrel, some wire, cutters, and pliers. Chances are you have everything but the wire and maybe some mandrel parts lying around. I'm not going to go into construction detail, but assuming you need to purchase everything, expect to spend maybe $10-20(USD) on pliers, depending on quality, $3 or so on a mandrel that you build yourself from a $1.50 bar and some wood, and up to $20 for cutters, at the high end. Average snips are around $12. The cost of wire depends of course on how much you buy. So, without the wire, you've spent around $25-40. If you aren't sure you're too into the craft yet, you can scrounge up some copper wire to play with or find scrap if you happen to have junkyards lying around. Remember, this may sound like a lot but you shouldn't need to spend any more for a while, except for the wire cost and maybe another $1.50 for different size formers for your mandrel. Also remember that most homes, probably yours, already have a pair or two of pliers somewhere.

5.4   What are the most common types of metals used?

Steel (annealed, stainless and galvy) and aluminum, brass, bronze, and copper. For more information on these metals and others, see David Austin's article on beginning chainmailling, under "Metal Types".

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6   Academic Stuff

6.1   Where and when did maille come from?

No one knows for certain when maille was invented, but the earliest archaeological evidence for maille was uncovered in the grave of a celtic chieftain at a dig in Rumania. That find was dated at about the fifth century BCE. The identity of the actual inventors of maille is a hotly disputed topic in academia...

6.2   What's rivetted maille?

Pretty much what it sounds like! Rivetted maille is maille in which the ends of the rings, instead of simply being butted together, are actually overlapped and pounded flat. A hole is driven through the overlap, and a rivet is used to secure the two ends together.

Rivetted maille is generally the historically authentic way to create maille. It's also the hardest and most time-consuming way.

6.3   How does temper affect my mailling?

Although strictly speaking a misnomer in terms of metallurgy, in the mailling/wireworking world, temper simply refers to the hardness of a metal. "Dead-soft" is the softest a particular metal can be, while "full-hard" is the hardest, and everything in between identified with a fraction (quarter-hard, half-hard, etc). For certain materials there can also be a "spring" temper which is even harder than full-hard.

Generally speaking, temper affects three aspects of mailling; strength, springback, and ease of work.

In terms of strength, the harder a material is, generally, the stronger the resulting weave will be (to a point; too hard, and your rings will shatter under stress).

In terms of springback, the harder a material is, the more the rings made from it will tend to "unwind" after they are turned or coiled. A ring coiled around a 1/4" mandrel could end up having an inner diameter of 3/8", if the material is springy enough. Obviously, one needs to be aware of this property when designing a piece of maille.

The last aspect, ease of work, is self explanatory. The harder the material, the harder you will work to bend it into shape!

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7   Using Maille

7.1   I want to sell my maille. What price should I charge?

The simplest answer is, "Whatever folks will pay". Of course, sometimes folks won't pay enough to make it worth your while...

There are many theories on this, some fancy and some simple, but most fall into the category of: Price = Costs + Profit. Additionally, the market you're selling in affects the price you can charge, as well.

There are several articles on this topic in the Articles library of M.A.I.L., in the "Business" category.

7.2   Is this stuff just for costumes, or is anyone really wearing maille as armor today?

There are several modern non-ornamental uses for maille. Butchers and shark-divers often use a specially designed, welded maille to protect their skin. An extraordinarily large version of European 4-in-1 weave is used to protect highways from rockfalls from overhanging cliffs. The SCA and many other re-enactment groups still use maille as actual armor for various types of medieval martial contests.

7.3   How do I go about marketing my chainmaille products?

Even though (once again) there's no 100% simple answer, the easiest way to sell your work is to flaunt it: wear what you make, make it in public places, and don't be afraid to engage someone in conversation about it. Always have a little selection of a few small pieces (a maille dice bag works well for storage) that you can sell on the spur of the moment. Also craft fairs, business cards, web pages, and e-Bay all work really well for selling chainmaille. This article category has more information on how to sell your maille.

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8   Making Armor/Clothing

8.1   How many rings will I need for a shirt (or coif, or...)?

The number of rings for a shirt (or any project) depends on how large the item will be, the weave used, and the size of the rings. In general, a shirt can consist of as few as 5,000 rings, to about 30,000. Some people use as many as 200,000 rings. Coifs will use a smaller number of around a couple thousand. Bracers run around 150-200 rings. Jewelery pieces are probably the most unpredictable of all as for number of rings, because everyone has different designs, and they use very small rings.

8.2   How do I size/tailor my shirt?

A comprehensive article on that can be found here.

8.3   Which way are the European weaves supposed to hang in a piece of armor?

Historically, and practically, the weave should hang such that it looks like this:
))))))))
((((((((
))))))))
((((((((
and so on. This is done so that it can stretch as it is put on and then hang lower to fit the body. You will find a few examples of pieces with the weave hanging the "wrong" way, for various reasons, but they are not common.

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9   Safety

9.1   What are the basic rules for mailling safety?

  1. When using your pliers, you may twist and squeeze, but never push or pull. Metal surfaces don't stick together well, so pushing or pulling can result in a slip and jab to the eye, palm, finger, or any other body part that happens to be in the line of fire. Puncture wounds can get infected easily, and pose a significant health risk.
  2. Never maille on your lap or any other body part, unless that part is covered with sturdy material. See the previous point for the reasons why.
  3. Always wear eye protection and well fitted (NOT loose) gloves while winding coils of rings, regardless of whether you power or hand-wind. You can easily succumb to wire whip or getting coiled into the machinery if you go bare.
  4. Never walk in bare feet through an area in which mailling is currently or recently in progress. The nature of coiled rings is such that unless they've been purposely closed, there is always a sharp end sticking up, regardless of how they land.
  5. If you make permanently attached maille for yourself or someone else, ALWAYS include a failure point of some relatively weak material, so that if it becomes caught on something, no one strangles or loses a limb.
  6. Always do a two-hour test-wearing in a relatively safe environment of any maille intended to be worn against bare skin or hair. You don't want to be halfway through a day where you can't stop to change or remove it when you discover an allergy to a particular material, or that the number of hairs being jerked out of your skin is intolerable.

9.2   Is galvanized steel really dangerous?

Galvanized steel is coated with a thin layer of zinc. Inhalation of zinc and zinc-oxide fumes and/or dust has been linked to cancer, and is known to cause a temporary flu-like malady called the "zinc shakes". However, there is no evidence whatsoever to believe that skin exposure has any ill effects. So long as you don't burn, weld, or saw your galvy (or do them, but wear a respirator while you do), you should be just fine.

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20   About M.A.I.L.

20.1   Is it possible to become an admin or moderator, and if so, how?

Yes, if a position is available, a member of M.A.I.L. may apply to help. Usually we will make an announcement for needed positions, so keep your eyes open for information on the boards or in the announcement area. You may also offer your services at any time, however we may not have any positions available.

20.2   Can I edit or remove the items I've submitted to M.A.I.L.?

Yes, once you submit an item (and it gets approved), you always have the ability to edit or remove the item. Click on the "My M.A.I.L." link and you'll find your submissions near the bottom of the page with links to either edit or delete. Edits and deletes must also be approved by an admin.

20.3   Where can I find more information on the Maille Artisans' International League?

Follow the About Us link for details.

20.4   Can I reproduce an article or graphic I found on M.A.I.L.?

All submissions to M.A.I.L. remain the copyrighted property of the original submitters. They just grant us the right to publish their property on our website. If you want to use their work, you need to contact them directly and ask their permission.

If you want to reproduce part of the website *other* than a submission, you need to ask the board of directors for permission, as that is the copyrighted property of M.A.I.L.

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