How to Make Chainmail
An Animated Guide
This is the West Coast Chainmail online guide to making chainmail. I plan on expanding it to include different
weaves and techniques, to make it more complete as time goes on. If you have any comments regarding content, please feel
free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, yes, and if you would like to skip steps one and two, you can use purchased links. Naturally,
we recommend links from West Coast Chainmail (hey, that's us!) Sorry for the
shameless plug, but a fella's gotta make living!
Step One - Wind some coils
For this step you will need:
- Winding Jig w/Mandrel
- Wire Cutters
|When winding coils, put safety first. It is possible to bend your mandrel into a crank and wind by hand, or to
chuck a straight mandrel into a variable speed power drill for faster production. I recommend starting out winding by hand
(I did so for 7 years before moving to power winding) until you have a good feel for the process. If and when you begin
using a power drill to wind, make sure you use a variable speed drill and start out slowly! Winding your hand into the
coil can break bones at worst and is generally painful at best.
A scrap lumber winding jig is shown at right - these are easy to make with an extra dresser drawer or scrap lumber - a hot
rolled steel rod can be easily had at most hardware stores, and it is fairly easy to drill a starting hole with most drill bits.
|To wind a coil, insert the wire into the hole in the dowel. Guide the wire with one hand and operate the crank
or drill with the other. Go slowly at first and increase speed as you gain proficiency. When you finish winding a coil,
cut off the wire and slide the coil off the dowel. Repeat until you have run out of wire or have enough coils to keep you
busy for a while.
Step Two - Cut some links
For this step you will need:
- Coils made in step one
- Cutters capable of cutting the wire you are using
- A container for the links (optional, but highly recommended...)
|There are many different tools available for cutting links, and each has it's own set of advantages and disadvantages.
At right there are four hand tools which I recommend for cutting links. From top to bottom, they are End Nippers, Erdi
Snips, Felco C-7 Cable Cutters, and Wiss Aviation Shears. The cuts made by these tools can be compared by checking out my
Cut Comparison Page.
End nippers are a fine multi-purpose cutter and will cut up to 12 ga galvanized steel with a little bit of effort. I've
only purchased one pair of these - the ones shown I've had since 1991 (Your milage may vary). Though I don't use them to cut links anymore,
they still see heavy use at my winding jig where I use them to clip the coils from the mandrel and remove "tails" from the
coils before cutting them with my saw. There is no need to stretch the coil with these, just position them to cut off one link,
squeeze, drop the link into a container, and repeat. The downside is that most of the time, you can cut only one link with each
For 16 ga (0.0625") material and smaller wound into 1/4" or larger coils, the Erdi Snips are an excellent choice. While
they require the modification of filing down the top blade to be small enough to fit inside the coil, they are inexpensive ($8.95 at
Coastal Tool) and make a wonderfully clean cut. Simply insert the top blade into the
coil and squeeze, then pull out, drop the links into a container, line up the cutter with the score marks on the next couple
of links, and repeat. Note that these do wear out after a while, however,
especially when used to cut harder materials like galvanized steel (I think I got about 30,000 links out of my first pair). I doubt that they will work on stainless, though I've never
Felco C-7 Cable Cutters and Wiss Aviation Shears both make good cuts, though to get those cuts without a lot of distortion
requires that the coils be stretched out prior to cutting. The Felcos are very wide when open, however, and unless you have really
big hands the best way to use them is by securing one end in a vice and using one hand to feed the coil while the other
"pumps" the cutter. Aviation Shears can be held in one hand like the other cutters and have the added bonus of being able to cut
more than one link (don't cut too many or you'll get some wicked distortion...)
Modified Erdi Snips
Felco C-7 Cable Cutters
Wiss Aviation Shears
|As you may know - I use a custom built saw with High Speed Steel (HSS) Jeweler's Slotting Saw Blades to cut my links. This is similar in design to the well known "ringenator", but has an automatic feed (upside) and accomodates a limited coil length (downside).
Step Three - Assemble some Maille!
For this step you will need:
- Rings which you purchased or made in step two
- Two Pairs of Pliers
- Large amounts of patience and spare time
For most weaves, it is advantageous to start with some rings pre-closed. Therefore, the first step in weaving is to take
some of your cut links and close them. By close, I mean twist the cut ring such that its ends meet, making a flat,
continuous loop (rather than a one-turn spring). The animation at right demonstrates what I mean by this.
The method I prefer for weaving larger rings makes use of one pair of 6" spring loaded slip joint pliers and one pair of
6" spring loaded needle-nose pliers. I hold the needle nose pliers in my left hand, pointing upwards, while the slip joint
pliers are held in my right hand. When I close a link, I grasp it with the needle nose pliers such that the needle nose
pliers hold one half of the link. I then bring the slip joint pliers in perpendicular from the needle nose pliers and grasp
the other half of the link. Such an orientation allows for the ends of the link to be pushed together as they are twisted
into alignment, creating a tighter "butt" in the link. With harder materials, it may be necessary to overshoot the alignment
point and allow the two ends to spring back together. For smaller links, I typically use a pair of flat-nose pliers in concert with a pair of bent nose pliers, held such that the jaws align in a parallel manner.
Since there are a lot of different ways to assemble maille, as well as different patterns, I'm breaking this down
into different animations to show the assembly of different weaves, using different methods. These take a little
bit of time to load, so be patient. If you can't wait for these to load, then you do not have the required patience
to make maille...Anyway - select the method you wish to see:
Next to be added: expansions, contractions, and circular construction. If you have any constructive criticism, please
feel free to drop me an email
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