Chain mail/Getting Rings
There are two ways to obtain rings, buy them or make them yourself. To make rings, wire is coiled and the coil is cut along its length. If you want to buy rings or coils pre-made, there is a list of sources at the end of this lesson.
Characteristics of rings
Rings are described by the thickness of the wire from which they are made and the inside diameter (ID) of the ring. The wire diameter (WD)is referred to by gauge, or in millimeters or inches. There are two types of gauge: Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) and American Wire Gauge(AWG). The distinction between these two is important as, for example, 16 gauge wire is a different thickness in each system. Using the wrong measurement will result in rings of a different size than expected, possibly making them useless for the planned project.
Aspect ratio (AR) is very important to chain mailers. The formula to calculate the aspect ratio is: AR=ID/WD. A more detailed explanation can be found at . This ratio is useful as different weaves require different ARs, and you can make the same weave with a different wire thickness and it will still turn out well. When a weave is flexible about the AR required, the the rings you choose will determine flexibility and density of the finished piece. A list of web sites that give the recommended or minimal AR for many weaves is available here.
Wire is available in many different types of material. The material can be separated in two categories: soft and hard material. Any metal can be used for a given project, though some are better suited to particular purposes than others, due to looks, possible tarnishing or corroding, and ease of weaving. Be sure to research carefully which materials are appropriate for items worn to SCA or similar events, as softer metals will not be strong enough for some activites, such as combat.
- Anodized aluminium
- Etched aluminium
- Bright aluminium
- Enameled copper
- Gold Filled
- Anodized Niobium
Health risks associated with metals commonly used to make chain mail are generally limited to ingestion of large amounts of the metal or inhaling dust (from saw cutting) or fumes (from heating). Take the proper precautions when working with metals in this manner, such as wearing a dust mask and working in a well-ventilated area. Solid metals can cause skin irritation in some individuals.
Rubber rings (neoprene and EPDM) may cause irritation in sensitive people.
There is some concern that aluminium and its alloys are linked to Alzheimer's Disease. It is not known if presence of aluminum in the brain is a cause of Alzheimer's or a result of the disease allowing the metal to enter.
If you are concerned about a particular metal, you may either avoid it or look into available substances to give rings or finished pieces a clear coating.
Links to applicable Material Safety Data Sheets are available at the end of this lesson.
Wear eye protection when using a power saw to cut rings, and keep hair and clothing clear of the saw. If cutting copper, become familiar with "metal fume fever" and take the proper safety precautions.
Some materials may leave some particles on the skin when worn. This is known as ruboff and can often be prevented by cleaning the piece, by simple washing with soap or by tumbling. It also depends on the individual, as the skin of each person has different properties that affects their reaction to the metal. Aluminium, copper, and silver are metals that are known to sometimes leave marks.
To make a coil we need a rod or a mandrel. A mandrel is a rod with with a transversal saw cut or slot at one end, or a hole may be drilled in it. One end of the wire is placed in this cut or hole to keep the coil from slipping around the mandrel. If you have a rod, you can saw a a slot or notch at the end, drill a hole in it, or use a vice grip to immobilize the wire when coiling. If you use a drill to hold the mandrel, you can push the end of the wire into the chuck, although this is less secure.
You can make the coil manually by turning the rod with one hand while guiding the wire with the other. This can be difficult for harder materials. This can be made easier by bending a handle into the rod and constructing a holder for it, such as shown here: . You can also use a drill or other tools to turn the rod.
WARNING: Using a power tool to coil can be dangerous. There is a risk of catching fingers in moving parts. Also be aware that all metals have some degree of springback, which is the slight unwinding that occurs when tension on the wire is released. The end of the wire will whip around when this happens, which can slice open a finger, an eye, or any number of body parts. Protective wear such as heavy gloves and safety glasses can prevent this.
There is a tutorial for advanced power winding at.
There are many ways of cutting coil to make wire. Many types of cutters are available, and jewelers saws or power tools like a dremel can be used as well. WARNING: Using a saw can be dangerous. Never try to hold the coil in your hand while sawing. It is easy to slip with the saw and cut yourself. Freed rings may also scatter, perhaps propelled into your face. Designs for jigs to hold coils are available, and it is also possible to purchase systems to cut rings.
Deburring and polishing
Deburring rings that have sharp edges is an important step to keep the finished pieces from catching on skin, and clothing. This may be done with a file, but is easier with a tumbler. Nice results can be obtained for aluminum rings by simply tumbling a quantity of rings in a drop of soap and enough water to cover them. You may also use stainless steel shot or other tumbling media to deburr. Adjusting your cutters can help to reduce the amount of deburring required.
To polish rings, you can use rice, walnut shells (available at pet stores), soap and water, steel shot, or flour.
Some rings may also be cleaned by other methods. For example, copper can be cleaned with a lemon juice and salt mixture. More ideas for cleaning and polishing rings can be found at M.A.I.L.
Where to buy
Rings, wire, coils, and tools
- The Armchair Armoury (UK)
- Blue Buddha Boutique
- The Dragonfly Company (UK)
- Golden Maille (USA)
- Maille Etc. (USA)
- Precious Maille (USA)
- Valley Gem (Australia)
- West Coast Chainmail (USA)
- SaR Plata y Gemas (Spain)
Beads and findings
- Fire Mountain Gems (USA)
- INM Crystal (USA)
- Jatayu (USA)
- Monster Slayer (USA)
- Thunderbird Supply (USA)
- SaR Plata y Gemas (Spain)
Advanced Tools for making rings
Examples of commercially available ring making tools