Chainmail is a weave of interconnected metal rings. Worn as armor as early as 400 B.C., the ends of early chainmail rings were butted together instead of riveted. These rings opened under heavy attack by pointed weapons like spears and swords. As a result, armorers began riveting the ring ends together, producing chainmail capable of withstanding sword and spear attacks. Modern chainmail is popular for medieval reenactments. With the proper tools and metalworking knowledge, enthusiasts produce their own riveted chainmail, keeping alive the skills honed at the forges of ancient blacksmiths.
Things You'll Need
- Steel ring wire (18-gauge)
- Solid steel rings (18-gauge)
- Round steel mandrel
- Ball peen hammer
- MAPP gas torch
- Rivet tongs
- Blacksmith gloves
- Modified bolt cutters
- 16-gauge steel wire
- 2 pliers
- Steel punch
- Eye and ear protection
Wind the 18-gauge ring wire around the mandrel as if wrapping thread onto a spool. Keep the wraps pressed tightly together as you proceed. Remove the wrapped wire from the mandrel and cut the rings with modified bolt cutters. These cutters have a V-shape filed into both cutting blades 1/8 inch in from the tip to allow skipping the first wire wrap while cutting the second, providing a 3/16-inch overlap of each ring end.
Thread the cut rings onto a 16-gauge piece of steel wire. Heat the rings until they are red hot. Allow the rings to air-cool as slowly as possible.
Hammer the overlap on the flat surface of an anvil with the flat face of a ball peen hammer. Flip the ring often while hammering, making sure you hammer only the overlap on both sides. When you have hammered both sides of the wire until it widens slightly, and the face of both sides is flat, the ring is ready to be punched. Do not overhammer, or the metal will weaken and eventually break.
Punch a small hole through the center of the overlap with a hardened tool steel punch.
Cut V-shaped rivets out of 18-gauge hammer-flattened wire. Test-fit the rivets in the hole you punched; they should fit snugly halfway through the hole, leaving enough material on both sides to form sufficient rivet heads.
Twist open the rings with two pairs of pliers. Weave the rings into chainmail, alternating riveted rings with solid rings.
Twist the overlapped rings closed with pliers, matching up the punched holes in both ring ends. Wedge a rivet into the hole, and drive it in with riveting pliers. Flip the pliers over, using them to flatten the sharp side of the rivet.
Tug on the ring with pliers, ensuring the integrity of your rivet. Continue weaving in the same fashion, making sure to check each rivet as described before adding another link.
Tips & Warnings
- Do not open the rings too far when weaving. The steel will twist out of shape, and it s difficult to straighten.
- Do not use galvanized steel. When heated, the zinc coating emits toxic fumes.
- Do not operate a MAPP gas torch unless you have been instructed how to properly operate the tool. Always wear recommended eye protection and suitable clothing when working with a gas flame.
- Always wear approved ear protection when hammering. Repetitive high-decibel blows can cause hearing damage.
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