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Make a suit of chain-mail armor

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

armor_main2.jpgTwo leather-clad warriors face each other, swords drawn. Suddenly one of the warriors attacks, his swinging sword clanging loudly against the defending warrior’s. Back and forth they cut and parry, the meadow ringing from impacts. Suddenly the attacker sees an opening and takes a swing he knows will surely cut his opponent in two. His sword slices through his enemy’s leather clothing—but strikes metal instead of flesh! Stunned but far from dead, the attacked warrior says a silent prayer of thanks to the armorer who had saved his life by making him a coat of chain mail.

The Scouts in BSA Troop 324 at European Command Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, don’t plan on being in any sword fights. But making their own suit of chain-mail armor can transport them to the days of shining knights, if only for one fun afternoon. Here’s how you can join them.

You’ll Need:

• two 500-foot rolls of 14-gauge copper wire

• electric drill with 3⁄4-inch bit and 1⁄8-inch bit

• wire cutters

• hammer and nails (long enough to secure wood together)

• wood saw

• wood glue

• 3-foot-long wooden dowel, 3⁄4-inch in diameter

• 7 feet of lumber

• adult’s help and/or permission

armor_step1_2.jpgSTEP ONE: Build a Wooden Rack

A rack or frame will make it easier to produce the many rings needed in a shirt of chain mail.

1. Cut the lumber into three 1-foot-long pieces and two 2-foot-long pieces. Set one 1-foot piece aside.

2. Through the center of two 1-foot pieces, drill a 3⁄4-inch hole. Move the drill bit around to make the holes slightly larger, so the 3⁄4-inch dowel easily slides through.

3. Build the rectangular rack with the two 2-foot pieces and two 1-foot pieces with holes.

4. Slide the dowel through both holes.

STEP TWO: Add a Crank

1. Cut 6 inches off the wooden dowel.

2. Drill two 3⁄4-inch holes into the 1-foot piece of lumber set aside in Step One. Drill the first hole about 2 inches from one end, the other hole about 4 inches from the other end.

3. Take the longer dowel piece and glue into the hole drilled 2 inches from one end.

4. Take the 6-inch dowel piece and glue it into the hole drilled 4 inches from the end, on the opposite side of the lumber. This will be your crank handle.

5. Insert the crank fully into the rack. It should turn easily. About 1 inch from the inside edge of the rack, drill a 1⁄8-inch hole through the center of the dowel.

6. Set aside to let glue dry.

STEP THREE: Ring, Ring, Ring

armor_step3_1.jpg1. Insert one end of the wire into the hole in the dowel and begin turning the crank. Keep turning until the entire length of the dowel has a single layer of tight wire coil. Cut the wire from the roll.

armor_step3_2.jpg2. Cut the piece of wire that was inserted into the hole to begin the coil. Now you should be able to slide out the crank from the coil and the rack, leaving you with a coil of wire. Slightly stretch the coil.

armor_step3_3.jpg3. Cut the rings from the coil. This should leave you a pile of rings that are just barely open. Make more coils and cut more rings.

armor_step3_41.jpg4. Take 4 rings and twist the 2 ends together to make a closed ring. Put these 4 solid rings onto a fifth ring and close this fifth ring so you have a group of 5, four rings on one. This “fiver” is the basic building block for the chain mail armor.

5. Make a large pile of fivers. Also keep a large group of slightly open single rings. When you have a good pile of each, it’s time to begin building the armor.

STEP FOUR: Knitting the Shirt

armor_step4_1.jpg1. Take a fiver and lay it flat, moving 2 rings to the top of the center ring and 2 rings to the bottom. Do the same with another fiver and position it below the first fiver.

armor_step4_2.jpg2. Take a single open ring and link the bottom 2 rings of the top fiver to the bottom 2 rings of the bottom fiver. This single ring now links 4 other rings, just like the fivers you have already made. Close this open ring. Even at this early point the rings should

show a pattern, tilted up and tilted down as they rest upon each other. Add 2 more fivers to form a strip of four fivers. Make another strip of 4 fivers.

armor_step4_3.jpg3. Lay a fiver strip flat to the right side of the first fiver strip. Take a single open ring to link the right 2 rings of the top left hand fiver in the strip to the left 2 rings of the top fiver in the right-hand strip. Continue to link the fivers as shown.

4. Hold up the linked fabric. You can “scrunch” the fabric easily in only one direction. Continue to build a large rectangular fabric. The direction of “scrunchiness” goes about the waist.

5. Once the fabric can comfortably circle your torso, with some slack, attach the 2 edges to form a cylinder.

6. Make two strips, at least 3 groups wide, that will attach to the top of the shirt. These will go over your shoulders. When you are done you should be able to put the shirt of chain mail over your head and have adequate area for your arms.

7. Small cylinders of links can be added to make sleeves. Links can also be added to lengthen the shirt, or different colored metal links can be added to decorate the bottom edge of the shirt.

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60 Comments on Make a suit of chain-mail armor

  1. Looks cool, I might like to try it when I have time. Oh and for those who are reading this if you don’t think coper is strong then spray pant it silver so it looks like steel or just deal with it, its only for fun any way.

    • And another thing I forgot to mention, aluminum is cheaper, lighter, and looks like steal. I think Ill do this with aluminum with a bit of coper for decoration. Hope this helps!

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm // Reply

      Maille is self polishing. If you paint it, it will wear the paint off in virtually minutes.

  2. CaptainEnigma // March 31, 2010 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    copper? really? copper is weak. you need something of iron at least. steel would be better but never go with copper.

    • Copper is a cheap (ish) alternate to the tradional riveted steel used in the era.

      • I frogot also that it is easier to shape and actually, chianmail of any material can protect you limitedly –if it is riveted that is.

  3. so good!

  4. i have not tried it yet but I will

  5. Copper won’t protect you from anything at ALL!

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:23 pm // Reply

      The strength in maille comes from the shape of the link. While copper is softer than steel or iron, when shaped into a link, less than 1/2 inch in diameter, it is quite strong and will hold up to a blow just as well as steel or iron.

  6. Yo, macdaddy: I’ve made chainmail, and it takes a fair while to do, but once you’ve got the groove, it’s very addictive. You just want to keep on going.

  7. cool thx!!!!!!

  8. sweet when i save enough money ill try this… 😛

  9. i think i’m gonna do this with some thing stronger then copper like steel wire

  10. i want to try that

  11. it takes for ever!!!!!!!!!!

  12. wonder how heavy its is

  13. Scout for Life // April 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm // Reply

    Okay people the worst a heavy attack from a sword against mail can do is a cracked bone. The mail distributes the force throughout the rings making it the best form of armor of the time. And noone said anything about wearing it into battle. It is a workshop project for fun not to wear in reinactments. (sorry if misspelled)

  14. IM curintly making a 8 in 1 patern it is sorta hevy and it takes a long time to make 7 hours for a 1ft by 1ft square

  15. spyscout123 // March 23, 2009 at 9:56 am // Reply

    cool me and my brother will love doing it

  16. Chain maille is only effective against slicing. If there is any real “oumph” behind a blow, it will either make a really nice bruise, or break a limb.

  17. you should show a picture of the finished ork so ppl can scroll down and see if it is realy worthwhile to make it or not

  18. how long approx does it take to make?
    Yes i am a girl but i like this kind of stuff
    i really need to make some.

    • Renissance_Dude. // May 20, 2010 at 10:50 am // Reply

      Hey there! Me and my 16 y/o sister LOVE renissance clothing and weapons. my sister has made a small amount of chain-mail. we both have swords and we both have bows and arows( mine is compound and hers is Recurve) she has made a hunting horn and an era dress. also she makes a ton of wire crowns ( not the more “heavy duty-ish” crowns but more of the “delicate and princess-ish” crowns. this contraption might help us with the chain-mail. also we have a silver (its tarnished badly) scimitar (she is making a new (hand sewn)sheath for it has a “sun” and ivy plants on it (kind of funny ‘cuz her name is Ivy).

    • it good but i like to have a full set of armor not just chain mail

  19. I’m going to use this for Halloween. It will make a good costume for next year.

  20. Me and my dad make it and we found different patterns.
    We also found that you can use a dowel and drill to make the rings.

  21. Hey forget all the nit picking and give some credit. I too use stainless steel and do go onto the battle field – re-enacting and fighting for Richard 111 as an archer. Even with blunts they pack a punch and under the armour we wear padded Jacks. This web site is great for anyone wanting to learn basics if you want to get authentic then join a club and follow the safety rules. What copper does is ‘look’ fabulous and with the addition of black and silver coloured rings your crest can also be woven into your maille shirt. Plastic is often used in films cheaper lighter LoR

  22. im am going to try it for holllowen.

  23. Legend black smith // October 6, 2008 at 2:18 am // Reply

    This is a good way of starting to make armor it takes long but its a lot of fun. Its basicly all the high tec things all in a short few sentences. IT ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. hey, nice website, but instead of copper, i use galvanized steel wire. and instead of making “fivers” i link them together one by one. even still, its good to see people reintroduceing an art long ingnored.

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm // Reply

      I make a “rope” of links, that alternates, 2-1-2-1-2-1 until I have the length I need. Then I start weaving my “cloth” from that.

  25. major chaos // July 26, 2008 at 8:27 pm // Reply

    i think the rings in the picture are to big and a knife blade can probaly fit into it, so that kid in the picture might be a goner if he has a sword fight.

  26. A Real Mailler // July 18, 2008 at 1:00 pm // Reply

    I am not trying to cause offense, but you absolutely, positively, can not use plastic. It will not hold and will be worse than gold even. You would not even be able to put one “fiver” together. I also warn you that copper and rings that big will NOT protect you from bodily harm. Thank you.

  27. maille artist dude // July 15, 2008 at 10:24 am // Reply

    ok…… good design, needs to be made out of steel. that is a european 4 in 1 weave. just for your reference. Do a little at a time to avoid getting bored

  28. Weak article. This method will produce something that looks like armour but I pity whoever decides to try and use a real weapon against this. Copper in any gauge wouldn’t stand up to a sword blow even if it were riveted. I respect that we’re trying to teach these scouts a fun hobby but the author could have at least included a disclaimer to inform anyone that attempts this as per the directions posted that it WILL NOT actually protect against bodily harm.

  29. an actual mailler... // July 8, 2008 at 8:51 pm // Reply

    yeah, you guys should just get a drill and throw the dowel rod in that, get some vice grips, attach the wire to the dowel with them, then get a glove and guide the wire onto the dowel. faster and easier. also, i can not believe the article says to use your fingers to weave the mail! use pliers!!! otherwise your fingers WILL be hurting.

  30. I make shirts, 20 so far, and you need to use pliers when weaving the rings together. If you can weave the rings together with just your fingers, then the metal will not withstand any kind of physical abuse. I.E. It’s not combat ready, it’ll just be costume grade. If you want to make a combat-ready shirt, it must be made from steel, not copper.

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm // Reply

      I have been making chainemaille for about 12 years now. The strength of it lies in the structure. If you just make the links smaller copper will resist strikes just as well as steel or iron of a larger diameter.

  31. lol, uh, i was hoping youd show how to attach sleeves. oh well ^.^ oh, by the way, its a heck of a lot smarter to use galvanized steel, 16 gauge, since thats normal for sca and stuff, and its MUCH cheaper than copper…. lol, anywho, im sure someone else should have pointed that out but if not, that info is out there now for all ya’ll

  32. blackskull // June 4, 2008 at 2:06 pm // Reply

    really good design. i’m going to try it, though i am going to use a lathe to coil my wire. = )>

  33. blast from the past // May 23, 2008 at 3:49 pm // Reply

    I’m definatly making some! It’s gunna look awesome.

  34. Opitmus Prime // April 30, 2008 at 3:38 pm // Reply

    defenatly going to try it, i have a real sword!

  35. I am going to try it

  36. I have currently finished a coif or hood of mail for western art history in junior college.

    A definite challenge.

  37. bob bo bill // March 22, 2008 at 3:38 pm // Reply

    k my friend made a chain mail like that but out of iron and took him 3 yrs. it has 6 in one ring and is thick but can be ilusive in it. it is 10 pounds thow!

  38. use a longer dowel to make more rings. get a frend cut the rings and another to combind the rings.

  39. sword master // March 5, 2008 at 2:19 am // Reply

    I think the smaller the rings and a tighter fit will proove thee in good stead.

  40. how much does copper wire cost???

  41. You can use a drill instead of the box, it saves a lot of time!

  42. Lady Allison // December 7, 2007 at 3:21 pm // Reply

    If u make it out of copper you could use limon juice to keep it shiny or put clear paint over it once a month. clear paint would work cuz it keeps the weather off of it. I shall make a pretty chain mail skirt first then a matching vest! I shall look like quite the fighter. =}

  43. CanadianScouter // December 3, 2007 at 12:41 pm // Reply

    A less expensive and time-saving way to do this is to use spiral-binding (the sort used to bind paper into books) which you can buy at any place which does binding (Staples, etc.). It is plastic, and so cheaper, and pre-wound, which saves time. You can even get it in different colours (or stick to silver-grey) The joining of the rings still takes a long time, though!

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm // Reply

      Spiral binding wire is not of a sufficient gauge to work for a project like this. Due to the gauge:diameter ratio, any maille made from this would pull its-self apart from its own weight.

  44. i think tis a great idea but you shuld use steal or aluminom not copper. copper dosn’t look very good

  45. sir reid, look on the internet for copperwire and a helm is a helmet (something to protect your head)

  46. i’m gonna straighten and ring paperclips, its a school holday now so why not!

  47. were do i get copper wire???whats a helm???

  48. try making the pattern go crassways and not up and down.if it is going up and down,the rings spread out,if it goes crossways then the rings will overlap eachother.

  49. the pattern went the wrong way!!!!it’s supposed to go crossways!!!

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