07 August 2009

An Important Part of Making Maille: Aspect Ratio.

Aspect Ratio, usually shortened to AR, is a very important area of knowledge in the art of chainmail. To break it down simply, it's a number representing the proportions of your rings. What's meant by this, is the relationship between the wire diameter, and the inner diameter of a given ring. I personally prefer to list those wire stats in metric because it makes the AR easier to calculate.

"Oh no! Math? You didn't say anything about math!"

It's cool, really. The first number you need is the inner diameter, called ID for short. This is the same dimension as your mandrel, or very close to, depending on how much your metal springs back when winding. To use a recent pair of maille earrings I made as an example. The rings are 4mm ID. This is pretty close to 5/32".
The second number you need is the wire diameter, in this example it's .8mm. or 20ga. or .032" So now you probably understand why I use metric.... Divide the ID by the wire diameter.

4/.8=5 So the Aspect ratio on these rings is 5. Full Persian Ladder Earrings

Great right? Right? Oh, yeah, you probably want to know what it's good for.

Everything! Certain weaves like Jens Pind Linkage will only work properly with rings in the right AR. 2.8 to 3.2 or so in that case. When making a nice solid looking European 4 in 1 I find around a 3.5 to work nicely for jewellry. But you can make the same weave with a much larger AR. If you were following up through yesterday's post: "Weaving Chainmail" you may have noticed how some of the rings on the end of a strip seem to magically end up leaning the wrong way. More than likely you didn't make a mistake, just that your AR was loose enough to allow the rings on the end to flip around one another. It's really okay if that happens, they can be prodded back into place.

A chain shirt however, might require a little bit more room to allow for breathing, movement, and simply putting the thing on. A little goes a long way when speaking in AR terms though, so I'd keep it very close to 4.

Note that being able to make a certain chainmail weave isn't the only use for AR. If you want to enlarge or reduce something. Say you saw a pair of earrings and thought, "that weave would look good as a necklace." Most maillers will post ring dimensions (stats) when they show off an item to other maillers. So you can pick out the AR, and choose a larger diameter wire, and an appropriately larger mandrel.

The Ring Lord hosts a very complete Ring Size Chart with AR listings, and sizes in fractional and decimal inches, as well as metric. This is one of my homepage tabs, and I recommend everyone at least bookmark it if you're serious about making maille.

The final, and most amusing characteristic of AR, is it gives us one more abbreviation to use with other maillers while in public, and confuse the non-initiated to no end.

Have fun

06 August 2009

Making Chainmail step two: Weaving maille.

We're back, and we're on to learning the basics of actually weaving maille. Note that I didn't use the term "chainmail". Either one is acceptable these days. "Maille" is taken from the original term "mail" meaning armour made from chain. The spelling has been prettied up a bit to make it distict from Postal Mail.

There's another tangent... I'm good at that.

Alright, you have some rings cut, begging to be used, so let's get them and your hands a short workout. Pick up your pliers, one in each hand, and grab a ring. No, not with your teeth... either the pliers themselves, or you can free a thumb and finger and use your hands. Keep holding the pliers though. You'll be surprised how much time you start to save when you can craft without setting them down.

Set the ring in the jaws of your pliers with the opening at the top. You should be gripping about half the ring in each set. Now twist each end of the opening away from one another so it makes a longer spiral. It should still look like a spring. If you're opening your rings like you're turning an O into a C, you won't be able to get them back into shape. Open them about far enough you can fit two wire widths in the gap between ends.

Practice this, open about 5 rings to get a feel for it. Then go for some more new rings and close them with the same kind of twisting motion. Each end should meet as flush and close as you can make them. It helps to push the ends in very slightly toward one another while you're twisting them closed, so they almost snap together. Close 12 for now and set them in their own pile.

An open and a closed ring. Open and Closed rings

Starting a weave is always vastly more difficult than continuing one, so we'll go with something both recognizable and reasonable to follow. European 4 in 1. European maille is characterized by each row leaning the opposite direction of it's adjacent rows. Grab 4 of your closed rings, put them on 1 open ring, then close it. You have what we call a fivelet. Doesn't do much on it's own, but it's the foundation. 4 rings on 1 ring. Each ring (excluding those at the edges) will pass through four others, two above, and two below.
Your fivelet.A Fivelet

So lay your fivelet down a moment to get a look at how it the weave will expand. Two rings on top, leaning to the right. One ring in the second row, leaning to the left. Two rings on the bottom, leaning right. Now to add to that, take two closed rings, put them on an open ring, this open ring will become a new addition to the middle row. Weave that ring in from underneath the rightmost ring the bottom row then down through the rightmost ring in the top row. Close your open ring.

With a little jostling, you should be able to lay out your work and see that everything leans properly, and falls into pattern. Now you repeat that last step again. Two closed rings on an open ring, weave it into the final two rings on the adjacent rows, and close. Repeat this until you reach the desired width.
Red rings are the original fivelet, Green are the three added afterward, and Blue the step after that.
A strip of E4-1
All well and good that you can make it as wide as you want, now how about expanding the other axis. Even simpler. Put two closed rings on an open ring again. Weave your open ring through the two leftmost rings in the bottom row, and close. From there, you add one closed on one open. Weaving through the rightmost on the bottom row, and the next two rings on the row above. Repeat as desired.

In the photo below. Red rings are the first three added in the new row, followed by the Green, and Blue again. Untinted rings are the original strip of three rows you've just built.
A patch of E4-1
So here's the best part. I know this is what you've been wating for. You can make a barrel like tube out of a large patch, then add straps to the top edge, and you have a very simple mail shirt. In detail, it will probably take some tweaking, and there are alot of things you can do to tailor and fit. More on that another time.

If you're not looking for a shirt, say you went with a light gauge copper for your first project, maybe you'd like a choker or a bracelet. Clasps can be purchased for an impressively low price. Also hook, or toggle type clasps can be made using wire wrapping techniques. These same skills can be put to use to make earring hooks, chainmail earrings are my best sellers. If you want a look, check out my Etsy link in the sidebar. /plug
If you've been following along so far, I'd love to see your work. If it's a bracelet, just a small patch, or you whip up a full shirt thanks to what I've posted here so far, please send images to me here and they'll be featured in upcoming posts.
Have fun--

(A Special thanks to Glendon of Glendon's Chainmaille and Handmade Crafts for taking time out of his day at the booth to allow me to photograph E 4-1 in progress. I couldn't figure out how to handle rings, operate pliers, a camera, and a soda can all at once; he was wonderful to supply me with the chance to take these images. )

05 August 2009

Making Chainmail step one: Making rings.

Ready to jump in and make your own chainmail? I know you are. If you have rings already, you're awesome. If you're starting with raw wire, you're just as awesome. Let's start from the beginning just in case.

  1. Hop on down to your local craft or hardware store.

  2. I recommend starting light, inexpensive, and easy to work with. 20 gauge copper, even the silver toned stuff in the beading section is a good way to cut your teeth.

  3. You'll need two pairs of pliers sutable for the size wire you're working with. Small flat nose pliers work perfectly for small wire. Heavy gauge wire calls for maybe a six or eight inch pair of linesman pliers. Remember that pliers with teeth will scratch soft metal, but go with what you can find easily. This is just practice.

  4. Side cutting pliers (wire cutters) the jaws will be sortof football shaped and sharpened. Heavy gauge will require something like mini-bolt cutters.

  5. A mandrel. Don't ask the guys at the hardware store for a mandrel, they'll look at you funny. What you're looking for is something to wrap wire around to make a spring. Pen barrels, metal rods, knitting needles, even a screwdriver.

  6. Gloves, please wear gloves, heavy work gloves.

  7. Eye protection. Flying metal can seriously ruin your chances of retaining binocular vision.

Now pull out some of that wire and wrap it around that mandrel. Learned a new word while you're at it. Wrap it tight and as consistantly as you can. You'll find a small hole drilled crosswise through your mandrel serves perfectly to secure the starting end of your coil. Turn the mandrel, it's easier than flopping wire around everywhere.

Example Coil

This is important: Always release the tension on a coiled wire slowly. You don't want to see the kinds of nasty cuts it could cause if you just let go. All metals will have a certian amount of springback, the percentage of bendyness they resist as it tries to return to it's orginal shape. Over a long distance like a length of wire, this means that free end can turn into a circular saw. So hold the free end of your wire tight, and carefully turn your mandrel the opposite direction. You don't really have to apply any more pressure than you need to keep it from spinning back on it's own. Once it's stopped working against you, you're good to let go. Another reason I suggested light copper over a heavy steel to start with, it's much easier to manage without building a more complex coiling rig.

So your spring, coil, worm, whatever you want to call it, is done, you've carfully eased the tension off the wire. Cut off the spool end then the secured end with your angle cutters and slide the coil off. All you have to do is clip each turn lengthwise from the coil. making short springs of only one turn, essentially.

Example rings

Now you have rings. After a short break, we'll move on to Step Two: Weaving Chainmail. Where I'll talk about opening and closing rings properly, and introducing you to your first chainmail weave.

Have fun,


Why Chainmail?

Well, that's a good question. Why not chainmail? Why not sewing, knitting, cooking or something more normal and mainstream? Well, I like to be different. If I'm doing the same thing everyone else is doing, I'm just one of the crowd. That's not the whole of it though, and I'll probably continue to come up with reasons as we continue to follow along on this little journey of mine.

Backing out of that tangent for now. I've always been interested in archaic weapons and armor. Without learning blacksmithing, yet, and tapping on an anvil for days on end, making chainmail at the time seemed like a place to start.

I was first introduced to the basic ideas surrounding modern chainmail construction some sixteen years ago by a friend in the SCA. Of course I wanted to dive right in but obtaining a drill press and tons of wire and a saw capable of chopping steel in any reasonable amout of time just wasn't going to happen on my allowance. Kids get it rough with hobbies, help em out if you have any.

Turned out many years later, the idea sprung back to mind. This time I had tools. Not a drill press or a rediculously overpowered steel slicing laser, but I had internet access. Next best thing. So I poured over Google links and eventually sifted through to locate TheRingLord.com, a shop selling rings specifically for chainmail and a forum at Mailleartisans.org full of the most helpful people. I ordered a few pounds of galvanized steel rings, and waited, almost patiently. I say almost, because I gave in and bought some small gague wire at a craft store while waiting on UPS. Then I went to practice the things I'd been studying for days.

I found making chainmail was incredibly relaxing, forgiving of early mistakes, and more versitile than I could have ever imagined. The first impression most people will get when they hear chainmail is a mesh shirt or body suit, either old-world technology and construction, or the modern shark suits like the Neptunic. Of course the former is still in use in the film industry, and by geeks like me who still drool over a nice sword. As an article of clothing rather than a protective device, the craft becomes even more interesting. I've seen neckties, bikinis, vests and common t-shirts all done in chainmail. It's also in contemporary use in sculpture, and has quite a following as a form of jewelry art both historically and in the current age.

So, why again? Well, it's an interesting study, has a near infinite amount of patterns (called weaves), classified somewhat by their origins: like European and Japense, or by their characteristics like the spiral weaves, and a couple oddities like Byzantine and the Persian family which has no record of ever appearing in Persia, but somone thought it sounded neat and different.

I've come to discover there's little it can't be used for. Chainmaille curtains, seen that too.

I think it's safe to assume, if you've stumbled into this little corner of the 'net you're looking for chainmail yourself. Maybe learning to make your own chainmail. Or just get ideas, weaves and patterns. I'll be getting along to those a piece at a time. So keep your bookmark handy, I'll be posting on a near daily basis recounting my journey through the craft, daily experiences, and what I think are several helpful topics such as:

  • Chainmail terminoligy
  • A Mailler's tools
  • Metals
  • Bying wire
  • Making rings
  • Using a jewelers' saw
  • Jewelry suppliers, beading and stones
  • Tons and tons of weaves introduced along the way as learning projects
So let me ask you this before I shut down for the night. Why are you into chainmail? I'll bet it's a good story.

Have fun,