Without rings, there is no chain maille. Period. But with rings, a whole universe of patterns open up. Well, as long as you know what you have and what you need! After all, it’s not just how it’s cut (which was a topic in You’ve Got Maille), but its size, material and aspect ratio.
Who knew that such a little ring could cause so much debate (because debate there is). But since we’re talking jewelry here, I’ll keep the debate at a minimum. So let’s discuss the easier of the two issues first — material.
What Are Rings Made Of?
Traditionally, rings are made from a metal of some sort. Today sees rings made from rubber/neoprene and also from beads. To make it a little easier (and since the non-traditional materials have their own issues), I’ll stick to the metals.
There are two main classes of metals in chain maille, roughly defined as “precious” and “everything else”.
The precious category has the usual suspects — silver and gold — as well as niobium and titanium. I suppose we could put platinum in this category, but I’ve only heard tell of a platinum jump ring once…and it was beyond expensive! And although it might seem obvious, I’ll mention that gold-filled and the newer silver-filled jump rings also fall into this category.
Everything else is really everything else. Steel is the mainstay of those who make armor maille, with aluminum a close second. For jewelry the main metals are copper (which includes enameled copper) and aluminum (including anodized aluminum). Not to say that you couldn’t make jewelry with stainless steel (it’s actually pretty popular), but that it’s not something to begin with when learning maille. Steel is a tough material to work with (literally and figuratively), so why make it any harder on yourself at first?
Brass is also fairly popular, especially “red brass” (which has less of a bright yellow tone than regular brass). It’s a stiffer metal than copper, but nothing like the challenge of steel.
Gauging Your Wire
If you’ve worked with jewelry, you’re likely aware of something called a wire gauge, which is just a measurement of how thick or thin a wire is.
However…there are at least two sets of standards for measuring wire! The two that are the most common are the American Wire Gauge (AWG) and Standard Wire Gauge (SWG). It’s important that you know how your rings were measured (which standard) because they are not the same at anything below 20 gauge.
The three most common gauges of jewelry jump rings are 16, 18 and 20. For reference, AWG 16g is about 1.2mm, 18g is around 1mm and 20g is roughly .8mm. If you see rings marked as 18g and 1.2mm, it’s a dead give-away you are looking at rings based on the SWG measurements.
It’s really important that you know your wire gauge, because it has a direct bearing on something called aspect ratio, which is key for working chain maille.
Aspect Ratio, Chain Maille and You
Aspect ratio is a little confusing at first. In a nutshell, it is the relationship between the gauge of the wire and the inner diameter of the ring (yes, I know — I just introduced another term).
Different chain maille patterns require different aspect ratios (ARs) to work well. For example, an AR of 3.4 is great for the most popular maille chain — Byzantine. But if you want to make the related Box chain, you’ll want to bump up the ratio some to around 3.8. Or else you will drive yourself nuts trying to squeeze in those rings…
I wrote up a (free) ebook on AR that you can use to understand more about AR — it discusses wire gauge, sizes and of course, AR. There’s also a handy-dandy chart you can use to figure out which rings fit into which AR.
One more thing I want to mention. When you are buying jump rings for maille, make sure you know what the diameter (inner or outer) you’re looking at.
I’ll use 18 gauge rings for an example. Say you’re thinking about buying some rings and you see that they measure 6mm. But which diameter does that 6mm refer to?
For example, if the outer diameter (OD) is 6mm, then the inner diameter has to be less, because you have to take into account the thickness of the wire. If the ring has an OD = 6mm, then its ID will be around 4mm. (18g wire is around 1mm thick). 18g wire with an ID = 4mm gives an AR of around 3.9.
On the other hand, if 6mm is the ID, then the AR for the 18g ring is around 5.8. Big difference in a little ring! A maille pattern that worked well with 3.9 (example, Box) flat out wouldn’t work using rings with a 5.8 AR.
That’s about it for the moment….but look for more maille posts soon on the tools and supplies you’ll need (not a lot, I promise!).
I’m doing a chain maille series, with chain maille how-to tutorials. If you like wire jewelry, are into steampunk or renaissance looks, then this ancient form of weaving with metal may just “suit” you (pardon the pun). [The pun being that chain maille (also known as chain mail or chainmaille) was originally created to be used as armor.]
A Little About Maille
I did mention that this technique was weaving with metal. More specifically, it is weaving with metal rings. Today we who make jewelry know these as the unassuming jump rings. And depending on how you look at it, they’ve either come a long way or have come full-circle (I guess I can’t get away from the puns today!).
So maille has been around for several centuries, and although it was replaced by suits of armor for protecting the warriors, it’s found a resurgence in the last few decades.
For example — divers who work with sharks and butchers who work with cutting objects both can wear a fine-mesh maille. And then there are the folks who are into the Renaissance or Steampunk areas. But, this wonderful material has made it into the mainstream jewelry market (and about time, too).
All that being said, let’s start with the supplies you will need; rings first, then in a separate post I’ll cover the remaining tools (pliers, etc.)
With This Ring, I Thee Weave
So let’s get started by talking about the materials you need, and specifically about jump rings, as they are not all created equally. First, let’s discuss how the jump ring is made; more specifically, how it is cut.
Jump rings are made by coiling a piece of wire around a mandrel. This coil is then removed from the mandrel and cut, forming individual jump rings. So far, so good. But the way that coil is cut yields different results.
There are three main ways a coil can get made into the jump rings:
- Wire Cutter
If you use a wire cutter, the ends of the rings will have a noticeable “pinched” look. This is because the wire cutter basically pinches the wire in the process of cutting. This pinch makes it impossible to completely close a jump ring with an invisible closure. If you have a very sharp, very flush wire cutter, you can get a decent end, though.
A little better is a machine cut. A little more uniform than the pinch, but not as nice and flush as the saw cut. Machine-cut rings are great for practicing new weaves before you try them in a more expensive material. Please note: not all companies provide a nice machine cut, so if you decide to get some, look for a close-up of an example ring.
Saw cut are the cream of the jump rings. They are cut so that the ends of the rings are flush on both sides, and a really good saw cut uses a fine-gauge saw, so as to create a small a gap as possible. This gap created when sawing the ring is called a kerf. The smaller the kerf, the more invisible a seam when closing the ring.
Here’s a photo of wire cut (left) and machine cut (middle). I didn’t have any darker color wire when I was doing the wire-cutter-cut example (sorry ’bout that), so the brass makes it a little tough to tell the extent of the pinch. And the silver? As you might guess, it’s saw-cut.
As you might guess, saw-cut rings are more expensive than either of the other two, but if you’re planning to make some special jewelry with your rings, definitely go with the saw-cut.
I’ll stop here for the moment. There are some other things you need to know about jump rings, but I’ve made that a separate post because it’s a little more technical — all about the dreaded term “aspect ratio”. So here you go– more about rings and maille.
See you over there!