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!).