how to make chain maille patterns

Chain Maille — Tools and Other Supplies

I've covered rings used for maille in two other posts (You've Got Maille and Rings and Chain Maille) so let's talk about the tools that you need for this craft.  In spite of how complex maille looks from the outside, the tools are quite simple.

Like, a pair of pliers.

OK, so there may be a few more, but most are things you'd use for any sort of jewelry -- good magnification, good lighting for example.  The only other tools I use regularly are twist ties, a straight piece of wire and Tool Magic.  That's it!

Plying the Trade -- Pliers 101

Pliers used in chain maille. Clockwise from left - bent nose, chain nose, chain nose and flat nose. The white tips on the bent nose and one of the chain nose is tool dip.

These are the most expensive of the tools and supplies (outside of the rings themselves).  While you want a good pair of pliers (and by that I mean two sets), you don't have to run out and buy the top-of-the-line at first.  Save those for when you are sure you want to keep chaining!

There are three main types of pliers used for the jewelry side of chain maille.

  • Bent nose:  These are chain nose with a bend in them.  The chain part gets into tight places, while the bent part can act as a flat nose.
  • Flat nose:  These are what they sound like, pliers with flat jaws and noses.  They are the most common plier type used in chain maille, as they give the most grip on the ring surface when opening and closing.
  • Chain nose:  These are like the flat pliers, but the nose comes to a tip, instead of being squared.  While they might not give quite as much of a grip on the ring surface, they are great for tiny rings and tight places.

In any case, you want pliers with a smooth jaw -- definitely no ribs or teeth (like in the so-called alligator jaws).  If you find a pair of pliers that is great in all other respects but the jaws are kind of rough, that's easy enough to fix.  You need super-fine sandpaper, like what you find at an auto-parts store (think sanding metal on a car).  Then sand away until you have a nice, smooth jaw surface.

Left to right - bent, chain and flat nose pliers, side view.

I'm probably an anomaly in that I work only with chain nose and bent nose pliers.  In fact, I had to hunt up some old tools before I could find a pair of flat-nose pliers for the photo!  And while I do have some Lindstrom pliers (yep, expensive), I also have some inexpensive pliers that I got from a craft store -- the less than $10 kind.  They may not last for decades, but they seem to last a fair amount of time before the springs wear out.

My suggestion -- go to a craft store or Amazon and get a few inexpensive pairs of pliers -- flat nose, chain nose and bent nose.  See what works for you best.  Then, if you want to, you can upgrade the kind(s) that you use most often.

Other Supplies

Something that I had never used until recently is a tool dip.  It is a substance that you dip the tips of your pliers into, and when dry provides a rubbery coating to the jaws.  A popular brand is Tool Magic, but there are others around as well.

When I worked entirely in sterling silver, I never worried much about small scratches that my tools would make on the rings.  When I tumbled them after finishing the work, the tumbling took off the scratches.

Now that I work a lot with the colored wires (enameled and anodized), I can't tumble my work -- it would take off the color.  I was going nuts with scratching off the color until I broke down and got some Tool Magic from the craft store.  Now I can't live without it.  🙂

Note:  This is where inexpensive pliers come in handy.  I don't dip my Lindstrom pliers into the dip but since it takes a few hours to dry once dipped, having an extra set of pliers comes in handy.  So I have like 5 inexpensive pliers -- I work with two at any given time, and the rest are dipped and dried or in the process of drying.

I will say that the Tool Magic doesn't last a real long time before it starts wearing off the pliers -- maybe 3 or 4 hours.  So that's why I always have extra pairs ready.  But once it starts coming off, you just peel the rest of it away (very easy) and then re-dip and let dry.  A small jar lasts around 100 or so dips. If you can't find it locally, here is some Tool Magic online.

That's tool dip.  I also used twist ties and a small piece of straight wire (maybe 2 or so inches long).

The twist ties (you can substitute a fine wire if you've run out of twist ties) help you to have something to grab onto when starting a chain, and hold the first few rings in place.  Entirely optional but useful.

Same for the piece of straight wire.  Mine is a piece of 20 gauge copper wire, and it's used to poke into rings to open (or hold open) a spot for my next ring to pass through.  Being straight, you can maneuver it a little easier than a curved ring.  But like I said -- optional.

More info to come!  Meanwhile, I have been slowly adding to my Gallery photos, so stop on by...