how to make chain maille

Chain Maille How-To (Or, “You’ve Got Maille”)

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
  • Machine
  • Saw

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.

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.

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 cutter (left) and machine cut (right).  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.

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!