Making rings: Cutting off

The step, that follows after coiling the wire is cutting rings out of the coil and there are again different ways to do this. You can cut rings for riveting or butted rings. For the riveted rings, you need the ends of the rings to be overlapping, whereas the ends of butted ring just slightly touch each other. It means the butted rings are neither open nor closed after cutting but in the state inbetween both. The ends of butted rings should match exactly together, otherwise the connections of the weave could reopen. The shape of the ends should also be smooth and without a protruding burr, that could damage garmets worn with the weave. This is less improtant for riveted rings due to the overlap being flattened by hammer strokes. The cutting can be done by a chinsel, a saw or pliers. I use a pair of nipper pliers. It works faster and easier for my. I think a saw is no good choice for it creates rings with ends, that don’t match and have burrs. Besides it’s not possible to cut overlapping rings for riveting. However some butted rings you can buy are cut by saw. Maybe the sawing machines work faster or are easier to build.

My cutting tool is a ordinary pair of pincers, which I modified for this purpose. I extended the handle with two pieces of aluminium pipe for a better leverage. I also grinded a cavity into the side of the pliers head. It is a little bit deeper as the diameter of the wire. I did this with an electrical rotating grinding wheel, which was made for sharpening knives. Furthermore I drilled and filed a recess respectively a hole into the blade, that is settled in distance of one wire diameter to the border. Due to the pliers beeing hardened it there was much scuff at the drill and the file. A better way would be to forge such a pair of pliers and to bring it into the desired shape before hardening. Anyway the way I did it, would propably be more practical to the hobby mail maker. The function of the hole is that the outer loop of the coil is spared yet the secont loop gets cut. This creates the overlapping. My pair of pliers is a litte bit blunt and somtimes a rings gets not completely cut like shown in on eof the pictures. In this case I grap it and bend it until it falls apart.

Senkrecht bzw. quer zum Draht abgetrennte Ringe

Working with this tool makes a cut, that goes verticaly through the wire and in parallel direction to the coil. It is also possible to make a cut, that is parallel to the coil, yet goes diagonal through the wire which creates an overlapping, too. I make such cuts with the unmodified side of my pliers. It’s a littlebit tricky, because it does deform the ring, especially for pointed angles. The deformation makes it later on nearly to hammer the overlapping to a flat shape, where both ends lie still over eache other. This deformation is caused by the flat shape of the pliers edge, whereas the wire in the coil has a curved shape. In my opinion better results can be gained by pliers with a curved edge shape, but I have not tried this out yet.

If you cut the rings verticaly to the wire and have a good pair of pliers and some expierience, there is no reason at all to worry about deformed rings. Though in my opinion the diagonal cutted rings have the better shape. Thier overlapping looks nicely oval rounded after flattening, whereas the overlapping of vertical cutted rings looks rather rectangular with protruding edges. I think, that this edges can damage garmets worn with the mail weave.

Cutting machine by amandeis (youtube). The coil lies on a leading rail, which is fixed at the upper arm of the pliers. The piece of spring wire in the middle pushes the coil away form the head of the pliers to gain space for the new cut rings to fall down.

Instead of working with the pliers in the hand, it might be quite comfortable to fix the tool to a table. The next picture shows the ingenius ring cutting machine made by amandeis, a german hobby mail maker. He has a youtube channel with an chainmail workshop. The tutorial is spoken in german language, yet you know, the moving pictures speak their own language. His machine is made for cutting butted ring.



Making ring: Annealing

Many people think, riveted mail should be hardened, yet a soft, ductil material can absorb more energy before breaking. The rivet makes a ring able to deform until this point without falling out of the weave. So the force of an impact can be shared with nearby rings in the weave. Thus someone wearing a riveted shirt of mail is better protected this way than with hardened rings which tend to brittle fracture. It’s like the crumple zone of a car.
Therefore I use annealed iron wire with a low amount of carbon for riveted rings. Additionally it’s easier to work with. However the deformation during making rings makes it harder. Everyone who ever bent paperclips, might know this. It’s necessary to soften them again by annealing. I anneal each ring twice. The first step is right after cutting them from the coil, to make shure that flattening works properly. Otherwise the ring-ends in the overlapping area tend to slip away when punched or point outwards. The second step of annealig follows after flattening, to make the overlapping softer for punching the rivet hole. It’s important for saving the awl from breaking. There could be a third step done with the finished weave. I don’t think it’s necessary because the whole ring is already softened except the overlapping and my rings break rather within the wire section than at the point of the rivet. Besides annealing in a forge like mine contains the risk of burning the rings by high temperatures.

A simple forge. Air is blow from a hair dryer through a iron pipe.

The required temperature around 700°C can be reached by many different tools like ovens, Bunsen burners, etc. I use a simple homemade forge. It’s just a pipe of iron with some holes at one end and a hair dryer at the other end (blowing cold air). Some bricks keep the coals in place and give protection. I put the rings in a can and place it in the middle of a charcoal-fire. I imagine ancient mail makers using either an oven or a pott with lid and a long handle. Anyway it’s tricky to get the right temperature. A cover on top of the can might be usefull but othwerwise you want to see the colour of the glowing rings. It should be dark red.

Rings during annealing and annealing colours. The temperature is intended to be around 700°C, but might be higher on the bottom of the can.

According to my experiance it is better to adjust the temperature rather too high than too low. Every ring should start glowing for a few seconds. Afterwards I switch off the hair dryer and wait a few hours until the cans is cooled down slowly in the deceasing fire.

[annealing colours]Ulrich Fischer: Tabellenbuch Metall


Making rings: Coiling

The production of riveted and butted rings begins with the same step: coiling. Therefor wire is wraped several times around a rod. I made a special mount for this purpose:

I intended to use as less metal as possible to gain a feeling for anchient times, when iron had a higher value. The wooden parts are simply sticked in each other. They are fixed by a rope that ist kept on tension by twisting it with small sticks. On the upper side is a hole to the left and a V-shaped groove to the right, to hold the rod with its crank handle. It is possible to take off the rod quickly for removing the coil and to use rods of different diameter. All parts can be cut from planks, yet for the holes of the bottom part you need a chisel. The rod has a small hole near the end. When I begin coiling I put the wire end in this hole and beginn cranking. I have to take care that the wire gets coiled thight, yet does not lay not over each other. To simplify this I build a helping handle, where the wire runs through. Nevertheless you can make a good coil without this, even with little practice.

The result of this working step is a long coil of wire. In the next step rings will be cut from this coil. Of course you can use an electrical drill mashine for this task instead of the crank. It’s much faster, but compared with the hole effort for making mail, coiling doesn’t take much time anyway. Using special constructions for coiling works best, if you can use long pieces of wire. Someone who has only short pieces available would probably just wrap them manually around a short rod. Maybe that’s how mail making once started. This is not for shure but anyway that’s how I started. Depending on the method of coiling this work is more or less dangerous. Even the annealed iron wire shown in the pictures has a high tension while being coiled. The end of the wire or the crank will swing around when you suddenly stop holding them. Spring wire contains even more tension. You should wear safety glasses and gloves.

Rings with left- and right-handed overlapping

To make riveted rings, rings with overlapping ends are later cut from the wire soil. Depending on the way of coiling (not on the way of cutting), the overlapping can be left- or right-handend. A right-handed person produces right-handed rings by wraping the wire clockwise from left to right. A left-handed person would tend to wrap from right to left, yet also clockwise. This seems to be the natural way for both left-and right-handed people due to anatomical reasons, no matter wheter the wire is wraped manually or with a crank. Hence the result is a left-handed overlapping for a left-handed person. Ancient mail-garments show both cases, but the kind of overlapping within one weave is always the same [1] [2].

[1] E. Martin Burgess: The Mail-Maker’s Technique,  Antiquaries Journal Volume XXXIII, 1953

[2]Vergard Vike: Ring weave – A metallographical analysis of ring mail material at the Oldsksamlingen in Oslo, 2000