Instruction for mail armour (2/2)

Two types of hauberk with attached coif, with rows of the mail pattern leading around the sleeves. left: with visible 90°-seams. right: with segments inserted and less visible seams.

There are two ways known to me, how to construct a hauberk with an attached coif, that has rows running around the sleeves. The first type is what I found on mail garments of other mail makers. I call it the 90°-pattern. A piece for the chest is connected to a piece for the belly and to pieces for the arms. The arms are connected seamless to the chest-piece, but there is also a small 90°-seam, where they connect to the belly-piece. Unfortunately tensions tend to concentrate at the point, where this seam beginns.

Therefore I developed another version. I call it the segmented pattern. In this construction two segments are added to the frontside of each armpit and another two at the backside. This results in less noticeable seams. Even the 90°-seam inbetween the segments is less noticeable than the 90°-seam in the 90°-pattern. It is because the segmentes are orientated in a 45° angle towards the seamline. For the 90°-seam-construction there is a 90° angle of the sleeves towards the seamline, wherease the angle between chest-piece and seamline is 0°.

The figures show just the front parts of each version. They are connected to similar back parts at the black lines. The back parts look almost the same, yet there is a difference in expansion-rings on shoulders, belly and hips. The coif is an exception. There’s just a hole for the face on the front side. A flap for the face is not depicted due to clarity reasons.

Instruction for mail armour (1/2)

You can find a lot of tutorials about mail, yet only few of them manage to give an idea about how to shape a mail garment to perfectly fit a body. There was much more knowlegde about this in ancient times. This article is just an approach to make you understand what determines a good shaped hauberk.

Relief Marseillaise on Arc de Triomphe, Paris. You can see mail shirts with two different alignments of the European-4in1 pattern.

The picture shows the Relief Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It contains both kinds of orientation of the 4in1 weave pattern. The left person wears it the “normal” way. Like this it contracts around the body and allows vertical blows better to slip away. The person to the right wears the waeve turned by 90°. This way it spreads and blows can get stucked in the weaves. Last orientation was therefore rather uncommon. In mostly saw it on pieces of art and not on a real mail garment.

European-4in1 pattern with much and little tension on the weave

Because of the contraction the normal orientation bears the question, how far it should be meashured around a body. On the picture you can see how two pieces of weave in same orientation but compression lenght look like. The left one is contracted less than the right one. It seems to be best, to construct the weave very close fitting and not to allow it to contract much, which would give an advantage in weight. Yet this of course comes along with less agility and also with less protection. The chance of blows to get stucked increases and the forces of an impact can be distributed less within the weave. I prefer a weave with a density inbetween both pictures.

Rows and colums in European-4in1 pattern.

To give the hauberk an appropriate density all over the body, you need to stop simplifying it to a model with the shape of a cylinder. That means depending on the wearer, rows should be longer around the breast and the hips than at the belly. You also need to give more space for the shoulders to stay agile. Sleeves should become less thick towards the hands and can be constructed with an angle at the ellbow. The picture is to explain, what rows and columms in a mail weave are.

There are two possibilitys for the sleeves. They can be either contructed with rows running along the sleeve or around it. It is worth a note, that the left person on the relief has got both: His left arm shows rows running around the sleeve whereas the right arm has rows running along the sleeve. It is the artwork of the 19th century sculptor and does not accomplish the needs of battle armor. In fact it is difficult, to depict mail, especially around the armpits and schematic drawings like the following one can easily lead to missunderstandings. So don’t derive only from that how to construct the armpits.

Both ways of aligning the pattern on the sleeves are historical. The construction with rows along the sleeves is easier to build, but the weave spreads, when the arms point downwards. There is a german tutorial with lots of pictures for this type on
The construction with rows around the sleeves legitimates its complexibilty with some advantages. They are all about the fact, that weave can be reduced to a thinner width along the columms in an almost invisible manner, whereas reducing along the rows creates seams. Thus this construction allows to reduce the sleeves towards the hand with expansion rings spread all around and no visible seam. Furthermore as depicted there are rows running around the neck, wich make it easy to attach a coif or a collar. During rising the arms, there is can be lot of tension in the armpits. A good shaping of this region in the manner of the rows-around-the-sleeves type can prohibit that tension concentratents single rings, without adding much additional weight. The picture on the right shows, how I solved this. I is just one out of several options. You can as well connect parts in a 90° seam. There is also a german tutorial for this type:
I reccomend not to align the expansion rings in a line as shown there, but to spread them all around the parts, which avoids seams.




Shaping a mail coif

Ring coif attached to a hauberk.

Constructing mail weave around a body is quite different from sewing clothes, because the mail doesn’t have to be assembled from plain pieces. It can easliy be built in spherical shapes, like plate armour can. Thus the task of constructing mail garments has got more in common with knitting than sewing. If forget about the concept of sewing patterns, you can make mail armour, that fits closer and saves weight. Everything, that seems to be difficult about this, can be solved by intuition and simple calculations. I will explain this further with a mail coif as an example:

Topview onto mail coif. Rings holding five neighbours have been colored afterwards.

The first step is to cover a hemisphere with mail weave, starting with a single ring right on top. This ring gets connected with others and the weave is then continued in horizontal rows of rings until the equator is reached. Each row has to contain more rings, than it’s reighbor above. Therefore some rings have to hold ´ive other rings and in the next row some rings have to be connected to just three others. I call a pair of each an expansion. Each expansion adds one ring to a row. The challenge for a mail maker is to put the right amount of expansions in the right positions to shape the mail weave as intented. So you start building a small plain circle. According to the formula for the circumference of a circle you would expect about six or seven expansions per row. For my coif eight expansion per row fitted better. I only put expansions in rows of riveted rings, like shown in the picture.

Distribution of expansions. Each pillar represents one row, starting on top of the coif.

When the weave reaches a diameter of about 10cm, you should count have many rows remain and how many expansions still have to be made. So you can reduce the number of expansions row by row. For that you need to know, how many rings will be needed in the row around the equator respectively the forehead. Make a band of mail weave, wrap it around and count the rings. It’s width should be 3 rows of riveted rings*. It can become a part of the coif. Don’t forget to consider space for armour worn inbetween mail and weave.
Use the band and the circle-shaped piece of mail to estimate, how many rows fit in the distance from top to the equator. Once you know this and the number of expansions, that still have to be set, you can think about their distribution. I distribute them with intuition like shown in the graph. Expansion should keep a constant distance to each other within a row and inbetween rows. So it won’t look like a seam. However sometimes it is intented to look like a seam.

At the forehead you can connect the band to the weave and add more rows without expansions. Of course you spare space for the face. You can attach the coif to the mail shirt or make a coif that can be completly taken off. In both cases you shouldn’t add more rings per row, than needed to build a plain circle. If you do, the weave just gets tighter and useless weight is be added. Push the riveted rings together and rivet them afterwards, when the whole coif has the shape you intented.

* Remark: A band with a width of one row is longer than a band with a width of more rows, while both have the same number of rings per row!

Making ring: Making the rivet hole

There are three possibilities for a modern mail-maker to make a hole for riveting into the overlapping area of a ring. The most obvious modern method is to drill a hole. I advise you to use high quality drill bits, which are sold for industry and workshops, not the usual ones from hardware stores. Beside this there are the traditional methods of piercing with an awl or punching with a punch. Especially for wedge rivets piercing is a good choice. I use an awl like the one in the picture:

I make the hole by hitting the awl twice with a hammer. A piece of hard wood lies underneath. I have to change it sometimes. You could also use metal to underlay, with an hole for the protruding point of the awl, but this can damage the awl very likely. The wooden underlayment even protects the awl from rings, that have not been annealed enough or from rings with a thick overlapping. Those rings will be pushed far into the wood.
You can attach underlayment and awl to a pair on thongs, as shown on This is just worth the effort, if your point doesn’t break too often. I doubt that this was done back in ancient or medieval times. However the method of piercing can be as fast and exact as drilling and the resulting rings are very firm, because no metal was removed.

For round rivets I prefer punching the holes. This means to use a punch wit a flat side facing the ring. It removes pieces in shape of a circle from the overlapping area. I tried to forge my own punches by medieval methods two times, but it is difficult to adjust the hardness appropriately. It shouldn’t be too soft but also not too hard that it’s brittle. So I use punch from modern steel until I figured this out:


Making rings: Flattening

Despite all instructions making riveted rings can be understood best by trial. Nevertheless this article may shorten your process of learning, for as a beginner you might produce most of your waste during flattening. To avoid this, you should have a look at the quality of the cut off rings. The overlapping ring ends should be exactly above each other and touch each other without a gap inbetween. The inner strain in the material should be removed by adequate annealing. That’s the most important point.

I use an ordinary hammer and a small anvil, which was once used for thinning scyths. It is plucked into a trunk and a piece of raw hide is attached to collect the rings. The purpose of flattening is to create enough space for the rivet in the overlapping area. Thus it suffices, just to flatten the overlap. The other part of the ring can remain in a round crosssection. To this I strike the overlap in an angle of about 30° with the edge of the hammer. One or two strikes are enough.

An anvil is also a good choice. It brings the andvatage to push rings along its surface instead of picking them up each time:

Some mail-makers like to flatten the whole ring. For it they use supporting tools like a cylinder in a hollowed cylinder, to do exact vertical strikes, but with some practise a comparable result can be achieved manually in less time, no matter if flattening the overlap or the whole ring. Supporting tools can be used to
coin signs into the rings. As an example the coat of mail of Ivan Grigoryevich Vyrodkov, a russian millitary engineer of the 16th century contains big flat rings which show the same coinage. It is exhibited in the State Historical Museum in Moscow.

Flattening the whole ring reduces the inner diameter of the ring. Additonally rings with a rectangular crossection just touch each other at the edges, whereas rings with a round crosssection touch each other closer to the middles of the crosssections. Consequently flat rings show a smaller effective inner diameter and their ringweave needs more rings per area. This is why I prefer just to strike the overlap, which leads to what I call round rings. They are done well, when they comply with the following caracteristics:

  • The overlap should only be as flat as necessary, which means you are able to rivet without ripping the metal and the rivet-connection being as strong as the ring. If you drill or punch the rivet-hole afterwards, you need a thinner overlap than by piercing it, because you will remove material.
  • after-flattening-sideview
    Flattened ring with ends slightly crossing each other

    The ring ends sould not skip off each one another, which happens most likely if the rings are not annealed adequately. Neighter should they cross each other because their sharp edges are protruding and can harm garmets worn with the mail. Dependig on the angle of the crossing you can grind the edges off or just throw the ring away. Even the ring shown in the siedview has a slightly crossing.

During making rings and maybe after some pulling tests you will gain an imagination, how a ring should be like. However crafting rings manually yields varying quality. Remebering, that mail garments were once used as a protection from injury and death, a person wearing the mail would like nothing less than rings of highest quality. This doesn’t mean rings of lower quality have to be thrown away without exeption. They can be used in mail sheets of lower quality to protect less endangered bodyparts. It is concievable that budged-priced mail garments with medium quality existed.



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


Scale gloves made out of drinking cans

Many things can be made out of drinking cans. Some time ago I had the idea to use the sheets, that cover the opening. You know that stamped part which gets pushed inwards for opening the can. I made a pair of very light-weighting and flexible scale-gloves with them:

I removed the flat sheets from the cans and pierced three holes in each of them. Afterwards I started sewing them in rows on a ordinary working-glove. This works best, when you beginn near the wrist. A long and pointed pair of flat nose pliers can be usefull for handling the needle inside the glove. For sewing the fingers this won’t work well any more. Then it’s better to lead the point of the needle through two layers of leather at once, so that it comes out on the outside again. For that purpose you need to buckle the leather a little bit, what is only possible when the scales dont fit close to it. Therefore I threaded every whole row loose and thigthend it afterwards. It took around 500 scales for the pair of gloves. The parts, that cover the finger tips are made out of a thicker aluminium plate. I forged the parts in a homemade wooden swage.

Amount of work

How long does it take to build a mail-shirt? If you ask someone, who actually did it, the answer you get might be: “It takes just as long as it needs!” To finish a shirt of mail you need to have patience and fun doing it. If you got this, time doesn’t matter much. Nevertheless I measured the time, to give you an idea about the dimensions:

Hauberk with hood, face cover and attached gloves from ringen with 6mm ID.

The time spend on one ring doesn’t depend much on the size of it, yet the time per area of weave does. To cover 10x10cm, I need 200 rings with an inner diamater of 8mm. That takes me 8 hours from the wire to the weave. To make a shirt with short sleeves, you may consequently need about 600 hours. A full hauberk with a hood, covering the whole arms and the legs to the knee would take 1100 hours. The garment shown in the following picture is such a hauberk. I build it out of rings with an inner diameter of 6mm. This ring size made me spend about 1000 hours just for riveting. Yet this just means two years of watching an average amount TV while making mail.
During production there is some waste. Thus I have to buy 5m of wire to make 100 rings with an inner diameter of 8mm instead of 3,6m, which would theoretically be enough. I assume, that medieval mail-makers had by far less waste, for wire was more valuable. Furthermore I think, they could do it up much faster, due to more experiance and practice. If there have been workshops, where the task were splitted to several persons (master, assistants and apprentices), they could easily accomplish orders in a few weeks.