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Make a suit of chain-mail armor

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

armor_main2.jpgTwo leather-clad warriors face each other, swords drawn. Suddenly one of the warriors attacks, his swinging sword clanging loudly against the defending warrior’s. Back and forth they cut and parry, the meadow ringing from impacts. Suddenly the attacker sees an opening and takes a swing he knows will surely cut his opponent in two. His sword slices through his enemy’s leather clothing—but strikes metal instead of flesh! Stunned but far from dead, the attacked warrior says a silent prayer of thanks to the armorer who had saved his life by making him a coat of chain mail.

The Scouts in BSA Troop 324 at European Command Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, don’t plan on being in any sword fights. But making their own suit of chain-mail armor can transport them to the days of shining knights, if only for one fun afternoon. Here’s how you can join them.

You’ll Need:

• two 500-foot rolls of 14-gauge copper wire

• electric drill with 3⁄4-inch bit and 1⁄8-inch bit

• wire cutters

• hammer and nails (long enough to secure wood together)

• wood saw

• wood glue

• 3-foot-long wooden dowel, 3⁄4-inch in diameter

• 7 feet of lumber

• adult’s help and/or permission

armor_step1_2.jpgSTEP ONE: Build a Wooden Rack

A rack or frame will make it easier to produce the many rings needed in a shirt of chain mail.

1. Cut the lumber into three 1-foot-long pieces and two 2-foot-long pieces. Set one 1-foot piece aside.

2. Through the center of two 1-foot pieces, drill a 3⁄4-inch hole. Move the drill bit around to make the holes slightly larger, so the 3⁄4-inch dowel easily slides through.

3. Build the rectangular rack with the two 2-foot pieces and two 1-foot pieces with holes.

4. Slide the dowel through both holes.

STEP TWO: Add a Crank

1. Cut 6 inches off the wooden dowel.

2. Drill two 3⁄4-inch holes into the 1-foot piece of lumber set aside in Step One. Drill the first hole about 2 inches from one end, the other hole about 4 inches from the other end.

3. Take the longer dowel piece and glue into the hole drilled 2 inches from one end.

4. Take the 6-inch dowel piece and glue it into the hole drilled 4 inches from the end, on the opposite side of the lumber. This will be your crank handle.

5. Insert the crank fully into the rack. It should turn easily. About 1 inch from the inside edge of the rack, drill a 1⁄8-inch hole through the center of the dowel.

6. Set aside to let glue dry.

STEP THREE: Ring, Ring, Ring

armor_step3_1.jpg1. Insert one end of the wire into the hole in the dowel and begin turning the crank. Keep turning until the entire length of the dowel has a single layer of tight wire coil. Cut the wire from the roll.

armor_step3_2.jpg2. Cut the piece of wire that was inserted into the hole to begin the coil. Now you should be able to slide out the crank from the coil and the rack, leaving you with a coil of wire. Slightly stretch the coil.

armor_step3_3.jpg3. Cut the rings from the coil. This should leave you a pile of rings that are just barely open. Make more coils and cut more rings.

armor_step3_41.jpg4. Take 4 rings and twist the 2 ends together to make a closed ring. Put these 4 solid rings onto a fifth ring and close this fifth ring so you have a group of 5, four rings on one. This “fiver” is the basic building block for the chain mail armor.

5. Make a large pile of fivers. Also keep a large group of slightly open single rings. When you have a good pile of each, it’s time to begin building the armor.

STEP FOUR: Knitting the Shirt

armor_step4_1.jpg1. Take a fiver and lay it flat, moving 2 rings to the top of the center ring and 2 rings to the bottom. Do the same with another fiver and position it below the first fiver.

armor_step4_2.jpg2. Take a single open ring and link the bottom 2 rings of the top fiver to the bottom 2 rings of the bottom fiver. This single ring now links 4 other rings, just like the fivers you have already made. Close this open ring. Even at this early point the rings should

show a pattern, tilted up and tilted down as they rest upon each other. Add 2 more fivers to form a strip of four fivers. Make another strip of 4 fivers.

armor_step4_3.jpg3. Lay a fiver strip flat to the right side of the first fiver strip. Take a single open ring to link the right 2 rings of the top left hand fiver in the strip to the left 2 rings of the top fiver in the right-hand strip. Continue to link the fivers as shown.

4. Hold up the linked fabric. You can “scrunch” the fabric easily in only one direction. Continue to build a large rectangular fabric. The direction of “scrunchiness” goes about the waist.

5. Once the fabric can comfortably circle your torso, with some slack, attach the 2 edges to form a cylinder.

6. Make two strips, at least 3 groups wide, that will attach to the top of the shirt. These will go over your shoulders. When you are done you should be able to put the shirt of chain mail over your head and have adequate area for your arms.

7. Small cylinders of links can be added to make sleeves. Links can also be added to lengthen the shirt, or different colored metal links can be added to decorate the bottom edge of the shirt.

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11 Comments on Make a suit of chain-mail armor

  1. Me and my dad make it and we found different patterns.
    We also found that you can use a dowel and drill to make the rings.

  2. Hey forget all the nit picking and give some credit. I too use stainless steel and do go onto the battle field – re-enacting and fighting for Richard 111 as an archer. Even with blunts they pack a punch and under the armour we wear padded Jacks. This web site is great for anyone wanting to learn basics if you want to get authentic then join a club and follow the safety rules. What copper does is ‘look’ fabulous and with the addition of black and silver coloured rings your crest can also be woven into your maille shirt. Plastic is often used in films cheaper lighter LoR

  3. im am going to try it for holllowen.

  4. Legend black smith // October 6, 2008 at 2:18 am // Reply

    This is a good way of starting to make armor it takes long but its a lot of fun. Its basicly all the high tec things all in a short few sentences. IT ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. hey, nice website, but instead of copper, i use galvanized steel wire. and instead of making “fivers” i link them together one by one. even still, its good to see people reintroduceing an art long ingnored.

    • Charliehorse // November 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm // Reply

      I make a “rope” of links, that alternates, 2-1-2-1-2-1 until I have the length I need. Then I start weaving my “cloth” from that.

  6. major chaos // July 26, 2008 at 8:27 pm // Reply

    i think the rings in the picture are to big and a knife blade can probaly fit into it, so that kid in the picture might be a goner if he has a sword fight.

  7. A Real Mailler // July 18, 2008 at 1:00 pm // Reply

    I am not trying to cause offense, but you absolutely, positively, can not use plastic. It will not hold and will be worse than gold even. You would not even be able to put one “fiver” together. I also warn you that copper and rings that big will NOT protect you from bodily harm. Thank you.

  8. maille artist dude // July 15, 2008 at 10:24 am // Reply

    ok…… good design, needs to be made out of steel. that is a european 4 in 1 weave. just for your reference. Do a little at a time to avoid getting bored

  9. Weak article. This method will produce something that looks like armour but I pity whoever decides to try and use a real weapon against this. Copper in any gauge wouldn’t stand up to a sword blow even if it were riveted. I respect that we’re trying to teach these scouts a fun hobby but the author could have at least included a disclaimer to inform anyone that attempts this as per the directions posted that it WILL NOT actually protect against bodily harm.

  10. an actual mailler... // July 8, 2008 at 8:51 pm // Reply

    yeah, you guys should just get a drill and throw the dowel rod in that, get some vice grips, attach the wire to the dowel with them, then get a glove and guide the wire onto the dowel. faster and easier. also, i can not believe the article says to use your fingers to weave the mail! use pliers!!! otherwise your fingers WILL be hurting.

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