My Chain Mail Page

I have decided to try my hand at making some chain mail. The Ohio Renaissance Festival in Harveysburg, Ohio, is an event that I try not to miss. When I went there the first time, in 1996, I became interested in chain mail and thought I could make some myself. This is something I can do while watching television in the evenings, or at times when I'm too hot, cold, or tired to work in the garage.

First some links. The first place I found good information is at http--members.aol.com-K17Qdna-qg.htm. Another good site is www.chainmail.com.

The first thing to tackle is making the individual links. I've seen graphics of a hand-cranked device to turn wire into links. It consits of three pieces of wood, one as a base and the other two as uprights. A rod with a handle turned on it is supported by the uprights. This method seems tedious since I have a lathe that can do the work for me.

Turning Coils of Links

Mandrel ready for wire

The first thing I needed was a mandrel. I went to Campbell Tools Company to pick one up. Originally I was going to get one that was 1/4" diameter, but got one that was 5/16" since they were out of the 1/4" ones. The mandrel is the long, horizontal piece in the above picture.

I then needed some way to drive the mandrel (turn it). For this I took a scrap of cast aluminum and turned it in the lathe until the outside was round. (I'm going to refer to this piece as a mandrel extension, since I lack a better term.) Then I drilled a hole through the center to fit the mandrel, and drilled and tapped a hole for a set screw to secure it to the mandrel. Then I drilled a 1/16" diameter hole to attach the wire. I then placed the mandrel between the centers of the lathe and attached my lathe dog to the aluminum piece.

The First Try

16-gage coil of links

For the first try, I brought home a couple of pieces of stainless steel filler rod used for TIG-welding stainless steel. This wire is 3' long and 1/16" diameter, which is about 16-gage. I bent the end of the wire and placed it in the hole in the mandrel extension. I held the wire behind the lathe with my right hand and operated the lathe with my left hand. This resulted in a coil like the one above.

Now the problems. When the wire was almost completely turned I had to let go of the wire. This takes faster fingers than I have. So I lost a little blood on this experiment, and did a fair amount of cursing. The short length is also a problem, since I would lose a lot of material on the ends for just a few links. Finally, the wire is very stiff, and will be hard on my wire-cutters.

After this experiment, I decided to switch to 18-gage wire. Spools of wire for welding come in several diameters, and one is 0.045", which is close to 18-gage. The wire come in 2-, 10-, and 35-pound spools. I picked up a 10-pound spool of ER 316L, which is a type 316 stainless steel with a low silicon content.

Mounting the Spool

The spool stand

I made the spool stand out of whatever scrap was available. The spool has an outside diameter of 8", and an inside diameter of 2". I wanted it to be easy to change spools, so I welded a short piece of pipe (outside diameter of 1-11/16") to a plate. The pipe slides into holes in the uprights, and in the spool, and a wing nut holds it in place.

One concern was that the spool might keep spinning after the lathe was turned off. To stop this I used two pieces of 1x4" pine as a brake. The spring and nut on top keep tension on the spool, but not so much that it won't turn fairly easy.

Wire holder

Another problem is that tension must be maintained on the loose end of the wire or it will uncoil. For this I put a z-shaped piece of 16-gage on the base. Whenever the wire is loose, but I can't hold it, it is secured to the "wire holder" with an alligator clip (or as we used to call them, a roach clip).

Turning the Links

Wire ready to be turned

In this picture, the end of the wire is bent and inserted into the mandrel extension. When I turn the lathe on the wire starts to wrap around the mandrel. I have to guide the wire with my right hand, but at no time do I have to get my fingers out of the way like I did with the 3' length of wire. The only trouble was when my thumbnail was hit by the lathe dog a couple of times, but this wasn't a problem.

Coil of wire after turning

This is what the coil looks like after it is turned. At this point I hold the loose end of the wire and cut it close to the mandrel. The coil is under tension, so when it is cut it starts to uncoil a little. Before it is cut, the inside diameter is 5/16", but it ends up being 3/8" after the coil "relaxes." Here is what the coil looks like after it is removed from the mandrel:

18-gage coil of links
Knitting the Chain Mail

Single links and an assembly

Here is a picture of some links. The one on the left has been cut from the coil and is shaped like a lock-washer. The link in the center has been closed. On the right are five links that have been assembled. Since a hauberk (a shirt made of chain mail) has between 5,000 and 30, 000 individual links, I need a bunch of these assemblies.

That's it for this page so far. This project is going to take a lot of time, so updates will be slow in coming.

Some Terms Explained

A mandrel is a piece of steel that is precision ground after it is heat-treated. It has tapered holes drilled in each end to fit the centers in a piece of machinery, such as a lathe. Back.

A lathe dog is a part that is attached to the piece that needs to be turned, and it has a post that goes into a slot on the faceplate. Mine is two pieces of 1/2" square bar stock, one being drilled and tapped and the other being drilled. The parts are clamped to the mandrel extension with bolts, and one part has a post sticking out of the side. When the faceplate turns, it turns the lathe dog, which turns the mandrel. Back.

Updated July 25, 2002

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