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How to Make Chainmail Rings- An easy to follow DIY by Tarvel's Trinkets

How to Make Chainmail Rings- An easy to follow DIY by Tarvel's Trinkets

How to Make Chainmail Rings

Welcome to Tarvel’s Guide on how to make Chainmail! Making Chainmail in of itself is a very simple idea, but there are so many topics that one can cover when it comes to this craft that this guide will be broken up into several sections. The section you’re reading right now is on what materials there are that you can use for BUTTED chainmail, as well as what ring/wire size to go with and how to coil the wire to make your own rings. We will cover how to make riveted rings in another section, so we will focus on strictly butted chainmail for now.
Before I dive into this craft, I should preface it by saying you are not required to make your own rings to get into this craft. There are many people and manufacturers like TheRingLord who produce rings so you don’t have to spend any extra time beyond weaving the rings together. I prefer to make my own rings, and that’s usually where most questions arise, so this guide will start off addressing that! Now without any further distractions, let’s get into it!
What is butted chainmail? (See Picture 1 to get an idea of what butted chainmail looks like)
Butted rings are pieces of wire that are pushed together with their ends. To make butted chainmail there are three steps: 
  • Coiling: wrap some wire around a rod to form a spiral-shaped coil
  • Cutting: take the coil and cut off rings
  • Closing: take rings and push their butted ends together 

Butted rings do have a little gap but this can be closed a little easily. The main downside to butted chainmail is that if the wire is weak, it runs the risk of falling apart under its own weight as the rings are pulled open or hit by objects. If you are looking to make chainmail for cosplay, butted chainmail is a great go to. Aluminum and galvanized/stainless steel are the recommended materials for this style of chainmail due to their properties compensating for the downsides of butted chainmail perfectly!

Step 1: Choosing your materials (see picture 2)
  • Steel is strong and therefore good for butted rings and riveted rings. However, regular steel will rust and requires a lot of maintenance. If using steel to make butted chainmail, I highly recommend stainless steel wire or galvanized steel.
  • Titanium is the choice for ultra lightweight rings that are incredibly strong. It is the real world equivalent of Mithril armor from LOTR or D&D. Titanium weighs about the same as aluminum (if not lighter) while having the same strength as steel! This means that unlike steel or aluminum, it is far less likely to fall apart under its own weight, or from the wear and tear of using it over the course of time. Titanium also does not rust. If you have the funds needed to be able to afford titanium wire/rings, I highly recommend this material. 
  • Aluminium is almost as lightweight as titanium but much cheaper. Shiny and unable to rust, aluminum is a good choice to go with if funds are extremely limited. Keep in mind though that while aluminum is light, it is also soft and easier to bend and pull apart if used for chainmail. Therefore, butted aluminum chainmail should only be used for costuming and cosplay. However, it looks great and is an excellent choice for those who don’t want to deal with the weight of steel or other materials but can’t afford titanium.
  • Copper is beautiful but similar to aluminum in terms of softness. The key downside of copper is that while it is soft, it is also heavier than aluminum. Only use this for decorative trimming when making butted chainmail armor. (See pictures 3 and 4 for an example of how brass, bronze and copper can be used for decoration on chainmail)

  • Copper-alloy is a mixture of copper and other metals. For example, Brass is a mixture of copper and zinc. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin. Bronze tends to be the strongest of the copper alloys while brass is a bit softer. Bronze can be used for actual butted maille but tends to be expensive. In fact, copper and all copper alloys tend to run on the expensive side, which is why they are generally only used for decorative elements. (See picture 5 for an example of a current work in progress where I am making a butted bronze chainmail shirt)
  • Gold is extremely soft but too heavy and expensive. Rings of gold weigh about 2.5 times as much as rings of iron. If you really want to make it seem like your chainmail has gold decorations, go with anodized aluminum or brass.
  • Niobium is incredibly expensive and soft as well. It is great for jewelry but not recommended for butted chainmail armor. The key benefit to niobium is is naturally non-allergenic
  • For corrosion: Iron and steel can be coated with a layer of nickel or zinc to prevent corrosion. This is what galvanized steel wire is. WARNING
  • : DO NOT apply a flame’s heat to galvanized steel. Also DO NOT use a dremel or saw to cut coils of wire to make rings when using galvanized steel. Zinc is extremely toxic and has a low evaporation point. While it might seem easier and quicker to use other tools, just use wire cutters to cut rings if using galvanized steel. This warning only applies to galvanized steel.
  • For colour: Aluminium, Titanium and Niobium naturally form oxidation-layers on their surface. These layers stay on the ring and prevent the inside from rusting. It is possible to artificially make those layers bigger. That makes the rings colourful. Look for anodized rings. Rings can also be painted. Yet an anodized coating is far more durable. If you want anodized aluminum or colored niobium, finding them online is much much easier than making them. Titanium can be colored using a torch.
Step 2: determining ring/wire size
There are three main ring sizes when it comes to making butted chainmail armor. I will be using the imperial measuring system as that is what I’m most familiar with, but I will try to do my best to include the metric system equivalents. I will also be using AWG (American wire gauge) to explain wire thickness.
  • 1/4” (6mm) is the smallest inner diameter for a ring that you would ever want to go with. The main advantage of small rings is they form to the body much better and can add a slightly better level of comfort. This ring size however is not for the faint of heart or those with little patience. The smaller the rings, the more of them that you will need. For this ring size, I highly recommend 16-18 gauge wire. (To see an example of a 1/4” ring sized shirt, see picture 6)

  • 5/16” (8mm) is the middle inner diameter for chainmail rings. This is generally the sweet spot and allows you to use wire as thin as 16 gauge without worrying about it falling apart as much as  larger rings of the same wire thickness. For this ring size, I recommend 14-16 gauge wire.
  • 3/8” (9.5mm) is the largest inner diameter for chainmail rings that can be made using a drill and 3/8” steel rod to coil the rings around (this will be explained in the next step). For this ring size, 12-14 gauge is the recommended option, but 16 gauge could be used. If using 16 gauge with this though, expect the chainmail to eventually fall apart under its own weight over time. (To see an example of butted chainmail using this ring size, see picture 7)

  •  a good rule of thumb when trying to determine what wire thickness to go with what ring size is to know that as a butted ring gets bigger, the strength of the wire becomes weaker. Therefore, larger rings require thicker wire while smaller rings require thinner wire. 
Step 3: coiling wire
(See pictures 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12 for visual help)

There are a few ways to coil wire, but the easiest way is to grab a steel rod (wood rods/dowels are not recommended as they tend to break) that is the diameter you want your rings to be in (1/4”, 5/16”, 3/8”, etc), drill a hole to insert the end of the wire into, insert said steel rod into a drill, and then spin it to coil the wire around the rod. Careful though, you’ll need to wear a glove for the hand that is handling the wire so you don’t risk injury! 
The basics are this: insert the wire into the hole in the steel rod as shown in the picture. Begin coiling until you reached the desired length for the wire coil. Cut the remaining uncoiled wire off with wire cutters and snip the other end so the wire isn’t stuck in the hole. Then remove the coil from the rod and prepare to cut it up into rings!
Step 4: Cutting Rings
(See pictures 13 & 14 for visual help)
Congratulations for making it this far! The next tool you will need for this part is a pair for wire cutters or bolt cutters (miniature or large depending on the material and wire thickness you’re working with). Simply cut the rings out as shown in the photo and gather your rings! To make butted chainmail armor will require a lot of rings, so stay tuned for when I go into the different weaves used for chainmail!
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