Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chain Maille and the Process of Cutting your Own Rings

Today, I'm taking you into my world... the world of Chain Maille. I thought I would share with you the history of Chain Maille and the process I use to cut my own rings.

First the history - don't worry, since I didn't care much for history myself when I was in school - I will make it a short lesson!

Chain Maille is the ancient art of weaving small metal rings into patterns. It was the earliest form of metal armour and was probably invented before the 5th century by the ancient Celts. The name mail comes from the French word "maille" which is derived from the Latin "macula" meaning "mesh of a net". The armour itself involved the linking of iron or steel rings, the ends of which were either pressed together, welded or riveted. Sometimes the rings were stamped out of a sheet of iron and these were then used in alternate rows with riveted links. End of history lesson - that wasn't too bad was it?

My Chain Maille jewelry is a modern interpretation of this ancient technique.

Now... onto the process. I make all of my own rings using solid sterling silver, copper or gold fill wire. First the wire... nothing fancy... just wire and this is how I receive it... in coils, no labels - here is where it is wise to own a caliper so you know which wire gauge you are working with - this is very important and I will tell you why.... another day!

I coil this wire onto different size mandrels (for different weaves) using a jump ringer system. There are a couple of different systems out there and I am not going to recommend one over the other. The coil is then coated with cutting compound and placed into a coil holder.

A top plate is finger tightened over the coil. To cut the coil, I use a jewelers blade and blade guard. The power behind the spinning blade is a flex shaft - do not use a Dremel as even the best Dremels will not get you the rpms that are needed to cut through the wire - especially the heavier gauges. My flex shaft spins to a maximum speed of 18,000 rpm and I make sure it's spinning at that speed before I attempt to cut the coil. If the speed is not fast enough, it will bind. Oh yes... very important... always wear eye protection! There will be metal dust spraying out at you and there have been many times where I have had wire or a piece of the blade come flying out at me.

Once the rings are cut, they are placed in a tumbler containing stainless steel shot, a bit of water and dish soap - that's right... dish soap is not just for cleaning dishes! The cut rings are then tumbled for several hours before they are ready for use. The tumbling does two things; first, it polishes the metal, removing small scratches and burrs and secondly, it hardens the metal. Once this process is complete, the rings are ready to weave into intricate Chain Maille pieces - if you click on the picture of the rings you can see just how shinny they are! You can use different metals together in one weave, add crystals or make pieces using just one metal. That's where your imagination and creativity comes in!


  1. Wow! What a great way to make rings!

  2. very very cool..
    thanks for the lesson..
    mona & the girls