The Art and Craft Pages


How to make chain mail armour

The best medieval costume is an authentic one, so why not make proper metal chain mail (or maile). From the Roman period to the 1500s, mail was the basis of a knight's armor. The richest combined the mail with plate armour, but in general leather and mail were the most usual forms seen on the battlefields.

medieval costume

If you have the patience, you could make your own. The rules of how to chain maille are not at all difficult to learn and the materials are not massively expensive, but it is a slow process as each metal ring has to be joined in by hand, one at a time.

What you will need to make chainmaile.

The basic starter kit is a few roles of wire from your local diy store (£3.00 each). Heavy duty galvanised wire is fine (although in ancient times they used iron wire which is harder to obtain and rusts more quickly). I got some 50m rolls from B&Q.

roll of wire

You will need a pair of cutters (I started with ordinary snips but quickly swapped them for 'aviation snips' which cost about £15 a pair.

aviation snips

2 pairs of long nosed pliers are essential (£6 a pair)

long nosed pliers

Finally you could make do with a cheap bic pen for forming the rings, but eventually you should upgrade to a foot long piece of 7mm diameter steel rod (£2.00).

bic pen

So for an outlay of around £50 you will have everything you need to make a chain maile tunic or coif (headpiece shown below)


Step 1 - Making wire rings for chain mail

These instructions are for making European style '4 in 1' maile. There are other patterns too, but it is best to start with this because it is the common pattern that was really used and it is the least fiddly to learn.

Cut about a foot of wire from the coil and wrap it tightly around the pen or steel rod to make a helix. Now using the aviation snips, cut up along one side of the helix and you will find you now have about 20-30 splint rings all waiting to be joined together.

Making your first join.

Using your pliers, bring the ends of a ring together to make a circle. Do this to three more rings and then hang them all from one ring. Now bring the ends of that ring together, so you have five complete rings all looped together.

5 maile rings

Now close two new rings, hang them from an open ring and join that two the two rings on the right of your first five ring set.

eight maile rings

Look carefully at the image above. Note that the rings in rows running right to left are not connected to each other, they merely overlap. Now repeat the step of adding 3 rings (2 closed and one open) to make a long chain.

maile chain

Once you get onto the next row things actually get less fiddly because the chain you have already made stabilises things and it all speeds up quite nicely. From now on you will probably find it easier to add one ring at a time, looping it through the two above.

next row of mail