How to get started making your own chainmail.
Many chainmail origin stories begin with a roll of galvanized fence wire from a local home improvement store. Some start with cheap jump rings from a fabric store. Others with a thousand soda can tabs and a pinterest idea.
While there's nothing wrong with starting this way its my personal belief that in order to excel at chainmail you can't stay there. This hobby has a great foundation that makes it easy to transition from a beginner to a full time ring-weaving machine in a short period of time if you have a few tips getting started.
First off there's no need to make your own rings. You can, don't let me stop you, but there are chainmail ring manufacturers out there that produce a large selection of rings in a multitude of sizes and materials already. This gives you access to rings in quantities and varieties that you simply can't start out with when making rings on your own as a beginner unless you have a few million to invest.
The companies listed below are in no particular order. I haven't ordered from all of them so I can't speak about the quality of each one's wares (that's an article for another time) but what I have seen is people make beautiful projects with their rings and I can speak to the character of the people who run the companies as I have seen plenty of happy and satisfied customers from them.
This list does not include all chainmail ring manufacturers so feel free to go searching for others and try them out, if you have a preferred brand of rings be sure to mention them in the comments. If I had known about companies that produce chainmail rings I would not have spent time making my own rings at all as the tradeoff between the savings and time of making my own rings did not compare to the variety and quality of rings I could get from these companies. I made my own rings for years with galvanized fence wire, a mandrel and a pair of knipex bolt cutters and looking at them now I would be embarrassed to give them away they came out so bad. They did provide me with a way to learn how to make chainmail so don't think that you can't make chainmail if purchasing manufactured rings is out of the question.
You will have to make your own decision regarding this but remember that even if you don't start out making your own rings that doesn't mean you can't start making them in the future with a better idea of how to make a quality consistent ring. I know many people who make their own chainmail rings because it suits their needs for specialty ring sizes but for a beginner starting out I recommend purchasing a few quality rings so you can make some well crafted items a bit faster.
Without performing a poll or study my guess is that people start making chainmail with the pliers they have on hand in their junk drawer or out in the garage. My first two pairs of pliers were linesman pliers and needle-nose pliers my grandfather had given me when I first started. These are fine if you're just starting out but today I would never use my linesman pliers on sterling silver for example. If you continue long enough in this hobby you will most likely need specialty pliers for different materials. The companies listed below provide a very nice selection of tools to help with chainmail projects and help you avoid injury by using the right pair of pliers for the job.
If you find that you're not ready to make a purchase or don't know what pliers you will need your junk drawer pliers will work just fine for a long time. I myself have only one pair of Wubbers pliers, all the rest are either from the junk drawer, the tool shed or the local hobby store. The recommendation of pliers from these companies comes from years of being jealous of other better chain maillers who use them and have nothing but good things to say about them.
If you have a preferred brand of pliers mention them in the comments.
Different materials are going to be easier to work with than others. Sitting down and working on rings made from 12 gauge 3/8" stainless steel is going to wear you down a lot faster than weaving 18 gauge 1/4" anodized aluminum rings. You can still be injured from opening and closing rings no matter the ring size or material but with some insight you can avoid permanent/long-term damage.
Everyone has their own physical limitations that will determine how long they can safely work on a project. Working in sections, taking frequent breaks, stretching and resting are all very important parts of making chainmail. If you injure yourself with a repetitive motion injury from weaving your illustrious chainmail career could be very short.
I started with 14G galvanized steel fence wire making rings 3/8" diameter working on my first attempt at a hauberk. As stated in a previous article it didn't work out well. Having injured myself several times weaving for way too long and not taking the recommended precautions that shirt took several years as opposed to a few months. 14G steel of any variety isn't something I recommend a beginner start out with but that's only my opinion and it's not impossible to do so.
If you want to have some fun right out of the gate with fun colors and projects that are easier on the body I would suggest anodized aluminum rings. They come in a multitude of sizes and colors. They are much easier to work with than steel and harder materials like titanium. You can make a thousand different things with them all different from the next and you can buy a ton of them for relatively low cost. In fact you could probably spend your whole chainmail career using anodized aluminum and never get bored.
Anodized aluminum will give you the opportunity to experience the chainmail hobby at a fun pace with minimal risk of injury compared to other rings, the variety of color that other rings don't have, and the ease of use that will allow you to work for longer periods of time on projects compared to other materials.
Each material has its pros and cons that you need to take into consideration before purchasing rings for a project as the last thing you want is for your hard work to tear itself apart from use so here is some thoughts on a few materials:
- Anodized Aluminum - Soft and light, easy to work with, scratches easily so be sure to use the right pliers, good for inlays and wall art, earrings, some necklaces and bracelets.
- Stainless Steel - Hard and heavy, very forgiving (you can open and close steel rings multiple times without risk of breaking them), great for wallet chains, guitar straps, chainmail shirts, and all manner of jewelry.
- Sterling Silver - Soft and light, very forgiving, great for all kinds of jewelry.
- Titanium - Hard, not very forgiving (snaps easily after opening it too many times), good for chainmail shirts, wallet chains, and all manner of jewelry.
Tutorials and Kits
As chainmail gains popularity more and more awesome and creative people are making their own tutorials. There are a ton of free tut's, a ton of paid tut's, and many creators have kits that go along with their instructions so you can order the kits and the tutorial together with all the rings you will need to complete a project.
I've never bought a kit or a tutorial but I have been gifted a few and I would have loved to have one when I first begain making chainmail. The kits I have recieved were great, I didn't have to buy a minimum amount of rings from different suppliers, all the rings were included in the kit. I didn't have to stare at a weave wracking my brain trying to figure it out I had the instructions right there. All the kits I have received were amazing
This is not a complete list of tutorial designers and kit makers but MailleArtisans is essentially a library of weaves many of them with ring sizes and tutorials that are all free. AussieMaille is a mailler who has several videos available that go over in detail how to make various projects. Weave Got Maille has a bunch of kits for different experience levels as well as a ton of other resources. There are several more sites that have tutorials and kits, many chain maillers on etsy have tut's and kits in their stores. If you're starting out and don't know what to work on take a look through the weaves and tutorials available for some great ideas.
Kits are a great way to stay entertained with chainmail as you can make something new each time without having to build up a large stock of rings so that you have every variety of ring available to you at all times. As a beginner you're generally not going to have this anyway you will purchase quantities of rings over time eventually obtaining rings in a plethora of materials and sizes.
Use as many free tutorials as you can get access too, they will help speed along the process of learning to weave rings and make you a better mailler overall. If you can afford it get some paid tutorials for yourself as well. Many tutorials cover specific items created by the author that you can't find anywhere else and its much cheaper to purchase a tutorial than it is to stare at a picture trying to figure out ring sizes and how they made it. It helps to support the tutorial creators as well so that they can keep making awesome stuff and showing the rest of us how to make the cool things they design.
- A note on tutorial/kit etiquette: Information found in free tutorials is generally considered free for distribution, information found in paid tutorials/kits is not for distribution at all, period, full stop, no exceptions. When you share information in paid tutorials it dissuades tutorial makers from making more tutorials for everyone else. It causes unnecessary grief amongst what is still considered a small community, and its generally looked down upon to do so causing the rest of the group to shun you when you were just trying to be helpful. Don't do it!
If you have anything on your website pertaining to chainmail rings, supplies, tutorials, kits, etc, post a link to your site in the comments.
The best tip in this article is this list of groups. Tons of maillers hang out in these areas and have probably tried what you want to work on. I didn't know about them until years after I began making chainmail 20+ years ago and ever since I stumbled across them they have been invaluable communities with a ton of experience and inspiration. Using these resources can take your transition from a beginning mailler to a professional in a matter of weeks. If you have decided to begin making chainmail and have a question there is probably an answer already posted in one of these areas.
Delving deep into these communities will give you a ton of insight into what you will need to start on your first project. I have made a ton of friends and found many artists who are incredibly inspiring.
Here are some honorable mentions:
For everyone mentioned there are a thousand more people out there who you can draw inspiration from, make friends with, and learn from.
Lastly I want to mention a large chainmail gathering happening in February of next year, the Chain Link Up 2021. A ton of people have meetups around the country but this one should be the largest, a whole event dedicated to chainmailers and their art spending a weekend together learning from each other and hanging out.
As a new mailler I spent a ton of time looking for resources that didn't exist yet and my life would have been so much easier if I had known anyone else that made chainmail 20 years ago. If you can't make it to Florida next year you should reach out to people in your area and hang out, make some chainmail together (of course once this pandemic is over).
I hope this article helps prevent you from having to re-invent the wheel when learning how to make chainmail. None of the link lists are exhaustive. Each of these topics could have dedicated articles written about them and each person is going to have their own personal preference at the end of the day. This is just one man's opinion and I hope I've helped.
Today there are many more resources available to someone starting out, go and find some pliers, find a kit or some rings you like, hit up the tutorial links, get into the groups, make some friends and start making some chainmail. Its a great tactile hobby that helped me through my PTSD and keeps me out of trouble!
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And go checkout MailleWerX for all your chainmail themed apparrel and accessory needs.