Thursday, July 29, 2010

In A Different Life: On Chainmaille Construction

I haven't always been a scientist, or even an engineer. In a different life, I was a historian, particularly interested in military history, and medieval studies. In fact, I originally applied to Yale as first a History major, then as a Music major, then finally Chemistry. Oh how times have changed.

As per Anthony's request, I decided to whip up some chainmaille after lunch and before I started working on the cryptex. Here's the results.

So, no, I didn't make this today. I made this a number of years ago just for fun. Both the shortened hauberk and coif are made out of 16 gauge galvanized steel (hand wound and cut, of course. Medieval people didn't have power tools). The trim on the coif is made from 16 gauge copper wire. It took about a month to make, and cost, I'd say, around $50 in raw materials, which is pretty good. My only regret is that the chainmaille is made of just butted rings, rather than riveted ones. The complication comes from using galvanized wire, which is covered with a zinc oxide sacrificial layer to prevent corrosion, and when you anneal the rings for riveting, the coating sublimes and turns into a variety of toxic gases ( Chemistry!

And contrary to popular belief, chainmaille isn't meant to guard against cutting. Most gauges used (even historically) were too thin to prevent a sword blow if stretched taught. Chainmaille is supposed to hang, like a curtain. The hanging absorbs the blows of blunt force, like ancient Kevlar (Physics!) since it's much harder to treat internal bleeding than an external laceration (Biology!). Yeah, this is still a Science and Engineering blog, don't worry.



  1. Wow. You have a lot of patience. The copper outline looks really cool. Also, it looks like the running's paying off ;).

  2. Yo kelsey, very cool. How did you do the sleeves/contours? Was there some kind of plan online? I saw your cryptex too. Excellent craftsmanship. Looks like you must have some high end hand tools. Ever made a Rubens tube? Considering your skill, it would probably just take you an hour or two to set up.

  3. You know Zach, I've always wanted to make a Rubens tube, but have never had (legal) access to a fuel source/gas cylinders. Perhaps this is a project for a slow weekend at Yale?

    And yes, I had a general pattern to work with for the chain mail. I don't remember where I got it, it was a number of years ago, and the internet was a vastly different place.