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Revision as of 11:22, 26 August 2004 by Cian (talk | contribs) (category:armour)
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Chainmail is a material used to make armour, and consists of small rings of metal put together to form a mesh. Chainmail has been used at least since the time of the Roman Empire, and was an important armour material up until fully articulated plate armour became available. Several ways of linking the rings together have been known since ancient times, the most common being the 1-to-4 pattern where each ring is linked with four others.

The word chainmail is actually an anachronism. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was simply called "mail", "maile" or "maille"; derived, through the Italian "maglia", from Latin "macula" - meaning "net". The custom of calling it chainmail was due to a mistaken belief that there were other types of maille (eg "banded maille") which have since been proven to be false.


In Europe, the 1-to-4 pattern was almost completely dominant, with 1-to-6 being seen very rarely. In East Asia (primarily Japan), chainmail was also common, but here several more patterns were utilized and an entire nomenclature developed around them. In the Middle East, yet other patterns were developed and often combined with metal plates linked in with the rings.

Historically, the rings composing a chainmail armour would be riveted or welded shut, to reduce the chance of the rings splitting open when subjected to a thrusting attack or a hit by an arrow.

In modern re-enactment and Live-action roleplaying games, split sprung steel washers are sometimes used. Usually a two pairs of pliers are used to bend the washers open and closed whilst "knitting" the chainmail. The resulting mail is usually heavier than traditional wire-wound mail.

Members of the New Varangian Guard make their maille from spring steel rings. By using spring steel, you can use a finer gauge of wire and still retain strength. However, for truly tough and light maille, you cannot go past riveted maille.

In the SCA, you will find people whose skill at making historically accurate mail varies right across the spectrum; from amateur to true artisan.


In tests during the World War I, chainmail was tested as a material for bullet proof vests, but results were unsatisfactory, as the rings would fragment and further aggravate the damage. A mail fringe, designed by Captain Cruise of the British Infantry, was also added to helmets to protect the face - this proved unpopular with soldiers, in spite of being tested proof against a three-ounce shrapnel round fired at a distance of one hundred yards (92.3m).

In many films, chainmail is sometimes substituted for by knitted cloth spray painted with a metallic paint. In the British TV series "Robin of Sherwood" the actor playing Guy of Gisborne had to be cut out of his "sprayed string" maille after an extended fight scene in a river. The string shrunk when wet, and he was fast starting to look like a pressed ham!

There are also machines which knit wire to produce a material which looks somewhat like maille. This metal fabric is used for the manufacture of things like butchers' gloves.

Most of the maille used in "Lord of the Rings" was made from rings cut from PVC pipe, preventing rust problems from the New Zealand weather. The suits were still made by hand (literally! no pliers were required), in the European 4-in-1 style.

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