All these terms are derived from the Latin macula meaning net. The use of maille rather than mail is deemed an unnecessary affectation, by many re-enactors (unless they actually portray and speak as medieval French warriors).
It is known from about the 5th century BC and survived in various forms up until the 20th century where it was last issued as a defence against shrapnel inside tanks. Medieval versions of this armour are common in the forms of hauberks, and byrnies as well as in smaller sections in voiders and standards.
In Europe, the 4-in-1 pattern was completely dominant. In East Asia (primarily Japan), mail was also common, but here several more patterns were utilized and an entire nomenclature developed around them. In the Middle East and India, yet other patterns were developed (but 4-in-1 being the most common) and often combined with metal plates linked in with the rings.
Some late period plate armour incorporated 6-in-1 in small patches to cover vulnerable joints at the elbow, armpit and knee. Laced to the gambeson, the dense, heavy 6-in-1 pattern provided excellent protection from piercing weapons, but was far too heavy for use in an entire hauberk, using twice as much metal to cover the same area as the traditional 4-in-1 pattern.
Historically, the rings composing mail armour would be riveted, welded shut or constructed of punched rings, to reduce the chance of the rings splitting open when subjected to a thrusting attack or a hit by an arrow. Also structural integrity of the garment could be held without a heavier gauge of wire, when compared to butted mail.
In modern re-enactment (uncommon) and live-action roleplaying games (most often), split sprung steel washers are sometimes used. Usually 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, which is also used by reenactment groups.
Members of the New Varangian Guard and other Australian reenactment groups sometimes 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 and many re-enactment groups are increasingly moving to this option.
Another option, if you have the money, is always titanium - strong, light and if you ask some nicely they might anodize it for you. It is not, however, historically correct.
Historical Mail (Physical Form)
Historically mail was smaller than most mail currently used by recreationist societies. Extent Viking Age mail was made from approximately 1.2 mm diameter iron wire with an internal diameter of 5.5 to 6 mm. Later period hauberks and voiders followed the same size.
Modern experiments with a mail byrnie made to similar dimensions to historical examples have revealed that is it possible to not only swim in mail, but also to float.
Extent byrnies have been tested and demonstrated to be made of alternatively riveted and punched mail. Later mail was entirely riveted.
Viking age mail links frequently have a round or oval section, although some solid rings have a profile that is almost square.
Riveted links are quite dissimiliar to the butted wire links found on many modern replicas. While inner/outer dimensions are usually the same, the link itself is normally flat, not round. The two ends of the link overlap and are flattened further. A slot or hole goes through both overlapping segments.
The link begins life as raw material (usually some form of steel). From this, wire is made. The circular links are formed on a mandrel, then flattened in a press. A special tool is used to punch the slot or hole for the rivet.
Rivets can be either a thin triangular wedge, or a traditional (though quite small) solid rivet.
- Wedge rivets are usually made by snipping from a ribbon of sheet steel. They are triangular in form, with a larger height than base.
- Solid steel rivets are pressed from a rod.
Riveted maille garments come in two configurations:
- Fully-riveted: Every link has a rivet.
- Half-riveted: Every other link is solid.
Links are manipulated similiarly to butted maille, with pliers. Additionally, an anvil, hammer, and rivet setter are required. To close a link, the rivet is placed into the slot or hole on the link, and then placed into the jaw of the rivet setter, which pushes the rivet solidly into place. The rivet setter is then used to compress the protruding point or tip of the rivet, usually with aid of the hammer and anvil, by placing the rivet setter jaws on the anvil with the link held tightly, and striking the top of the setter.
Great care must be taken when integrating links into a sheet, because once riveted in place, no adjustments can be made short of cutting out the link. Additionally, all links must be addded such that the heads of the rivets face the same direction (usually away from the wearer). When following the half-riveted configuration, it is critical to add four solid links onto any riveted link you intend to attach (minus riveted links that act as mere connectors), lest a riveted link be attached that later needs a solid link added (which is impossible without deconstruction).
The primary benefit of riveted maille is strength. Links will rarely be shed, reducing maintenance in the long run. Secondly, they cannot easily be split by force (such as from an arrow), as butted maille can. Finally, the flattened links reduce the overall weight of the garment.