How to make the best chain-mail rings – Do small rings save weight?

This article shows how the sizes of rings affect the properties of chain-mail.

How to balance the properties of chain-mail

Rings have an inner diameter ID. It determines how far a mesh of chain-mail can stretch. There is also the wire diameter WD. It is a key factor to determine the strength of chainmail.

To make good chainmail one has to balance a variety of properties. These properties are strength, weight, gap-size and effort. Many of the properties are the opposite of each other.

The graph shows possible rings. If we move horizontally, the inner diameter changes.
If we move vertically the wire diameter changes.

Rings of the same type and material can be made with a big inner diameter. Yet then they also have big gaps that could be penetrated.

Rings can also be made with a small inner diameter. With small inner diameter it takes more effort to make chainmail. Yet it’s more difficult to penetrate.

In a similar way rings of same type and material can be made of thick wire. Thus they’re very strong and heavy. Or they are made of thin. Consequently they are fragile but lightweight.

How small and strong can you make chain-mail rings?

Yet you cannot make rings with small inner diameter and big wire. These rings will not have enough space to fit other rings in them. Even this ring in the drawing barely has enough space. The other rings drawn in orange actually need to sit at an angle. In the end only a few choices remain possible.

When we talk about the strength of chainmail we must also talk about weight at the same time. We want to compare squares that cover the same area. So we can judge how much protection we get for the weight that we have to carry.

For the following simulations we compare pieces that are 10 centimeter times 10 centimeter. Like this piece of 8mm wedge riveted rings. It has 218 rings.

This is a lot! Rings with 8mm inner diameter are not even extraordinarily small. This piece is also about the amount of chain-mail that I can produce in one day.

How does the inner diameter affect the number of rings?

Let’s look at our sample of 10 times 10 centimeters. I made this graph with the program Octave. It’s based on my calculations for riveted rings. It shows how the number of rings depends on the inner diameter.

You can see that 8 millimeter inner diameter is not extreme. Yet if we move towards smaller rings, the number increases dramatically. This means more effort to make chain mail. You can also see that the wire diameter doesn’t have much influence. It only makes the chain mail fold slightly. Thus more rings are needed to cover the same area.

How heavy is chain-mail?

Let’s have a look how the rings inner diameter and wire diameter affect the weight of the square. We learned that we want to stay away from the tiny rings in the far left. Effort is high in this area.

We also do not want to be in the area of big thin rings. Because they have significant gaps that someone could poke through. We want big wire diameter. This is a main factor for strength. Yet we can’t go to the extreme. It will make us carry a lot of weight. So we will use just the right wire diameter that sufficiently protects us. What that means depends on the situation the chainmail is used in. If the chainmail is not strong enough, we can simply use stronger wire.

So we stay here in the middle. That is in some distance to the area that we crossed out. If we go close to the red area, the mesh of chainmail becomes very rigid. But we want to be able to move without restriction. It turns out that there’s a certain ratio of inner diameter to wire that is good. In my opinion, a 1.2-millimeter wire is good for 8-millimeter rings. That is a ratio of 6.666. It’s a personal choice.

Buying wire for making chain-mail

Let’s see what that means if you want to make chain mail yourself. There only certain types of wire that you can buy. The next graph is telling you which inner diameter and which wire diameter you can combine. In the European Union, there are wires in millimeter. They’re shown in blue. In the United States wires are measured by the American wire gauge shown in red. In the middle you see some reasonable combinations highlighted.

Summing up we can say this: Small rings do not necessarily lead to better chainmail. But also big rings are not necessarily better. It is important to balance the four properties: strength, weight, gap-size and effort.