how was chainmail made

Forging Protection: The Intricate Process of Making Chainmail in the Middle Ages

Chainmail was a type of armor made from interlocking metal rings, used during the Middle Ages to protect warriors in battle. The process of making chainmail was a complex and time-consuming task, requiring skilled craftsmen and specialized tools.

During the Middle Agesarmor played a crucial role in protecting soldiers from injury and death on the battlefield. Chainmail was a popular choice due to its flexibility and durability, which allowed for ease of movement while still providing a high level of protection.

In this article, we will explore the intricate process of making chainmail during the Middle Ages. We will delve into the materials used, the techniques employed, and the variations and uses of chainmail in medieval times.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chainmail was a type of armor made from interlocking metal rings during the Middle Ages.
  • The process of making chainmail was complex and required skilled craftsmen and specialized tools.
  • Chainmail was popular due to its flexibility and durability, providing both protection and ease of movement.
  • Armor played an important role in medieval warfare, protecting soldiers from injury and death on the battlefield.

The Origins of Chainmail

Chainmail has a long and fascinating history, originating as early as the 4th century BCE in Ancient Greece. Known as the linothorax, this early form of chainmail was made from layers of linen glued together and covered in thin metal strips or scales. It was later adopted by the Romans, who called it the lorica hamata, and used it extensively during their conquests.

While chainmail fell out of use in the early Medieval period, it resurfaced in the 9th century as Vikings and Normans adopted it as their armor of choice. Later, in the 11th century, it became widely used by knights and soldiers throughout Europe.

Chainmail was also used beyond the battlefield, serving as protective clothing for butchers, woodsmen, and other laborers. It even made an appearance in religious ceremony, as chainmail shirts were worn by Byzantine Orthodox priests as a symbol of piety and devotion.

The word “chainmail” itself is a modern term, used to describe the interconnected rings that make up the fabric of the armor. The actual name for chainmail during the Middle Ages was simply “mail” or “maille,” derived from the Latin word “macula,” meaning mesh.

“Mail should be of iron, well tempered and riveted, the rings not too tightly closed, each rivet should have four small links.” – Anon., “The Flower of Battle,” c. 1410

Through its varied uses and forms, chainmail has played an important role throughout history, both on and off the battlefield. Understanding its origins and evolution provides a deeper appreciation for this iconic armor and its enduring legacy.

Materials Used in Chainmail

Chainmail, as the name suggests, is made up of a series of interlocking metal rings that form a protective fabric. The materials used in chainmail production were crucial to its effectiveness as armor. The rings needed to be strong enough to withstand blows from weapons while also allowing the wearer to move with flexibility and ease.

Chainmail Materials Description
Metal Rings The rings used in chainmail were typically made of iron or steel. These metals were chosen for their durability and strength. Each ring was individually crafted and then connected to other rings to form the fabric of the armor.
Iron Iron was one of the most commonly used metals in chainmail production. It was readily available and relatively easy to work with, making it a popular choice for armor-making. However, iron is vulnerable to rust, which could weaken the armor over time.
Steel Steel became increasingly popular in chainmail production during the Middle Ages. It was stronger and more durable than iron, and less susceptible to rust. However, it was also more difficult to work with, requiring greater skill and expertise to produce.

The materials used in chainmail production were carefully chosen and crafted to create a strong and effective form of armor. Metal rings, iron, and steel were the primary components of chainmail, and their durability and suitability for armor were crucial to the protection of the wearer.

Wire Drawing and Annealing

The production of chainmail required a delicate process of wire drawing and annealing to create strong and flexible metal rings. Wire drawing involved pulling metal through a series of progressively smaller holes to reduce its thickness, resulting in a more uniform diameter. This process was crucial in creating rings of the correct size and consistency to ensure the proper fit and function of the chainmail.

Annealing, on the other hand, involved heating the metal rings to high temperatures and allowing them to cool slowly, which increased their ductility and reduced their brittleness. This helped prevent the rings from cracking or breaking during the assembly process or in battle.

Step Technique
Wire Drawing The metal is pulled through a series of progressively smaller holes to reduce its thickness and create uniform diameter rings.
Annealing The metal rings are heated to high temperatures and allowed to cool slowly to increase their ductility and reduce their brittleness.

Both wire drawing and annealing were labor-intensive processes that required skilled craftsmen to create the necessary metal rings. Without these crucial steps, chainmail would not have been a viable form of armor during the Middle Ages.

Ring Formation and Riveting

Once the wire has been drawn, it is time to create the metal rings used to form the chainmail fabric. The process of ring formation involves coiling the wire around a mandrel (a cylindrical object of a specific size), cutting the coil to create individual rings, and then smoothing the ends of each ring to ensure they fit together properly.

After the rings are formed, the next step is rivetingRiveting involves connecting the rings together using a small metal pin known as a rivet. The rivet is passed through four rings and then flattened on both ends using a hammer, thus connecting the rings together. This process was repeated thousands of times to create the intricate, interlocking pattern of chainmail.

While this process might seem tedious and time-consuming, it was a necessary step in the creation of effective armor. The rings needed to be connected securely to ensure that the armor would not come apart during battle. Different methods were used for connecting the rings, including using pliers to close the rings and welding the rings together, but riveting was the most popular method.

The size and shape of the rings also played a role in the effectiveness of the armor. Larger rings were used for areas that required more mobility, such as the joints, while smaller rings were used for areas that required more protection, such as the torso. The positioning of the rings was also important, as overlapping rings would provide more protection.

Overall, the process of ring formation and riveting was crucial in creating the interlocking fabric of chainmail. Its durability and flexibility made it a popular choice for armor during the Middle Ages, and the techniques developed during this time set the foundation for armor-making techniques for centuries to come.

Assembly and Weaving of Chainmail

The assembly and weaving of chainmail was a complex process that required great skill and patience. It involved connecting small metal rings together to form a flexible and durable fabric. There were many different patterns and weaves used to create chainmail, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

The first step in assembling chainmail was to create individual rings by wire drawing and annealing as discussed in the previous section. Once the rings were created, they were then assembled into a series of interlocking rows. Depending on the desired pattern, the rings were either woven or linked together.

One of the most common weaves used in chainmail was the European 4-in-1. This pattern consisted of four rings linked to each other in a diamond pattern. Another popular weave was the Byzantine, which was a more intricate pattern that required more rings to create.

The chainmail fabric was assembled row by row, with each new row being linked to the previous one. This process continued until the desired length and width of the fabric was achieved. Once the fabric was complete, it was trimmed to the correct shape and size using a pair of metal cutters.

The final step in the assembly process was to add any necessary attachments, such as straps or buckles, to allow for the chainmail to be worn. The finished product was a strong, flexible, and protective armor that was highly valued in the Middle Ages.

Finishing and Maintenance of Chainmail

Once the chainmail fabric is complete, it is time to move on to the finishing touches. The first step in finishing chainmail is to polish the metal rings, giving them a lustrous shine. This not only enhances the visual appeal of the armor but also helps to protect the metal from rust and corrosion.

After polishing, the metal rings are treated with oil or wax to further prevent rust and make the armor more resistant to wear and tear. This treatment also makes the chainmail more pliable, ensuring that it moves with the wearer instead of hindering their movements.

Cleaning and maintaining chainmail armor is also crucial in preserving its longevity. Regular cleaning removes any dirt, sweat, or debris that accumulates on the armor during use. To clean chainmail, it is recommended to soak it in a mild detergent solution, gently scrubbing with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse thoroughly and hang to dry.

While chainmail armor is incredibly durable, it is still important to inspect and repair any damage that occurs. This includes replacing any broken or missing rings and mending any tears in the fabric. By properly maintaining and repairing chainmail armor, it can last for decades or even centuries.

Chainmail Variations and Usage

Chainmail, also known as “maille” or “chainmaille,” comes in various forms and designs. Different types of chainmail were utilized for different purposes, from protecting warriors on the battlefield to ceremonial attire.

One of the most common types of chainmail is the “four-in-one” pattern, where each ring is connected to four others. This standard design was used for most armor pieces, such as shirts, coifs, and gauntlets. Other patterns, such as “six-in-one” or “eight-in-one,” were also employed for more intricate designs.

Chainmail was often worn in combination with other forms of armor, such as plate armor or leather. This combination provided greater protection for the wearer, especially in areas where chainmail was vulnerable, such as the joints. Chainmail was also used in different contexts, such as for knights in battle or as vestments for clergy.

Aside from its usage as armor, chainmail was also used for decorative purposes. The intricate weaving patterns created unique and stunning designs, leading to its use in clothing, jewelry, and even tapestries.

Types of Chainmail

Type of Chainmail Description Usage
Shirts Most common type; covers the torso and arms Worn by knights and soldiers in battle
Coifs Covers the head and neck; often worn under a helmet Worn by knights and soldiers in battle
Hauberks Long-sleeved chainmail shirt that reaches the knees or ankles Worn by knights and soldiers in battle
Maile Loose-fitting chainmail shirt used for ceremonial purposes Worn by royal and noble figures
Mantles Chainmail collar that attaches to a hauberk or other armor piece Worn by knights and soldiers in battle

Chainmail was made with different materials, ranging from iron and steel to bronze and gold. The choice of material depended on the wearer’s status and the purpose of the chainmail. The more expensive materials, such as gold or silver, were reserved for nobility or high-ranking officials.

Overall, chainmail was a versatile form of armor that came in many variations and designs. Its usage on the battlefield and in ceremonial contexts cemented its place in medieval history.

Evolution of Chainmail Techniques

As warfare evolved over time, so did the techniques used to create chainmail. Advancements were made in the quality of materials used, as well as the methods for producing and assembling the armor.

One notable improvement in chainmail production was the use of tempered steel. This allowed for stronger and more durable rings, which provided better protection for the wearer.

Another innovation was the use of machines to produce the metal rings. This not only sped up the process of creating chainmail, but also allowed for more consistent sizing and shape.

As armor design evolved, chainmail also underwent changes. By the 14th century, chainmail shirts were being produced with longer sleeves and hemlines, providing more coverage for the wearer.

The use of maille voiders, or underarm protection, also became more common. These were worn under the chainmail to provide additional protection for vulnerable areas.

Overall, the evolution of chainmail techniques and design played a crucial role in the development of medieval armor. Without these advancements, the effectiveness of chainmail as a form of protection may not have been as significant.

Chainmail in Battle

Chainmail was a crucial form of armor used in medieval warfare. Its effectiveness relied on the ability to protect the wearer while still allowing for mobility on the battlefield. The interlocking metal rings of chainmail were able to absorb and deflect blows from weapons such as swords, axes, and maces. The armor was also able to protect against projectiles such as arrows and bolts, though not as effectively as plate armor.

One advantage of chainmail was its flexibility, which allowed for greater movement and agility on the battlefield. It was also relatively lightweight compared to other forms of armor, allowing for longer periods of wear without causing excessive fatigue. However, chainmail was not completely impenetrable and could still be pierced by pointed weapons or thrusting attacks. This vulnerability led to the development of padded garments worn underneath chainmail for additional protection.

Chainmail was commonly worn by knights and other members of the nobility, who had the means to afford such expensive armor. It was also utilized by foot soldiers and other lower-ranking soldiers. Chainmail continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages, though it eventually gave way to plate armor in the Renaissance era.

Today, chainmail is often seen as a symbol of medieval armor and warfare, appearing in movies, television shows, and video games. Its legacy as an innovative form of armor that provided protection and mobility on the battlefield has continued to influence armor design and the popular imagination.

Legacy of Chainmail

The legacy of chainmail extends far beyond the Middle Ages. Its historical significance as a defense mechanism has captured the imagination of people around the world. Chainmail has been used in movies, TV shows, and video games to depict medieval warriors and knights.

The influence of chainmail on later armor designs can also be seen. The use of metal rings and interlocking patterns can be found in various armor styles, such as the lorica segmentata worn by Roman soldiers and the hauberk worn by European knights in the 12th century.

Chainmail’s impact on popular culture cannot be overstated. It has become a recognizable symbol of medieval armor and warfare, and its legacy continues to inspire people today.


Chainmail was an essential form of armor during the Middle Ages, providing protection to warriors and influencing the outcome of battles. The intricate process of making chainmail involved several steps, including wire drawing, ring formation, and weaving. The materials used, such as metal rings, iron, and steel, were durable and suitable for armor.

Chainmail production evolved over time with advancements in techniques and innovations in medieval armor. The legacy of chainmail has had a lasting impact on later armor designs and its representation in popular culture.

In conclusion, the process of making chainmail during the Middle Ages was a skilled and intricate art, utilizing materials and techniques that provided effective protection for warriors. Its historical significance and influence on armor designs make it a fascinating aspect of medieval warfare.


Q: What is chainmail?

A: Chainmail is a type of armor made from metal rings that are interconnected to form a fabric-like structure.

Q: How was chainmail made during the Middle Ages?

A: Chainmail during the Middle Ages was made through a complex process involving wire drawing, ring formation, riveting, and weaving.

Q: What materials were used to make chainmail?

A: Chainmail was typically made using metal rings, with iron and steel being the most common materials.

Q: How durable is chainmail as armor?

A: Chainmail is known for its durability and was effective in providing protection against various weapons and projectiles.

Q: How were the metal rings for chainmail produced?

A: The metal rings used for chainmail were produced through wire drawing and annealing techniques to create strong and flexible rings.

Q: How were the metal rings connected to form chainmail?

A: The metal rings were connected through a process called riveting, where each ring was linked with others to create the chainmail fabric.

Q: What techniques were used to weave chainmail?

A: Chainmail was woven using various techniques to create different patterns, which affected the effectiveness of the armor.

Q: How was chainmail maintained?

A: Chainmail required regular maintenance, including cleaning and treating the metal to keep it in optimal condition.

Q: What were the different variations of chainmail?

A: There were various types and variations of chainmail used during the Middle Ages, each with specific uses in different contexts.

Q: How did chainmail evolve over time?

A: Chainmail techniques and armor production advanced over time, leading to improvements and innovations in medieval armor.

Q: How effective was chainmail in battle?

A: Chainmail played a significant role in medieval warfare, providing valuable protection to warriors and influencing the outcome of battles.

Q: What is the legacy of chainmail?

A: Chainmail has a lasting historical significance, influencing later armor designs and continuing to be represented in popular culture.