by Guillaume of Dublin
I have been carrying out some research into practical ways of making riveted mail today. I think I have been reasonably successful, and I'd like to share what I've found out so far.
My initial idea was to find out if any professional armourers made the stuff. Enquiries within the Tower of London armouries drew a blank, but it turns out there is someone who makes reproduction riveted mail for museums. I don't think I should publish his name and address here, since he has not given me permission to do so.
This guy has managed to get a nut and bolt manufacturer to mass produce overlapped, pierced rings ready for riveting. The rings are 3/8 inch internal diameter, made of mild steel wire 1/16 inch thick. They make very nice authentic mail, but they are a bit flimsy.
There is another slight problem - the rings cost about £24 per thousand (1991 price), and the minimum run is 25,000! So that means that in order to get enough to make a shirt you'd have to shell out £600 in one go! This is a lot of money.
These rings make a very good reproduction mail shirt, but they are, as I've said, a bit flimsy and very expensive. Looking for something cheaper and tougher, I finally came up with a widget called an external circlip. (I believe circlips are also known as 'retaining rings'.) If you've never seen one they look like this.
Circlips can be bought commercially at about £20 the thousand (1991 price), they are made out of spring steel, and are as tough as hell. The process of forming them into mail involves the following steps.
- Squash the circlip with a pair of pliers so that the holes overlap. Do this to a hundred or so.
- Assemble them into mail in the usual way. The squashed circlips are oval rather than round, but this doesn't look bad when the mail is together, or much affect the hang of the mail.
- Rivet them. Of course, you usually add a whole row of links to a piece of mail, then go back and rivet the whole row, rather than rivet each link as it is added.
- To rivet a ring, use an ordinary panel pin just thin enough to get through the hole. Put it right through, snip it off with a pair of pliers leaving about a tenth of an inch, and then flatten the cut end.
- In order to flatten the rivets I had to make a special tool. I used a pair of long-handled fencing pliers and drilled guide dents in the inner gripping face, using a tungsten carbide drill. Any sort of long-handled plier will do, but the guide dents are important: without them your work will go all over the place. They should be about ¼ inch (6mm) wide and half as deep.
I don't know if the circlips I have used are the best ones for the job, though they are the best I have been able to find so far. It's quite possible that there may be better ones out there somewhere.
I have finished a coif and hauberk made of this mail. It is both light and tough, and looks good. It is a bit scratchy because the circlips have some sharpish edges, and the rivets can also catch you, so it does require padding underneath it.
Original article published in Far Horizons, Volume 4 Number 2, Summer 1991.
©1991 by Andrew Robertson.
Permission is granted to reproduce, copy and/or distribute this article provided this is not done for profit, and on condition that the text and illustrations are not changed and this copyright notice remains attached.
About the Author
Andy Robertson lives in West Sussex, England with his two daughters.
Guillaume of Dublin is a 12th Century Irish-Norman warrior. He used to reside in the village of Brighthelm, on the southern coast of our isles, before it relocated itself several hundred miles northward.