Chain Maille Basics: Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is one of the most important concepts of chain maille to understand, and can also be one of the most difficult to understand. Aspect ratio is important for selecting the right ring for the right job. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the Inner Diameter of a ring, shorthanded ID, to the Wire Diameter, WD. This ratio controls how tight or loose a particular weave will be, or if the weave can even be made, as all weaves have a minimum AR. This is because if the AR of the rings is too small, as subsequent connecting rings are added to a weave, the space necessary to complete the next connecting ring will shrink until the next ring can no longer be added and the whole weave binds up. Even though all weaves have a minimum AR, most weaves do not have a maximum AR, but, there will be a point where the weave becomes unattractive and loose, due to the excessive amount of space between connections. There is a point, or a range of points, between too small and too large where the weave will be the most aesthetically pleasing and is typically labeled ‘recommended’ or ‘preferred’ AR.

Here is a fun little diagram demonstrating some important AR concepts.

At the top it demonstrates how to measure AR. Simply find your ID, and divide it by the WD. In the first row of rings the inner diameter of the rings gets smaller from left to right, while the respective wire diameter (.10″) stays the same. Because of this, the aspect ratio gradually shrinks from left to right. This means that any weave made with these rings would get smaller and tighter as you moved from left to right. Made with the leftmost ring the weave might look too loose, but made with the rightmost ring it might be too tight to even make, while the two middle rings might fall with the ideal AR range and be perfect for the weave. Aspect ratio helps a mailler to make the most aesthetic and practical choice.

Once you have found the ring size that you like for a weave, through the use of aspect ratio you can scale the weave to be larger or smaller. How, you might ask? Because aspect ratio is a ratio, through some simple algebra you can choose a gauge of wire that you would like to make the weave from, and find the inner diameter that you need to achieve the same appearance as in the original ring size. Simply multiply the AR by the WD to find the ID needed to reproduce a ring with that AR in that gauge. In the diagram above you can see that the second row of rings all have the same aspect ratio, yet different wire and inner diameters. This means that weaves made with 19g Swg WD, 5/32″ ID rings will be a scaled, shrunk down version of the same weave made with 12g Swg WD, 2/5″ ID rings. This means that they will have all the same physical properties (except strength), such as flexibility, tightness, and appearance. In summation, any two rings with the same aspect ratio will act the same in a weave, and those close to the same aspect ratio will act close to the same. The opposite also holds true, the greater the difference in aspect ratio, the greater the difference between the same weave made with those rings. In short, choose the aspect ratio that best suits your needs.

Springback and Aspect Ratio:

One very important thing to note when dealing with aspect ratio is springback. Springback is an increase to the inner diameter from the mandrel diameter the wire was wound on that is a result of tension produced by the wire as it is coiled. Metal resists bending to the shape of the mandrel, and as a result, when the tension of coiling is removed, the coil springs away from the center of the mandrel and has a greater inner diameter than the mandrel it was coiled on. As a result of this, you cannot use the mandrel size as the Inner Diameter measurement and expect an accurate aspect ratio, especially with harder metals (except with dead soft metals in which springback is negligible). To get accurate measurements of inner diameter and wire diameter (as there is some variance in thickness in even a single gauge number i.e. 18g SWG could have .048″ or .047″ or .045″) you should use a caliper.

Digital caliper

A proper caliper should measure to the thousandth of an inch and have both “ends” like the one above, that allows for both pinching down on wire to find the wire diameter, and spreading out to determine inner diameter, as shown in the pictures below.

Measuring wire diameter.

Measuring inner diameter. This was wound on a 3/8" (.375") mandrel, notice the springback?

Now that you have these up-to-date measurements you can find an accurate aspect ratio of the rings you are using. Springback and actual inner diameter due to springback are important things to note when purchasing pre-made rings or conversing about the aspect ratio of rings.

Happy maillling!

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Chain Maille Basics: Wire Gauge

Knowing the thickness of your wire is very important in chain maille, and you need to be sure you understand its importance when it comes time to buy your own wire or rings. The thickness of wire is usually measured using a wire gauge system, which assigns a given number (e.g. 14 gauge) a specific diameter (e.g. .080″), typically measured to the thousandths of an inch or in millimeters.

As if three different ways of stating the thickness of wire isn’t enough (in, mm, gauge #) there are two different wire gauge systems, the American Wire Gauge (AWG), also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, and the Standard Wire Gauge (SWG).  A general rule for both of these wire gauge systems is that the larger the gauge number, the smaller the wire diameter, and vice versa. Despite this similarity, a given gauge number in AWG does not match the same diameter as the same gauge number in SWG. Its important when communicating to others about wire thickness or purchasing wire and rings to note the gauge system that the thickness is listed in, to avoid confusion to others and to ensure that you are buying the right wire. The best way to avoid confusion is to look for, or state when communicating to another, the diameter of the wire in an actual measurement system. Either the imperial system, in thousandths of an inch (e.g. .080″), or in the metric system, in millimeters (e.g. 2.0 mm). Whichever you prefer, either one is much less confusing than one of the gauge systems. As a rule of thumb, always measure the inner diameter of the ring, or the ring size, in the same system as you measure the gauge. This is important when considering Aspect Ratio, which is the ratio of the inner diameter of the ring to the wire size.

Below is a picture of the most commonly used wire gauges, from thinnest to largest. each is labeled with the gauge number for both AWG and SWG, as well as the actual measurement in inches and millimeters. The smaller gauges, or thicker wires, are generally used for armor, while the larger gauges, or thinner wires, are generally used for jewelry. Gauges outside this range can, and have been used, but they typically lose practicality so are rarely used.

Be careful when dealing with wire thickness to be careful when purchasing, and clear when communicating with others. See my post on Aspect Ratio to understand the importance of choosing the correct wire gauge and inner diameter for a ring.

Happy mailling!

Chain Maille Basics: Weaves and Classification

Classifying different chain maille weaves (often called patterns) into different categories can be a difficult task, as opinions on how they should be classified vary among different maillers. I learned chain maille primarily from Maille Artisans International League (M.A.I.L.), and as such generally follow their way of classifying maille, although more along their older style than their newer style. A weave, specifically, as defined by M.A.I.L. is:

A unique and indefinitely repeatable pattern of rings, characterized by the connections between rings, and containing only rings that serve to maintain the physical structure thereof or to connect an instance of the pattern to an adjacent instance.

Within the chain maille community (primarily M.A.I.L.), there is disagreement as to if this is truly the correct definition of a weave, and what really constitutes a weave. To save myself, and the reader any confusion, it doesn’t particularly matter if something is in all technicality a weave. If it produces something aesthetically pleasing using unique ring connections, that could possibly used for a practical application such as armor, sculpture, or jewelry, it doesn’t really matter if it is a weave in the technical sense.

Maille Artisans currently classifies a weave based on its Family, Structure, Form, and Attribute. The family that a particular weave is categorized into is generally based off of the types of connections between the rings and how the rings act as a whole. The type of structure that a weave is categorized into is based on the general way that the rings interact to form a general structure, such as a sandwiching structure or an inversion of a weave, this does not refer to the stability of a weave to stay in one state. The form of a weave defines how a weave naturally expands, the terms sheet, chain, unit, and three-dimensional or dimensional are used to describe form. All weaves have one or more attributes. Weave attributes vary from having doubled rings, referred to as “Kinged” on M.A.I.L., to how the rings are angled, to possibly having additional rings not necessary to the stability of the standard weave added to the edges for decorative effect. I will now cover my take on weave families, as well as weave form.

Weave Family:

I currently view weaves as encompassing six different families; European, Japanese, Persian, Spiral, Orbital/Captive, and Hybrid. The family that a weave will fall into is generally based off of their connection style and ring interaction, although in some cases a weave may fall into more than one family. These are labeled as being part of the Hybrid family.

European:

European 4 in 1

European weaves tend to have a “grain” due to the rings alternating direction every other row. The name comes from the region in which these weaves (specifically the weave shown) were used as armor.

Japanese:

Japanese 12 in 2 (or Japanese 6 in 1 with doubled rings)

Japanese weaves are very geometric and have 90 degree ring connections. The name comes from the region in which these weaves (specifically the weave shown) were used as armor.

Persian:

Half Persian 4 in 1

The rings in Persian weaves are oriented so that if a cross-section was taken they form an X, with the rings staggering in position. The name Persian does not denote origin in this case.

Spiral:

Spiral

The rings in the spiral family have a helical form, or spiral form.

Orbital/Captive:

Captive Inverted Round

Orbital/captive weaves contain captive and or orbital rings. Captive rings are rings that are trapped in place by other rings, but do not pass through those other rings. Orbital rings are rings that are held in place by other rings due to the connection between those rings.

Hybrid:

Elfsheet

For those poor lost weaves that don’t belong primarily to one family, but to multiple families.

Weave Form:

All weaves have a form, and only one form. There are four different types of weave form. The four weave forms are Unit (a weave that creates a single unit that cannot be expanded in any direction without linking multiple units together), Chain (a weave that expands linearly, or on one plane, indefinitely), Sheet (a weave that expands in length and width, or on two planes, indefinitely), and Three-Dimensional (a weave that expands in length, width, and height indefinitely). This is the most comprehensive way to identifying and classifying weaves, but doesn’t help much when searching for a specific weave, as the majority of all weaves fall in Chain.

I hope that this information will help you in understanding the differences and similarities between different chain maille weaves, even if you disagree with my method of categorizing weaves. For more information on weaves and their classifications please visit M.A.I.L.. Another good site for weaves and their classifications is http://www.chainmailbasket.com.

Chain Maille Basics

Small European 4 in 1 Sheet Sample. The most commonly recognized chain maille weave.

Chain maille is an art of armor making that is thousands of years old, and is created by interlocking individual metal rings into one of many different “weaves”, or patterns. No one knows, or can agree on, exactly how old chain maille really is. Originating in Europe, it migrated as far east as Japan. Used as armor, and commonly recognized as such, maille retains some practical use today. Its often used to create intricate and beautiful jewelry in a variety of different metals, as well as shark suits, butcher’s gloves and lumberjack leggings, where maille’s original protective properties are still used. Maille continues to be used as armor in certain groups, and more commonly as decorative costume in role-playing and reenactment groups.

The metal used in a piece varies based on the purpose, and even then can vary, but in general, armor pieces tend to be made from a steel, costume pieces from aluminum, and jewelry from a variety of materials ranging from stainless steel to gold.

From wire, to coils, to rings.

In a modern world, the tools, methods, and materials are far superior to those in ancient times. Rings begin their life as wire, in one of many different gauges, or thicknesses. Using a steel mandrel, that wire is spun into a  tight coil around the mandrel and then slipped off and cut into individual rings. The cutters today vary from simple bolt cutters to elaborate mechanical setups using a jeweler’s saw that produce precision cut rings. However they are cut, these rings are the basis of all chain maille.

Half Persian 4 in 1, a distinct and beautiful chain maille weave.

Just as important as the rings, is how the rings are joined together. The way the rings are joined together gives definition to a piece of maille and is what sets it apart, or makes it similar or identical to other pieces. Typically this distinct pattern of the way the rings are interlocked is referred to as a weave. There are numerous different weaves, with more being invented every month, each with its own distinct properties, as well as similar properties to other weaves, which allows them to be categorized into “families” (to a degree).

Browse through more Chain Maille Basics posts or visit M.A.I.L. to learn more about this ancient, and addictive art.

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