How It Works

Chainmail explained

Chainmail was made by linking together thousands of small metal ringlets. These ringlets were forged from tiny strips of iron and later steel, with the rings joined in a specific pattern and then closed by pressing, welding or riveting.

The pattern the ringlets were linked in determined the type of mail that was produced. The popular four-in-one design (ie each non-edge ring connecting to four other rings) typified European mail, while six-in-one patterns were more common in Asian mail.

The size of the rings – both in diameter and width – was also important, with larger rings covering a bigger area with less material (and therefore being lighter), yet having a coarse finish. Smaller diameter rings, on the other hand, granted a finer finish and a stronger mesh, but would weigh in considerably more.

The major benefits of chainmail over the solid cuirasses which had been worn in battle prior to its invention were a greater degree of movement for its wearer as well as more extensive coverage (ie arms were protected too). However, chainmail also suffered from a notable weakness in that sword and spear tips, or arrow heads, could penetrate individual ringlets at a direct-on angle. As such, knights would commonly wear a cuirass over the chainmail shirt for extra protection.