Saturday, September 27, 2008

The things I need...

I've made a short list of some of the tools I use and whether or not I can live without them. The two at the top of the list are my pliers - most people use two pair of chain nose pliers. I choose to use one pair of chain nose and one pair of bent chain nose. Whichever your preference, these pliers are essential and will become your most-used tools.

Because pliers are so important to chainmaille, I suggest not skimping on the quality of your pliers (never use pliers with toothed jaws - smooth jawed only). The German-made pliers are expensive but are also exceptionally well-made. Also take the time to think of what you'll be working with. As for myself, I chose pliers that come to a fine point because I tend to work with small gauge wires and small ID rings. The fine points help me to get into tight areas. If you feel that you just don't have the funds to invest in pricey pliers, you can pick up a pair at your local arts and craft store - just make sure that you sand the inside of your plier's jaws first to remove any tool marks (these will transfer to your rings and create grooves and gouges). I use a good sturdy emery board with a coarse side and a finer side. Seems to do the trick. Just don't be too agressive or your jaws may no longer touch along their length when the pliers are closed. Be very careful in doing this and you should get good results.

My second essential tool is my jump ring mandrel set for winding my own rings. I own a Pepe Jump Ring Maker that has a 20pc mandrel set ranging from 2.5mm to 12mm in 1/2 mm increments. I also have a 28pc transfer punch set that range in sizes from 3/32" to 1/2" in 1/64's. These allow me to wind in those "in between" sizes that my jump ring mandrels don't have. For example, when coiling rings for Jens Pind in 16 gauge wire, 4mm is too tight and 4.5mm is too loose - the perfect ring is somewhere in between. The transfer punches also fit in the chuck of my winder and are about the same length as my regular mandrels. They also do double duty as, well, transfer punches! You can also use screw mandrels, screwdriver shafts, knitting needles - anything that will allow the coil to slide off easily. I personally don't like using wooden dowels - they are soft enough to be gouged by the wire being wound onto them and therefore lose their true diameter after only a few uses (unless you're willing to continually be buying new dowels).

With my Pepe Jump Ring Maker is a hand winder. It has a chuck much like a drill has. A regular drill does work fast for making coils, but the hand winder allows me to keep the proper tension on the wire with one hand while cranking with the other. My coils are much more uniform.

Also with my jump ring maker is a jig for cutting the coils into individual jump rings. It has a piece that fits over a standard #30 flexshaft handpiece. It will not work with a Dremel. You'll need a Foredom-type flex shaft motor. I have a Grobet Flex Shaft motor. It's OK, but doesn't have the power to cut through a coil made with anything thicker than 20 gauge wire. Next time I'll invest in a Foredom with a higher horsepower motor. This leads to my next can't-do-without tool...

To cut larger gauge jump rings I have an ordinary jeweler's hand saw. I use #2 blades with these (I can get a gross of blades for less than 5 bucks) and they seem to work well with just about any metal I've used it on.

Lastly, a pair of Mag-Eyes or a strong pair of readers and good lighting. I also have a lighted swingarm lamp with a magnifier.

Here's the full list (in order of importance):

2 pair of pliers (chain nose or bent chain nose or a combo of the two)
3.75x reading glasses (or a strength that works for you)
Jump ring mandrels (Pepe Tools Jump Ring Maker and transfer punches)
Jeweler's saw frame and saw blades
Wire cutters (small flush cutters for smaller gauge wire and a heavier duty pair for thick wire)
Rotary tumbler with stainless steel shot (for polishing and removing burrs)
Round nose pliers (for making loops)
Digital calipers (wire gauges aren't always what they're supposed to be)
Jewelry polishing cloth
Chasing hammers (flat head and convex head) for handmade clasps and flattening rings
Steel bench block
Flex shaft motor
Needle file set
Emery boards (for removing burrs on clasps).
Aluminum containers with glass lids for storing jump rings. You can also use small ziplock bags or baby food jars.

Of course you may not need all the above, especially if you purchase pre-made jump rings and/or clasps. However, I've found that I use all the tools listed above, even if not all the time. And if you're the really die-hard "I've gotta make everything" type like myself, then a small butane torch may come in handy if you prefer to make your own silver headpins or dabble in Precious Metal Clay.

I hope some of these suggestions help. Happy weaving!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Understand Aspect Ratio

If you are going to do chainmaille, you must understand aspect ratio - the relationship between the inner diameter of your rings and the thickness (or gauge) of your wire. It does require math, but if you're like me and have no head for math, buy yourself a cheap calculator and you'll be off and running.

The easy way boils down to this formula:

ID (inner diameter) of your ring divided by WD (wire diameter) equals AR (aspect ratio).

It's sort of confusing at first, but it comes with just a little bit of practice.

Let's say that you have pattern directions for Jens Pind in 20 gauge wire and you'd like to do it in 18 gauge wire (all wire gauge measurements are in AWG unless otherwise noted). You know that the directions say 20 gauge rings with an inner diameter of 2.5mm. If you take 2.5mm and divide by .813 (mm decimal equivalent) you get 3.075 as your aspect ratio. To find the inner diameter for 18 gauge wire take this number (3.075) and multiply it by your new wire diameter (18g AWG is 1.02). You come up with an ID of 3.14mm. So the new ID of your new 18 gauge rings should be as close to 3.14 as possible (I usually round up, but you should always wind just a few and test them first - sometimes rounding down works better).

If you've seen charts for aspect ratios for common chainmaille weaves, you'll notice that there usually isn't just a set aspect ratio. There's usually an aspect ratio range. The low end of the range gives a tighter weave and the higher end a looser one: you can decide which you do according to your preference. For instance, the preferred AR for Jens Pind is 2.9, but you can go slightly looser but not too loose (too loose and this weave falls apart). Most weaves will lose the pattern if too loose and if too tight may make an inflexible chain or not be able to be woven at all. That's why you should always wind and cut just a few rings and test them before commiting yourself to winding up all your wire ;-). You can get a list of common weaves and their ID's for various gauge wire here. Just pick the metal you'll be using. Or get a chart of common chainmaille weave AR ranges here.

Common AWG Wire Gauge diameters:
(Note: the larger the number the thinner the wire)

22 gauge: .643mm or .0253 inches
20 gauge: .813mm or .0320 inches
18 gauge: 1.02mm or .0403 inches
16 gauge: 1.29mm or .0508 inches
14 gauge: 1.63mm or .0641 inches

If you know the diameter of the wire in decimal inch, take that number times 25.4 to get the mm diameter.

One more tip: if you find an ID for a certain pattern and wire diameter that you like, jot it down for later use.

"Edited September 24, 2008 - in response to Kelly's comment:

Kelly from Creative Catalyst Productions posted a comment about SmartFlix (be sure to read it). While I'm a fan of CCP (I own at least one of their DVD's) and because I'm sympathetic to what she's saying, I just wanted to make my own point. I mentioned that I rented Weaving Silver 1 & 2 by Spider. I actually DO plan to buy them now that I've seen them - it's always great to have something like that for reference. However, I would never buy then not having seen them first. Instructional DVD's are expensive and I've bought more than a few that I was utterly disappointed with and never watch. Bad camera angles, no closeups...all that together has either been a make or break for me as far as some DVD's go. To be able to see it FIRST is something that I appreciate. Kind of like using a software demo in a "try before you buy" deal. Before I invest that much money (some sets are well over $100) I'd like to see if it's worth it to me before I plunk down the cash. I do however understand where Kelly is coming from - I used to freelance in 3D graphics and it's a real dog-eat-dog business, but you take the good with the bad. Good thing is that it's mostly good :-).

Kelly has posted a link to the CCP website. I suggest you visit and take a look around. There are some very talented artists there. And if you are sure about what you are buying, by all means, give them your business. I, for one, am the more cautious type. 90% of the time I ultimately end up buying a dvd that I rent. But I'd like to know that I actually WANT it first.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jewelry Supplies

Here's some of my fave sites for jewelry supplies, wire, beads, etc. They'll help to feed your jewelry making need...


Enameled copper wire in every color of the rainbow, brass wire, plain copper wire and gold plated wire. They also have a limited amount of jewelry tools. I get a lot of my non-precious metal wire from these friendly folks.


The Ring Lord

Got wire? These amazing people do! Just about every kind - sterling silver, gold-filled, titanium, stainless steel, bronze and even rose gold-filled. They also offer pre-cut jump rings, tools, books, scales (the kind you use in scale maille) and rubber rings. For those U.S. citizens out there, please keep in mind that this is a Canadian company and the wire they sell above 20 gauge is SWG (or Standard Wire Gauge - a British gauge system). Everything 20 gauge and below is AWG (American Wire Gauge). It's confusing, and even they admit it, so you'll have to take that into account when ordering wire and jump rings from them. It's easier if you memorize the decimal inch sizes of the wire gauges. They post this and will help somewhat in keeping you less confused. Once you've gotten used to it, it gets easier. Rock bottom prices are what keep me coming back, confusing or not.

They also sell fine silver wire, which is great for making your own head pins if you happen to own a small butane torch.



Nice prices on beads. They also have findings and other jewelry making supplies.


Beads, wire, tools, books, findings, even displays and packaging. Whatever ya need.


J. S. Ritter

Very friendly folks at this site. Nice customer service. Red Brass wire, clasps, gemstones, etc.


Ebay Stores

Yep, Ebay stores. Some I buy from quite frequently. Anything and everything I might buy is in this list. You'll also be helping out a small business. I've also never had a problem with any of these sellers. Check 'em out.

Farmer Jerry 64

Nice mish-mash of things that make jewelry makers smile.



Some of their lampwork beads are absolutely drool-worthy! Great prices on them too.



More luscious beads at great prices.


Finding King

Jewelry supplies galore! Pliers, Jiffy Jump Ring Maker, magnifiers, helping hands, etc.

Free Instruction

Below I've compiled a list of links that I found useful for chainmaille learning.


You can't print any of these tutorials, but you can always go back to the site and view them whenever you need to. There are a lot of different weaves on here, some I've seen no where else. All illustrated in 3D computer graphics. Great resource.


M.A.I.L - Mail Artisans International League

If it's not already, this should be your first stop for just about any kind of weave you could possibly imagine.



You'll definitely need this - B&S gauge to inch (and mm) conversion table. B&S Gauges (Brown and Sharpe), also known as American Wire Gauge (AWG).


The Chain Mail Guy

This website has some very useful tools, including a wire gauge conversion table in 5 different gauge systems and a fraction/decimal/inch/mm table.



Box Chain tutorial video
Byzantine Chain tutorial video


Novus Design Co.

A huge aspect ratio chart with ID (inside diameter) ring sizes and their aspect ratio.


Precious Maille

Recommended ring sizes for various weaves according to their material (sterling, copper, etc.)


The Chainmail Basket

They have a chart with common weaves and their corresponding AR ranges. Very handy! While you're there, check out the gallery. They do some amazing stuff with rings!

Favorite Chainmaille and Wirework Books

If you're looking for instructional books for your jewelry craft, I have a couple that I myself refer to frequently. I actually own and have read these books and have put some of the techniques into practice. Some of you may not think my opinion counts for much, but some may find it useful from someone who has actually used this information. I only recommend books, videos and resources that I found personally useful.

Making Silver Chains: Simple Techniques, Beautiful Designs
by Glen F. Waszek

This book contains a plethora of chain designs. It focuses mainly on soldered links, but there are definitely designs that pertain to the chainmail artist. He also goes extensively into tools and materials, pickling, annealing, how to make your rings and so on.

Overall, a good book filled with great tips and loaded with inspirational pieces.

The Art of Metal Clay (with DVD): Techniques for Creating Jewelry and Decorative Objects
by Sherri Haab

If some of you are like me, you've also dabbled in making your own charms and beads for your chainmail creations. PMC (Precious Metal Clay) is an easy and economic way of doing this that requires few relatively inexpensive tools to begin. I find the author's style to follow a bit along the "funky", but she gives good instruction and techniques. The book is filled with inspiration for your own designs and tips on how to start with just a torch and firing brick. She explains texturing, carving, molding - all the things you'll want to know to start with this amazing clay.

I was blown away the first time I tried PMC - how something that looks so mundane and bland could turn into something so beautiful with nothing more than an acrylic roller, a couple playing cards, a tissue blade and a small torch. OK, maybe a little bit of inspiration too, which you'll get plenty of in this book.

Chain Mail Jewelry: Contemporary Designs from Classic Techniques
by Terry Taylor & Dylon Whyte

What a book! If there are any with more beautiful designs, I haven't found it yet. This book includes unusual and original designs that include beads and often unused materials. It's well illustrated and always includes a photograph of the finished piece. The designs include everything from earrings to watch bands. It also includes gallery photos of other artists work, giving plenty of inspiration (and I'm big on inspiration).

You won't want to miss the Japanese Lace Collar or the Braided Bracelet. Gorgeous!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

DVD Chainmaille Instruction How-To DVD Rental

I discovered this service on an internet search and I've gotta tell ya, it's a godsend for those of us who like DVD's for instruction, but don't necessarily want to invest in them - or who would at least like to see the DVD first before they decide to buy. This is where I ran across Weaving Silver 1 & 2 by Spider. They were absolutely invaluable for certain weaves that I just had trouble "getting".

Weaving Silver 1 & 2 show some of the most popular weaves, such as Jens Pind 3 in 1, Dragonscale and Half Persian 4 in 1. It's filmed in extreme closeup with large gauge silver rings against a black background and you can easily see everything that Spider is doing. While the sound isn't always consistent and there's a slightly blurry moment every now and then, I can't recommend these videos enough. She's an excellent instructor, gives hair-saving shortcuts that makes some of the tougher weaves seem easy and gives tips and tricks as she goes.

One glaring ommission in these DVD's is the fact that Spider doesn't give the inner diameter of the rings she's working with or suggestions even on the aspect ratio of the weaves she's doing. That I had to figure out on my own. In my Resource Links section are sites which give average ring sizes for various weaves, aspect ratios for various weaves and further instruction on further weaves not covered in these videos. However, these videos are an extremely good base for learning chainmaille, for the beginner as well as the intermediate craftsperson.

Smartflix also rents DVD's on other jewelry crafts like wirewrapping and Precious Metal Clay, as well as other hobbies and interests. It's a resource who's time has come - how many instructional DVD's have you found in your local video rental store? How-To DVD Rental

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cleaning Copper, Silver and Brass

If you've ever had a problem cleaning your sterling silver, copper or brass creations, here's a quick and effective way:

Sterling Silver - some folks like the slightly tarnished look, but if you don't, or your silver is darkly tarnished, here's a quick way to remove it:

Take a small piece of aluminum foil large enough to fit the bottom of a heat resistant container (preferrably glass and not metal) such as a Pyrex measuring cup or pie plate. Pour a small pile of baking soda and lay your silver on top. Pour boiling water over the baking soda and silver jewelry being careful not to burn yourself. The baking soda will foam slightly. If you pay attention, you should smell a faint whiff of rotten eggs. When the water is cool enough to put your hand in, remove the jewelry and rinse thoroughly and give a quick bath by rubbing the jewelry between your palms with a little liquid hand soap. Rinse and dry. Your sterling will look like new!

Copper and Brass:

Copper and brass can be cleaned in much the same way. Give the jewelry item a quick dip in lemon juice with a pinch of salt. Don't soak for too long - a couple minutes should be sufficient. Remove the jewelry from the lemon juice and clean by rubbing the item briskly between your palms with a bit of liquid hand soap or dishwashing liquid. Dry thoroughly.

If you don't have lemon juice, even orange juice or white vinegar can be used, though they take a bit longer in my experience. I've even heard of folks using ketchup, though I've never tried this myself.


For all three metals, a good polishing cloth like those used for silver polishing works great to keep your slightly tarnished jewelry looking beautiful and sparkling. When not in use, store your jewelry in a tightly closed plastic bag.

Polishing and Burnishing

My first Tips posting will be on the importance of polishing your finished piece.

When you finish a piece of chainmaille jewelry, regardless of materials used, it probably needs a good polish to bring out the shine and beauty. For instance, when I create a piece of chainmaille, I use jump rings that I've hand-wound and hand-cut myself. Essentially, all my jewelry begins as nothing but wire. I then wind the wire into short coils which I then hand cut with a jeweler's saw one by one. It sounds time consuming and is, to a degree, unless you have a good, sharp saw blade and run the blade through a chunk of beeswax regularly. With that, you can cut through a 3" coil in a few minutes. A #2 blade seems to work best for most of my wire, no matter what it's made of.

Sawing in this way (and even with a jeweler's electric rotary saw) creates sharp edges on your rings that can catch on fabric or even skin. Throwing the jump rings into a tumbler filled with stainless steel shot for a few hours not only polishes the rings, but removes sharp burrs. When done, simply pour your tumbler contents into a wire sieve. I then pour them out onto a tea towel and spread them out into a thin layer. I pass a strong magnet over the layer to pick up the stainless steel shot. Most metals that you will be working with will not be magnetic - except for stainless steel rings. These will have to be picked out by hand. You should be okay with sterling or fine silver, gold or gold-filled, titanium, aluminum, nickel silver, copper, brass, bronze or any other non-ferrous metal that can be used to make jump rings. Take note that especially tiny rings can get caught between the shot, so look over what shot you've picked up to see if you have any jump rings in there before pulling off the shot and placing back in the container or bag you store it in.

After using the jump rings in a piece of finished jewelry, I place the finished piece back in the tumbler for another go-round. This is where some chainmaille artists opinions differ from my own.

Some say that just a few hours is all you need for a good shine. I've discovered (especially with copper) that a nice long spin does wonders. I tumble my chains overnight, as long as 12 hours. The finished chains come out gleaming and work-hardened. Contrary to the opinions of some, tumbling in stainless steel shot only burnishes - it does not remove any material from the piece. It can, however, slighty smooth-over fine details that you may want to keep, such as twisted wire. I would confine anything with twisted wire accents to only a few hours.

In summation, if you do any volume of chainmaille or jump rings, do yourself a favor and get yourself a rotary tumbler with a strong rubber barrel. They aren't very expensive and come in various sizes depending on your volume of useage. I myself use only stainless steel shot (plain steel shot rusts). What kind of shot depends on your preference. I use shot that contains elipticals, saucer shapes, round balls and pins. This seems to work best for me because it gets into every nook and cranny of the chain, even if I have to pick pins out of the chains now and then :-).

Hello Everyone!

This is the first post of my blog, the purpose of which is to spread the word about chainmaille jewelry, it's history, materials, techniques, tips and recommendations. I'll share things I've learned along the way, as well as the timeless allure of this beautiful, sometimes complicated thing we call chainmaille (or chain mail if you wish).

Thank you for reading and please check back for more of this addicting handcraft.