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I Forge Iron

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So, about two weekends ago, I got stuck at home with a bunch of sick kids. So, no going outside to play with fire and iron. Picture sad emoticon here.  Having that limitation decided to try my hand at making chainmail.

 

The process seemed simple enough, once I found a couple of youtube flicks and an Instructables. Take wire, wrap it on a mandrel, cut, anneal, punch little tiny holes.....without losing your temper, and rivet.

 

But aha!!! Contraversy between diehard recreationist fanatics, and semi-lazy fantasy builders (I mean, you really, really can't call someone who puts together 15,000 rings completely lazy, even if they're butted, pre-made, or plastic).  Also, I've been annoyed for years by tv shows whacking a butted mail shirt with an axe/bodkin arrowhead/sword/war hammer and saying they were worthless after they opened huge rents in the mail.

 

So, after seeing lots of hearsay about it being 10-20 times stronger when rivetted, with no supporting data, I decided to test individual rings to failure to find out what they'd do.

 

My rings, less the butted, unflattened wire. (well, overlapped, but still)

 

 

I suspended the rings from 550 cord, with the overlap centered on the side (90 degrees from the cords).  On the bottom, another piece of 550 cord, going to a bucket. Bucket was to be filled until the ring was open, but all of them were destroyed when it finally did open.

 

Results?

 

Butted wire -16 gauge black wire, wrapped around a 9/16 inch mandrel, cut with mild overlap, no annealing

Came apart at 6 lbs, 1 oz. (didn't have to get past using pennies for weight)

 

Rivetted wire - same as butted, then annealed and flattened, 1/2" I.D. give or take a sixteenth.  Punched/pierced to 16 gauge, then rivetted with round rivet, not wedge.

 

90 lbs. That's right, 90 lbs.  I had to use two 5 gallon buckets full of hematite.  And when it broke, it ripped the side of the ring from around the rivet, then bent til it broke most of the way through on the opposite side from the rivet.

 

A surprising runner up was the same ring, flattened, but unrivetted.  Held to around 30 lbs. ish.  (I wasn't as careful with this one, but it took a full lp container for the grill as weight for a few seconds before it cut loose.) I guess flattening work hardened it enough to toughen it up. Color me happy as the worlds most boring Mythbuster. Oh yeah, and the kids are doing fine.

 

 

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My mail was made from 3/32" steel welding rod wrapped into 1/2" ID rings. I assembled a section and shot a broadhead arrow at it from a sixty pound draw bow.The arrow spread whichever ring it hit but was held from penetrating by the surrounding rings. So the arrow would have pierced the skin but not penetrated into vital organs. I called it good enough at that point. Total weight of my mail shirt is twenty pounds.

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Waaaaay back in 1999, Hank Reinhardt of Museum Replicas did a demo at DragonCon that I attended. Full-on assaults of swords and arrows and axes against maille, plate, and helms on mannequins.  Butted maille always failed miserably, riveted would have kept you alive, if somewhat damaged.

 

Butted is OK if you are just playing dress-up. Heck, you could get away with aluminum, and save all that weight, and maintenance, and work.

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Every time I try to get to that con, the army gets in the way. Seen a few demonstrations. Gambesons and boiled leather seams to spread the load out well and prevent penetration. A lot of the time, there was a half inch or so of penetration, but the rings trapped any points small enough to penetrate.

Mostly just wanted some kind of quantitative data on strength. Its talked about a lot, but little in the way of numbers. Wanted something like the icepick tests on the boron silicate plates in the iba flack jackets.

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Well, realize that butted maille is appropriate for some eras.  Riveted maille was expensive, and the butted stuff works just fine against slashes.  Also, a quilted or padded garment was always worn under a hauberk to help cushion blows.

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Maillemaker:  *what eras* and *where*?

 

Unfortunately almost every example of maille we have from the medieval and renaissance periods in Europe is riveted with a few butted "field repairs" known.  (Also a decorative parade armour made of various coloured links in the Negroli Book)

 

As the iron was much more valuable than the *time* why settle for less?  Sort of like buying a million dollar sports car with vinyl seats...Nowadays the *time* involved is the expensive part or maille making with the cost of materials being essentially zero compared to the hours of labour involved.

 

I have seen an example of 19th century Moro armour that was butted (St Gregory's University Museum Shawnee OK) and 19th century examples from the Caucus region (auction catalogs).  In the far east the Japanese sometimes used unrivited but multiple wrap rings---like keyrings.

 

Good testing of butted vs riveted links was done over a decade ago (may be 2 by now) by respected people in the maille field and was documented over at the armour archive.org.  As I recall the general difference was at least on the order of 10 times as strong and so 6# => 90# is not surprising at all.

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Thank God I'd only have to make a bazillion rings and rivet them. Get to skip the really hard steps, mine iron, make bloom. Hammer bloom into ingots, forge weld to billet, draw out to rod. Draw rod to wire annealing about a bazillion times. Yeesh.

 

Used to draw halfnium/zirc/nickel ti with modern machines at a metal plant in Huntsville and that was passing hard.

 

My one experience with a guy trying to draw it from rod, nightmarish. I've heard, may be urban legend, that making wire then clipping and shaping to make individual nails used to be so bad that when people moved, they'd burn down buildings to get them back.

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In the colonies, there were laws against burning down your old buildings.  Instead, you could have two "honest men" estimate the number of nails in a structure, and the government would compensate you for the agreed upon number, although the law was probably more about preventing wildfires.

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Again, check your sources, not your gut. Most of the structures that were to be burned were hastily built temporary shacks, not custom homes. In that time and place, wood was cheap (it grew wild all around you, getting it gone so you could plant crops was the hard part), but the nails were costly simply because they were hand-made, one at a time, from scarce or imported iron.

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Of course a medieval maille maker would not be mining and refining his own iron but would buy it; just like the smiths would. Drawing of high slag content bloomery iron would be "not fun at all".  I have some puddled old telegraph Wrought Iron wire to experiment with; but it's MUCH nicer than the pre 1000 CE stuff!

 

(The exception that proves the rule is evidence at certain remote Scandinavia farms that they smelted and worked their own iron from bog ores start to finish)

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Probably not. But who would they be working for? Set up under a patron? Have a factorage? I would think if you went back to the Romans they'd have military artisans doing it, but not really sure about how the logistics worked later.

 

Also don't really know, what was the medieval process for obtaining an order of ingots/billets/rod? Would have to be mine to nearby bloomery, maybe then milled with water powered drop hammers? Did they use factors to arrange sales?  Started reading De res metallica about a million years ago, must be around here somewhere.......

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De Re Metallica is *renaissance* and so not the best source for pre 1000 information.  However you may note that iron "currency bars" are a *common* iron age find indicating that iron was traded all over the place in Europe from early times.

 

For information on the metallography of early  european ferrous swords I would commend to your attention:  "The Celtic Sword" Radomir Pleiner and "The Metallography of Early Ferrous Edge tools and Edged Weapons" Tylecote and Gilmour, BAR 155 (IIRC)

 

Of course the great tome on the metallurgy of plate armour is "The Knight and the Blast Furnace"  Alan Wiliams.

 

Pretty much anything in the journals with Tylecote or Williams' names associated with it is a good thing to read!   (Also David Starley, Gilmour, also look into the archeological metallurgy mailing list.)

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I'll definitely grab them next chance I get. Guess some depends on what you define as medieval. Post-Roman? Frankish? Charles Martel period? I would have thought of it as running later than the Norse invasions. Say, maybe til third crusade plus about 100 yrs?

 

Besides, aside from switching to wedge rivets, I thought this stuff stayed pretty well in use with or without plate until they started going to brigandines and such with the advancements made in arquebusses. Could be wrong, I think I remember that more from research while looking to make an matchlock than reading on armor. Wanted to make a matchlock......rifled to fire minie balls as a joke. Gave it up as beyond my engineering skills after looking at how hard hand cutting the rifling would be.

 

Think I'm going to start looking more up on logistics of medieval mining/metal trade.

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I'll definitely grab them next chance I get. Guess some depends on what you define as medieval. Post-Roman? Frankish? Charles Martel period? I would have thought of it as running later than the Norse invasions. Say, maybe til third crusade plus about 100 yrs?

Rough definition is between the final decline of the Western Roman Empire and the start of the Renaissance and Age of Exploration, so 600-ish to 1400-ish as a very broad range. 

 

I've recently begun to think of it as the period generally between the first two Pandemics (outbreaks of the Black Plague). The first started in 541, and the second ended in about 1350, give or take, depending on the part of Europe you are talking about.

 

My $.02.  Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Early medieval starts at the end of the migration era, was once called "the dark ages" then we get medieval, high medieval, late medieval---one Prof I know of claimed that the middle ages did not formally end until the freeing of the serfs in Russia in the 19th century. Another Prof whose specialty was "Medieval Thought" claimed that they were still ongoing in Arkansas

 

So no matter when *YOU* draw the line(s) SOMEONE ELSE WILL DISAGREE!

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So, ok, have to read up on metallurgical logistics in post-roman times, sundry-dark ages, northern Renaissance under the tsars, probably the Varangian guard, and find out if in Little Rock/Arkadelphia they've figured out how to order bar stock using this new-fangled television/typewriter device.

 

And then see how it affected the making of maille. :D

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