Getting Started with Chain Maille: 5 Things You Need to Know

Jul 27, 2012

Chain maille is such a fascinating technique for jewelry-making, but I have to admit, I approached it with more than a little trepidation. Once I got started, though, the rhythm of opening, linking, and closing all those jump rings created the same soothing sort of feeling that I get when I'm immersed in a good bead-weaving project.

If you have some basic wire jewelry-making skills, you can get started with chain maille jewelry. It's not as hard as you might think, and if you want some tips for getting started, these are my five recommendations for anyone who wants to get started making jewelry with this ancient art:

chain-maille-jewelry

1. Don't start by making your own jump rings. Seriously. If I had had to make all three hundred jump rings required for my first chain maille project, I would never have gotten to the fun part of actually linking them together. There are so many places where you can buy pre-made jump rings that are perfectly good, it makes sense for a chain maille beginner to buy their jump rings.

2. Buy aluminum jump rings first. Just like other types of wire work, practicing with a less expensive metal like aluminum is good to develop your chain maille skills before you splurge on precious metals like sterling silver or gold. Even copper and brass jump rings will add a splash of flash to your chain maille projects without emptying your wallet!

chain-maille-jewelry-project
3. Pay attention to the inner diameter (ID). One of the things that bothered me when shopping for my first set of jump rings for chain maille was that I couldn't find the exact size specified in the project. I had no idea if I should be more concerned with the inner diameter (ID) or outer diameter (OD), since they can be slightly different. Those little differences can make for big problems when it comes to your chain maille projects, and since the jump rings are linked together on the inside, you should always make sure to get the proper inner diameter jump rings for your chain maille projects.

4. Open your jump rings properly. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's important to remember. You don't want your jump rings slipping apart after you've spent hours assembling an intricate piece of chain maille jewelry! You should always open your jump rings by twisting the ends apart, moving perpendicular to one another (north-south). Never open a jump ring by pulling the ends apart (east-west).

chain-maille-jewelry
I splurged and spent an extra two dollars on a great little tool to open jump rings. It's a ring that slips onto your finger while you work. To open your jump rings properly, all you have to do is insert a jump ring into one of the slots and give it a twist!

5. Open and close your jump rings only once. If you can. As you work with wire or metal jump rings, the metal will harden and stiffen. If you open and close a jump ring too many times, that metal will eventually become brittle and break. Try to open all your jump rings before you  begin linking them, setting them in small, labeled piles on your work surface just as you would pour out little piles of seed beads for a bead-weaving project. This way, you only have to open and close them once (ideally) to prevent any kind of breakage in the middle of your project.

chain-maille-jewelry
Learning chain maille techniques is a great way to branch out and expand your wire jewelry-making skills, too! And if you're looking for a great start-to-finish resource for both beginner and more advanced chain maille projects, you'll want to check out Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop. This complete guide to making great chain maille jewelry walks you through each project, beginning with very basic chain maille weaves, and ending with some pretty spectacular chain maille and wire jewelry. Get your copy of Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop and find out why this wonderful age-old jewelry-making technique is still so popular today! (And remember -- if you just can't wait to create, you can always get Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop as an instant download!)

Have you tried chain maille yet? You won't want to miss my earlier blog about my first adventures in chain maille! And if you have a great tip or idea for anyone getting started with chain maille, be sure to post a comment here on the Beading Daily blog.

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Comments

on Aug 5, 2012 12:19 PM

Inner Diameter and Buying Jump Rings

Unfortunately, many (most?) packaged jump rings found at craft stores only provide the outer diameter (OD). If the package of rings doesn't say "inner diameter" or "ID," then you're probably looking at the outer diameter.

For example, I was at a "hobby" store this week and was looking at packaged rings. The packages only said "6mm" -- not inner diameter and no wire gauge! Worthless to me.

If you're using a really simple chain maille pattern that results in really loose weave, this might not be a problem. However, for more complex weaves with dense patterns, this can be a big problem. Use rings with inner diameters too big, and the chain will look sloppy. Use rings with inner diameters too small, and the chain may be too stiff, assuming you can make the chain at all!

Fortunately, if you know the wire gauge, you can easily figure out the inner diameter.

Inner diameter = outer diameter - (gauge x 2) - OR -

ID = OD - (ga x 2)

For example, 20 gauge wire is 0.81 mm thick. If the outer diameter is 6 mm, you subtract the gauge TWICE (once for each side of the ring) to get the inner diameter: 6 mm - (0.81 x 2) = 6 mm - 1.62 = 4.38 mm inner diameter.

Make sure to use the millimeters for the gauge, not the gauge number! Example: Use 0.81 mm, not 20

Now, with the inner diameter (ID), you can figure out whether the rings will work for your weave! You will be able to determine the aspect ratio (AR), which is the MOST IMPORTANT NUMBER to know when making chain maille.

AR = ID / gauge

Using the same example rings above (20 ga, 4.38 ID), we get this AR:

AR = 4.38 / 0.81 = 5.4 AR

Here are some other common wire gauges (AWG) and millimeter equivalences.

16 ga = 1.29 mm

18 ga = 1.02 mm

20 ga = 0.81 mm

22 ga = 0.64 mm

Now, if we use the same 6 mm outer diameter rings as an example, we can see what ID and ARs will result from different wire gauges.

Again, OD = outer diameter, ID = inner diameter, AR = aspect ratio.

16 ga wire (1.29 mm thick)

ID: 6 mm OD - 2.58 = 3.42 ID

AR: 3.42 mm / 1.29 = 1.8 AR (good luck making anything with an AR this small!)

18 ga wire (1.02 mm thick)

ID: 6 mm OD - 2.04 = 3.96 ID

AR: 3.96 mm / 1.02 = 3.88 AR

20 ga (0.81 mm thick)

see examples above

22 ga (0.64 mm thick)

ID: 6 mm OD - 1.28 = 4.72 ID

AR: 4.72 mm / 0.64 = 7.38 AR

So, what does all this mean? What it means is you need to know the measurements of the rings to know if they will work for your chain. Before you buy those rings, do the math! Otherwise, you may waste your money and be disappointed with the results.

A more or less real example of how all this fits together:

Let's say you're looking at instructions for some chain maille pattern. The instructions might say use 18 ga wire with 4.5 ID. Ok, now you know how to figure out the inner diameter if the packaged rings only have the OD.

Maybe that 18 ga wire seems too thick and you want to use 20 ga wire because it is more petite. Ok, first you do this: 4.5 ID / 1.02 = 4.4 AR. Thus, the AR of the suggested rings is 4.4, but remember, you want to use a smaller gauge, so you need to adjust the ring size.

Since AR = ID / gauge, then AR x ga = ID. Using this formula, you find that with an AR of 4.4 and 20 gauge wire (0.81 mm, remember?), you need an inner diameter of 3.56 mm.

AR x ga = ID

4.4 x 0.81 mm = 3.56 mm

Ok, you're not going to find pre-made rings with 3.56 ID, but you will find rings with 3.5 ID, and that's close enough. Your weave will be ever-so-slightly tighter than a weave made with the suggested rings (AR = 4.32). If you find rings with an 3.6 ID, that will be even better, though just a hair looser than using the suggested rings (3.6 / 0.81 = 4.44 AR).

4.5 ID, 1.02 gauge, 4.41 AR (suggested by the instructions)

3.5 ID, 0.81 gauge, 4.32 AR (very slightly tighter)

3.6 ID, 0.81 gauge, 4.44 AR (very slightly looser)

So here you are now: you have your 20 gauge rings with 3.5 mm ID, and you make your bracelet following the instructions. Even though you're using different wire gauge and ID than specified in the instructions, your bracelet will be as beautiful as the one in the instructions! All the proportions are the same, just scaled down.

Confused by the math?

I got tired of doing all the math, so I made an Excel spreadsheet (calculator) to do it all for me. You can see and download it here: chainofbeauty.wordpress.com/chainmaille-resources

Ok, I know this is a long and complicated discussion of store-bought rings, but I hope it helps everyone get the right rings so that their chain maille projects will be fun and will result in beautiful chain maille jewelry!

on Jun 20, 2013 6:46 PM

I've been using these rings for almost all of my projects!  Originally I was doing the normal European 4 in 1 weave, but they seem to be the perfect size for dragon mail too!  They are bright aluminum so they look great when the project is done and easy to work with!  You can save a lot of money too by buying them in bulk pound quantities.  I highly recommend!

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