Part Five: Is Maile Hell?

Last modified:
Saturday, November 30, 2002 12:55 AM


11/26/02- Wait, lemme answer that with a resounding and decisive MAYBE! How else can you spend so many hours laboring repetitively on a task and only have a tiny rectangle and a sore neck to show for it? And they say that customizing is supposed to be fun??? Well, even though I'm probably not going to rely on scratch-building it for this project, it's a useful thing to explore since that would presumably give you a leg up on adapting scraps of pre-made chainmail from things like butcher gloves. You've gotta be familiar with the basic pattern and construction techniques to be able to troubleshoot it. As I've learned, the basics aren't rocket science, but it does take doing it to become familiar with it. Beyond that and for the more ambitious, it's sheer determination and willpower-- and that's what separates the men from the boys (besides the time it takes to go through puberty).

I can only speak as a beginner who's spent as much time on this as he could afford, or stand. My aim was to learn the 4-in-1 pattern from websites which cater to 1:1 scale enthusiasts, and translate that down to 1:6 scale. Naturally, the pattern and construction steps are the same so I'm not going to regurgitate that here. However, there are differences in scale and usage and could influence how you do it-- that's the angle I investigated.

One issue of obvious importance to sixth-scalers is... scale! Even though it's unlikely that perfectly-to-scale chainmail could be constructed without going completely bonkers, we can strive to get as close as we can without that unfortunate side effect. My rough size guestimate for a 1:6 ring would be about 1.8 mm (outer diameter), based on a 1:1 ring of about 11 mm. Store-bought jewelry jump rings (a) are typically about 4mm. This means we can either accept that size, or make our own and try to push it to the limit. Size (b) was my first attempt before I decided that I wanted even smaller rings and settled into size (c). Unfortunately, that wire gauge is a little too heavy for the ring size, which makes the woven circular pattern a little too dense. For the rectangular pattern, it creates a good and tight weave. The unlabelled sizes were fer grins using different wire gauges, to see how small I could make 'em and still be able to work with 'em. The very smallest size (2 mm @ 32 gauge) was workable, whereas the larger gauges weren't-- you need more inner diameter area to contain the wire diameters of several rings. Workable-- yes, but I'm not a die-hard masochist.

One thing that you figure out PDQ when you go to smaller sized rings is that it takes a many more rings to cover the same area. This translates into much more work. I didn't keep track of the precise number of hours it took me to make the rectangle or the circular patterns, but a guesstimate for the large rectangle: 5 or 6 hours; the circular one gobbled up an entire evening. Of course I'm a beginner so that probably improves with experience.

The main drawback of making your own rings is that it adds another bunch of steps that needs to be done repetitively. There are already sooooo many of those in chainmail construction. Making the rings isn't too bad-- thin gauge wire bends easily enough, and it doesn't take a very manly set of nippers to cut the rings. But because the wire bends so easily, each ring has to be soldered. So in addition to knitting each ring, the ring has to be filed (to make the solder adhere more readily) and sealed with a tiny flow of solder. I'm guessing that it would be nearly impossible to do ring closure the authentic way, with rivets.

A bewildering thing about this is that initially, the first steps produce a confusing jumble of rings that don't look much like the neat pictures. You have to constantly straighten up the rings to see that there's a pattern. But it gets better as you add more rings and the pattern becomes more self-aligning. It's gratifying to see the pattern emerge from that jumble of rings.


One size fits all

11/28/02- All that suffering and this is all I have to show for it? I felt obligated to make something out of chainmail, so why not a coif? After all, it's a relatively small piece. At this point, the prospect of completing it with sides seems like torture, and a full coif with the bishop's mantle seems like insanity. I shouldn't embarrass myself by saying how many hours it's taken to get this far. Sure, there were screwups that gobbled time unnecessarily-- like constructing the first 60 x 3 headband incorrectly (the danger of getting cocky), then deconstructing/reconstructing it correctly, but realizing that I'd constructed it as a column and not as a row. So I learned the difference between a row and a column. Of course by that time, I'd already expanded the cap's rows to 60 links. And I discovered that a 60 link row is longer than a 60 link column. So I had to merge a few links when joining the cap to the headband. Sixty links is a lot of times to go through the routine for each link: get ring/open and shape ring/thread ring in pattern/close ring/file ring/solder ring. Even though the link count decreases as the rows approach the center, that's a bunch of repetition. Add in there the ongoing need to clean the soldering iron, periodically regrind its tip (I didn't know that running it for so many hours magically consumed its tip!), fixing the minor screwups and having to stop to plate wire, wind springs, and cut new rings. Yes, I promise you it's taken more hours than you probably think!

But I did learn stuff. One of the revelations was that the business of "expanding" and "reducing" patterns is much more simple than I'd thought. I was under the impression that there was like some kind of special expansion stitch that needed to be hooked up in a particular pattern, but it's as simple as adding an extra link in there to give the next row one more to hook onto (boo hiss-- more rings!!!). You don't even have to be precise about it, except to distribute the extra rings throughout a row so they aren't as noticible. The added links disrupt the pattern, but the pattern of chainmail is so visually busy that they don't look out of place.

Admittedly, there's something about this that appeals to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. There are plenty of accomplishment "checkpoints", where you work towards a minor goal ("only 10 more links to finish this row!")... but the minor goals just keep a comin' and a comin'. Overall, the thing that drives you is the desire to get it all done (unless you're wise enough to cry "uncle" early in the game and spend your time HAVING FUN). Hmmmmmmm... I do have that rectangular test scrap I made, and if I just put together another 4 or 5 like that, I'd have the middle section done... Surely, it can't take that long!

At least this is one of the cheaper stretches of the toll road to Hell, and after serving this time, shit will look like sugar.


11/29/02- 1000 rings later, the marathon is FINALLY over. Uhhhhhhhhh...

(11/30/02 Afterword) The totally ballpark guesstimate is about 1500 rings in about 50 hours (humped over, working-on-it time); that's a pretty anemic rate of 30 rings/hour. That includes time spent to make and cut rings, pre-solder the ones used in the lower sheet, fix soldering mishaps and deconstruct/reconstruct stupid construction mistakes. The pacing was variable: As fatigue set in, coordination got worse and the pace slowed, especially since it caused mistakes. I had a succession of aggravating soldering mishaps during the middle of making the lower sheet; fixing them took quite a bit of time since the problem can spread... like molten solder! On the other hand, the pace can be improved by getting into the groove: Once you know what to look for, you orient to the pattern quickly and don't have to inspect it in its entirety. Holding as many tools as you can at one time avoids the wasted time of picking them up and putting them down. It's all about efficiency and the smallest details can have a cumulative effect-- placing materials in the right place may seem like a trivial detail but will save a lot of wasted motion (and fatigue) over the course of many repetitions. Clockwise or counterclockwise wound rings open up in different directions when cut; This can make a difference in how easily and quickly you can thread a ring through the pattern. Doing things in efficient batches also saves time: If I'd spent hours just making gobs of rings at the beginning, I could have avoided the periodic interruption of having to stop to make new ones (I had no idea it would require so many though). On the other hand, I finished with only 10 spare rings (not counting the ones hiding in the carpet).

I would rank this as probably the most punishing thing I've ever worked on. It's very disheartening to think about how such a small thing could take so much time... and about all the other things I could have made in the same amount of time (and with less pain). On another level, it was a learning experience about motivation and endurance. I'd intended to spend a solid day on this, max. But Reality had other plans and that day stretched into another, and another, and I didn't magically develop the ability to work at warp speed. Plodding through it was excruciating, given my affinity for quick gratification. And there was the pain-- both neck and back. I know lots about that kind of thing, but was obsessed enough to accept what I was sure would be the consequence of continuing. I was surprised to learn that continuing to work despite an awful neck pain didn't make it any worse-- in fact, by the end of the evening, I didn't even notice it. Sleep restored everything and by the next day, I was ready for more punishment.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that this is a horrible undertaking to be avoided at all costs-- that's my subjective impression, based on wanting the result instantly and pouring all my energy into making that happen. That's obviously the wrong approach unless you want to prove something or have an update-hungry website. Yes, Time Quagmires like this and website updates are not compatible and the middle of an ongoing project is the wrong time to encounter one. I think that for the right person, at a leisurely pace, this could be a very rewarding and enjoyable activity. The results are certainly worth the effort, in my opinion.


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