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People Often Ask Me If I Have Any Words of Advice For Young Mailers
Article © MAIL User: ClymAngus

I came to the sudden realisation today that I've been making chainmaille for about, give or take, 16-17 years. Now I know to some of you die-hard maille makers out there, with forearms and callouses that would make Popeye blush, that this time is a piffling one. Irrespective, this article is not aimed at you. It's aimed at the wide eyed, one year in aluminium link butter. Although all you snaggle toothed metal clawed crab people may find the admonitions contained within to be of some small historical amusement.

So, pearls of wisdom from someone ill equipped to render them, in no particular order:

1) Watch your supplier. We can all get complacent at times and it is easy to assume past quality and consistency, going infinitely into the future. NEVER ASSUME! I remember requesting something fairly simple once: good old straight steel 6mm square cross section. The links turn up but there is a problem. The wire gauge has changed. Suddenly 6mm's are trying to pull my hand off at the wrist and weaves that DID work are now locking up. Technically they were 6mm links, the reality however meant they would barely make European 4 in 1 and sod all else. The suppler was apologetic but apologetic doesn't make my six-headed chainmaille whip that's already been sold. Emails are handy, but there is a certain amount of wiggle room between what you've asked for and what's going to appear in the post. I don't like surprises, especially when £300 is riding on it.

I've had several good suppliers slowly go bad over time now. I'm sure it is very easy to drop in the odd hundred winding rod "tail enders" that are about as round as a banana loosing them in the bag of 1000 links. But seriously; Not Cool.

2) Only use bad suppliers as a last resort. Taking into account point 1, good people can go bad. Bad people can get worse. So, I needed some "old fashioned" 6mm links (the kind that don't try and take your wrist apart the second you bend them) as a result I went back to an old supplier. A gentleman who made mercenary look like charity. Tough, I need the links and that git knows it's a sellers market. The links were over priced. The postage and packing was extortionate (and bore no relevance to the postage on the package when it arrived or the shoddy packaging it came barely wrapped in). Then, when the links turned up they came "pre-rusted" (fifty of which were unrecoverably corroded) and they were light about 75 links on the thousand. This kind of sharp business practice screams of disrespect to the customer. Constantly look for other sources of links, take other maillers advice on-board regarding supply and never be afraid to skip town on a rip off merchant.

3) Pliers break so your hands don't have too. I had a build once that required some heavy gauge links. I made the mistake of thinking that I needed 2 heavy pliers in order to work the links. Problem was, the weave gave me very little surface area to get a good purchase on the work. I wasted days miss closing links using the heavy duties.

Eventually I tried some light pliers in my off hand and the work linked together like a dream. Sure, I could feel the hinge on the light pliers flexing but compared to the pain and slow progress, it was worth it! When you're getting into a new job, try different ways of closing links. Find the best method and the best tools for the job. Don't be afraid of killing pliers, they are cheap. Your hands are not.

4) R & D short cuts are the bomb! There is the standard way of doing things, and then there is a better way, waiting to be discovered. Chainmaille block and key, bandoleers for working on the run, pinch closing tightly woven links before you wade in with double pliers, pinching out a bent in link with a pair of needle nose pliers. All these little tricks have to be either experienced or learned. Learning from other makers is easier but not always possible. The correct application of a "little trick" can save you time, energy and a lot of R.S.I.

5) Don't be afraid to step back. Hands take time to heal. Sometimes you can go through twenty designs before something "looks right". Sure we're all to a greater or lesser extent obsessed with this fine art form. BUT, know when to take a break. I promise, putting something down for a week or two and coming back to it gives you perspective. Taking a break is not giving up, it's taking charge so you can attack from a different direction.

6) There will be blood! On average it takes between 6 months and 2 years to gain the muscle control to stop ripping the crap out of your knuckle when you loose your grip on a link. That's a lot of plasters. All the way through your chainmaille making career you will "vent" the odd finger joint. It happens. Take a break, clean yourself up. If the sight of blood worries you consider buying some cheap leather gloves and cutting off the finger tips (this will also help reduce your callouses as well). I suggest cutting at a 45 degree angle so the top leather is flush with your nail bed and the underside finishes at the last joint of your finger. That way you get maximum protection whilst retaining finger tip dexterity.

7) Divide and tack on. Some jobs are just too big. Psychologically they look like mountains and sometimes manhandling half a finished thing can leave your wrists feeling like you've been in a fight. Chop the job down into parts, THEN put the parts together. Mentally you get a load of small victories leading up to the big finish and physically you're keeping your work manageable. When you put it all together I guarantee NO ONE is going to see the joins.

8) We love files. Sometimes link edges just don't want to marry up. It is useful to have one or two files handy to just take off those annoying burs. Nothing too industrial, a couple of needle files are more than adequate to do the job.

9) If you're on the move, tie it on! I've lost (a couple of times now) quite substantial partially finished pieces of work due to my own stupidity. Since purchasing a canvas case and a couple of good sturdy carabiners to fix my work on the inside of the case, I've lost nothing. I heartily recommend being able to work on things during wasted travelling time like on a bus or a train or as a passenger in a car, but make sure your work is secured.

10) Variety is the spice of life. There are two parts to making chainmaille, preparing links and working a design. The prep part can seem boring but it pays dividends as it enables the build to go much faster. It's also good gentle unthinking exercise that can be used to warm up your brain and hands.

So there you have it in no particular order a few little pointers to stop you from wasting time, money and maybe even saving you some pain too. The journey of the Maille artisan is a long and protracted one, but given the feeling we all get when we hold a finished piece up and think "I made this" it's thoroughly worth while.

Ladies and gentlemen, may your joins be smooth, your force even, your purchase area large and your pliers straight.

Kind regards,
Clym Angus.
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