Tempering Maille
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Joined: November 29, 2008
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Tempering Maille
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Posted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:48 pm
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I searched for this and didn't find anything, so I hope I'm not just repeating an old question.

Is it a good idea to temper/heat harden finished maille, in particular butted? It just seems to me that treating the ring in a closed position might make it less likely to come open. Granted, the stainless steel wire I use is already pretty hard just from cold work hardening.

Is it useful, or is it more likely that the softened maille will fall apart while it's hot, or just mess up in some other way?

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Posted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:58 pm
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i'm not what you'd call an expert on mettalurgy, so i tend to avoid playing with it.

however, i do a fair bit of black smithing, and i do know that for something that's going to absorb impact, a mild steel with a bit of work hardening is ideal in terms of rigidity and non-fragility. so if thats what you're working with i dont think you really wanna mess with it, and stainless is probably about the same case. anything else i wouldnt bother heating because if its aluminum, copper, brass or bronze you'll probably melt it or cause it to fuse (in which case you'll have a cool looking radiator grille) or its something like niobium or titanium in which case you're not going to be able to heat it enough to significantly alter the crystalline structure without at the very least a blast furnace.
i could be wrong, but thats my take.

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Posted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:56 pm
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keep in mind that there are two different processes here:

hardening makes the metal very hard, but brittle. for steel, it's done by heating to a certain temp, then quenching. most stainless, IIRC, has to be oil quenched. If you just harden it, it'll be more prone to breaking.

tempering takes this very hard metal and gives it some springiness & resilience... like for the edge of a knife or other sharp tool. just hardened, the edge will break easily on impact. tempering, which is again a heating & cooling process, keeps the strength but makes it more flexible.

IMHO if you already have nice springy stainless wire, you're probably not going to gain much by hardening & tempering it... you'll probably end up about the same place you already are.

just for completeness, the other process is annealing... in the case of steel, it's heating to a certain temp and then air-cooling. this results in making the metal pretty much as soft as it can get.

other metals have different processes... most of the precious metals, for example, don't have the hardening properties. And those that do, like Argentium sterling, don't require a quench.

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Posted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 7:15 pm
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Are you expecting this stianless project to be subjected to alot of punishment?
An individual ring in say, 16g 1/4" is strong enough on it's own to be used to pick up an entire shirt. Not the way you want to hang maille, but it can be done. I honestly wouldn't worry about them pulling apart under their own weight.

If it's taking blows you want to keep them close to the temper and hardness that allowed you to close the rings in place anyway. Much better to see that a ring or two was nicked or cut into than to have them struck and just shatter.
If the stuff's not getting hit, you've nothing to worry about. Providing it's taken care of by the owner with any regularity, and that's hardly a footnote for stainless, the piece will outlive you twice at least.

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Posted on Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:45 am
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I did sort of conflate the hardening and tempering, but I meant the combined process. My wire is probably strong enough as it is, though. I just wondered if it was worth trying, but it sounds like it's not.

And yes, the maille I'm making now is armor for SCA type combat and full-contact LARP fighting (not the tappy lightest-touch kind). But I don't have any reason to believe it will not be strong enough.

Thanks for your helpful answers.

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Posted on Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:20 pm
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tempering and hardening is very tricky
and the process is very different between alloys.

To do this right you need very percise control of tempature and knowledge of what alloy you are working with.

There are some general rules for some materials but other alloys behave drasticly different.

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Posted on Fri Mar 27, 2009 3:45 am
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And for heat treatment (the whole heat-quench-reheat to X temperature then cool) to do anything for you you need to start with spring wire or music wire in the first place. These have sufficient carbon content to cause the steel crystalline structure to become significantly martinsitic to make a hardened steel.

The back pages of International Press Incorporated's Shop Reference for Students and Apprentices, second edition, has extensive reference on heat treatment of many steels -- pp. 455-458 and the surrounding pages are all about various metals that the machinist is likely to encounter. A very handy reference to a LOT of assorted metal stuff.

Your real strengthener comes from mechanically fastening the links shut anyway, say by riveting. This is so efficient you can use 18 gauge SWG wire in place of 14 for twelve to fifteen times the strength of the butted stuff. 18ga (.048") is a mere 5/8 the wire diameter of (.080") and thus 5/8 the weight as well. It's more tools to make it, about a dozen manufacturing steps contrasted with butted's five, and four times the man-hours to do. You make the call.


'The Minstrel Boy to the War is gone...'

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Posted on Mon Mar 30, 2009 5:53 am
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Konstantin the Red wrote:
Your real strengthener comes from mechanically fastening the links shut anyway, say by riveting. This is so efficient you can use 18 gauge SWG wire in place of 14 for twelve to fifteen times the strength of the butted stuff.


I wasn't aware the strength would be so much greater. Not that I really doubt it, but for reference, can you back those numbers up? I'm writing up a proposal for new armor rules (for LARP), and good numbers would be just the thing I need.

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Posted on Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:11 am
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Might be a slight off topic here, but LARP should never incorperate "he who spends more money on costuming has better stats" especially to the extent of butted maille vs riveted. For the purposes of a game, one should really be as good as the other.

As long as the weave is tight enough to suit your GMs qualification for visually acceptable, and it passes whatever safety standards are in place, maille should count as maille for the purposes of numbers in a game.

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Posted on Mon Mar 30, 2009 5:44 pm
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Charon wrote:
Might be a slight off topic here, but LARP should never incorperate "he who spends more money on costuming has better stats" especially to the extent of butted maille vs riveted. For the purposes of a game, one should really be as good as the other.

As long as the weave is tight enough to suit your GMs qualification for visually acceptable, and it passes whatever safety standards are in place, maille should count as maille for the purposes of numbers in a game.


I fully agree. All armor counts the same (it stops one hit, no points), and this will not change (unless the leather-metal distinction that some are pushing gets through, but I don't imagine it will). The real problem with the current rules it that they're far too restrictive. The minimum requirements for maille are far denser than would be typical of actual archaeological finds (even for the early medieval period, but especially for those who want to go for the high middle ages), and it's just way over the top for a game, even given that we do like to take our fighting more seriously than the typical LARP (for example, there is a lower limit on how hard a hit to take, but no upper limit on how hard to hit). It's actually too heavy for some people to carry and looks wrong because it's so dense. Everyone seems to be afraid that their butted maille will just fall apart under its own weight. And the supposed benefit of riveting is severely crippled in this game, to the extent that the lighter weight is not enough to encourage many people to bother with it. This is why I ask about the realistic strength benefit it provides so this can be represented fairly in the rules. It seems that a lot of armor checkers don't bother with the rules anyway, so new ones should be drafted that make more sense and can be followed.

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Posted on Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:35 pm
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Hmm, if they're so afraid of it collapsing under it's own weight, maybe they should be paying you to make it. ;>

If that's honestly so much of a concern, doesn't butted maille pass in the SCA? It's been a long time since I had anything to do with them though, I could be wrong.

Just as effective an argument, show them some of the gallery photos sitting around. Or a couple of the less than inspiring youtube videos of people testing their maille by beating each other with what I think was their mandrel. Not smart, but the maille survived.

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Posted on Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:33 am
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You could PM poster Knuut -- that's who I get the twelve to fifteen times figure from. He'll tell you welding links shut is stronger yet, given the same material. Link for link, the same figure would also be true of punched-out solid links, stamped from sheet.

If you can limp along on just nine or ten times the strength of butted, you could go even lighter in the wire.

I agree with Charon, though: for a LARP, the armor rules should not be written to favor the most fabulous and expensive materials and processes for armor protection. Not for a game, for Pete's sake!

But for people being hit with WMA steel weaponry, they are simply going to NEED mail performing at riveted's level, because their threat environment is more extreme than one of latex swords and water balloons.

The SCA's threat environment is midway between these extremes: the very same rattan batons they spank teenage vandals across the aft with, in places like Singapore. Southeast Asian riot police also smack rioters around with twohanded rattan. Butted isn't immortal under rattan hardstick pounding, but it is acceptably durable; a little allocation of maintenance hours and you're golden. Polearms padded with SCA-style semirigid foam bang mail around rather less. Usually we use electronics shipping foam. You still end up with a modest level of protection for the weight that butted mail lumbers you with. Sufficient padding will protect you as well.

The density of 16ga AR4-AR6 actually isn't that far different from historical examples from ancient days -- depending on which ancient days and who made the stuff -- mail's a bell-curve continuum. You want a very historical appearance unimpeachable by anyone, try for plain steel wire of about .048" diameter and 1/4" ID -- at any rate, an AR of 4 or 5.

An adjustment of mail minimums in Amtgard or Dagorhir wouldn't necessarily be out of line, though. The SCA simply begs the question, making no regulation of mail whatsoever. The SCA doesn't have mail rules, it has well established mail habits.

About the easiest source for plain steel wire without galvanization for riveted work is MIG wire, which will need to be annealed before being flattened. Where exactly in the process you do this anneal is up to you, but this wire comes rather springy so it won't kink in the welding gun, and you need to soften it before you can pierce it for riveting.


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Posted on Wed Apr 04, 2018 1:48 am
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What about for people doing HEMA or HMB? Granted, HMB has rules above and beyond maille (because you can still shatter bones regardless of maille) but if you want it to stand up to that sort of violence?

Is it worth attempting to temper riveted maille? Has anyone tried it?
If nobody has, then when I next get rings I shall attempt it for curiosity's sake, and report back here!

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Posted on Wed Apr 04, 2018 7:34 pm
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dompom wrote:
Is it worth attempting to temper riveted maille? Has anyone tried it?
If nobody has, then when I next get rings I shall attempt it for curiosity's sake, and report back here!


Yes, it's worth it -- either by heat treat of wire with enough carbon content, such as music wire, or by case hardening, a/k/a cementation methods. There are hardening compounds you effectuate with a forge or a torch, such as Cherry Red. Case hardening will harden mild steel wire links -- but they have to not be zinc coated in galvanization. Part of your bother hence becomes securing a supply of ungalvanized wire.

That said, unhardened riveted is still highly effective even against sharps. The big determiner would be what threat level you're looking at.

It's been worked at before, even in modern times -- constrained, I think, mostly by what kind of materials budget maillers have been willing to allocate. By at least the Renaissance, it seems they recognized at least two quality grades of mail, the plain and the hardened, which was the more expensive. Absolute maximum hardness is not what's wanted, as you need toughness in mail. Heat treat should be aimed at attaining higher tensile strength. A springy sort of temper.


'The Minstrel Boy to the War is gone...'

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