Part 1 - A Mailler's Glossary

by Lord Thomas the Black


            Before we delve too deeply into the subject of mail armor, I thought it best that I run down a list of terms particular to mail and their meanings, just to ensure that everyone knows what I’m talking about later on. These terms and their definitions all come courtesy of the Maille Artisans International League website ( It may be a good idea for those of you not familiar with mail to keep this article on hand when reading future editions.

AVENTAIL – A curtain of mail attached by rings or vervelles (posts) around the base of a helmet. This protects the neck and shoulders.

BASIC UNIT – The minimum number of rings one can have and still maintain the weave pattern. For instance, a 4-in-1 basic unit (BU) has four rings connected by a fifth.

BISHOP’S MANTLE – Modern term for the circular drape of mail worn (mostly in Germany) in the early 16th century. Covers the shoulders, and has a central head hole. See also “Mantle”.

BUTTED MAIL – A type of mail in which each ring is twisted so that the ends of the cuts butt up against each other. Most modern mail is butted.

BUTTERFLY – See “Basic Unit”

BYRNIE – A mail shirt which usually extends only to the waist, and has either short sleeves or none at all. Commonly seen in Roman, Celtic, and Viking cultures.

CAMAIL – See “Aventail”

CHAINMAIL – A misnomer coined in Victorian literature. The correct term is “mail”. See also “Mail”.

CHAUSSES – Pronounced “shows”. Mail protection for the legs, either in the form of mail hose, which covered the foot as well, or strips of mail laced around the front of the leg.

CLOSURE – The point at which the ends of a butted ring meet. See also “Butted Mail”.

COIF – A hood, usually of mail. By the 13th century, many had incorporated a ventail, which could be pulled across the lower part of the face for protection. See also “Ventail”.

DAG – A triangular shaped decorative attachment, usually along the hemlines of mail clothing. Forms a “wavy” edge.

EXPANSION RING – An extra ring inserted into a weave in one row which is then treated as a regular ring when putting in the next row. This causes the piece to be wider at the bottom than at the top.

FIVELET – See “Basic Unit”.

HAUBERGEON – A mail shirt that usually extends to the upper thighs and has elbow-length sleeves. Haubergeons were sometimes laced up the sides for ease in dressing.

HAUBERK – A mail shirt reaching to between the knee and hip, and including full sleeves.

I.D. – Inner Diameter or Interior Diameter. Refers to the size of a ring, and is the most common means of describing ring size. See also “O.D.”

INSANITY MAIL – Mail made with very tiny rings. Also called “micromaille” or “tweezer mail”.

KERF - The gap between the ends of a ring after it has been cut from the coil.

MAIL – A flexible material composed of small interlocking metal rings or loops of chain, often used as armor.

MANDREL – A cylindrical shaft around which wire is wound to make coils, usually for the purpose of making rings.

MANTLE – A circular drape of cloth or mail worn over the upper body. Covers the shoulders, upper chest, and upper arms, and has a central head hole. See also “Bishop’s Mantle”.

MUFFLER – An often occurring mitten/sleeve extension of a hauberk, with a hole at the wrist to allow the wearer to remove the mail from his hand.

O.D. – Outer Diameter. Refers to the size of a ring. See also “Inner Diameter”.

PRINGLED – Warped out of plane (i.e. looks like a Pringles chip). A pringled ring is almost impossible to straighten out without a hammer.

RIVETED MAIL – A form of mail made up of rings which are each flattened, their ends overlapped and pierced, then sealed shut with a shard of metal inserted into the hole and peened over on each side. All period mail was riveted.

SLIPANDJAB – The medical condition caused when your new needle-nose pliers slip off the 12-gauge ring you’re working with and stab into your flesh.

SPRINGBACK – The tendency of a tightly wound coil to expand back after the coiling tension has been released. This causes the coil to expand slightly, making completed rings larger than the mandrel they were originally wound on. This can be a serious problem with smaller rings not being a standard size.

VENTAIL – An integral flap of mail attached to the coif in the 13th century. Usually, a leather lace tied it into place. It could be drawn across the mouth to protect the lower face.

WEAVE – The pattern of the mail. For example, 4-in-1, 6-in-1, etc.

WELDED MAIL – A form of mail in which each ring is welded shut, usually for added strength in the ring/mail.

WIRE – The basic building block of all mail construction. Most wire commonly available is more evenly and consistently made than period wire. For more information, see my upcoming article “Materials and Their Uses”.

WIRE COIL – A spring-like section of wire produced by wrapping wire around a mandrel. When cut along a straight line, it produces the rings used in mail construction. Also called a spring.

            I hope this glossary has been of use to you. If not, it will be in coming months, as many of these terms are frequently used in describing mail armor. Thanks for joining me for another month! As always, send any mail-related questions to:

                                    c/o Tom Beckett
                                    6522 E 125th St, Apt 2
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

            Next month: “A Brief History”
            See you next month!


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