Part 12 - Butted Mail
by Lord Thomas the Black
Welcome back to Blackmaille!
Now that I've covered all the "general knowledge" information about mail, we can get down to particulars. There are three different ways to go about weaving mail: butted, riveted, and welded. I have no experience with welding mail, and I'll discuss riveted mail next month, so for now, let's talk about butted mail
There are a plethora of sites on the internet that pertain to the construction and various weaves of butted mail, so I don't plan on re-hashing any of that here. Suffice to say that butted mail is a time-consuming process involving (as you know from my previous columns) coiling the wire, cutting the rings, and weaving the mail itself. The ends of each ring in butted mail are simply squeezed together so that the ends simply butt up against each other (hence the name), providing a smooth closure. Butted mail requires a work commitment of at least two hours a day to produce noticeable results.
Butted mail, for the most part, is not a common period practice. There are no surviving examples of wholly butted mail (where every link in the garment is butted) surviving from the Middle Ages. The reason for this is fairly obvious: butted rings don't stand up well to edged attacks, such as from sword or spear. The ends separate, rings open and fall out, and the wearer is exposed to mortal harm. Also, butted mail must be made of thicker wire so as not to pull apart under its own weight.
That having been said, there is some evidence that butted rings were used occasionally, but only in small patches. This was usually done as a quick battlefield fix, or was done by people not familiar with mail's construction (such as someone looting the bodies of the slain).
The exception to the authenticity of butted mail is (are?) the Japanese weaves. Japanese mail was made of rings much like those in split-ring key chains, with anywhere from two to four turns each, and usually not riveted. The Japanese mail was made to protect against different weaponry, though, and was used in conjunction with small steel plates. This resulted in a garment more like very flexible plate armor, and less like European mail armor. Some examples of Japanese mail are very small, usually only 1/4" or smaller. One example I saw recently was made with rings only 1/8" in diameter!
Butted mail finds its most widespread use nowadays in medieval re-enactment and re-creation groups (like the SCA!), where it is used to augment other pieces of armor. An example would be a mail aventail (or camail) suspended from a helm to add to the throat protection offered by the SCA-minimum gorget. SCA-use butted mail is generally 14 gauge wire, wound into 3/8" rings and woven in the European 4-in-1 pattern.
Butted mail is by far the most common style found today. Next month we'll discuss the more period, but far more time-consuming and complicated riveted mail. As always, thank you for joining me for another month. Any mail-related questions can be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
Grandview, MO 64030
Thanks, and I'll see you next month!
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