Part 36 - Maillebag
by Lord Thomas the Black



            Welcome to another edition of “Blackmaille”! In lieu of the annual FAQ article, I thought I’d dig into the Blackmaille “maille bag”, and answer some letters I’ve gotten. I’ve answered each person who’s written to me personally, but then I got to thinking (always a dangerous activity for me!), and I thought that maybe the people who write to me aren’t the only ones who have the problems they wrote about, and maybe together, we can help others. So, on with the show!

Our first letter comes from Vickie, via my good friend, Master Modar. Vickie writes:


   I saw your webpage about “Blackmaille” and thought you might have a suggestion for me. I'm trying to make brass rings that are formed into short chains and then attached to the inside of a large hand drum. We are trying to make traditional Daf drums (a traditional Kurdish instrument). The drums are like very large bodrin (sp) drums and along the inside of the frame are 86 chains (or so) of two links, with two rings in the final link are fixed, which makes a very distinctive sound when the drum is played.

   Anyway, we can buy drums from Remo, but we are trying to manufacture rings. It was decided that 20 gauge wire was too big and 16 too small so I ordered 2 lbs of brass 18 gauge wire. This is may be a hair small, but is about the size of the wire rings on our genuine drums.

   The problem is that I would like to weld/solder the links together so the chains don't come apart when playing the drum. A friend thought that I could use a soldering iron without bothering w/ the solder. My brass rings get very hot in the presence of the iron, but do not seem to begin to soften in such a way that I could "melt" the join of the ring together. I noticed you were using brass "soldering" wire and that made me wonder if that might not be better for me. 

Do you have any comments that might help me? 

  Thank you, Vickie”

            Thanks for writing, Vickie! I hope I can answer your questions. About the brass: I'm not sure how much help I can be. I don't solder the brass rings I use in my butted maille, and the riveted rings are a different alloy of brass, and require different handling. Truth is, I've never tried soldering brass before. If you're using regular brass wire, you may not be getting it hot enough to melt with a soldering iron. You may have to use one of those pencil-torches you can find at Radio Shack. If you're using brass welding rod, like you'd get at a hardware store (this is what I use for the butted maille), then you're going to have to either use solder to close the joins, or arc-weld them closed, as the welding-rod alloy is quite a bit harder than regular brass.

            If none of that appeals to you, you might check your local Tandy (or other leathercraft-supply store), or a Hobby-Lobby or Michael's craft store. They sometimes carry pre-closed brass rings of various sizes, and these might be an easier option than soldering or welding your own.

            Finally, you may have to do a lot more research as to the rings on the commercially-available drums. As you probably know, different alloys of brass will have different sounds, as will differences in ring size, wire size, solder, etc. It may not be possible to produce the exact sound you're looking for without knowing what alloy you need, how the rings are closed, etc.

            I hope I've been of some help here, despite my somewhat limited knowledge of the subject! Thanks for writing!

Our next question comes from many of the visitors to the Black Oak Maille Guild demo at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, and is one I've answered before. They ask: "How did they make maille before pliers were invented?"

Well, the short answer is: they didn't! Pliers (defined as "hand tools, designed primarily for gripping objects by using leverage"[1]) were first invented in Europe around 2000 B.C.E. to grip hot objects (mostly iron as it was forged on an anvil). Among the oldest illustrations of pliers are those of the Greek god Hephasteus in his smithy[2]. The oldest piece of maille found, on the other hand, was in a Celtic grave dated to only 300 B.C.E., so pliers predate maille by about 1700 years.

Finally, our last question comes from Alucard Darktalon Blood (14) of Independence, MO. He writes, "I have some great ideas for your songwriting contest ("Blackmaille" #34 - ed.), but I hate the post office!!! How else can I enter???"

Well, Lord Alucard the triple-punctuated, that's easy! Simply email your entry in to me at , and it will receive the attention it so richly deserves! Don't forget to send me your snail-mail (tm) address, as this is where I'll be sending your copy of "Chainmaille in the Current Middle Ages, Vol. 2"!

            And last but not least, for the rest of my regular readers (both of you!), I'll be doing one of these "Q&A" articles once a year, so if you love seeing your name in print as much as I do, send me mail! My address is:  

                                                Thomas Beckett
                                                13628 Belmead Ave
, MO 64030

            Or, if you're like me, and have recently been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era, you can email me at

            Thanks for joining me for another edition of Blackmaille! As always, any fan mail, hate mail, questions or comments can (and should!) be sent to me at one of the above addresses. Stay tuned for next month's edition, wherein I hope to lay to rest some of the many misconceptions about the maille used in one of the biggest blockbuster movie trilogies of all time: "The Lord of the Rings"!

            See you next month!

[1] Wikipedia

[2]  Ibid


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