Part 79 - Riveted Maille Time Trial
by Lord Thomas the Black


Riveted Maille Time Trial

            Welcome back to another edition of Everyone’s Favorite Maille-Related Monthly ™: Blackmaille!

            One question I get asked probably more than any other is, “How long does it take to make this?” For years, I’ve given times for a particular project (“that piece took three months”), man-hours involved (“This hauberk has roughly 350 hours in it now”), what it generally takes (“A coif like that takes around a month”, or how quickly it could be done in the Middle Ages (“Working assembly-line-style, they could finish that shirt in about a month”). None of these really felt like satisfactory answers. Most people don’t really get an accurate idea of what mailing costs in terms of time spent working on it. So, I decided to come up with a solution.

            What I came up with was to see how much maille could be made in an hour. This way, I’d have a simple-to-understand patch of maille that I could hold up and say, “This is what can be done in an hour, start-to-finish, so you get an idea of what X took me to do!” I do riveted maille, so my first task was to break down the steps in making riveted maille. My list came out as follows: 

                                                Coil wire
                                                Cut rings
                                                Anneal rings
                                                Flatten rings
                                                Punch rings
                                                Heat/flatten wire
                                                Score rivets
                                                Cut rivets
                                                Anneal rivets
                                                Assemble maille 

            The next step was to count up the steps (10) and divide an hour into those steps. What I came up with was a mere six minutes per step. Yipes!

Ok, that doesn’t sound like much, but some steps won’t take as long as others, and some could be done at the same time as others, and give me a little wiggle-room. So, my schedule came out looking like this:



            As you can see, steps like coiling the wire and heating/flattening wire for rivets won’t take anywhere near six minutes, giving me some extra time for the cutting rings/ scoring rivets steps. Also, some steps like annealing the rings and rivets involve heating something up, and letting them sit, so I can move on to the next step during those stages. All in all, this freed up another whole block of time at the end for the assembly.

            With all of this planning out of the way, the decision was made to do this first thing in the morning at our renfest demo. The reasons for this were several: 1.) It allowed us to work fairly uninterrupted. 2.) All of us in the guild would be there, so I’d have someone to take pictures, a time-keeper to keep me on track, someone to handle the visitors, etc. 3.) It gave us something to do first thing in the morning, when the crowds were fairly light, and finally 4.) The blowtorch/anvil combo is always a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Ever time I’m heating something up or pounding on metal, we get a huge crowd. Luckily, this experiment also coincided with our involvement with the Living History Tours at our fest, so it made for a great demo all the way around.

            Saturday morning we got to work. After setting up our demo, I gave everyone their tasks for the first hour: Danny would be my photographer, Steven would be my time-keeper, Louis would handle visitor questions, and I’d do the work. Beginning with opening cannon, we got started. It was a crowd-pleasing demo, and as you’ll see, we were surprised at the results of the experiment.

            The way we set it up, Steven would let me know when I had 30 seconds left, and when time was up for each task. At that point, I was to drop what I was doing, and move on to the next step, leaving whatever I hadn't finished undone.



                        Coiling                                                            Finished coils



                        Cutting rings                                       Preparing rings for annealing



                Annealing rings                                                 Flattening wire for rivets



                   Scoring rivets                                                Rivets ready to be cut



                  Cutting rivets                                                              Rivets



                                                            Flattening rings



                        Punching rings                                                Punched rings



                        Setting the rivets                                       Riveted maille



               One hour's work                                           One hour's finished maille


            So there you have it, folks: from bare wire to finished maille, one hour's work produces a grand total of one inch of maille! I thought the result would be more, too, but this is what we came up with.

            Granted, as the next-to-last picture shows, there's a lot of each step left over. Coils not cut, rings not flattened, etc. Also, working in an assembly-line fashion as was done in period, lots more could be done, as several steps could be done at once by different people. Nevertheless, this gives you an idea of the amount of time that goes into a piece of maille.

            This was an interesting experiment to do, as none of us really knew what the outcome would be. I had an idea that I wouldn't get much done in one hour, as I've been doing riveted maille all fest long, but I had no idea just how little I was actually accomplishing! One inch an hour! Good grief! The end results intrigued us so much that for comparison's sake, we did another similar experiment with Louis' butted maille later that afternoon, which we will take a look at in next month's "Blackmaille".

            In the meantime, look back over those pictures, think about the investment in time it takes to produce maille, and you'll see why I prefer to teach people how to make maille themselves, rather than take on commissioned projects. I'd say 90% of what you're paying for in any maille purchased is the time it takes to make it. With a modest investment in tools and materials, and a few hours a day, you can make your own maille for a fraction of what you could buy it for!

            So that's it for this month. As I said, next month we'll look at the butted maille time trial, and compare the results of the two. Until then, thanks for joining us for another month of Blackmaille. As usual, any questions, comments, hate mail, or fan mail can be sent to:


c/o Thomas Beckett       
13628 Belmead Ave      
Grandview, MO 64030

 Or you can email me at:

             See you next month!

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