Part 9 - Tips and Tricks
by Lord Thomas the Black
TIPS AND TRICKS
Welcome to another exciting episode of Blackmaille! This month, I thought I'd discuss a few of the hints and tips I've learned while doing mail (many learned the hard way!), so as to save new maillers the pain and frustration of trial-and-error (mostly error).
The first thing I learned is when doing online research, start with academic sites (museums and universities) as these are the people who study armor regularly, and study actual examples of medieval armor whenever possible. You're likely to get better information from academics than from hobbyists (people for whom mail is one interest among 20 on their website) or professional armorers (who are trying to sell you something). If the academics recommend a site, go there next. A few good places to start are:
Arador Armor Library: www.arador.com
The Armor Archive: www.armourarchive.org
The Chainmaille Board: www.chainmailleboard.com
When winding coils on a crank mandrel, always keep one hand on the crank handle. Never let go of the crank handle while the coil is still under tension. If you need both hands for something else, back the tension off, or cut the wire free first. If you let go while it's coiled, the crank handle will whip around and whack your hand. Depending on the metal being coiled, this can break bones. I kid you not.
"Playstation" games exercise the same muscles in the hands as mailling, so if you can't work on mail, work that console!
Always stretch your fingers, hands and forearms before mailling. Stretching first will greatly reduce your risk of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Trust me, in the long run, it's worth the extra time spent. The Arador Armor Library site has a great article on this at: http://www.arador.com/articles/index.html
"Tiger's Balm" is a mailler's best friend. It's available at most chiropractors and/or martial arts schools/suppliers/ it's better than any other muscle liniment on the market. Go get some now.
In a previous article, I mentioned the "score and break" method of cutting rings. Learn this method! It will save you a load of wear and tear both on your hands and on your cutters, and it'll leave nice, flat ends on your rings. To "score and break", simply line up your cutters with the end of the last cut, like you would normally. Then, instead of squeezing all the way through the wire, cutting the ring off, just squeeze a little. Just enough to dent the wire a bit. Next, grasp the ring directly across from your dent and gently pull the ring off. If you scored the coil correctly, the new ring should break off the coil cleanly, with a flat end to the cut. These flat ends will now butt together smoothly.
There are a number of different ways to knit your mail. You have to find a method that works best for you. A few that I've tried:
Hanging Mail - String a bunch of rings onto a wire coat hanger, then knit the mail row-by-row as it hangs up. This lets you see how the mail drapes, and some people find it easier to knit this way, as the pattern hangs the way it's supposed to, and isn't all bunched up on a table top. When your sheet is as big as you want it, open the hanger and slide the mail off. I've found this method to be ideal for riveted mail.
Knitting Board - I've found this method to be the most useful for the Japanese weaves, as they can be complicated to knit on a flat surface. A knitting board is simply a flat board, approximately 8" wide by 11" long, with a row of nails hammered in along the top. Be sure to use the kind of nails without heads, about 2" long, and space them about 1/2" apart. The mail is looped over the nails, and the board can then be set in your lap and propped against a table so the mail hangs down, and is easy to work on.
Basic Units - This is the method I use most often. Essentially, it's just making many, many units of the weave you're knitting (for example, for European 4-in-1, a basic unit will be four rings strung onto a fifth). I make a mess of these, then link them together to make sheets of mail.
Always do your homework before starting any mail project! Mail takes a long time to do, and there's nothing worse than putting several hundred hours into a big project, then discovering that's not how it was done back then. There's no way to fix that at that point. You just have to scrap it and start over, or spend a huge amount of time pulling it all apart to start over.
Be prepared to spend at least two hours a day on mail, when working on a project. Any less than that, and you won't see any appreciable results, and may get discouraged and quit. Anything more than around four hours, on the other hand, and you're risking repetitive motion injury.
One great thing about knitting mail is that mail is very unforgiving of mistakes. If you mess up somewhere and do something wrong while knitting, it will be obvious right away. It just won't look right. It may not be apparent to a new mailler exactly how to fix the problem, but it's very obvious something's wrong. Take time out from your knitting to inspect your work every now and then.
These seem to be all I can come up with for now. If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, send them and/or any mail-related questions to:
c/o Tom Beckett
6522 E 125th St, Apt 2
Grandview, MO 64030
Thanks for joining me this month!
Next month: Historical vs Modern Weaves
See you next month!
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