Making a Chain Mail Coif

Front of mail coif
Front of Mail Coif
This article describes the making of a mail coif (also known as a hood).The coif was the premiere head and neck armor from about 200 B.C. until 1300 A.D.When worn alone or under a metal helmet, mail protects the user fromblade slashes and stabs and pierces from arrows.The interwoven links allow freedom of movement and breathabilitywhich is especially important for a fighter's neck, torso and joints.Today mail is used for costumes, re-enactment, mock combat, andits patterns and weaves are the subject of many web sites.

This photo shows the author with a simple tunic, arming cap, sword, andof course the mail coif.I used galvanized steel rings which are 16 gauge (about 2 mm) thick and havea 1/4 inch (about 6 mm) inner diameter.1/4 inch rings make a nice sturdy coif that looks ready for battle.There are about 7 pounds of rings (3 kg) in this coif and mantle.

Flat view of mail coif
Flat View of Mail Coif
A coif consists of several parts.At the top is the cap which begins with a singlering, has 12 or so expanding rows, and joins with the headband.The headband consists of 7 to 8 rows which justfit around the crown of the head.Leave a little bit of room for a padded arming capor changing hair styles.My headband size is 90 1/4" rings.The face of the coif is a cylinder which goes from headbanddown to the mantle.There are about 16 rows 70 rings long which provide the faceopening and about 16 more rows 90 rings around whichprotect the neck.The mantle is about 16 rows and starts at the 90 ring neck andexpands to about 250 rings at the edges.

This pattern is known as a European 4 in 1 pattern becausehistorically it was used in Europe and eachring interlocks with 4 of its neighbors.

Top view of mail coif
Top View of Mail Coif
A coif is an interesting piece of armor that requires twoprimary mail making skills: making mail rows, and expandingmail rows.Start a row by closing 1 open ring onto 4 closed rings.Add an open ring and two closed ringsuntil you have a rope of mail, 3 rows tall and X rings long.Make a second rope of 3 rows and join that to the first, andnow you have a sheet of mail 7 rows tall by X rings long.

Make an expanding row by adding a spare ring to the bottom row ofa rope.Add the expansion rings every third to every eighth ringdepending on how rapidly you want the row to expand.For this mantle I added a loose expansion ring every 3 rings,which is a very quick expansion.It forms a nice dense circle on the table here, but shoulderswhich angle downwards can use a slightly more gradual expansion.The next coif I will try with a loose expansion ring every 8 rings.

Side view of mail coif
Side View of Mail Coif
To begin the coif, I closed a single ring onto 7 closedrings. (The number you start with depends on the diameterand thickness of your rings.)That seven expands to 14 in the next row and about 25 in the nextrow and so on until it meets the 90 rings of the headband.You must expand the first few rows rather aggressively,so that the cap lays flat and does not come to a point.

The head band and face are simply a sheet of mail that wrapsaround the head to form a cylinder.You should choose the face opening that has the look you need,here I have a simple rectangular opening that lookslike a historical Norman or Saxon mail coif.Although the opening is rectangular, it bulges to fit the face.I made the opening rather small so I can wear the neck up overmy big chin (Norman style) or down under it (Saxon style).

My pet peeve with coifs are those with open or droopy necks.Guard that neck!If I were a fighter and saw and open neck, that's where I wouldstrike.

Back of mail coif
Back of Mail Coif
Here's the back of my coif.Again, notice that the mantle expands so much that the rings bunch upand wrinkle in the middle of my spine.As soon as I get more rings I will remedy this by adding a few more rowsto the neck.This will bring the mantle down the back, and then it can spread out more.It's an interesting property of mail that you can always add or subtractrings later on.

Also note the changing ring colors by the edge of the mantle.There are 5 pounds of galvanized rings from the top of the cap down to the middle of the mantle.I bought these from Myron's Mail Manufactorywho went out of business and could sell me no more.So I stole a pound of rings from an earlier project to continue expandingthe mantle.This was not enough so I purchased yet another pound of rings fromThe Ring Lord to finish it all off.The Ring Lord's stainless rings were closer in color than the Ring Lord'sgalvanized rings to my previous rings, so that's what I used.A few tumbles in a sack in the dryer should shine up the rings to aboutthe stainless color.

Chin coverage of mail coif
Chin coverage of Mail Coif
Thanks for visiting and reading about my mail coif.If you enjoy this article, you might also like my other armor-related articles:

Thanks for visiting.

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Last modified: Thursday, 09-Jun-2011 13:03:17 MST.