Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to Choose Chainmail, Part 1: Materials

Whether you are buying chainmail for your next LARPing adventure or simply to decorate your man cave, learning about the different metals they come in will help you choose the right material for your needs. A few considerations include weight, strength, appropriate use, cleaning requirements and cost.

Aluminum: Aluminum is inexpensive and lightweight. It's good in costumes and chainmail jewelry, but aluminum armor is not very strong and isn't the best option for functional purposes.

  • Bright aluminum is polished and shiny, and anodized aluminum adds dye for a black or silver color. Both are tarnish resistant and can be cleaned with soapy hot water. Bright aluminum can also undergo ultrasonic cleaning.
  • Raw aluminum is duller gray and best suited to armor. It shares aluminum's other characteristics, but it can be dirtier to wear and rubs off on your skin. Cleaning the metal isn't much help in this case.

Steel: Steel varieties are relatively inexpensive yet very strong.

  • Normal steel chainmail is made of mild steel or high tensile steel (kind of spring steel). The good thing about high tensile steel is the ring can close by itself. If the chainmail ring is butted style and made of mild steel, when the ring is opened, the chainmail will fall apart. The high tensile style butted chainmail rings will close by themselves. It’s an alternative way to get a good chainmail with affordable price.
  • Cleaning: Mild steel and galvanized steel are best used for armor only. Both are magnetic. Mild steel has no coatings or additives and is ideal for period-correct armor, but it rusts easily and rubs off. Use a fine abrasive, such as sand, to clean mild steel by tumbling it to remove rust. Otherwise, just use soap and hot water. Galvanized steel rubs off, but it has a zinc coating that resists rust. Note: Don't clean or heat galvanized steel. Cleaning damages the coating and heating releases toxic zinc fumes.

Titanium: Titanium is very strong and lighter than steel, but it becomes brittle if it's overworked. Titanium is fairly expensive; anodizing it creates different colors; and it's good for jewelry, costumes and armor. Titanium won't rub off or tarnish although colors might fade with wear. Colors may be revitalized through cleaning, accomplished either ultrasonically or with soapy hot water.

Copper/Brass/Bronze: These metals are very attractive when new. They vary in price from relatively inexpensive to moderately expensive, are all heavier than steel and are moderately strong. They will darken over time and may turn skin green with prolonged wear. All can be cleaned either ultrasonically or with a special metal cleaner. These metals are good for jewelry, costumes and armor. They may have an added patina for color.

Silver/Gold/Niobium: These metals are very expensive and are ideal for chainmail jewelry but not chainmail directly. They're all softer than steel yet heavier; high-end costumes could be quite heavy. Gold links are usually gold-fill, indicating a thick gold outer layer with a brass core. Gold and niobium won't tarnish, but silver will. All can be cleaned ultrasonically or with soapy hot water; use polish to restore tarnished silver. Note: Anodized niobium holds colors better than titanium.

Nickel silver is a stronger alloy suitable for jewelry, costumes and armor. Sometimes referred to as German silver, it requires ultrasonic cleaning or use of a special metal cleaner.

When you are searching for the best chainmail armor, chainmail jewelry or chainmail clothing, it’s beneficial to do some research. In SwordNArmory’s three part series, we will cover all of the things you need to know before buying your next piece of chainmail.

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