Archive for October, 2010

Making a chain mail shirt for a child

Posted in Chain Mail, Gear Making, jewelry making, metalwork, Tool Making on October 30, 2010 by Jim

I casually said to someone that I would make their child a chain mail shirt. I even said that I thought it would be fun. It was fun but turned out to be a bit more work than I expected. Approximately thirty hours of work later, many sore fingers, and about two dozen #1 jewelers saw blades , I had a finished chain mail shirt. This shirt is 18″ tall and 13″ wide. It will fit on a three year old.

I learned some helpful tricks about making chain mail.

A simple jig makes uniform rings easy:

For this jig, I drilled a small hole through a 3/8″ mild steel rod from the hardware store. You can see the aluminum electric fence wire I used going through the small hole. To make the rings, I chucked an electric drill to the rod and turned it slowly in the wooden form you see it sitting in . I found quickly that a leather glove helped my fingers survive.

A jump ring cutting jig

The rings used in making chain mail can be called jump rings. I saw a jig like this at a jewelers bench. They were using it to cut ring bands. Clamped in a vise, it works great for cutting the rings apart like this:

If I were going to make another shirt, I would probably cut the rings apart with snips instead of sawing them. I thought of changing mid-stream on this shirt but the rings looked different from the ones I had already woven together.

When I was working on this, I found a great trick online but cannot find the tutorial again. It makes everything go twice as fast. Briefly, you make chains of rings, two into one, as long as you want the finished section to be. Make many of these, then join them. I see that most tutorials show people adding one ring at a time into a mesh of fabric and that was horrible for me. Making the long chains and joining them made me twice as fast and far less frustrated.

If that doesn’t make sense, email me – jim (at) and I will try and explain or post an example.

Happy making,


A Twelve Dollar Knife Makers Vise

Posted in Blacksmithing, Gear Making, knifemaking, Leather working, metalwork, Tool Making on October 12, 2010 by Jim

It may not be pretty, but it works!

Knife Makers Vise

Two weekends ago, I was lucky enough to attend the American Bladesmith Society’s Heartland Bladesmithing Symposium at Steve Culver’s shop. It was incredible. I learned more than I thought you could learn in two days.

Looking around at all the tools he had, I saw a really cool knife makers vise. It let you clamp a knife in it and rotate the blade to work on all sides while still holding it securely.

I checked online and a store bought vise is around $100.00. I am saving for a propane forge and can’t afford a finished vise so I made this one.

You can put one of these together in a couple of hours if you have access to a small welder. Here are the parts I used:

Parts for the twelve dollar knife vise

The main body (gray pipe) is the top tube of an old swing-set I found in my garage and is 2″ in diameter. The gray pipe in this picture does not become part of my finished vise. It is just to show what the yellow pipe looked like before I started.

I cut a piece of this pipe¬† 6″ long and drilled a 3/8 hole in the side.¬† For the hole, I came in about 1 1/2″ from the end. Next, I welded a nut over the hole. You can see this on the yellow painted pipe.

For a tightening handle on the inner vise (yellow pipe), I cut a ‘U’ bolt in half. That gives me the L shaped threaded rod that has a little yellow paint on it. That is what you use to tighten the inner wooden jaws that hold your knife.That might be cheating but it made a really comfortable handle for less than a dollar!

Next, I made the outer vise jaws. These allow you to spin the inner vise and clamp it tight where you need it. I made this from a heavy 2″ fence gate clamp that I got at a farm and feed store. At seven dollars, that was the most expensive piece of the entire vise.

To make the outer vise open and close easily, I bought an extension nut and welded a scrap of 3/8″ mild steel rod on it for a handle:

I also added a spring from the hardware store to make that outer clamp jaw want to open easily. I couldn’t find a spring that was exactly the width that I needed, so I cut a longer one down a bit for this.

Lastly, I made some wooden jaws to go inside directly against the knife itself.

Jaws for twelve dollar knife makers vise

Any 1″ x 2″ hardwood scraps should do for the jaws. I used Barge Cement and put leather pads on this set. I believe that I will make several sets of jaws for different work. I will make one pair with a long lower jaw to support the blades while I am filing them.

That’s It.

There really isn’t much too it. You clamp the bottom bit of the silver chain link fence gate hinge into your regular vise and you can hold a knife in any orientation.

While this isn’t nearly as elegant as the one I saw in Steve’s shop, it holds a blade tight while I am working hard on it.

Happy Making,