Chainmail is kind of magical. It conforms to your body, fixes your posture, sheds heat, feels great, is self-cleaning, and turns most blades. On the other hand, it’s also heavy as hell, might bruise you, makes you and/or your clothes filthy, and can hurt your back if you’re as dumb as me and wear it every day before you’ve worked up to it.
About a month ago, my friend Madigan and I started working on the construction of kikko armor. Kikko is a form of japanese armor that uses hexagons of leather or steel that are chained together or sewn to a backing.
I first hit upon the idea because I was complaining about how western brigandine and similar armors seem to work… they use rectangles, which of course means that, no matter how you lay them out, you will have angles at which a blade could strike you and find space between the plates. “Much smarter to use hexagons,” I said, and when I turned to google, I was not the least bit surprised that I wasn’t the first person to think of this.
Anyhow, our kikko has been made of hot-water-hardened horsehide (mistakenly called “boiled leather” by some) plates, chained together by 16ga blackened stainless steel. (butted rings.)
Step by step:
take your vegetable-tanned, 8oz or so leather. Soak it in room-temperature (not cold) water for 10 minutes, roughly. Then immerse it in 180-degree-farhenheit water for 45 seconds or so (the timing matters a lot, and needs experimenting. We settled on 45 seconds). Take it out and put it between a rock and a hard place. You want two flat, non-water-permeable surfaces. (Cardboard did not work so well for us, it sucks the oils out of the leather or something weird like that.) What we did that worked best was put it on a plastic countertop and put a marble cutting board on top, then stacked heavy books on top of that. The water makes the leather pliable, and the hot water fuses the fibers of the leather, making it much, much tougher, but a bit brittle once dried. We left the leather under pressure for about 15-20 minutes. It takes awhile to dry, but will stay pretty flat after being pressed for 15 minutes.
It’s easiest to cut the leather while it’s wet, but it’s not essential that you do so. We made two sizes of hexagons. One was a regular hexagon with .75″ sides, one was a twice-as-tall one with 1.5″ tall sides and .75″ other sides. I designed a template on a computer, because our hand-drawn ones were not as regular as we’d hoped. If anyone asks, I’ll post a pdf of it in the comments. We traced the hexagons onto thin cardboard from a cereal box or beer box, then one of us drew as many hexagons onto the piece of leather as we were able to fit while the other cut them out using a boxcutter.
We stained the plates with USMC black leather stain. I want to try natural dyes sometime too. But as it was, I followed the instructions on the box, one coat of leather stain and one coat of sealant. I sealed the back too, to avoid mold.
We punched holes in them. We used a small sheet-metal punch on some and a pin vice drill on others. The vice took longer but had more control. Figuring out the spacing was tricky, and getting the spacing as regular as possible helps a lot.
We chained them together using a barely-modifiedjapanese 6-1 chainmail pattern. The rings we used, which fit well, are 1/4″ 16ga.
Lessons learned so far:
make sure you dry the leather out before you put it into a plastic bag in your van or backpack for two weeks, or you’ll have moldy leather. If your leather does get moldy before you stain and seal it, use white vinegar to kill it, then dry it out and make sure the mold seems gone before you stain and seal it.
So far, kikko is pretty cool. Even more labor-intensive than straight chainmail, and probably not as strong, but it’s significantly lighter while still staying flexible and pretty tough. We’re making a skirt out of it first, then I’ll probably try some greaves with the plates sewn or riveted to a backing of unhardened leather.
A couple friends of mine asked me to make them chainmail tops. I finished one of them yesterday, a loosely-woven halter.
The main part of it is a triangle of japanese 6-1 chain woven with pink anodized aluminum square-cut 5/16″ rings and white anodized aluminum 1/4″ rings. I made a large triangle, then took off one hex at the two bottom corners to attach larger aluminum rings to tie the ribbon through, then took of a larger piece of the top corner in order to attach it to the collar. The collar is a leather bondage collar we bought that I added rivets to to support the chainmail. A really simple design in the end.
Since it’s see-through, the full picture of it is sorta NSFW, so it’s after the jump.
Apparently there are a lot of abandoned costume jewelry factories in Providence, Rhode Island. And somehow or another, boxes and boxes of old rusty metal jewelry has been sitting abandoned in the basement of a friend’s space here. I scored a lot of weird earring pieces, each about 2″ tall and 1″ wide (I’m eyeballing that). And I’ve recently renewed my interest in chainmail and assorted fuedalpunk DIY projects.
They seem to work pretty well for scalemail. I used this youtube instructional video about linking scales together, mixed with some split-ring links I got recently from The Ring Lord (what an fitting name for the main manufacturer of chainmail supplies in North America). It took me awhile to figure out how to drill the pieces. The Ring Lord’s scales (featured in the above video) have a single large hole, but the teardrop shape of these earrings wasn’t right for that method (I tried). I hit upon putting three holes in each with a 13/64″ bit and a drillpress.
And then started linking them together. The top hole ends up with two rings through it, each bottom hole with only one. Here’s the pattern, viewed from the back.
Since each row is offsetted, I’ll probably use rows with alternating numbers of scales. At the moment, each row alternates between 3 and 4 scales. We’ll see how big it’ll need to be to make nice pauldrons for a leather jacket or a chainmail byrnie or whatever the hell I put it on first.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of mine’s mothers. One of them pulled out a bag she was crocheting, and told us with pride that she had made it from reused plastic bags… in this case, newspaper bags (at the top) and grocery bags (forming the bottom). The thing is quite sturdy and remarkably ingenious. She of course demurred and has pointed out that she’s not the first to do this. But we were super excited and she graciously let us photograph the process of making plastic yarn.