PVC Chainmail                                                  Last updated 10/23/04

* Uruk-hai Clothing * Uruk-hai Armor *

       Much of the mail in Lord of the Rings was made of plastic, the individual rings sliced from PVC pipe.  Here fellow orc Andy Buse tells the method he uses for his own PVC mail projects:
I used schedule 40 PVC pipe, which is pretty thick.  I cut the rings on my table saw (I used a very thin blade, can't remember what it was called).  I made a jig to hold the pipe in place (kinda' like a U-bracket of wood that kept the pipe from rattling around on the saw blade), and set my stop for the thickness I wanted which was about as thick as the wall of the pipe.  After I got a lot of them cut I put them in a big bag (I buy Basmatti rice in 5 lbs. bags from Sam's Club--they are made of some kind of course brown weave and have a zipper top) and threw them in the drier on no heat. [Ugluk notes: Try an old pillow case?]  That tumbled all the "PVC splinters" created during the cutting process, better than if I were to sand them myself.

Then I cut half of them with a snip to make open rings and wove them together.  I glue the open rings shut with a drop of super glue when I snap them into the shirt.  (On the new extended LOTR DVD's, a different method is shown:  where I glued my rings, they seem to have melted theirs with a pencil torch and quickly spritzed the melt spot with a spray bottle full of what looks like water.)

I have done a few experiments on painting and found it's easier to paint when I'm done assembling.  If you paint the rings before they go into the shirt, they scratch off the paint when they are snapped into place.  Painting after assembly takes about two coats (one coat is dried then the shirt is shaken to open up any non-painted spots, and it is painted again.)

I started with a dull gray primer, then sprayed over it in metallic silver.  Then I took an air brush and lightly tinted it again with some black and white to gray mix that gives it a dusky metallic hue.  Kinda' nice, really.  I am going to go for the dark iron and slightly rusty look for my orc armor.

My friend Frank is in the mail.  Do note that the coif [hood] is real steel chainmail, but the shirt is [PVC].  Both the shirt and the coif are edged in real bronze rings... I gave this shirt an extra coat of the shiny chrome look [paint] with a dusting of watered gray trying to match the galvanized steel of the coif.  I came pretty close.

As for the weight?  It's surprisingly light, even for PVC.  I haven't weighed one but actors on stage seem to get around in them well enough.  The outer diameters I use are anywhere from 1/4" to 1".  It depends on how you want it to hang.  The smaller the inner diameter the more "scaly" it becomes.  Not to mention the rings get more frail the smaller you get them.  I stick with at least a 1/2" ID, four-in-one weave.  If you have the sound track to LOTR, there is a picture of two orc faces sneering in the CD booklet.  You can clearly see the thick flat PVC rings they used for their armor.  In the extra footage a guy holds up a "sheet" of black PVC maille and announces it "a day's work."  That got my brain cogs working on this project.

And finally, while having 15 lbs. of metal on my body is great, it's a nice change to not double my weight and still look nifty!

    [Andy describes a shirt of particularly small rings:]  I cut the rings so small and light that it could only be used on a nearly stationary actor.  We tried to put it on one of the guys but it started groaning unpleasantly when he went to sit down in the shirt.  He had to hitch the shirt up over his waist to keep from breaking the links!  If you look at all the PVC mail for LoTR, you will see that they are substantially large.  If I ever make PVC again, I will never even entertain the idea of going so small.

    Also, I recently tried an experiment with my few left over PVC rings.  I used a butane pencil torch to melt the ends together.  It worked rather well, but I did need a water mister of ICE WATER to cool off the PVC melt spot if I heated it up too fast.  The water kept the rings from running.  I wish I had that info when I made the shirts the first time.

Andy Buse
bleeder69 AT msn DOT com

Ed Martinez, Moria Orc Maestro, adds this word:

"I talked to Richard Taylor in person for hours about the Chain Mail they made for the film, he even took out several large samples he had with him and let me handle them.  I now know all about what they did, I beleive what you saw on the DVD was not a small torch and water spritz, but a bottle of Super Glue and Zap-a-gap (a insta- fast glue kicker spray)."

       See his own tutorial on PVC mail at http://www.alleycatscratch.com/lotr/Armor/Maille/PVCMaille.htm .

       At left are some mail bits that I've made.  The white PVC rings I cut with PVC pipe cutters, butted without glue.  It takes some practice to get straight cuts, but the cuts are clean and require no cleaning up.  Slower than a power saw but quieter and neater.  A bandsaw with a fresh blade is fairly neat but the rings still need some cleaning up.  If you start with black PVC pipe or tubing, you will need to do less painting.  The other mail pieces are butted steel wire.  Top right is made from coat hangers, the thicker type, almost 12-gauge.  (Okay, it was cheap, but NOT recommended!  Get regular wire, please!)  Top left is 14-gauge, bottom right is 16-gauge.  At center is a lock washer, thrown in for good orcish variety's sake.

       For the greater insanity of riveted mail, see http://www.larp.com/legioxx/hamata.html.

Other Sites about making Mail

Alley Cat Scratch page on Armor, with links

Butted Mail: A Mailmaker's Guide

ChainFire Maille and Armor Construction

Sara's Chainmail Connection

The Ring Lord--Jon Daniels, Box 290C RR6, Saskatoon, Sk, Canada S7K 3J9.  306-374-1335 (9am-11pm CST), http://www.theringlord.com.   Mail and rings for making it, in a wide variety of sizes and materials, plus custom work.  (The finished riveted shirts look like Indian imports.)

Forth Armory--Steve Sheldon, 1-770-815-5323, fax 1-866-234-4721, http://www.forth-armoury.com/.  Riveted mail, plus loose rings and rivets (made for medieval mail)

Frodo Orc Mail tutorial, by Carolyn

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