Should I Use Riveted, Butted, or Split Rings for Chain Mail?

A sheet of European 4-in-1 chain mail.

People have been weaving metal rings together for centuries to make protective suits of armor, and more recently, a variety of crafts, such as jewelry.

There are literally hundreds of weave patterns that you can learn, some more complex than others, and there are an assortment of ring types from which to choose.

So, how do you know which ring style would be best for your particular project?

Should I use riveted, butted, or split rings for chain mail? For the vast majority of chain mail projects, butted rings are ideal. For historically accurate pieces and items requiring a great deal of strength, use riveted. Split rings can be used in place of butted rings when making armor or simple jewelry designs.

Selecting the wrong type of ring for your project will lead to disappointment, as they’re not necessarily interchangeable in all applications.

Knowing how each one is best utilized will help you make an informed decision.

What’s the Difference Between Riveted, Butted, and Split Rings?

Those new to chain mail are often confused by the different rings used when constructing various items, and it’s easy to understand why.

Often, the rings are referred to as simply rings, with no clear identification.

In some instances, the terms are used incorrectly, such as when open jump rings are called split rings (they are actually completely different). 

You can learn more about other types of rings, such as shaped rings, locking rings, and closed rings, by visiting my article here, but for now, let’s focus on sorting out the differences between riveted, butted, and split rings. 

Riveted Rings

Riveted rings are round rings with overlapping ends that have been flattened, punched with a hole, and held together by a small rivet.

It is believed that riveted rings became popular in the medieval Europe when the standard rings proved too weak against sword thrusts and flying arrows.

You see, the regular, open rings, what we now refer to as butted or jump rings, tended to spread apart when subjected to sharp blows, thus compromising the safety of the user.

The riveted rings proved to be much stronger and could stand up to more severe attacks.

If you’re looking to create historically accurate mail armor, riveted rings are the way to go. You’ll find them in two versions: wedge riveted and dome (or round) riveted. 

Wedge rivets are triangular shaped and are driven into a slit formed in the flattened rings. 

Dome rivets are small pieces of wire that are set into a round hole in the flattened rings, and a pair of rivet setting tongs is used to secure the rivet in place, leaving one side rather flat and the other domed shape.

Be aware that although the strength of riveted rings is unrivaled, work speed will likely be much slower as compared to butted rings, as each individual ring in the project must be riveted closed. 

It is possible to make your own riveted rings, should you choose to do so. This video demonstrates exactly how to do it.

If the idea of making all those rings yourself seems a little too daunting, you could purchase them premade.

I found a 3 kilogram pack of 9 millimeter steel wedge-riveted rings here on Amazon, though you can also find them at the following stores:

Butted Rings

Butted rings are what most people imagine when they picture chain mail, but they are most often referred to as jump rings.

(See what I mean about confusion?)

Butted rings are usually round pieces (other shapes are available too) of wire used predominately in modern chain mail construction.

The term butted refers to the way the two ends of the ring butt up against one another when the ring is closed. 

For most purposes, butted rings are more than sufficient, and they can be found in a wide variety of metals, colors, and sizes to fit nearly any project.

They are ideal for beginners and all weaves. (See my recommended weaves for beginners to learn here.) 

My favorite pack of jump rings features 23,000 rings in assorted sizes, two pliers, clasps, and an instructional book that teaches 20 popular weaves for beginners. 

However, some people choose to make their own butted rings, as demonstrated in the following video.

As far as speed is concerned, butted rings win the prize.

Once you develop a rhythm to your weaving, you’ll find opening and closing these rings becomes second nature and can be done in large batches rather quickly.

For more interesting facts and details about jump rings head over to my article “Chain Mail Vs. Ring Mail.”

Split Rings

Your average key ring is the perfect example of a split ring.

A split ring is a tightly compressed double coil of wire with one end on the top of the coil and the other end on the bottom.

There is no gap for weaving on other rings as with riveted and butted rings.

You must force open one end of the ring to attach it to others, thus work time will be increased compared to butted rings.

Split rings do, however, provide a strength not found with butted rings. Rings are not likely to work their way free over time as there is no gap to create weakness.

The bulkiness of these rings can negatively affect some patterns, and some complex, dense weaves will not be possible.

However, you can make many chain mail items entirely out of split rings. Just be aware that they’re not practical for every application.

You can purchase a pack of 900 iron split rings in a variety of sizes here on Amazon.

How to Choose Which Rings to Use?

Of course, the decision of ring type is completely up to you, but I’d like to offer some basic guidelines to help you choose wisely.

After all, it’s mighty disappointing to spend hours on a project and waste hundreds of rings only to find that it didn’t come out as you’d planned.

When to Use Riveted Rings

Honestly, unless you plan on your mail receiving substantial amounts of abuse or enjoy making historically accurate garments, there’s really no need to use riveted rings for chain mail. 

Movac, a long-time member of The Ring Lord Forum, puts it this way:

“The metal used today is much better than that which was available during the Middle Ages. Riveting is not necessary with today’s higher quality stainless steel.” 

He goes on to say:

“The reason for riveting is to resist weapon tips going through the rings and spreading them. Unless you foresee falling on pointy objects that should not be an issue.”

I think that his statements sum it up rather well.

If you feel up to the challenge, desire a really strong garment that will rarely need repairs, or just like the look of riveted rings, then by all means, go for it.

Just know that using them really isn’t necessary.

When to Use Butted Rings

Butted rings are ideal for most modern chain mail projects.

Everything from clothing items, such as bikinis, to protective gear for butcher work to dreamcatchers can be made out of standard jump rings, although jewelry items are by far the most popular application today.

Earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, and anklets only require butted rings to complete, with maybe a clasp for closing or a split ring for securing heavier embellishments.

When to Use Split Rings

If you have a project, such as a simple bracelet, that calls for a basic, loose weave and you wish to add an extra level of strength to the item, split rings can be used. 

You can also use them to construct an entire suit of mail armor or several elements of one, such as a hauberk (a knee-length shirt of mail) or a mail coif (a head covering), if you desire. 

Armor suits constructed of split rings may not be historically accurate, but they will be more durable than those made of jump rings.

For a more in-depth look at using split rings, check out this article.