You’ve learned the basics of chain mail and mastered several of the essential weaves, but when you go to show off your work to friends, you’re asked, “Has it been soldered?”
Ah. Yet another aspect of chain mail that many beginners don’t even consider until they find themselves peppered with inquiries.
Should I solder my chain mail? Soldering chain mail isn’t necessary as long as the closures are flush and tight, the weave isn’t loose, and the correct aspect ratio was used. As a personal choice, some decide to solder costly rings, single strand or loose weave jewelry, and items that need extra strength.
You could spend hours reading through chain mail forums with long threads on soldering, but those posts are typically made by experts, and chances are, you’d have no idea what they’re talking about.
Instead, let’s keep things fairly simple as we discuss when you may and may not want to solder your project.
To Solder or Not to Solder
Deciding whether or not to solder your chain mail is ultimately a personal decision.
If you were to ask a large group of experienced chain mail makers, roughly half would say that there really is no need to solder as long as the rings are joined properly.
The other half would adamantly say that each and every ring should be soldered.
Each side, of course, has valid points backing their preferences, but there are several factors you should consider before deciding for yourself.
Ring Type, Size, Shape, and Aspect Ratio
Type of Metal
Many experienced weavers prefer to solder rings made of soft or expensive metals, such as gold or silver, simply because they already have so much invested, they may as well make certain that it won’t come apart.
Other soft metals such as aluminum, brass, copper, or bronze, may benefit from soldering as well for durability purposes.
Generally, the thicker the rings are, the stronger they’ll be.
Many people wouldn’t consider soldering rings that are 18 gauge or thicker because it just isn’t necessary. The mere thickness will provide sufficient strength to the piece.
Jump rings with a very small inner diameter will be difficult to solder.
It could be done, especially if you’re using solder-filled rings (Rio Grande carries them), but you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s really worth the time and effort if your work is already exemplary.
However, large, thin rings may require permanent closure for extra strength.
Although the vast majority of jump rings are round, occasionally you’ll run across other shapes, such as oval, triangle, or square.
The shape of the rings will influence how stresses are distributed across the entire piece.
Rings made of noncircular shapes are often weaker by design and may benefit from soldering, particularly if the item is likely to experience heavy usage.
Aspect ratio (AR) is critical when making chain mail.
It is simply the inner diameter of the rings divided by the wire diameter but can make the difference between a pattern fitting together perfectly or one with the rings either too loose or too tight.
Theoretically, as long as you stay within the recommended aspect ratio range of your weave, the piece should be strong enough on its own and there will be no need for soldering.
Correct AR = No soldering necessary
Pattern and Width
Tight, dense patterns such as Byzantine will be very difficult to solder.
For weaves like this, it’s more advisable to focus on ensuring that each ring is closed tightly and the ends are flush.
Jewelry items comprised of only one or two strands and made with a simple weave will naturally be more delicate than those with multiple rows linked together.
For items such as this, soldering may be a good idea.
Usually, jewelry made of four or more rows of rings will distribute stresses nicely and soldering would be overkill, unless you want a super strong piece.
A piece of jewelry that has been fully soldered will be strong and much less likely to break under normal use, meaning that the owner can be fairly confident that the item will remain securely on their body.
However, this security could also pose a safety issue should the jewelry become caught on something.
The strength of the piece means that a lot of force will be required for it to break.
If a person is being strangled by their jewelry or is unable to pull away from danger due to the strength of the piece, injury, or even death, could result.
For this reason, at least one link in the chain should remain unsoldered to provide a weak spot for safety reasons.
Soldering chain mail will increase your work time significantly. For larger items, you may be looking at six or more hours of soldering work.
Mistakes are bound to happen along the way as well, so you’ll spend even more time redoing sections that didn’t come out right.
You’ll find that for many pieces of jewelry, the extra time required to solder all the rings just isn’t worth it.
Soldering Alternatives to Consider
If you’re only considering soldering to stop your chain mail jewelry from snagging on clothes and hair, you may want to consider using a tumbler to remove any burrs and polish up your piece.
Either a rock tumbler or a jewelry tumbler like this one from Superland can be used.
As long as each ring is closed flush, running your item through the tumbler for a few hours may solve any issues you were experiencing, and you can kiss thoughts of soldering goodbye.
Although using a gel adhesive is not exactly standard procedure, Loctite 454 can be used to seal rings closed.
This glue bonds to metal, dries clear so there are no unsightly globs to worry about, and it has a strength rating of 3,200 psi.
Just be sure your ring ends are clean and as flush as possible before using.
When to Solder Chain Mail
In certain instances, it definitely makes sense to solder. Generally speaking, if the item is a loose weave made with large or thin rings (18 gauge or thinner), soldering is recommended.
Also, if the item is expected to undergo heavy use or stress, soldering may be beneficial.
For example, if you’re making a bracelet for your young niece’s birthday, you can reasonably predict that the jewelry will receive a good amount of abuse.
In this case, soldering would be advantageous. Just remember to leave at least one ring unsoldered for safety.
Also, if you plan on selling your jewelry either directly to customers or to a shop, soldering would be wise to ensure durability, reduce calls for repairs, and prevent snagging issues.
Other instances where soldering is recommended is for attaching heavy decorations and for the ends of necklaces, bracelets, and anklets where fasteners and clasps are joined.
This is where the most stress (usually) is endured and breakage most often occurs, so soldering can prolong the life of the piece significantly.
If you do decide to solder your work, know that soldering paste is most often recommended.
It already contains flux, is easy to use, stays in place, and only calls for a small amount for each joint.
Here is how to use it:
When Not to Solder Chain Mail
Basically, if you can get by without soldering, skip it.
That is to say, as long as your closures are flush and tight, your weave is tight and dense, you’ve used the correct AR, and multiple rows are present, there really is no need to solder.
Many would consider soldering rings that are 16 gauge and thicker with a relatively small inner diameter to be a waste of time as the rings are strong enough and will evenly disperse pressure across the weave.
The answer given here may seem slightly vague, but the decision to solder or not is typically solely decided based on personal preferences, so there isn’t exactly one answer that is applicable to every person and project.
It simply is a choice you must make for yourself.