Is it worth the effort to make your own chain links?
If you make a lot of jewelry or chainmaille, you may have considered whether it’s better to buy chain links or make your own. Here are some things that may help you make that choice.
Creating chainmaille items is becoming an increasingly popular craft. There are entire web sites and books now dedicated to teaching people this ages-old craft. A technique once reserved for creating armor is now being used to create everything from dice bags to jewelry. The popularity of Renaissance fairs and LARPing have also helped to bring this ancient art form back into the public eye. With the current resurgence of popularity, artists are striving to learn more about chainmaille and the materials and techniques that go into creating it.
I have bought links for my chain mail jewelry and made them myself as well. I don’t do a massive amount of chain work, but I have a pretty good feel for the perks and downfalls of both options. I’ll discuss them here, and maybe it will help you decide which is best for you.
Cost is an issue most people are going to wonder about. Unfortunately, that’s a hard one to gauge. Whether it’s cheaper to buy or make your chain links depends on the gauge of the wire you need them to be made from, and whether you can easily get that wire at an affordable price. If you need links of a common gauge like 16 or 18, you can usually make them cheaper than buying them. If you’re looking for a thicker gauge, it’s often cheaper to buy them already made, unless you can get the wire on sale.
The next thing to take into account is time. It takes a lot of time and patience to wrap wire around a mandrel or rod, then cut it into individual rings. It’s a lot faster to buy them and have them shipped to you. For some people time is a factor, while for others the creation of the rings is a relaxing part of the craft. For some, especially those creating chainmaille for Renaissance Faires, making the links from scratch may help them feel that the item is more authentic, and taking the time to do so brings them closer to the original art form.
Variety is another thing to think about. When you make your own links, you can make them in just about any shape you want. You’re only limited by finding something you can wrap the wire around that has the right shape. Pre-made links are difficult to find in any shape except round, and if you do find them, they tend to be rather expensive. However, as chainmaille becomes more popular, pre-made links are now becoming available in new materials that you could not work with at home, like stretchy rubber links.
Color can be another factor. When making your own links you’re limited by the colors of wire that you can buy. If you buy online you can find a wide variety of shades, but local craft stores tend to be rather limited. On the other hand, you can buy premade chain links in just about any color under the sun.
I’d say the biggest factors in whether you make your own chain links or not is how much time you want to put into it, and how many pieces you’re making. Making your own links adds to the time it takes to create the item, and therefore adds to the price of the finished piece. If you’re making things just for yourself, it doesn’t matter quite as much. After trying both making and buying links, I’d personally go with buying links if I were going to be producing a large inventory, but I make my own for the odd piece here and there.