Carbon steel and mild steel plate armour (including helmets) and plain steel mail are highly susceptible to rusting, typically being exposed to water in bad weather and sweat in good weather. Maintaining them in rust-free condition requires some dedicated effort on the part of the wearer.
Plate armour and helmets, unless cleaned by your dealer, are typically greased or oiled and plastic wrapped when you receive them. Careful treatment at this point can save hours of work later. First remove all of the grease or oil using mineral spirits and a cloth or paper towels. Make sure that the cleaned surface is thoroughly dry. Then apply a coating of wax to the entire surface of the exposed metal – use Q-tips in the nooks and crannies. Renaissance Wax™ is wonderful stuff but can be expensive on big areas of plate. Johnson’s Paste Wax also works well and is more economical. Allow the wax to dry for a couple of hours and then buff it lightly with a soft cloth. It’s OK, even beneficial, if the wax also covers leather straps and fittings.
Your plate armour is now ready to wear or display and you should make every effort to prevent rusting. Above all try to keep the armour dry but if it does get wet, dry it thoroughly as soon as possible. After each wearing, clean off any grime and re-wax, paying particular attention to areas where the coating may have rubbed off. Store the waxed armour in a dry place and check it every couple of months for signs of corrosion – if any is found, the rust should be removed by rubbing gently with a mildly abrasive pad dipped in paste wax (those green dishwashing pads work well). Pieces used for display only should also be checked every couple of months and cleaned and waxed as necessary.
As far as mail is concerned, if your club or society permits galvanised or stainless mail it will definitely save you a lot of work over the plain steel variety. Authenticity, however, has much to commend it and maintaining plain steel mail replicates one of the activities of fighting men of old (or at least their aides). For this mail, preventive maintenance is again the key - keeping the rust away is easier than removing it. Your mail is oiled when you receive it – it is best to degrease it with the solvent of your choice, taking all the necessary safety precautions, dry it thoroughly and then recoat it unless you are going to use it immediately. Opinions on the best coating vary – some use mineral or vegetable oil, some use water-displacing liquids (such as WD-40™) and others use modern-day potions with far-reaching claims (we’re trying out a couple and we’ll let you know of any breakthroughs). Before each use the mail should be degreased and, as soon as possible after each use, dry it thoroughly, inside and out, and recoat. Inspect the mail for signs of rust regularly and, if any is found, remove it – it will spread very quickly unless stopped.
Butted Mail (Codes 10, 16b, 16z, B)
This is the most economical construction style of mail, as the cost of labour-intensive riveting is avoided. Butted mail has limited historical precedent but is fine for general costuming and role-playing where strict construction authenticity is not a requirement. It is not recommended for weapons-contact re-enactment. Butted mail is available in mild steel and high-tensile steel. High-tensile steel has the most resistance to opening of the rings, while mild steel butted rings may be distorted by heavy weapons contact. All rings are formed from round section wire and are 8mm internal diameter. Construction is in the 4 in 1 pattern. Full specifications and available finishes are shown against each specific item.
Dome-Head Riveted Mail (Codes 4, 6, 8, 9, 12)
This style of mail is reasonably authentic to the early medieval period, particularly in the European flat ring (EFR) version. In steel this construction style has the advantage of strength, allowing it to be used for supervised weapons-contact re-enactment. More economical than wedge-riveted mail, the domed-head riveted style is available in steel, in round wire and flat ring versions, and in round wire aluminium. Riveted aluminium rings will maintain their integrity well but aluminium mail is not recommended for weapons contact. Construction is in the 4 in 1 pattern. Full specifications and available finishes are shown against each specific item.
Wedge-Riveted Mail (codes1,2)
Wedge riveting, in association with flattened rings, became popular in the 1300's and was used until the demise of mail. Alternating rows of solid punched rings and riveted rings predominated until late in the period, when all-riveted construction became more popular. Available in steel only, this style of mail is our most authentic and is well able to withstand supervised weapons-contact re-enactment. Construction is in the 4 in 1 pattern. Full specifications and available finishes are shown against each specific item. The mail is supplied burnished to give a dark grey to black finish.
Finishes - When specifications for a certain style of mail refer to a "Natural" finish, the rings do not have a separate coating applied to the steel but are typically lightly blackened with heat to a medium grey colour. This helps with corrosion issues but it is recommended that mail with this finish be thoroughly coated with a silicon or rust-preventative spray (such as WD-40) when not in use and stored in a ventilated plastic tub in a warm, dry location.
No rust-proofing is necessary with zinc-coated or anodised finishes but dry, warm storage is still recommended. The zinc plating is inherently a corrosion inhibitor and the grey anodising used on aluminium mail both provides a realistic colouring and prevents oxidation of the aluminium.
A word about sizes - The hauberk and haubergeon sizes are a little confusing, as they relate to the actual circumference of the mail garment, rather than a chest size. Size 48"/50" will fit up to a 44" chest dimension measured over a gambeson (and any other clothing worn with the gambeson), While the 60" size will fit up to a 54" chest dimension, again measured over the gambeson etc.