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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Costs and Weights of mail versus weight of plate... Reply to topic
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 3:19 pm    Post subject: Costs and Weights of mail versus weight of plate...         Reply with quote

I have not researched this at all, but it seems that many articles present plate armour as massively heavy, and more expensive than mail. I have the impression from artwork, previous forum exchanges, and several articles that both mail and plate were utilized to varying degrees from 12th through 14th century. I have wondered if continued use of mail at the same time plate was available, was not more of an economic case of people continuing to utilize an existing expensive item rather than buying the newest "best" alternative.

If one purchases some current high grade reproduction mail (meeting SCA combat wire gauge requirements), plus some typical accompanying transitional armour pieces (greaves, pauldron or bracer, aketon to add padding as seems to have been done in 13th century and later, etc.) and helm, it is not hard to rack up roughly 50 lbs (say 20 kg) of mass in a mail outfit. Conversely, actual plate harnesses on display at the Higgins armoury have weights displayed on the plaques ranging from 35 lb (half harness, light, field plate - say 16 kg) to 55 to 65 lb full "field plate" harness (say 25 to 30 kg). Jousting plate displayed weighs anywhere from heavier full field plate range up to 87 lb (about 40 kg maximum, the heaviest jousting suit on display at Higgins.)

Here is the puzzling aspect of the situation; the mass of materials for "field combat use", as I figure it, are roughly the same regardless of primary armour type (mail versus plate.) Certain aspects of accessories, heavy belt to distribute mail weight around waist, etc. can help mobility. Others on this forum have previously stated that well fitted plate is not that particularly inhibitive to movement (claiming they can do hand stands and other somewhat gymnastic feats while wearing well fitted plate) and reference historical feats of plate armoured men at arms who could sprint, vault onto horses, and do other things while wearing plate. I have a hard time accepting "weight" as a descriminating reason for selecting mail versus plate. I am dependent on other's comments to understand difference in mobility.

As I understand it, historical plate cost considerably more than mail. I suspect the following factors contribute;
1) mail tends to be easier to produce in a "one size fits all" type pattern
2) drawn wire for mail was low carbon, cheaper material
3) fewer specialized tools were required to make mail, meaning "cheaper laborer than required for plate" could plausibly have been utilized. I figure this would almost have to be true since reportedly it took very many hours to produce the mail.

I have no stubborn opinions about the above. It just seems that plate may have cost more to produce in good fitting designs, while offering better resistance to arrows. I question rather weight and mobility was really a decisive factor. Cost differences would seem a more likely factor.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 4:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The weight of the armor I'm wearing here....................

............doesn't exceed thirty pounds. This includes the hauberk, coif (both of riveted construction), and helmet. You'll notice that the coif has a rather large mantle. If this was shortened, or if the mantle was eleminated altogether by making the coif integral with the hauberk, the weight would be even less.

Quote:
I have wondered if continued use of mail at the same time plate was available, was not more of an economic case of people continuing to utilize an existing expensive item rather than buying the newest "best" alternative.


I think you're correct with this statement.


SCA requirements shouldn't be used as an historical gauge since they are designed around butted mail, and are meant to address safety concerns rather than authenticity issues. Butted mail must be heavier than historic riveted mail due to the need for the rings to have enough thickness and strength to hold themselves closed. Riveted mail can be lighter because of this. If an article presents plate harness as being "massively heavy" it's inaccurate.

Quote:
As I understand it, historical plate cost considerably more than mail. I suspect the following factors contribute;
1) mail tends to be easier to produce in a "one size fits all" type pattern
2) drawn wire for mail was low carbon, cheaper material
3) fewer specialized tools were required to make mail, meaning "cheaper laborer than required for plate" could plausibly have been utilized. I figure this would almost have to be true since reportedly it took very many hours to produce the mail.


In your order:

1) I don't know if this is true. Mail seems to have required as much fitting as plate armor. Yes, it's easy to put a little 'slack' into it, but then it's heavier than necessary. I don't think mass-produced mail would have fit any better than mass-produced plate. The hauberk I'm wearing in the photo was 'off the shelf' and has taken a bit of tailoring to achieve a decent fit.
2) I have actually read that the opposite was true. Iron for mail needed to be drawn out into rather thin wire for forming into rings. As such the wire needed to be pretty free of impurities and inclusions, otherwise frequent breakage would occur. On the other hand, iron plate was more forgiving in this aspect.
3) Given the process of forming the rings I'd say that the speciality tools needed for it's manufacture would have been numerous. There's more to it than the assembly phase. I don't know if it took many more hours to produce mail than plate since there seems to have been a fairly developed economic infrastructure dedicated to making mail. There were specialists involved in every phase of mail's construction who were doing their individual jobs on a mass scale relative to the time. I don't think we can equate that to one of us sitting at home making a mail garment all by ourselves.

Of course I'm far from being knowledgeable in armor manufacture, be it mail or plate, so take this with a grain of salt.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Nate C.




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 5:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greetings,

Since we're talking about armor wearablilty and stuff, this seems like a good opportunity to ask a question about weight distribution.

Patrick - How would you rate the mobility/wearability of your norman kit (very cool BTW) versus your "other" kit. I seem to remember that you carry about 30-ish pounds on the job with your equip./weapon belt. I would imagine that the norman kit would be easier to run/ fight in but I'd like first hand corroboration of my hypothesis.

Cheers,

Nate C.

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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 5:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nate C. wrote:
Greetings,

Since we're talking about armor wearablilty and stuff, this seems like a good opportunity to ask a question about weight distribution.

Patrick - How would you rate the mobility/wearability of your norman kit (very cool BTW) versus your "other" kit. I seem to remember that you carry about 30-ish pounds on the job with your equip./weapon belt. I would imagine that the norman kit would be easier to run/ fight in but I'd like first hand corroboration of my hypothesis.

Cheers,


Thanks Nate.

Yes, I actually do find it easier to move around in. I don't really find the weight distribution to be an issue. This was pretty apparent the other day when I was in mail for most of the afternoon. The issue lies in the fact that I find being strapped up into the kevlar and batman belt to be more restrictive. I have been doing some solo sword and shield work while wearing the mail and I find it to be less of a distraction than the modern gear. Of course the fact that I'm having fun instead of working might have something to do with it. Big Grin

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 6:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Whats the ring pattern on that hauberk ? i suspect that could make a huge difference in weight.
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 6:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
Whats the ring pattern on that hauberk ? i suspect that could make a huge difference in weight.


It's a standard 4 in 1 pattern of riveted flat rings, with an ID of 9.5 mm.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 6:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick;

Makes me wonder if a weight bearing vest of some sort wouldn't better to carry all your " Batman " stuff in your job.

Or if modern body armour couldn't benefit from all the centuries of historical experience in designing armour: It always seemed to me that the designer of modern body armour did zero research into the tailoring of historical armour and just slapped something together with no thought at all put into comfort, mobility and weight distribution !

They just cut big rectangles of kevlar and slapped then together.

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Jonathon Janusz





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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 6:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the big things I've noted about wearing maille for extended periods of time is not in mobility but in weight distribution. I can walk/run/jump/swing a sword/etc. fairly easily and even more so with a shirt having better fitted sleeves (again, to underscore Patrick, there is a world of difference between a tailored maille garment and one "off the rack"). What I did notice however, as the day goes on is the weight of the shirt on my shoulders. Some of this can be helped by a sturdy belt (might I also recommend two belts - one for your weapons and another strictly to manage the maille; it helps not to try to fight gravity twice). I can say, however, that you can really feel it in the shoulders and upper back at the end of the day when the hauberk comes off; not unbearably unpleasant mind you, but a solid difference. It is certainly worth the investment in a well thought out and put together gambeson.

I have also heard (no first-hand experience) of the vast improvement in weight distribution in plate harness. I know what the jousters I've talked to think about their kits, but I would be very interested to hear input from those who wear lighter field plate harness - apples to apples if you will (as I believe tournament/jousting armor to be a very separate breed in these regards).

Also, not to derail the thread too far, does anyone have a photograph or two of an antique maille hauberk with an integral coif (if such a find exists)? I am curious as to how the coif attaches to the neck opening. I understand the concept behind a mantle top shirt, but how did our ancestors go about it with an open-hang sleeve patterned shirt?
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 7:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathon,

In years past I spent a lot of time in plate harness and you're right: one of it's advantages is it's weight distribution. I dont find the overall weight of the mail to be much of an issue over the cource of an afternoon, probably because I already wear thirty pounds of gear on my waist and upper torso on a rountine basis. Someone who wasn't acclimated to something like this would probably notice it a lot more. You're also right on the money about the waist belt. As soon as I take the belt off I immediately feel the full weight of the garment on my shoulders. That belt around the waist helps a lot.

One of the primary issues with modern body armor in law enforcement is public image. Unless you're in a tactical run jump and play status your armor is worn beneath your clothing. Anything else would look to "military" and be non-PC. There's also the issue that you don't want the bad guys to know you have it on, but it's not as if they don't assume that already. These design considerations pretty well limit the comfort factor.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus


Last edited by Patrick Kelly on Tue 23 Aug, 2005 7:13 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 7:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

With a good Gambison the fit seems much better with maille or with plate: You want close fitting sleeves that don't ride up and that give the plate straps something with give to tighten on ! ( At least that what it seems like with my limited experience: There are many here with a thousand times more experience than me wearing or adjusting the fit of their armour. )
You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 7:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
With a good Gambison the fit seems much better with maille or with plate: You want close fitting sleeves that don't ride up and that give the plate straps something with give to tighten on ! ( At least that what it seems like with my limited experience: There are many here with a thousand times more experience than me wearing or adjusting the fit of their armour. )


I wholeheartedly agree with that. The last major piece of kit for my norman gear is a gambeson, which I consider to be a must.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2005 8:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Heck even as an MP I wore the LoPro Second chance vest - unless there was an elevated threat level. It just makes people uncomfortable to talk to robocop, and police spend most of their time talking to upset people. It's not so bad wearing a second chance vest that I'd be willing to distance Joe Public even more. That being said it feels sooooo good taking off that armor at the end of a fourteen hour shift. But I digress. I'm off topic.
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Erik D. Schmid




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 7:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared,

Quote:
As I understand it, historical plate cost considerably more than mail. I suspect the following factors contribute;


Actually, mail cost as much and sometimes more than plate. Period household accounts bear this out.

Quote:
1) mail tends to be easier to produce in a "one size fits all" type pattern


True, some fitting was of course required, but tailoring mail as opposed to plate was much easier.

Quote:
2) drawn wire for mail was low carbon, cheaper material


Wire for mail was made of wrought iron or a low grade wrought steel. It was purchased fromthe drawers by link manufactures.

Quote:
3) fewer specialized tools were required to make mail, meaning "cheaper laborer than required for plate" could plausibly have been utilized. I figure this would almost have to be true since reportedly it took very many hours to produce the mail.


Tools to make mail were just as varied as the ones used for plate.

Jonathon,

Quote:
Also, not to derail the thread too far, does anyone have a photograph or two of an antique maille hauberk with an integral coif (if such a find exists)? I am curious as to how the coif attaches to the neck opening.


It would attach at ninety-degrees over the shoulders in the same way that mail collars are attached to shirts.

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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 10:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Erik,

I was hoping you'd chime in here with your considerable mail knowledge.

Another question: How do you interperate the chest square illustrated on the hauberks in the Bayeux Tapestry? The old consensus seemed to be that it represented a mail chest reinforcement. The current popular opinion asserts that it is a flap of mail that is tied up over the face when in combat.

Do you have a firm opinion on this or is this a detail where we simply can't say for sure? I'm seriously thinking about adding an integral coif to the pictured hauberk, but I'm undecided on what to do about this particular issue.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Hisham Gaballa





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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 12:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick Kelly wrote:
Erik,

I was hoping you'd chime in here with your considerable mail knowledge.

Another question: How do you interperate the chest square illustrated on the hauberks in the Bayeux Tapestry? The old consensus seemed to be that it represented a mail chest reinforcement. The current popular opinion asserts that it is a flap of mail that is tied up over the face when in combat.

Do you have a firm opinion on this or is this a detail where we simply can't say for sure? I'm seriously thinking about adding an integral coif to the pictured hauberk, but I'm undecided on what to do about this particular issue.


One of the Osprey books (I forget which one) had 11th-12th century carvings of knights from a French church which seemed to support the mail face-flap hypothesis.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 3:27 pm    Post subject: weight of good riveted mail         Reply with quote

Patrick,

I seem to remember one of your previous posts titled something like "The Devil made Mail." I know you have been through the full trials of trying to make your own riveted mail.

What would you say that your own good quality riveted mail (say knee length with half arm to 3/4 arm as I guess you are wearing in your kit) actually weighs?

I am interested in apples to apples comparison of weight for mail versus plate with similar coverage;

What is our best interpretation of historically accurate, weight efficient, riveted mail hauberk weight (near 20 lbs?),
long length padded gambeson/ Aketon weight (near 5 lbs?),
Barbute or roughly full coverage helm weight (need to make coverage compare with plate to be fair...near 10 lbs?),
weight of additional greaves and bracers (if used to make coverage roughly similar to plate ....say additional 5 lbs?).
Add a belt to redistribute some mail weight around the waiste and wear some gloves? (another 5 lbs?)

The above summarizes my assumption for saying a relatively complete mail outfit for battle could weigh close to "field plate" (in the 45 to 50 lb mass range ... a little lighter than average 55 to 65 lb range for museum plate harness called "field plate".) I don't own or have experience using any of it. So, I am depending on your experience and corrections.

I really appreciate your input and response. I intend to go the route of mail/ Crusader style when I do buy armour, primarily because I believe the "knighly class" was in its golden age (both in terms of social mobility, and in terms of actual effectiveness and dominance on the battlefield during the age of mail.)

I also wish to thank Eric Schmid. Just finding internet photos of actual historic mail in museums is difficult. All of the work involved in riveting links would seem like it should make mail more expensive than "munitions grade" plate. Now for cases where plate were actually custom made, tapered in thickness to optimize strength, and had elaborate heat treating/ carborization (historical possibilities described on Oakshotte website), premium plate could have been an amazing project too.

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Jonathon Janusz





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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Erik, thanks for the insight. If I may pick your brain further, I've been thinking about how to attach a coif using this method for some time and was wondering if I should be starting with a square (rectangular) neck opening and attaching the coif with a regular patterned linkrow (euro 4 in 1 thoughout btw) across the back and the ninety degree seams at the sides, or should I be starting with a hexagonal or octagonal neck opening and working from there? It just seems to make sense to me that the coif would attach more smoothly the closer one could get to a round neck opening (like in a mantle-top configuration). I know that in any configuration without a round linkrow to attach to there will be seams, I guess I'm just wondering if there is a configuration to the neck-coif join that seems to work out better than most.

. . . or is most of this a "without getting into ring-counts, sizes, wire thickness, etc. you just kind of have to fiddle with it until you get it" sort of question?

Thanks again and if I haven't said so already, I had a very good time at the Practical Workshop last month. It was informative and I got a chance to meet some really great folks. I look forward to the next one, and maybe next time I'll take some time between soaking up knowledge to actually swing a hammer Wink
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 3:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Regarding the "Norman bib"

http://www.geocities.com/egfrothos/armsandarmour/normanbib.html
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2005 6:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared,

My hauberk, in original form weighed around 22 pounds. Since the photo was taken I've been adding gores to the skirt so that it hangs more correctly and has more leg room. This will increase the weight somewhat, exactly how much I won't know until I finish it. Even with these additions I doubt if it will be much over the 30lb. mark when combined with the helm and coif. A complete mail suite, with coif, mittens, and chausses, would be fairly close to your 50lb. estimate I think. I hate to comment too in depth on these things when we have someone like Erik Schmid participating here. His knowledge of mail matters far outstrips my tiny bit. My short experience in dealing with mass-produced riveted mail makes me even more impressed with the work of a craftsman like Erik.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Hisham Gaballa





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PostPosted: Thu 25 Aug, 2005 1:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Regarding the "Norman bib"

http://www.geocities.com/egfrothos/armsandarmour/normanbib.html


Thanks for the info Dan. This is the pic I was talking about. It's from Christopher Gravett's Norman Knight. It's an Osprey book.
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