9
$\begingroup$

Essentially could I make flexible cut proof clothing with flexible metal wire? Or would making the wire flexible require making them so thin that slicing is easy?

Edit: naturally gambeson or some other form of padding will be worn beneath, but could armour be made made with a process similar to denim? Just replacing the cotton fibers with thin steel wire?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What kind of armor are you trying to make? And for what kind of weapons? Because before fire arms: gambeson (basically layers of woven normal clothing) was very popular and effective during the medieval era for normal self defense use. If one added chain mail to that, they basically had what you are looking for. $\endgroup$ – Artsoccer Oct 26 '18 at 18:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cont. But if you're looking for protection on the medieval battlefield then anything less then plate armor (probably with more gambeson underneath) is inadequate. Chain and gambeson and or your metal fabric will only do so much against a lance blow, and just chain mail does nothing for blunt force impacts (that's where the gambeson comes in). And if your world does have fire arms, try woven Kevlar armor instead of woven metal. $\endgroup$ – Artsoccer Oct 26 '18 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Artsoccer A blunt blow on mail where it's against the skin will be effective. If the mail hangs away from the body (and a good mail shirt is going to be loose), the mail will absorb lots of the force just moving. $\endgroup$ – David Thornley Oct 26 '18 at 21:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Thin steel wire" means late 18th or even 19th century; by that time they no longer fought with swords and lances. As for the general idea: steel is not knows for its flexibility and ductility. Practical experiment: go to your kitchen. Pick up a tea strainer which you don't care much about. That's a good approximation of a fabric made of thin steel wire. How flexible is it? How hard is it to pierce it with the point of a knife? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 26 '18 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ If you search for "metal mesh gloves" you will find something like that used today, although they're more knit than woven. $\endgroup$ – Jeanne Pindar Oct 27 '18 at 1:25
24
$\begingroup$

You basically already have that, it's a chain Mail. The wires are just shaped as rings for better mobility and structural strength.

Woven fabric woven fabric Chainmail chainmail

$\endgroup$
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Nitpick, but that fabric looks knitted, not woven. $\endgroup$ – Guran Oct 26 '18 at 17:50
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ the genius of chain mail is that the linkages provide flexibility, while the links retain their rigidity for protection. producing those in the middle ages must have been quite a process. $\endgroup$ – theRiley Oct 26 '18 at 19:17
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I've done non-riveted mail myself. Take the wire, wind it around something round, remove the something, cut down the coil, use pliers to put the links together. It's not that hard. On the other hand, lots of medieval mail is riveted, which means flattening the ends of the individual rings, making tiny holes in them, and riveting them. That does sound tedious. $\endgroup$ – David Thornley Oct 26 '18 at 21:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidThornley you can buy rings for riveted chainmail from India rather cheaply. They're advertised as handmade, and many sure looks like they are. Thus I suspect it is not that hard and tedious once you really, truly learnt to do it "wholesale" as if your next meal depended on it (as it does to workers in India and did in medieval times). $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 26 '18 at 21:53
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @DavidThornley The key concept for any old stuff is that raw materials were vastly expensive and people's time was virtually free. Modern jewellery is much better quality for that reason, because we can afford to do chunky bits of precious metal. Older jewellery was always hollowed out to a shell, to reduce the cost of that precious metal. So for mail shirts, you just throw your apprentices at the job and you don't really care that it's boring. $\endgroup$ – Graham Oct 27 '18 at 6:36
10
$\begingroup$

Let's ignore some inconvenient things.

First up, lets ignore weight. Both plate and chain armors exist, and were moderately heavy, and were still used. So, we're good here.

Let's ignore rust/corrosion/etc. Historic armor has used iron and steel and other materials that don't play nice with the elements. Keeping the armor oiled and clean protected it from the elements, so we can do the same with the woven fabric.

Let's not even worry about actually weaving the fabric. That can be done, too. In fact, I actually have a sheet of copper "Cloth" that's made from wires in the same fashion as cloth.

So, the quick and dirty answer is Yes you can make armor that's woven metal. It would even be reasonably strong, too.

But the True Answer is It isn't practical for a reason called Metal Fatigue.

Metal fatigue is the limited flexibility involved with metals. Take a paperclip. Bend it back and forth. Eventually, it breaks. This is metal fatigue. Springs are a different case, since they're being compressed and not flexed, but even in order to get springs to flex they have to be tempered in a specific way - Which makes them softer and not as protective.

The reason flexible metal fabric has been limited to chain-type armors is because the metal itself isn't bending. The rings move, sure, but each individual ring stays completely intact and doesn't deform. For armor like splint or scale, and even some variants of plate, the flexibility is provided by leather underneath, and the individual pieces of metal never bend.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Breaking a paperclip is work hardening not fatigue. As long as you keep within he elastic limit of the metal fatigue takes hundreds of thousands of cycles to set and many steels have fatigue limit high enough that it is not an issue at all. Equally springs work just as well in tension as compression and heat treatment of springs is for strength and impact toughness and has no effect on flexibility. If this was true you couldn't have braided steel cables. $\endgroup$ – Chris Johns Oct 27 '18 at 11:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ hundreds of thousands of cycles is really easy to get when something is worn by a human that walks and breathes. that's about ten days worth of normal walking. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 28 '18 at 14:57
9
$\begingroup$

If you think about practical armor, the chain-mail idea by Faed is the way to go. I'm going to answer more literally.

Turning metal into wires that can be knitted has the following problems:

  • It's really hard to produce. Wires are drawn by basically forcing them through a hole that's just not wide enough, so the metal needs to stretch to pass through. This requires the resulting wire to have enough strength to actually pull the rest of itself through. Now try that with micrometer-thick wires. Good luck...

  • If you manage to get wires that match the thickness of typical textile fibers, you'll have the problem that they will be much more stiff. Thin wires have a knack of breaking, and, once broken, they have little trouble working their way into your skin. So you need to make your wires significantly thinner than typical textile fibers to give them enough flexibility.

  • You should absolutely not use iron for this. The huge surface that you get by making the individual wires so extremely thin will mean that the resulting fabric will basically rust immediately. You can expose iron to humid environments as long as the metal is beefy enough to make material loss due to rust a minor concern. That's true for railways, it's true for chain-mails, but it won't be true for micrometer-thin wires.

That said, the first issue is readily addressed: There are methods other than drawing that can produce extremely thin wires. Like embedding several wires into a rod made from a different metal, and then drawing that rod into a wire. Once you etch away the enclosing material, you may be left with some real thin wires. The details are tricky, though.

The second issue just means that you have to work much harder on the first issue than you would have liked.

However, the last point is the real problem: There are only very few metals that won't react with our normal environment. Those metals are gold and some even rarer metals like platinum. All other metals do react with the environment in one way or another, including stainless steel. You may be able to get stainless steel of such high quality that you can actually can get away with knitting armor from micrometer-thin wires, but it does require very advanced metallurgy. And once you have such advanced metallurgy, it will be hard to explain why you don't also have sufficiently advanced weapons that will render your armor useless.

I mean, there is a reason why you don't see soldiers wearing armor anymore: The armor needs to be so thick that you have to put in on wheels and add a strong motor to it to be any help on the battlefield...

Finally, stainless steel is generally not the best choice when it comes to flexibility. It's generally more brittle than less inert forms of steel. And easier breaking of the fibers means less protection that the armor provides.


However, if you overcome/hand-wave the problems above, I see no reason why an armor made from such a material shouldn't be protective: The flexibility of the individual fibers means that they will just bend and not break when a sword crashes into them. Provided the fibers are not just thin enough but also long enough, they will spread the force across a larger surface, and thus stop the sword from penetrating.

As a matter of fact, we do use such armor, we just don't make it from metal, we make it from Kevlar. Kevlar is nothing more or less than a textile fiber of immense tensile strength. Kevlar is superior to steel because

  • it's lighter

  • it's easier to produce in thin fibers

  • it won't rust

Other than that, a Kevlar vest is pretty much indistinguishable from your woven metal armor.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ But isn't most Kevlar is pretty vulnerable to something like a knife attack? A sword slash might get stopped by that vest, but that might not be the case for a stab with a sharp blade. $\endgroup$ – Chris Oct 26 '18 at 23:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Chris Kevlar is incredibly bad for stabbing protection. There's been more than one person who's been injured by "Demonstrating" their kevlar with a knife. $\endgroup$ – Andon Oct 26 '18 at 23:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can weather proof it, just oil it, constantly. Prevents oxidation. $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang Oct 27 '18 at 2:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Andon There are bullet-proof vests, and there are stab-proof vests. I guess the later either adds a matrix into which the Kevlar fibers are embedded, adds some stiff plates that spread the force, or uses special weaving techniques to ensure that the fibers cannot move out of the way. Nothing you couldn't do with a fabric woven from metal. $\endgroup$ – cmaster Oct 27 '18 at 11:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No, gold is not the only metal that does not react at all with our normal environment. First off, gold actually does react, it just doesn't do so enough to matter. Second, platinum and palladium are just as unreactive, and tungsten, titanium, and a number of other transition metals come very close. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Oct 27 '18 at 20:32
1
$\begingroup$

There is chain mail, although it's not woven. If modern techniques are allowed, I suggest 3d printing of chain mail, with very small and thin chains for added flexibility. One could even emulate a woven material, making the chain mail out of whole cloth (pun intended).

The "fabric" would have several layers of chain mail (since they're very thin), interlocked in several places. In an attack, the outermost rings would be smashed, cushioning somewhat the impact on the innermost rings.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.