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Painting/ Dying Galvanized Mail

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Hey all, this is my first time visiting the forum so please redirect me if this is a topic that has already been covered.

I've been building a mail hauberk for about 6-7 years off and on now out of 16g - 7/16" ID galvanized steel links. Seems how this has been such a long and inconsistent project, I have a mix of dark gray dull rings and new shiny silver rings. On top of that, I have some links from an old project that I have incorporated to this piece in which I spray painted black enamel on the mail (terrible terrible idea) and scrubbed it off so there are a handful of links with black spots on them. This comes out to be three different ring types with three different finishes, but all the same material. The differences in links is highly visible throughout the hauberk and is an aesthetic problem.

I would like to dye/ paint/ color my mail as a whole in order to give it a more uniform appearance. I understand the differences will still be noticeable, but this will at least "blur the lines". What is the best way to go about doing this?

I am going for a more historical look, so no funky colors or decorative trim. A shade of darker gray or black would be the most ideal finish. I have read online that an alcohol based dye or ink would work well, but I have yet to be able to find any suck products other than dainty little 0.5oz bottles for kids crafts and whatnot. 

I know dying mail is a somewhat common practice, as there are plenty of photos of decorative mail online. I have also seen it done very well in person so somebody has got to understand the best way to do this.

Please note:

1. I have tried actual paint in the past. This does not work well AT ALL. it is impossible to get paint into all the nooks and crannies between the links for starters. The links dig into the paint and keep the mail from flowing easily and you end up with a sticky mess. As a result of the aforementioned "sticking" the paint chips away rather quickly and looks terrible and creates a mess.

2. Heat treating is not an option as the wire I have elected to use is galvanized. Heat treating will turn it yellow, produce toxic fumes, and corrode.

3. Anodizing is also not an option as this is zinc coated steel.

4. There is an option to "Brown" the zinc coating (the same way they do in civil construction) but I do not want to do that. I feel like it would just make it look corroded and gross.


Thank you!

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Polishing is about all I can think of, using a tumbler (rock or ammo) that can take that weight -- or go to the trouble of dismantling the whole thing into rectangles of weights the tumbler can take, and tumbling these before reassembly.  A mild to moderately-aggressive tumbling medium may be called for; I'd have medium to hand, such as walnut shell with a fine abrasive of the polishing sort, for control.  Though you may only need to tumble the mail against itself to scour the scunge off.

Having dealt with the surface oxide layer of the zinc, re-weather it either by wearing the beast around a lot or leaving it out "in the evening dews and damps" to ripen to its mature charcoal gray.  A combination of the two processes will keep it kept-up looking.

Don't fear to strip out and sacrifice any links that just *won't* improve; you're trying to make this 'berk look like you planned things this way.  I know it's correspondingly frustrating, but it isn't like the ugly links cannot be turned into Orcish mail or something equally costumey.

Dyeing, I think you mean colored anodizing -- generally done with aluminum and involving electric current.  Lovely effects, but not for this galvy 'berk.  Most lovely effects with galvy steel tend to be done with brass wire, shiny and effective and with a historical flavor too, though more of Italian fifteenth century plate armor flavor than that of the hauberk era (10th to early 14th centuries).  Then, as you clearly understand, mail looked as plain, serious, and martial as a parkerized M-1 rifle.

Your weave of .063" wire and 7/16" ID is very very open, airy.  You may find the individual links rather weak and prone to shedding.  That wire really starts to weaken at butted link ID's above 5/16" -- more sensitive to this than thicker wire diameters would be.  I tend to favor 4/16" for the very effective and sturdy AR of 4, rather than the 7 you're using.

I would apply so open a weave as 7/16 ID to the 'berk's sleeves and its skirts to save some weight since you have the stuff made already.  With skirts, you also want to supplement them using triangular expansion arrays to keep the riders' slit closed, rather than have it hang into an inverted-V gap, which is not correct. Then, about the shoulders and torso, I would tighten up the link ID at least to 5/16, especially if you ever intend this mail to get beat on in the Creative Anachronists' manner with hard rattan.

Edited by Konstantin the Red
increasing clarity

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You can try tumbling in a cement mixer with the blade removed but with such an open weave it may not hold up.

The difference in color is oxidation on the zinc layer so you maybe able to force a patina to make it match like stain glass repair.

Or use acid to remove the zinc leaving you with bare steel that can be easier to patina. 

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Using acid, such as masonry cleaner or similarly pool pH balancer, is going a little to extremes, for it calls for certain handling technique:  the acid etch; neutralize in very strong baking soda solution; rinse with hot water.  Use rubber gloves.

Thus for hydrochloric acid.  Already reasonably diluted with water.

Couple gallons white vinegar also works, takes longer, gets plenty smelly.  But at least you can pour that down the drain when you're done.

Sulfuric acid works too, but you need to be good and sharp at handling corrosives to keep that stuff from eating something you don't want it to.  Heavy rubber gloves and a lab  apron for that one.

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Please understand that any finish you put on mail will eventually wear off with use, the only thing that will really last is, as Konstantin mentioned, to just polish it and wax or oil it.

Your first step to getting any type of nice looking finish on your armor should be to strip the zinc off of it. The second step is to tumble or acid etch the metal to a uniform matte finish so that any further coatings will adhere well. 

Based on your preferences I think you should go with a black oxide conversion coating as it will be one of the longest lasting finishes and also historically accurate. You'd create a russet finish by flash rusting the piece, historically this is done by storing it in damp sawdust with urine, but you can substitute bleach or vinegar. Shake it around to make sure the rusting is even and once you have a uniform coating apply tannic acid, if you're going the historical route, or a commercial rust converter to chemically change the coating into black iron oxide. After that you just seal the coating with wax and you're done, you can use the more historical beeswax but I highly recommend using Renaissance wax instead.

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