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Historical manufacture techniques

Hi Guys,

I was musing about alternatives to buying a rolling mill (I will
eventually buy one, but in the mean time…), and I got to thinking
about what people through history might have done.

The main idea that kept coming back to me is that a ring is
basically a piece of wire, and wire manufacturing technology has been
around for a very long time.

Apart from the items that were cast, (a very large portion of
jewellery was cast), does anyone have any historical references to
draw plates being used for jewellery manufacture in our distant past?

You can gather that if I can find a temporary historical manufacture
method, I will put it to good use.

Regards Charles A.

Hi Charles,

The earliest textual reference for drawplates is only in the 1150’s.
(Or thereabouts) They’re reasonably recent. (Theophilus. On Divers
Arts.) There are a couple of surviving “drawplates” from around
1000AD, but rusty drawplates are indistinguishable from rusty nail
heading plates, which we know they had. So there’s no hard
evidence for them until Theophilus mentions them in On Divers Arts.

The historical technique was to cast a pancake shaped ingot, chisel
it apart in a spiral pattern. (Like a danish) and then unwind that
square wire into one big long strip. Twist it like a candy-cane, and
then hammer it round. Anneal, twist more, hammer more, repeat. For
days… (it certainly must have seemed that way) The initial ingot
was generally in the .25" thick range, so there was a lot of
twisting and forging involved in making thin wire. (Yes, I’m hungry.
Thus my metaphors will be food based until I can go fix a sandwich.)

The Celts did something similar, but instead of hammering it round,
they rolled it between stone plates. (Probably while standing on
them). That’s how they got those double-tapered wires they used in
the wire torcs. (Remember being a child trying to roll play-doh wires
between books or something, on the theory that they’d come out
straighter that way? And yet they always ended up with a thick middle
tapering towards both ends. Same effect, just in metal.)

If you look at micrographs of ancient wire, it all shows the
telltale helical seams, and nobody’s yet found any wire prior to the
second millennium that has the linear scrape marks left by
drawplates. (Or they hadn’t when last I looked at this seriously, a
few years ago.)

Jack Ogden has written a number of useful books on the subject. The
easiest to lay your hands on is “Ancient Jewellery”. If you want to
get serious, try “Jewellery of the Ancient World”. (If you can find
a copy.)

For whatever that all’s worth.
Brian Meek.

does anyone have any historical references to draw plates being
used for jewellery manufacture in our distant past? 

I think I’ve read that, in antiquity, wire was not drawn, but I’d
recommend these two references:

Oppi Untracht’s “Traditional Jewlery of India” and “Jewelry:Concepts
and Technology”

Hugh Tait’s “7000 Years of Jewelry”


SCA or academic?

Drawplates go way back. You can make them out of wood or metal.
Obviously, the wooden ones wear out faster. Don’t have time to root
thru my references.

One option I’ve read about was to cut narrow strips off of a metal
sheet and pull them thru a drawplate.

Some good medieval period sourcebooks are:

The Pirotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio
De Re Metallica by Agricola (translated by Herbert Hoover!)
On Divers Arts by Theophilus


One of my favorites is the late 15C. engraving of “St. Eligius” by
the Master of Balaam at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. You can do a
search on their collections webpage for a full view. Besides the
normal studio chaos, in the left lower corner is a boy hand-pulling
wire through a drawplate. A slightly later period, and more
mechanized method is shown in "Engravings Of Silversmiths’ Workshops"
by Etienne Delaune 1576 at the BM. Two engravings show a long bench
with a winding mechanism at one end and drawplate at the other. There
are historical references to something similar to a rolling mill in
Theophilus. He goes into length describing an “Organarium”. Two iron
parts with cavities and grooves secured by pins. A piece of wire is
inserted between the two parts, and the upper is struck with a
hammer, producing a beaded wire.

Lyn Punkari
Darkridge Jewels

HI Brian,

Makes you think that mail shirts (chain mail) were extremely
valuable due to the manual labour, and lengths of wire used.

To get a T-shirt sized garment with no sleeves, 10mm ID from 2mm
wire, that would take you 2000 m of wire.

A draw plate would have been a very handy tool for a large scale

Regards Charles A.

lorrain, my father taught me so many things when i was just thirteen
years. drawing wire without roling mill., was ne of them, i will love
to send you the vedio of it i you like to see it.

lorrain, my father taught me so many things when i was just
thirteen years. drawing wire without roling mill., was one of
them, i will love to send you the vedio of it if you like to see

I think adding your video to Orchid’s Benchtube would be wonderful!


Apart from the items that were cast, (a very large portion of
jewellery was cast), does anyone have any historical references to
draw plates being used for jewellery manufacture in our distant

A very good resource for this can be found at

It is a pdf document, written by Andrew Oddy of the British Museum,
and details the techniques used in antiquity to make wire.

If you’re interested in ancient Greek jewelry and its manufacture,
Dyfri Williams and Jack Ogden are the people to look to. Both the
books Greek Gold and Art of the Greek Goldsmith are very
informative and interesting. Both are published by the British Museum
which has an extensive collection of ancient jewelry.

Good luck in your search and please share with us if you find
anything new (or in this case old) and exciting.

Tina Wiltsie

Hi Charles,

Yes, they were. But if you look at the surviving bits of mail from
the period, they mostly used rings of flat wire. (Look a lot like
washers) They were probably cut from plate. No drawplates at all for
that stuff. (forged disks is about what you’d expect from somebody
trying to make lots of rings with no drawplate…) The only reason
the re-enactors use round wire is because we have drawplates, which
makes round wire infinitely cheaper.


Hi Brian,

I’ve looked at mail (btw, it’s refreshing to hear someone call
mail… “mail” :slight_smile: ), from a lot of different cultures, and time
periods. It’s a broad range of wire profiles.

Roman mail (Lorica Hamata) was a definite mix of construction
techniques, due to their contact with many cultures. Round link,
punched link, solid washer, wire profile round and flat, and where
joined mainly riveted, sometimes welded, rarely butted. The Eastern
mail was rarely rivitted, rarely welded mostly round profile wire,
sometimes with metal plates knitted into the design.

The mail I like the most would be theta mail, which is a mix of
solid punched disks with a bar across the diameter (the “theta”), and
joined with round wire.

That’s not the only reason re-enactors use round wire. It’s bad
enough having to roll and knit 2 km of 2 mm round section wire for a
vest, but it would be a horrid nightmare to have to make round
section wire consistently in that volume. There are dedicated people
out there that would do it, I’m sure, but I think they’d have a mad
glint in their eyes.

Regards Charles A.

Hi Tina,

Now if only I could find a reference for Greek bronze analysis,
would love to mix up some of that :slight_smile:

If I find anything I’ll share.

Regards Charles A.

Hi Charles,

Yeah. I used to be one of them. I did actually knit myself most of a
hauberk out of 14ga fence wire. About 20K links before I grew up. I
also smelted iron from ore once, just so I could say “Yes, as a
matter of fact, I have made my own metal all the way from ore!”.
(Never, never, never again. That was the sort of thing made possible
only by youth, stupidity, and waaaaay too much coffee.) (At the end
of four days of pain, the results were a lump of bloom iron roughly
the size of a golfball. Ended up making a blade smaller than my
thumb. But I did it…)

Most of the European mail I’ve seen has been the heavy rectangle
section wire, generally riveted. I’ve seen theta mail, and the
eastern stuff with the plates, but I was focusing mostly on the pure
wire forms.


My favorite antique wire-making technique is the following:

Flat sheet was sawed in a spiral.

  1. The spiral was pulled open into a long strip (e.g., one person
    holds the beginning point of the spiral; another person holds the
    end point of the spiral; both people walk backwards).

  2. Twist the long, flat strip into a very tight tube (with a
    spiraling seam like the old paper drinking straws).

  3. Voila! Wire!

One great advantage of this technique is that you can make very long
strips without having to seam together separate pieces.

Janet in Jerusalem

Hi Brian,

It’s all over the place, but that makes it so interesting (imo).

I’m trying to think of low tech solutions to common jewellery
manufacture techniques, like ingot rolling and sheet making. Thus
far sheet making is awful in large quantities, two slabs of granite,
and a lot of hammering… even doing this small scale would be
horrid. I can make fairly thin sheets with Delft clay, but the
thought of refining them by hammering leaves me cold.

I think I can refine ingots by drawing them, it’s just a matter of
making draw plates or buying them. Just got to figure out sheet

Just an aside did you get a copy of the Staffordshire Hoard book?
Can’t wait for a full catalog.

Regards Charles A.

Flat sheet was sawed in a spiral. 

I’m guessing the spiral was not usually done with a saw, given that
modern style jewelers saw blades also weren’t available in ancient
times. But it’s not needed. With skill, you can shear sheet metal
just fine with a chisel, or snips. You don’t, after all, need to keep
your spiral neat and flat. The chisel shearing it off the edge will
give you a good start on opening it up…

just my 2 cents…


Hi Charles,

Now you begin to see why sheet metal work was so blasted precious,
and why later industrial rolling mills were such a big deal.

I had a friend passing through Birmingham this autumn, and he kindly
picked me up a copy of what little there was by way of a book on the
hoard. It was a thin little thing that was just general interest
explanatory copy, backed up by the photos that had already been
published on the Antiquities Scheme Flikr feed. I don’t expect
anything real beyond individual papers for several years yet. The
hoard’s too massive, and requires too much conservation for anyone
to be willing to say much of anything quickly beyond “oh-my-god”.

I have my theories about it, naturally, but we’ll have to wait and
see. If you start seeing mention of St. Sigibert, I was right. (Just
want it out there.)


PS–> If there’s another book, please let me know.

I have my theories about it, naturally, but we'll have to wait and
see. If you start seeing mention of St. Sigibert, I was right.
(Just want it out there.) 

I will keep that in mind, and it’s recorded on this forum now :slight_smile:

When there’s another book I’ll be telling everyone.

A book you may like “Viking Artefacts”, buy, beg, or borrow. I have
my copy and it’s pretty cool.

Regards Charles A.

Charles et all,

Apparently there was a technique in Arabia (and perhaps elsewhere)
in which a small amount of liquid metal was poured on a flat ceramic
plate and another plate was quickly pushed to mate…in doing so the
metal was forced into a sheet. Strips were then cut and the metal
used or pounded to what was needed.

I saw film footage of the same used in 1960 or so…he soldered
with a blowpipe and oil lamp while sitting on the dirt so I assume
the technique was not of his invention, but rather dating back some


If you look on youtube for the copper workers of Mexico (like the
Angelo Brothers) making a vessel from an ingot I think you would be
surprised at just how fast a raw ingot of some size can be forged
into a sheet. They have eight hammer men working on each ingot and
it takes less than an hour for them to make more than enough sheet
for a large vessel. Part of the issue with historical techniques is
that we are far too influenced by our technology and working alone
and because of this we see the ancient world a bit, well, wrong.
Mass production is not a modern concept nor is separation of labor.

I have smelted iron from ore and “rediscovered” several ancient
techniques and methods of working metal. All hand tools working in
what I imagine was technology of the time…but it may not be.

Ric Furrer

Just an aside did you get a copy of the Staffordshire Hoard book?
Can't wait for a full catalog.

This may be slightly off topic, but a processional cross from the
Staffordshire Hoard was recently recreated using CAD and very hi-tech
methods, as a gift for the Pope. Like other Orchid posters, I too
wanted to uncrease, unfold and mend the poor crushed items!
Silversmith Shona Marsh was given the opportunity to remake one of
the main pieces.

Best wishes