Saskatoon StarPhoenix » Business and Technology Saturday » March 29 » 2003

Chain reaction
Medieval-style armour a hot seller

Peter Wilson
The StarPhoenix

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Bernice (left) and Jon Daniels have found a surprisingly eager market for their product -- chain-mail body armour


It's constant and monotonous, but the laborious kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk coming from the machines carries the sweet ring of success.

"We don't even hear it anymore,'' says Bernice Daniels, moving across the crowded, wire-strewn shop floor. "We'd only notice if the machines stopped making any noise, then we'd be in trouble.''

The two machines generating the chatter are also responsible for generating cold hard cash for Jon and Bernice Daniels, a husband-and-wife team in the business of making the ancient medieval-style body armour, chain-mail.

Hanging from the walls and coiled about the floor are the brass, copper, stainless steel, aluminum and other metal varieties used to form the rings.

Their company, The Ring Lord, kerchunks out an endless stream of rings that are not only used in the production of chain-mail armour -- popular at Renaissance fairs and other medieval events -- but also utilized in distinctive jewelry pieces. Manufactured in a variety of sizes and colours, and from an even larger diversity of metals, the rings are cut and formed from wire coils by the two noisy but highly efficient machines.

"People often have difficulty in picturing what we do to make chain-mail, but it's basically knitting with pliers,'' Bernice says.

The young couple have successfully re-engineered an enterprise that goes back centuries and, along with the discovery, have also found a vibrant niche market that stretches around the globe. From their small plant on an acreage 10 kilometres east of Saskatoon, the Internet helps the Daniels reach an ever-expanding global market.

Chain-mail armour is a worldwide hot seller and their client list reflects the international success of The Ring Lord. The output from the small Saskatoon plant often ends up on very distant shores, from California to Boston and from Adelaide to Amsterdam. Their latest order is to supply four large chain-mail tapestries for the Tower of London.

It seems so long ago since Jon first became interested in the subject, back when he was in Grade 8. An article he'd read on the making of chain-mail hooked him and he decided to try and make himself an outfit.

"I already had an interest in medievalry. Growing up on a farm, there was no shortage of tools and equipment around, so it wasn't that difficult to make myself a shirt out of chain-mail.''

Both Jon and Bernice were engineering students at the University of Saskatchewan and after graduation and marriage, were working part-time building their fledgling ring-making business out of their Saskatoon home.

"I had to become involved in the business after I saw that it had started to invade and take over the entire house,'' says Bernice with a laugh.

Eventually they had to give up their regular engineering jobs because the orders for rings and chain-mail were exploding.

"Our company came about because we realized that we could produce good quality rings for a fraction of the cost of what was available in the market place. Our quality has got even better but we have managed to keep costs under control, '' Jon says.

Eighteen months ago they moved to their acreage, and last year completed a new workshop to accommodate the new automation process they'd introduced to cope with the insatiable demand.

While most of their clientele order rings to make their own chain-mail outfits, others prefer to order finished vests, shirts and other costumes. The Ring Lord has a team of chain-mailers who custom weave the individual orders that come in.

During the early days, the couple would ship out about 20 orders a month. Now, courier company UPS picks up about 600 packages every month from the plant.

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