All Linking Rings Are Not Created Equal

I have often seen magicians using any old linking rings in their performances without paying attention to their many variable qualities. I learned a great deal about rings in my research last year, so here are some “key” factors to ponder as you make your decision.

WARNING: Whatever you do, try out the rings first. Make sure they are really what you want because you will probably have them for life. At least make sure you get a money-back guarantee if you are going to invest $250-800 in a set of rings.

KEY RINGS: Do you want to do crashing links or some of the spectacular silent links and unlinks like the late and dearly respected Richard Ross? If so, then a standard key ring would probably be best. While locking key rings allow you to display all solid rings and even hand them out briefly for inspection, they seem to work better with a fewer number of rings and in a more close-up routine – say with a 3 or 4 ring routine. Some locking key rings are magnetic and others are offset with a hook or zig zag cut in the ring. The latter require different amounts of pressure that vary with the make and ring size.

LOCK OR NO LOCK? With a larger number of rings and in a larger stand-up setting, it is much easier to hide a standard key gap with good sleight of hand. One professional I know of uses a huge gap, but no one ever sees or suspects it because that person’s technique and presentation are so good.

WEIGHT: The total weight of the rings in your hands is an issue. It depends on how much you practice with them and how often you perform with them in a given day, or even where they are in your program, depending on what physical exertion you’ve been doing in the show thus far. After a 2 hour practice session with my Klamm rings, my arms begin to get a little tired, and I regularly play an hour of racquetball.

SIZE: Keep in mind the total length of longest chain you make in your routine. Do you really want to use 15″ rings if you’re making a 7 ring chain? Jeff McBride recommends going with 12″ rings for visibility from stage. Eight inch rings are generally too small for adult male hands, unless you’re doling a comedy routine. The smaller size might be funny in the right routine – so might a jumbo set, for that matter. Generally though, for cabaret work, I would not go less than 10″ and if you are on stage, 12″ is preferable.

THICKNESS: Thicker rings are easier to handle. Thinner rings give a better illusion of slow unlinking if you ask me. With the right lighting, though, thicker rings can be very slowly unlinked (in the standard side-by-side figure eight pattern) just a few feet in front of people. If you change ring thickness, make sure you rehearse well- it makes more of a difference than you might realize.

STEEL OR ALUMINUM?: Steel. There that was easy. Hold on though, size and weight are both related. Aluminum does not ring well, but they are hollow, tend to be thicker, lighter and easier to handle. Hollow steel is more difficult to manufacture and therefore more expensive, but they sure look and sound great, and they handle well. Steven’s Magic Emporium has a nice set of eight 11 inch aluminum linking rings with a locking key for around $80. That seems like a deal, and it is only $80. Adam’s has their aluminum Featherweight (or something like that) hollow linking rings that were quite popular years ago, but they are manufactured differently now than they were then. The price is moderate -in the $250-350 range.

SOUND: If this is important to you (and it is to me), hollow aluminum rings do not cut the mustard. While hollow aluminum does make them more manageable, that magical sound is lost. Sound is key for me. Other than the sheer visual beauty of the linking and unlinking effects, my major purpose for doing the routine is to add acoustic and visual variety in my show. I portray the rings classically as an ancient Chinese mystery. Well, throughout Asian culture, the ringing of bells is very important (secularly and religiously). In my routine I contrast the crashing sound of rings linking to silent linking and unlinking. However, if I were doing a three ring routine and not going for the sound contrasts, I could see using aluminum in some cases.

SHINE: Cleaning the rings with Windex before the performance makes them sparkle – especially steel rings.

BUMPER 10″ – About $50, and still not a bad option for under $100. These are solid stainless steel. The welds should not be visible. If you can get a set that are not chrome plated, you won’t need to worry about it flaking off. There are numerous makers of “Bumper style” rings. The set Hank Lee sells feels more narrow. Denny & Lee also has a good set.

KLAMM – THE AFFORDABLE 12″ OPTION: For 12 inch rings under $250, from what I can tell I believe the only option is Klamm. Bob Klamm sells a 12″ set of 8 rings for around $100. They are solid stainless steel, not coated with chrome or anything. They look and sound great. The welds are somewhat visible upon close examination, but this is minor. I used a set for years with much success, and I still keep them in a case for my quick grab-the-magic-case-and-run shows. The locking key is about $35 and is the side-notched style. The rings are a bit heavier as they are solid steel 12″ rings. At first I had to work on keeping one ring completely horizontal in one hand, but I figured it out just fine. The 12″ locking key is easier to operate than the 10″. The locking key is around $35. It is the only 12″ set of steel rings for under $300 that I have found. Smaller sizes and configurations are also available. Again, these are solid stainless steel rings with no chrome coating to flake off over time.

VIKING makes a set of hollow aluminum rings for around $125. Their name shouts “quality” in my book, but I have never seen these rings.

STEVEN’S MAGIC EMPORIUM has a nice set of eight 11 inch aluminum linking rings with a locking key for around $85. That seems like a deal, and it is only $85. Besides, if they do not work out, you can always sell them on e-bay or pass them on to a promising young protégé. You can buy a three-ring set for $55.

ABBOTT’S hollow aluminum Featherweight linking rings were quite popular among professionals years ago. Eugene Burger speaks highly of them. However, they are manufactured differently today than they were then. The price is moderate for a professional set: $235 for a complete set of 10″ and $350 for 12″, no locking keys available. (NOTE: See Chris Capstone’s rings for comparably priced 12″ hollow steel set.)

TANNEN “Super Locking Rings” Hollow Aluminum, $130 for three rings, $240 for 8 rings. These are 11″ in diameter and are hard anodized for shine and durability. They come with a very good locking key which is apparently seamless from just a few feet away.

OWEN Eternal Orbs Professional Lightweight Rings – A year ago, these seemed to be best linking rings in the world for my work. They are seamless, hollow and stainless steel. They shine beautifully. They are thick, very light and easy to hold. They ring like bells, and, frankly, every time I perform with them it feels like Christmas! They run $350-450 depending on size. The 12″ locking key alone is $250; the 10″ is $200. They come in 8″ (solid steel) and 10″, 12″ and 15″ hollow steel. Various combinations of rings may be purchased. Denny & Lee also stocks them.

ULTRA PRO LINKING RINGS BY CHRIS CAPSTONE. This set of hollow stainless steel rings is lovingly made by professional magician Chris Capstone. They are polished to a very high luster. I have not handled these, but Marc DeSouza owns a very large collection of linking rings, and he e-mailed me about the Ultra Pros, “I once drove hours to Owen Magic to purchase at a set of their rings, but I held back not wanting to put down the money. Then I was so impressed with Chris Capstone’s Ultra Pro Linking Rings, that I purchased two sets.” That is quite an endorsement. Chris wants me to add that he makes the rings on a very limited basis because he is primarily a performer. Making them is a joyous labor of love. It is possible you may need to wait a bit because of supply and demand. A set of 12″ rings is $360 post paid and insured. The 10″ set is $320 post paid and insured. He does not make a locking key.

In the fall of 2000, I took the plunge and went with a standard set of 12″ Owen Eternal Orbs. In short: I’M THRILLED. However, had I known about the Ultra Pros, I would have given them careful consideration. Denny Haney at Denny & Lee in Baltimore believes the only professional stage option is Owen. Otherwise, he advises sticking with an inexpensive 10″ set and saving your nickel plating until you can get the Owens. I believe the Klamm rings are worth $100 to learn, use on stage and then keep as a backup. Remember, though, that how and where you intend to use the rings matters. Carefully consider your purpose. Then weigh their diameter, number, metal, thickness, weight, sound, shine and price to determine the best choice for your next set of Chinese linking rings.

© 2000 by David Reed-Brown, Westbrook, CT

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