Introduction: Make a Center Finder

Picture of Make a Center Finder

Make a precision center finder from scrap materials.

Recently egbertfitzwilly posted an Instructable on Finding the Center of a Circle. WirelessMonk posted a link to a machined steel center finder. Rimar mentioned making one. I decided to try making one that would be very precise.

Step 1: Materials

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I had a steel bracket left over from something. I also had a piece of wood with good straight edges. In addition I used a little wood glue and a couple of short screws.

Step 2: Cut the Wood at an Angle

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I cut a 45 degree angle across the piece of wood. By cutting it as shown I needed to make only one angle cut for two pieces.

Step 3: The Second Wood Cut

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Lay the free piece over the main piece of stock. Mark and cut for the second piece.

Step 4: Flatten the Steel

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My scrap piece of steel needed to be flattened. I began by squeezing it with my vise.

Step 5: Pound It Flat

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The vise did not do all that was necessary to flatten the steel. Use a ball peen hammer on a flat surface. Pound from both sides to make it as flat as possible.

Step 6: Glue the Wood Pieces

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Smear wood glue on the facing edges of the wood pieces.

Step 7: Clamp While Drying

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Clamp the wood pieces to a flat surface. A piece of paper from the newspaper or the phone book keeps the glue from sticking to the flat surface. I placed the flat piece of steel under one of the pieces of wood before clamping to lift it so there would be a raised edge at the joint that I could use to align the piece of steel when fastening it to the wood. The edge of the steel will need to bisect exactly the angle formed by the two pieces of wood. The glue line is on the line that bisects the angle. While the glue is not yet hardened scrape away the excess glue with a chisel so the raised edge is clean and sharp.

Step 8: Attach the Steel

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When the glue is dry, press the piece of steel against the raised edge. Clamp the steel to the wood so it does not move while you drill and attach the steel to the wood with screws.

Step 9: Use

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No allowance has been made for the thickness of a pencil line. I like to use a knife to score a very fine line. Make three or more score lines from different positions around the work piece to see if your center finder is truly accurate. If it is not completely accurate, you will get a small triangle, which also marks the center rather well. I chose steel so it would stand up to the wear imposed on it from the knife I use for marking.

If you want to try another version of a center finder made without laser cutters, etc.; try this link.


leames1 (author)2015-10-17

This is great. So simple, yet so accurate. And zero cost to boot.

Phil B (author)leames12015-10-17

Thank you for looking and for commenting. I am glad you can use it. When I use mine, I make three scribe marks. I wish I could say all of them intersect at the same point, but they do leave a tiny triangle. The open area in it is a very good indication of the center. Also, be aware some wooden rods appear round, but are actually a little egg shaped. That can also lead to confusing indications of the center.

ChandrakanthM (author)2015-09-15

Good work done.

But, to me center finding ruler is quite simple and is more precise.

cannonball1702 (author)2015-07-28

Hi Phil! I made this handy little tool last night to solve the conundrum of finding the exact center of a 1 1/4" iron cap that I need to drill a hole in to mount a toggle switch. The beauty of this thing is that it can handle circles that aren't flat on top and are dome-shaped, etc. I used a Kreg Jig and pocket screws to join the wood because I was too excited to use it to wait for glue to dry! Used a 12" Simpson strong tie strap for the straight edge part. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and for solving my problem!

Phil B (author)cannonball17022015-07-28

Thank you for trying it and for commenting,

ant0ny (author)2013-09-04

Great idea! Does not even matter what angle of the cut - 30, 40 or 47,358 degree! :) Still glued line will divide the angle in half.
Thank you!

Phil B (author)ant0ny2013-09-04

Exactly. And, making a diagonal slice across a straight piece automatically make the angle on the cut pieces equal.

ynze (author)2012-12-11

Very smart! I bumped into the problem of finding the center of round wood recently. I just noticed this I'ble (first picture), and.... Owwwwwww, of course, that's the way!



Phil B (author)ynze2012-12-12

Thank you for looking. I am glad it is helpful to you. It was fun to develop and I use mine more than I thought I would.

barefootbohemian (author)Phil B2012-12-12

Wow. Weird that this landed in my comments, but glad it did lol. I could use such a thing :)

grbennet (author)2012-12-07

Thank you very much for this simple method.

Phil B (author)grbennet2012-12-07

I hope it helps you. Thank you for your comment.

Learndy (author)2009-05-27

Can we extend this mechanism somehow to find the center axis of a sphere, of a ball?

Application: Find a center axis of a table tennis ball to make it a cheap wheel for a small robot.
Airspace V - international hangar flying! for tools & toys

Phil B (author)Learndy2009-05-27

Here is an idea for finding the center of a sphere, like a table tennis ball. For the sake of illustration, your table tennis ball is red in color. Cut a collar of PVC that is just a little smaller in diameter than the table tennis ball. The PVC collar is shown in cutaway and is gray in color. Cut it to length so the top of the ball is roughly even with the top of the ball when the collar is resting on the ball. Use the center finder to mark the center from a couple of directions. You will need to turn the table tennis ball over to mark the extension of the axis. Do that by making a circle on a piece of paper, the diameter of which is the same as the PVC collar. Mark the center of the circle. Align the center you marked on the ball with the dot on the paper. Support the ball from several sides so the center do on the ball remains squarely on the center dot marked on the paper. Place the PVC collar on top of the ball so it is level. Without moving anything, use the center finder to locate the extension of the axis.

Col_uk (author)Phil B2012-09-04

Hi Phil
Thanks for the instructable, it came in very useful.
For a sphere, i found it easier to make a center finder the same depth as the ball diameter and put steel on both ends. That allows you to mark both poles at the same time.

best regards

Phil B (author)Col_uk2012-09-04

Very clever. Thanks for your reply.

Phil B (author)Phil B2009-05-27

Oops! "Cut it to length so the top of the ball is roughly even with the top of the ball when the collar is resting on the ball." should read, "Cut it to length so the top of the collar is roughly even with the top of the ball when the collar is resting on the ball."

Datawolf (author)Learndy2012-01-10

Use the center finder to draw a first "equator" line. Turn the ball and use the center finder to draw a "meridian" line.
The two intersections (the "poles") give you the axe for an axle.

streetrod5 (author)2012-03-02

Phil, this is something I've needed for years, but didn't know it existed! I've been "finding" centers by... well, not the most accurate way. Thank you!

Phil B (author)streetrod52012-03-03

Thank you for looking and for your comment. I am glad to have solved a problem for you.

bettertimes (author)2011-07-26

If you would enjoy reading "The Boy Mechanic: Volume 1 by Popular Mechanics Co. " here is the down load link
this is a copy from the Deridder, Louisiana Library. enjoy

Phil B (author)bettertimes2011-10-05

I did download it and have looked at some of it. When I was growing up our public library had a couple of books by Alfred P. Morgan. One was on electricity. One was on all sorts of mechanical devices. I remember a small steam engine with bell cranks to operate sliding valves. The projects were marvelous, but always required tools and materials I did not have available. Thanks.

DoDo729 (author)2011-08-23

Wow, so simple but works incredible. Solved one of my problems. Thanks for your post. Love this site.

Phil B (author)DoDo7292011-08-23

I am very pleased you found it and can use it. Instructables is a great place to share useful things. Thank you for looking.

nmh0105 (author)Phil B2011-09-16

Simple but yet great use... i could not follow you please help

Phil B (author)nmh01052011-09-16

Can you say what exactly you did not understand?

Creativeman (author)2011-06-17

I just found this, will definitely make one! Will post picture when done. Thanks for the idea/concept.

Phil B (author)Creativeman2011-06-17

Thank you. You may even find a way to improve on it.

wmarin (author)Phil B2011-07-20

You are still my hero !. Thanks

Phil B (author)wmarin2011-07-21

Thank you.

pgcagdol (author)2010-12-14

thanks great idea and just when i needed it

Phil B (author)pgcagdol2010-12-15

Thank you. I try to post useful things.

zulhanifarifin (author)2010-08-29

nice job..thanks..

Phil B (author)zulhanifarifin2010-09-03

Thanks. I hope it is useful to you.

Chadworkz (author)2010-03-24

You know, it's always the simplest things that are the best, and this just proved that point...excellent job, Phil! ;)

Phil B (author)Chadworkz2010-03-25

Thank you.  Unfortunately, it usually takes me a few attempts before I come to a really simple version of an idea.

roberto sirigu (author)2010-02-26

una mente creativa ... Lo seplice muove il mondo benfatto!!!

Phil B (author)roberto sirigu2010-02-26

Grazie mille!

ignilc (author)2010-01-24

The angle doesn't need to be 45 degrees. It can be anything. As long as the angles on both pieces of wood are the same it will work well.

Phil B (author)ignilc2010-01-24

You are quite correct.  Thank you for your comment and thank you for looking at this.

mcanderson76 (author)2009-05-27

This is very helpful :) thanks

Phil B (author)mcanderson762009-05-27


manuelle_override (author)2009-05-27

This is one of those things that makes me think, why didn't I thinkof that?! A straight forward solution to an annoying problem. Nice guide.

Phil B (author)manuelle_override2009-05-27

Thank you. I see you joined Instructables less than a week ago. Welcome. How did you happen to find my center finder already? Speaking of simple solutions to annoying problems, you might be interested in a recent Instructable I did. Search for Garmin Vehicle Power Cable. Even if you do not have a Garmin with a 12 VDC power cable, you might be able to use the basic idea on something else.

DuctTapeRules! (author)2009-05-07

5* Now I just need to summon the energy to get back to my projects...:)

Phil B (author)DuctTapeRules!2009-05-07

Thanks. When it comes to projects, life has a way of forcing you back into them when something breaks and must be fixed immediately. Then you notice how good it felt to do a project and you are on your way.

sharlston (author)2009-04-26

love it definetly 5 stars

Phil B (author)sharlston2009-04-26


sharlston (author)Phil B2009-04-27

u replyed at 4 in the morning and your welcome

Phil B (author)sharlston2009-04-27

It was 4 AM in the UK, but seven hours earlier in our part of the USA, which is Idaho, and that is only about 400 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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