Picture of Make a Viking Sun Compass
Imagine the situation - you're due to go on a raid tomorrow, but Bjorn Hammersson won your lodestone in a game of hnefetafl last night. No magnetic lodestone, nothing to indicate North when you're out of sight of land. How are you going to find your way at sea?

Fortunately, with a nail, a lump of wood and a few spare hours, you can construct a sun compass.

(To do this Instructable properly, it is not absolutely vital to be wearing a Viking helmet, but it helps. It's a long time since mine last came out of the shed...)

Step 1: Make your Sun Compass.

Picture of Make your Sun Compass.

Bang the nail through the piece of wood. No, don't use a rock, you're supposed to be civilised. Use a hammer.


Yes, really, you're done. All you need to do now is calibrate it.

acoleman35 months ago

interesting, but you're only half right. yes, it was a navigational instrument to determine a course, but it wasn't used to determine what way was north. the gnomic lines terminate prematurely and would make it impossible to determine north in the late afty. another problem is the marks were a few degrees off, which would have put them many miles off course. researchers believe it's actually a sun shadow board, used to find local noon and calculate latitude. it had two gnomons, one taller than the other. the short gnomon was used to determine noon and the taller one used to find the current latitude. this would give a deviation of no more than 6 nautical miles (11km) and between greenland and norway, that deviation's not a big issue.


SparkySolar10 months ago


Kiteman (author)  SparkySolar10 months ago


Bill WW1 year ago
Great Instructable and very fun to read.

On a large flat Viking ship the shadow of the tip of the mast could be drawn on the deck and a gnomic curve drawn. With the north point marked, the other compass points could also be inscribed on the deck. Then the Viking captain would just leave Stavanger and head south-south-west.

Just saying.
Erod D-Isle2 years ago
i really enjoy your historical accuracy regaurding norse viking culture its good to see other people recognizing it as it is
Kiteman (author)  Erod D-Isle2 years ago
Er... thank you?
sorry its a thing i have how people have strayed from their natural purpose and a viking thing a little too
InTheory2 years ago
Protip: if you can fix a gem of iolite (cordierite) to the top of the nail head it can show where the sun is in even the cloudy days.

Thanks for the instructable, when I find the iolite I have been hoarding away this will be invaluable!
Kiteman (author)  InTheory2 years ago

Oh, yes!
Ginyb2 years ago
If I live in Bakersfield, CA and there is a need for this where is my north. could you tell me where I could get more info. thanks ginyb
Kiteman (author)  Ginyb2 years ago
I'm afraid I don't know what you're asking me - do you want to know where North is from where you are?
This Bakersfieldian is obviously not of Viking decent... :P Great tool Kiteman!
ilpug Ginyb2 years ago
If you live in Bakersfield, I would advise that your North is any direction that leads out of Bakersfield...
blkhawk2 years ago
Viking helmets did not have horns! Your picture is historically inaccurate! :-P
He just happens to be hornier than...most Vikings? wait, that didn't sound right either...
LOL! Good one! :-)
Kiteman (author)  blkhawk2 years ago
My sources say differently:
blkhawk Kiteman2 years ago
You beat me using the Sunday Comics! You don't play fair!
Kiteman (author)  blkhawk2 years ago
snotty blkhawk2 years ago
Space viking helmets have horn-like antennae.
snotty snotty2 years ago

Kiteman (author)  snotty2 years ago
SHIFT!2 years ago
This will be great when I inevitably get lost in the woods!
Kiteman (author)  SHIFT!2 years ago
Don't forget, though, you'll need to stay put for a full day to calibrate it.
SHIFT! Kiteman2 years ago
Ooh, good point! I'll need to pack a can of Anti-Bear Spray then.
Mr_Altitude2 years ago
This reminds me of a sun compass I make. You put a stick in the ground, mark where the tip of the shadow is, wait 15 minutes, then mark were the tip of the shadow is again. You connect the two points, and that's your east-west line. You intersect that line to make your north-south line.
Kiteman (author)  Mr_Altitude2 years ago
That's OK for survival navigation, but that line should be a curve - you wouldn't be able to navigate to a specific point, but you would be able to find your way out of a desert.
PKM2 years ago
I wonder if there's such a thing as a calculator or spreadsheet which can take your latitude and generate gnomon curves for various times of year? The fun is probably in making the curve yourself but it would be interesting to see how they change with latitude and season.
Kiteman (author)  PKM2 years ago
I've seen sundial generators, the curves would be the same.
Pretty cool! ManVS.Wild!
Kiteman (author)  nerfrocketeer2 years ago
Hehe, thanks!
ehudwill2 years ago
Great instructable. Fun to read and informative.
Kiteman (author)  ehudwill2 years ago
Thank you!
JMRaphael2 years ago
Awesome project! In scouting, one skill similar to this involved using a stick placed at the center of a clock face to point North. Always good to see tools that serve an efficient, practical purpose with a minimum of resources!
Kiteman (author)  JMRaphael2 years ago
Thank you!
rimar20002 years ago
Interesting. But the height of the Sun changes not only throughout the year but with latitude. It is to say: this compass is perfect if you travel along a parallel (east to west or viceversa) , but otherwise it would bring erroneous data. Anyway, clever device.
Kiteman (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Sometimes just landing on the right continent is a plus!
Dang that Bjorn Hammersson! This is really useful, and a nice activity on a sunny day. Thanks.
Kiteman (author)  mandolinible2 years ago
You're welcome!