Instructables
Picture of duct tape compass
This project will show you how you can make a simple compass with duct tape, a cork, a needle and a magnet: a floating needle compass. The benefit of this duct tape design is that the this compass can be rolled and stored neatly when not in use, a duct tape collapsible compass; how cool is that?

This instructable will cover the process of making a compass with duct tape, as well as alternatives to all the materials used. So you'll never be far from some materials that will work instead of what's shown, even out in the wilderness.
Making your own compass is considered as a rite of passage for many scouts, and a staple for wildness survival along side of making a fire and tying knots. Don't plan of having any of these materials handy next time you go camping? You need to come more prepared (read: bring duct tape)!

If you don't already know, compasses work on magnetism. The science is that our planet is just a really big magnet and creates a magnetic field that surrounds us an extends out into space, It's called the magnetosphere. This magnetic field isn't very strong, but is enough to orient a freely rotting magnet. By magnetizing a lightweight metal object and allowing it to rotate with low resistance we can determine which direction the magnetic poles of the earth are, using the known phenomenon that similar poles repelling while dissimilar poles attract.

Even if you think you know how to make a basic compass, it's wise to refresh yourself with the most important step.

Enough talk, let's make a duct tape compass!
 
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gr8nesisme5 months ago
So if a make one and post it on here i get a 3 month pro membership to instructables
Phil B3 years ago
Mike, what you have described is almost exactly the recipe for a compass used by US prisoners of war in World War II German prison camps. You can see a display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Fairborn (suburban Dayton), Ohio. The display shows how prisoners made compasses for use in making their way back to Allied lines after an escape. Instead of a duct tape dish filled with water, they pressed a wooden cylinder into a vinyl phonograph record softened with a candle. They magnetized needles and floated them on cardboard discs.

I appreciate the variety of methods you offered for determining the points of the compass under all sorts of conditions. When a person is under stress it is easy to become confused and doubt otherwise reliable instruments. Confirming readings by a variety of methods helps keep someone from walking into disaster because he followed an inner sense rather than objective tools.
dlowther Phil B2 years ago
Thanks so much Phil, my grandpa took me to that museum when I was a kid and I've never been able to remember what it was called or exactly where in Ohio. One of the most creative things I remember from there were the extremely intricate home-made mousetraps, out of soup cans and such. Now that I know where it is I can take my own kids.
Phil B dlowther2 years ago
I am glad to have been of help. We took our kids there when they were old enough to benefit from the experience. I would like to go again, sometime; but now live far away in Idaho. I do not remember the mousetraps, but do remember a pendulum clock and a water wheel, all made from tin cans.
dlowther2 years ago
Despite all the naysayers I would like to thank you for the instructable. Although it may not be as simple as greasing up a needle, it's going to make a great activity for my cub scout group this Wed. Sometimes it's more about having a fun and educational time and coming out with a finished product the boys can keep.
I am an Electrical Engineer and wish to advise the silk alternative is totally incorrect, rubbing plastic with silk gives it a STATIC charge which is NOT the same as a magnetic field. Rubbing a needle with silk DOES NOT make it magnetic! There seems to be a lot of belief in this myth.
Actually, the typical needle will usually have already been magnetized by collapsing electric fields which are present in any building or home, or near any form of electrical system. See my book, "KIDS' BOOK of ADVENTURE PROJECTS" (Gary F. Hartman) for a complete and clear explanation of how this "silk making a compass" myth began. Ask any Electrical Engineer. We need to quit mixing up static electricity with magnet fields.
Gary F. Hartman
mikeasaurus (author)  Gary Hartman2 years ago
Thanks for responding. I've heard the same thing (rubbing silk along a needle does not make it magnetic), however I am just reporting the empirical evidence I encountered. Maybe it's just as you say, that my needle was previously magnetized.
Go to a site (for example that enclosed) which presents a scientific test , it seems ridiculous that people continue to further an incorrect myth. I am an old guy, and in school in the 50's we knew the difference.
Apparently modern education is sorely lacking.
Not all are fooled: Check this wilderness site from Canada.
http://www.wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/navigation/rbimprovisedcompass01.html
Fogl3 years ago
Absolute overkill. Why the heck do you make it that complicated? If I omit the simple fact, that needle itself smudged with little bit of grease floats by itself (water tension keeps it floating), what about to take bit of a duct tape, stick needle to it and throw it on the water. I'm sorry, this is sooo unpractical.
mikeasaurus (author)  Fogl3 years ago
Sounds like you have it figured.
Why don't you show us how it's done, and post your version?
Absolutely no offense.
I'm just pointing out on the simple fact, that if you are in emergency, you will probably use the least amount of energy and effort to find north. This is not what I would do. Nothing else.
mikeasaurus (author)  Fogl3 years ago
So, does that mean you're not going to put your money where your mouth is?
No offense, but your statement doesn't hold much water (pun intended) without some evidence.

If you post the results you'll earn your self a 3-month Pro Membership, too.
Does it mean, that I have to make an Instructable to prove you I'm "putting my money where my mouth is"? Are you serious?
I have to say I like Instructables a lot, but for some people it starts to be a way of life. Ok, no problem, but it is not my way of life.
Sometimes is better to just go out and look. What about google (takes 3 seconds)?
http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/make-a-floating-needle-compass/

Also, you last comment is irrelevant to the topic.
zazenergy Fogl3 years ago
Whoa guys, cool your jets!

Instructables is all about sharing ideas and iterating on them. Mikeasaurus, you did a fantastic job of documenting this project. Thank you!

Please keep your comments constructive and helpful. As my mother always taught me, if you don't have something nice to say, it's better not to say anything at all.

Cheers,

Laura
Editor, Instructables.com
Fogl zazenergy3 years ago
I'm cool, don't worry. If I hurt somebody's feelings, I apologies.

Laura, I'm however disappointed, that non-offensive conflict of opinions is discouraged here. Conflicts of opinions means evolution and it can generates innovative idea's. That's my motto.
St Jimmy Fogl3 years ago
Okay, sorry for commenting late on a post and everything, but dude, Fogl. Non-offensive is not how I'd describe your comments. You're essentially telling Mikeasaurus that his Instructable is useless and that we could all do without it. That isn't non-offensive. What you need to do is to say something constructive, like, "Hey, mikeasaurus, I like the idea of a simple compass, but wouldn't it be more convenient if you just used a needle with some grease on it? Duct tape and cork can be bulky." You do not need to add the 'sooo unpractical.' Also, as you type your comments, look down slightly. You will see the "be nice" policy clearly outlined. Thank you for your time.
Fogl St Jimmy3 years ago
Jimmy, "Dude", I didn't say it is useless, I didn't say we could all do without it. Don't put words in my mouth, it is not very smart.
Anyway, you are commenting 6 month too late, you are neither positive or constructive (telling me what "I need to do" is not constructive, it is dictatorial) and actually, I would describe your post as "opening old wounds".
So please stop now and let it be. Thank you.
St Jimmy Fogl3 years ago
I'm not the 'let it be' type. The word essentially means it's the essence of what you're saying, or my personal impression of your opinion. I was not putting words in your mouth. I would not like any animosity between us, I consider this a healthy battle of wits, and I will concede this victory to you.
Now I take this opportunity to be crass and unintelligent:
LOL WOUNDS!
Sorry about that. Anyway, cool.
P.S. It's funny how people think my name is Jimmy
corsi St Jimmy3 years ago
i would rely on this compass. keep it in a backpack when camping. small in comparison to backpack.
dduke2 Fogl3 years ago
I kinda agree with Fofl.. it is a complicated process you have for the floating needle compass. I have found another link on Wikipedia with a picture of the floating needle.
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Compass-floating_needle_on_water.jpg
Thanks Daniel
jill203 years ago
DD and I added a dram vial of tobacco and cayenne pepper to make outdoor survival kits. However, despite the clear instructions, I'm still not sure how we ended up with east/west magnetism in the needles.
survival kit.jpg
St Jimmy jill203 years ago
Maybe you accidentally discovered monopoles! Quick, tell a physicist!
rpb3 years ago
Silk doesn't work?

I was about to ask how the silk was supposed to magnetise a pin/needle because I'd never heard that before and it made no sense to me. But instead I had a quick Google and it seems it is a long-perpetuated urban legend:

   http://www.wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/navigation/rbimprovisedcompass01.html

I've magnetised many a needle with another magnet in my time, and that makes logical/physical sense, because the magnetic domains within the steel align to the field of the needle.

But steel is an electrical conductor: even if silk can be used to generate a static charge on some insulators it is not going to work on a conducting needle, and in addition to this a static charge has nothing to do with magnetism anyway.

So silk is just not going to work.  It is possible that the needle you choose to rub with a piece of silk is already partly magnetised, however, but the silk is not going to change that either way.
sunshiine3 years ago
Great job! Interesting also!
vishalapr3 years ago
This is absolute amazing!!!!!Best instructable I have ever seen!!!
mikeasaurus (author)  vishalapr3 years ago
Thanks vishalapar!
Sometimes I need contests like the Duct Tape one to come up with ideas like this.
Coolboyme3 years ago
compass from safari's icon lol :D
tankdo3 years ago
This reminds me of Monkey Island :)
well, i dont like to travel, im a city man, but i found this very useful, thanks for posting :)
LaserDave3 years ago
Excellent 'ible. Having been a scout in my youth and learning many survival tips and techniques, this is a really good skill for everyone to know. Emergencies happen when you least suspect them (of course).

Just one thing you might want to add, is more information on the magnitised needle. Since you instructed how to magnetise it by moving from the eye to the tip, it's important to note the polarity of the tip. Since the needle has two ends, it needs to be clarified which end points north and which end is south.

For what it's worth, most hardware stores sell cork buttons used to protect furniture or to act as "feet" under objects so they won't scratch a surface. (They come as a card of six or ten) One of those could make the compass project smaller if desired for more portability.

Again, great ideas and lots of info packed into a well-written instructable.

mikeasaurus (author)  LaserDave3 years ago
Thanks LaserDave,

Your concern regarding the polarity is a good one, but is already covered in Step 5 under the subheading How to read the bearings:

When the needle is magnetized it will be positively charged, meaning it will be attracted to a negative and repulsed by positive magnetic fields. The needle of your compass will point towards the strongest magnetic pole, meaning north in the Northern Hemisphere and south in the Southern Hemisphere.

This notion is so critical it bears repeating, and possibly clarifying the information I've provided. Thanks!

wokwithme3 years ago
I wonder if it will still work well if don't have water and use urine.
mysss wokwithme3 years ago
Should work very slightly better since the urine is denser. But if you don't have water, I don't think knowing where north is will help you find it, and this is probably a waste of time... (and valuable "water").
WOWZERS!
ChrysN3 years ago
Nice one!
mischka3 years ago
The coolest Duct Tape Instructable I've seen so far. Great!
ehudwill3 years ago
Well done.
dombeef3 years ago
The stars dont move? I thought that earth was the center of the universe!

Joking... Very nice instructable!
deanes3 years ago
Great Info, I learned a lot.
One thing to add to the using the stars method.
After finding the north star (or southern cross) you can roughly find any bearing by using your fist.:
Close one eye and extend your arm out straight making a fist. Line your thumb up with the north star and the other side of your fist will be 10 degrees from north.
Make a reference point in the sky and move one more fist length for 20 degrees and so on.
This was taught to me by as part of pilot training for when all systems are out and you can't see your compass. Seems to work much more accurately than I expected.