Introduction: Homemade Compass

Homemade Compass

Jacob Madalon, Stacy Orlowski, and Jackie Stephan

Interested in making an easy and simple compass? You’ve come to the right place! These instructions will provide you with all you need to know about how to make your own compass!

Step 1: Materials Needed

Step 2: Add Water

Fill your Tupperware with water so the cork can float. For this Tupperware bowl, we filled it about ¼ of the way full.

If you plan to carry this compass around, we recommend that you use a Tupperware container that has a clear lid so that you will be able to see the direction the needle is pointing through the top of the container.

Step 3: Cut Cork

Cut a piece off of the end of the cork.*

Make sure the piece of cork is large enough to float but small enough that it’s able to hold the needle above the water. In our example, the cork is approximately 1/8 of an inch. If the needle is too submerged in water, the torque created by the magnetized needle will be insufficient and therefore, the needle won’t move in the water. The best tool to use for cutting the cork is a thin serrated knife.

**WARNING: Be careful when using the knife. The cutting edge of the knife is very close to one’s finger tips. Please use caution.

*Note: Make sure piece of cut cork floats level in the water before proceeding. If it doesn’t float the cork piece is most likely not cut evenly and you’ll need to cut a new piece. If it floats, DON’T leave it in the water. If the piece is left in the water, it will eventually soak up water and no longer float.

Step 4: Magnetize the Needle

Magnetize the needle. Be sure to move the needle against the magnet in ONE axial direction for 15 seconds (i.e. Back and forth in a straight line).

This is important because if you don’t keep the direction consistent when rubbing the needle on the magnet, the needle will not magnetize and, therefore, the compass will not work. Be sure to mark the side that you push back and forth, as that side will be the side that points north.

Step 5: Add Elements Together

Place cork in the water first, then place the needle on top of the cork.

The needle and cork should spin around to point north. Be sure to NOT touch or bump the table. Placing the needle on the cork allows it to float inside a nearly frictionless environment, letting the needle move freely to find true north.

Step 6: Test

Test your compass! Put on the lid to the container and walk in different
directions (i.e. Go south, west, etc) to see if the needle still points north.

Step 7: Closing Remarks

CONGRATS! You have successfully made a homemade compass! Feel free to use this while walking around outside to help navigate yourself around.

Extra Things to Consider:

NOTE: Your Surroundings

If you are in a computer lab or in an area surrounding by strong electrically powered technology, the needle may be off. This is due to the electricity running through the technology, which will create an artificial magnetic field in the area. This magnetic field will interrupt the Earth’s magnetic field, creating an incorrect reading in the compass.

NOTE: How does one find true North?

To find the magnetic north, you have to first know which way the compass is pointing. When magnetizing the needle, you should mark the direction that you move the magnet towards, as that will be the side of the needle that points north. To find north, make sure you are in an open area without much electromagnetic interference. This interference can be caused by phone wires, electricity wires, computers, or other large electrical devices. Then, put the compass on a level surface and allow it to come to equilibrium in some direction. The side that is marked should point towards the magnetic north pole, and, for general purposes, this can be thought of as the actual North Pole. If needed, you can re-magnetize the needle by taking it out of the container and pushing the magnet over it again.