Homemade Compass

Have you ever found yourself in need of a sense of direction? Or have you ever needed more precise way than using the sun to tell direction? Well, both of these problems can be solved with this quick and easy-to-make homemade compass.

There are a couple of homemade compasses on this site already. This one, however, has two major upgrades. First, we use a sharpie to label the four cardinal directions. This improvement helps the user better understand exactly where North is in relation to the South, West, and East. Second, unlike the other compasses, we put the needle through the cork rather than sitting it on top. Doing so helps to balance the cork in the water and keeps the needle from falling off.


1) This compass will not be 100% accurate! Because the magnetized indicator floats, we cannot make it stop at exactly due North. However, although not perfect, the compass does give a very good idea of where North is. Therefore, this homemade compass is a good tool for last minute survival needs or just to satisfy curiosity at your home.

2) If your compass seems unable to find a reading of due North, make sure to consider your surroundings. If you are near computers or other heavy technology, your indicator will have a hard time finding due North. This is because technology often creates its own artificial magnetic field, which interrupts the natural magnetic field of the Earth.


Step 1: Gather Materials

This compass is not only easy to make, it is also very cheap because you will have many of the required materials in your house.


  1. Duct Tape
  2. Cork
  3. Needle
  4. Magnet
  5. Sharpie
  6. Some form of Square Base
  7. Cup of Water
  8. Scissors and/or Box Cutter

Note: The square base is used as a mold to make the compass. So, it can be however big or small you want. However, we recommend a box roughly a little bigger than the palm of your hand. In this example, we use a first aid box.

Step 2: Creating the Non-stick Surface

To make a compass out of duct tape, you first have to create a non-stick surface. To do that, start creating 2 separate sheets of duct tape. Make sure to overlap the pieces so the sheet is waterproof.

Note: The number of pieces of tape you will need for each sheet depends on the size of your base. In our case, three or four was the right number. We recommend that the sheets are 2" wider and 2" longer than the base. This way, when you place your base in the middle of the sheets, you would have approximately 1" around all sides.

Once you have the two sheets finished, combine them by connecting the sticky sides together. This should create one sheet of duct tape that is smooth and non-sticky on both sides.

Step 3: Make the Mold

The next step is to put a strip of tape around the square base you are using, with the sticky side facing out.

Note: Make sure this strip is tight enough to stick to the box but not too tight. This is crucial to being able to remove the base later.

Then, set your base on the middle of the sheet of duct tape you just made. To begin forming the mold, crimp the sides of the sheet and stick them to the strip of tape around the box.

Once all sides are stuck to the tape, place one more long strip of tape, with the sticky side facing the box, around the sides to hold the mold together. This will give the mold a smooth layer on both the outside and inside.

Note: Make sure the last layer of tape covers all of the tape where the sticky-side is facing you. If you fail to do this, the outside will remain sticky and the mold will not even be completely sealed.

Now that the mold is formed, you can remove the box by grabbing it with your fingers and pulling it out. This will be easy as long as you didn't put the tape too tight earlier.

Step 4: Write the Cardinal Directions

With the mold formed, write the four letters representing the Cardinal Directions (N, E, S, W) on the inside with the sharpie. Start with N on the first edge, then, moving clockwise, write E, then S, then W.

Note: Make sure to write only one letter along each edge.

Step 5: Add Water

Now that the mold is completed, the next step is to fill it with water. Although you can use as much or as little water as you want, we recommend filling the mold up halfway. This will allow the indicator to freely float and spin towards the appropriate direction.

Step 6: Creating the Floating Indicator

To allow for the indicator to spin towards the North, we need it to float in the water. This can be achieved by using a cork to hold a needle.

Most corks from bottles are over 1" long. In order to create a good balance, we recommend using a knife or box cutter to cut the cork down to roughly a 1/4 of an inch.

Now, take your needle and stick it in the side of the cork to start it. Then, press the needle down on a hard surface to slowly move the needle into the cork.

Warning: be careful in completing the step above. If you move too fast, the needle may slip and stab your hand.Go slow and watch your fingers.

You want the needle to go about 3/4 of the way through the cork, clearly making one side of the needle stick out farther than the other. This is an important step because it will help you remember which side of the needle is the indicator.

Step 7: Magnetize the Indicator

Now that you have created the floating indicator, you need to magnetize the needle. To do so, rub the longer side of the needle parallel to the top of the magnet. We recommend rubbing back and forth for about 30 seconds.

To many newbies, this step may seem silly. However, without this step, your indicator will not have the magnetic charge it needs in order to gravitate towards the right direction.

Step 8: Place and Orientate

Once the indicator has the magnetic charge, all your pieces have been constructed. To test the compass, gently place the indicator in the water with one of the flat sides of the cork facing down. The indicator will seem confused at first because it will do a few circles or even go back and forth.

Note: Make sure to pay attention to the indicator as it spins. If it floats towards one of the walls and seems to get stuck, pick it up and place it back in the middle of the compass.

Once the indicator stops moving, it will be lined up with the magnetic field and thus pointing to the north. After you have found north, gently turn the mold, making the indicator point directly towards the N (north).

Reminder: As mentioned earlier, be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you are not near an artificial magnetic field, as that will mess with the indicator, causing it to not be able to find North.

Step 9: Final Result and Comments

Once you have orientated the mold properly, you will have a complete compass, capable of reading North, East, South, and West.

So, now that your compass is finished, what should you do with it? This compass may come in handy at another time, so make sure not to throw it away. To store your compass properly, remove your indicator from the water, and pour the water out of the mold. If you leave the water in the mold at all times, it will eventually leak out due to the fact that duct tape is not a permanent structure. Keep the indicator and the magnet together with the mold so that anytime you are in need of a compass, all you will have to do is fill the mold with water and re-magnetize the indicator.

We hope you have enjoyed this quick, simple homemade compass.



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