How to Make a Compass

Roman Herrick
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How A Compass Works

Let’s cut through all the mysticism and technical language to find out how a compass works. A compass is really a simple gadget that relies on a few simple concepts.

To understand how a compass works, you’ll first have to understand geomagnetism, the invisible field that permeates the planet. All matter is made up of tiny atoms composed of even smaller particles called protons and electrons. While the electrons spin around the nucleus of the atom, protons and electrons also spin on a smaller scale. This small-scale spinning is called the electron spin. When many of the electrons in an object line up in the same direction, a magnetic field is created. A compass is an object that interacts with this geomagnetic field.

How To Make A Compass In The Wilderness

You’ve lost your way in the forest and you’re starting to panic as the night is drawing in and you’ve no idea where you are or how long it’s going to take you to find your way if you just try to retrace your steps.

If you’ve got a good knowledge of materials you can forage or find on site, you could make a compass from some things you have to hand.

Wrap a quarter of a magnet wire tight around a needle.

Poke the needle through a cork and hang it from a string from a tree away from any metals or large masses like rocks.

A needle hung this way will always point north no matter in which direction it is pulled.

To find the south, place a nugget of steel in the fire to heat it.

As soon as the cork begins to float, remove it from the fire and let it cool in the air.

As the needle begins to cool, it will begin to fall. As soon as it points south, carve a small notch in the wood at eye level to mark it.

If you will always find south at eye level this way, all you have to do then is to orientate yourself in the direction that you want to go and start walking.