How to Make a Compass From a Wire


compassMaking a compass is about as manly as it gets.  It’s not just an exercise in chest puffery though.  It’s a functional skill.

Plane crashed?  Lost in the wilderness?  Get off-track during your African safari tour? Admittedly, these scenarios happen less often but there is always camping.  Anyone who’s really attempted some deep-woods camping has probably experienced the art of getting lost on more than one occasion.

Enter the compass.  This simplistic little magnetized device has saved countless men from a fate unbeknownst to them and put them back on the path to safety and civilization.

A magnetized strip of metal will naturally align itself with the north and south lines of the earth’s magnetic field and point north, if allowed to move freely.

You’ll only need a wire and a magnet for this creation.  If you’re lost in the great outdoors without a real compass (hopefully you would always be wise enough to take one when traveling to unknown terrain), look for magnets in just about any cheap electronic device, such as a portable radio or audio speakers.

1) Find a small piece of wire. This will soon be the needle that points north.
A nail or sewing needle will work equally as well.


2) Magnetize the wire or nail by stroking it several times with the magnet.
This action makes the wire a magnetic needle, allowing it to align north and south.

magnetizing wire

3) Put the now magnetized wire on something that floats. We’re using a cork here. If you’re in the wild, find a flat piece of branch to float your wire on.
The wire points north and you’re headed to freedom!
north pointing wire

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  • John

    Tried it using a nail. Success! If you used this in the wild, you’d have to isolate a few handfulls of water because the slightest current or wind affects the compass pretty drastically.