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How to Build a Compass

In our lifetimes few things are more consistant than the sun. It follows the same pattern day after day and year after year. It is so consistant that clocks are designed to use its precise timing. Our planet Earth rotates on its axis extremely close to 15 degrees per hour. This precise timing allows us to make a compass using shadows cast by the sun. We can then use these shadows to find north and south.

From this baseline we are able to determine directions with more than a fair degree of accuracy and consistency. There are several ways to determine cardinal directions by using the sun and shadow methods. But, I shall only give single example in this article. As we have been taught for many generations, the sun rises somewhat in the east and sets somewhat in the west. It also crosses the southern sky. By using this easterly and westerly rise and setting of the sun, we are able to use shadows cast by the sun to build a crude but accurate compass of sorts.

To build a compass using this method, you will need only a few items and patience. A short straight stick, several small stones, a smooth area and a sun that is bright enough to cast a strong shadow.

To build a shadow stick compass such as shown in photos, you will need only the items listed below and patience.

1. A short straight stick.

2. Several small stones.

3. A smooth area, and a sun bright enough to cast a strong shadow.

First, you will need a straight stick approximately 12 inches long. push this stick into the ground so it is in an upright position. Hopefully the sun will be bright enough that it will cast a strong and distinct shadow. Next set a small rock on the ground at the end of the shadow. Every half hour or so, again you will place a different stone at the end of the shadow. As the sun moves a cross the southern sky the end of the shadow will be at a new location on the ground. After you have set several rocks in place, you will notice they will be in somewhat of a straight line. This line of rocks will be indicative of your east / west line. If you stand with your left foot on the first shadow that is cast, and your right foot on the last shadow cast, you will be facing a northerly direction. And your back will be facing a southerly direction. From this basic north south position you will find it easy to determine the other directions. I recommend showing this little trick to your children, they will love it, and as a bonus it may prove useful one day.