How to Make a Magnetic Compass

With these instructions for making the Energizer compass, you’ll be able to get a better idea of where you are and where you’re going.  It’s really easy and doesn’t take much in the way of materials.  This is a fun, hands-on experiment for students of any age.

Materials You’ll Need to Build A Hanging Compass:
  • Three needles
  • Magnet
  • Clear jar
  • Modeling clay
  • Thread
  • Pencil
  • Piece of paper
  1. 1. Rub from the middle to the pointed end of the needle along the South side of the magnet. Make sure to rub in the same direction 30-40 times to magnetize the tip of the needle. Do this for two of the three needles. Test the needles magnetization by trying to pick up the third needle. If you can pick up the third needle you are ready to put your compass together.magnetize-needle
  2. 2. Fold a small piece of paper and tape the needles inside the folded paper. Mark the paper with the needle eye ends “S” and the needle point ends “N”.folded-paper-and-needle
  3. 3. Insert the third needle in clay. Balance the paper on top of needle. Notice the paper will always point to the north (in the northward direction). Tap one end of the paper, does the paper return to its original position?needle-and-paper-in-clay
  4. 4. To use outdoors, fasten paper to a pencil with thread. Place the pencil on the top of a glass jar with the needle hanging inside the cup. Now watch as the needle spins and points north. paper-fastened-to-pencil
  5. 5. Turn the jar in place. Does the needle continue to point north?

    The metallic core of the earth helps create the earth’s magnetic field with north and south poles. The compass reacts with the earth’s poles to point in the direction of the earth’s North Pole.
    Rubbing the magnet against the needle in one direction caused the iron atoms in the object to line up and create a weak magnetic field, which made the needle behave like a magnet. You had to rub in one direction to get the atoms to all line up in the same manner. If you had rubbed back and forth, the atoms would not have lined up as well, and the magnetic field would probably not be as strong, if one was created at all. Magnetism created in this manner is called induced magnetism.

How to read the bearings:
When the needle is magnetized it will be positively charged, meaning it will be attracted to a negative and repulsed by positive magnetic fields. The tip of the needle will be polarized and will point towards the strongest magnetic pole, meaning north in the Northern Hemisphere and south in the Southern Hemisphere. From this initial bearing you should be able to determine the remaining cardinal bearings by drawing an imaginary line perpendicular to the needle bearing. Facing north east is on the right with west on your left.