How To Make A Compass with Cork & Needle

One of the most popular traditional kids activities is making a compass with a needle, cork and magnet. This simple science and map activity works well into many different types of lessons and learning adventures as well as being the perfect boredom buster. Make a compass with kids at home or in the classroom.

text: how to make a compass - image of a lid filled with water and finished compass of a cork and needle compass - Kids Activities Blog
Let’s Make a Compass!

How to Make a Compass with Kids

Kids are curious which is why this homemade compass project works really well for kids of almost any age. In this case, my son loves making cool gadgets and he had a ton of fun learning how to make his own compass.

Related: More make a compass information

Making a simple compass is a quick and easy STEM activity where several different science topics are covered.

Supplies Needed to Make a Compass

compass supplies - water, cork, magnet, needle and lid
Here is what you need to make a compass!
  • plastic lid or shallow bowl
  • needle or straight pin
  • a bar magnet
  • a slice of cork/styrofoam or the top of a plastic milk jug
  • some water

Instructions for DIY Compass

Step 1

Step 1 - How to Make a Compass - sliced cork - wine cork slice with knife
Slice a Cork

I helped by using a knife to slice off a piece of cork.   This cork was a bottle stopper left over from some decorative bottle we once had.   A wider piece of cork might work better though.

Step 2

Step 2 - How to Make a Compass Magnet -rubbing a magnet on the needle to create a compass
Make the Needle a Magnet!

This step was fun.  My son made his own magnet:

  1. He held the needle in one hand and slid one side of the bar magnet along the length of the needle.
  2. It is important that you don’t slide the magnet back and forth on the needle. Just slide it in one direction, lift it up, and repeat.  
  3. He repeated this about 75 times which is probably many more times than needed.  

Now the needle is a magnet.

Step 3

Step 3 - How to Make a Compass -boy-pouring-water

He poured some water in the plastic lid.

Step 4

Step 4 - How to Make a Magnet -homemade-compass

Place the cork in the water and put the needle on top of the cork. It may take a minute to get the needle balanced well on the cork but eventually it will smoothly spin so that the needle points to the North.  

The cork allows the needle to float on the water and creates a frictionless environment in which it can move freely. Of course, the only down side to this compass is that you can’t take it with you on a trail hike!

I really couldn’t believe that my son had just made his own compass so we got out a real compass to check the results. Yep, it was pointing to the North!

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Did your compass craft make a working compass?

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