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Dry-Card-Cmpss-art - 9/11/08


"A Dry-card Brass Compass" by Lady Elinor Strangewayes.


NOTE: See also the files: Eng-Quadrant-art, nav-inst-msg, Nav-Crosstaff-art, Seakeeping-p1-art, rope-msg, ships-msg, boat-building-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



More of this author's work can be found at: http://hakerh.livejournal.com/243697.html



A Dry-card Brass Compass

by Lady Elinor Strangewayes



Here's the documentation for my compass, with a few pictures of both it and its supporting primary sources.


Reproduction of a 16th Century Compass


Submitted for Northern Lights A&S Competition

Lady Elinor Strangewayes, College of St Cuthbert.



18. Metalwork

27. Period Science


What: A reproduction of a 16th century compass.

Materials: 0.0012Ó Brass, steel wire, solder, lampblack





The compass


Sorry about the poor image quality - I can't find the item itself right now. This photo was taken while I was elsewhere, and I see someone picked up my little bag and draped its chain over the compass for dramatic effect. (Note: Box is for ease of display, not part of entry)




Compass markings from John Davis' book "Seaman's Secrets". 1595




Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 1562

Image from the Ashmolean. Note the dry-card compass he is pointing to (and the naval officer's whistle around his neck).


Compasses were an essential, though frequently inaccurate, tool for navigation during the Renaissance. Initially, European compasses were basic iron needles or wires magnetized so as to point North, and then placed through a bit of straw or cork and set in a bowl of water. These were more of novelties than anything else, as they were essentially useless in a moving environment such as aboard a ship. Later compasses placed the needle on the underside of a card, which was then placed on a pivot in a wooden bowl. The entire card would rotate to indicate direction. These are called dry-card compasses, as they do not have the liquid medium added to smooth out extremes of motion seen in later compasses. The majority of surviving examples of dry-card compasses reveal brass cards, which is what I chose to go with.


I measured a circle on light sheet brass, which I cut using ordinary scissors after polishing with steel wool. I painted the face in white paint, over which I sketched in pencil and then engraved my pattern using an engraving tool. My compass face comes from the example in John DavisŐ SeamanŐs Secrets, published 1595. Rubbing alcohol was used to get the last of the paint off. This was then again polished with steel wool. I obtained soot from an oil lamp to highlight the cardŐs markings.


In period, wire was bent into a diamond shape and soldered to the back of the card. I did this, and magnetized the wires by stroking them with a bar magnet. The card fits onto a brass nail which has had its head removed. Additional drops of solder were used to help balance the card. I used a dapping punch to create the dimple in which the pivot pin rests, but had problems making sure the divot was deep enough without blowing out the top of the dent due to overstretching.


The compass does find north. However, it is unable to do so on its pivot point due to the friction between the card and the pivot. I have heard of crystal pivots being used to reduce friction (jade cups on quartz points), but this may be apocryphal. When placed on a float in a bowl of water, the card shows its charge and points north. Clearly, I need to go back and redesign both the pivot point and its point of contact.



1. Aczel, Amir D. The riddle of the compass. New York : Harcourt, 2001.

2. Davis, John. The seamanŐs secrets. London: 1595. Available via the Early English Books Collection, Microfilm STC P&R 1750:4 or online at http://www.mcallen.lib.tx.us/books/seasecr/dseasec0.htm">http://www.mcallen.lib.tx.us/books/seasecr/dseasec0.htm

3. Stevin, Simon. The haven-finding art. London: 1599 New York, Da Capo Press, 1968.


I won the metalworking category for this one, due to the fine engraving on its surface.


I'll see if I can find the compass itself later for a better close-up photo of its face.


Copyright 2008 by Sarah O'Connor. <strangewayes at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org