Compasses for Woodworking | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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Some of the compasses we have in our woodworking program. From left to right: an affordable 6 “divider / compass (India), 6” Ledin (France) compass in polished steel, 6 “Ledin compass in gun blue.

I have used compasses during my career as a carpenter and woodworking teacher, and my favorites are pencil compasses. Honestly, I’ve never liked compasses that require a 2mm cord to plug into them – lead often breaks, it’s awkward to handle and sharpen, plus drawing compasses were never meant for the harsh environment and demanding of the shop.

Anna, one of our 10th grade students used a compass to trace her design during our chip carving class.

At school we use compasses quite often. This term we changed our curriculum to teach in classrooms instead of woodworking. Following the new Covid reality, I introduced chip carving in class 10, a woodworking activity that can be successfully carried out in the classroom on individual desks or on the lap of students. Compasses have therefore become as fundamental to us as carving knives. Most of our students brought their own compasses to my class, which they bought and used in geometry classes. But knowing how fragile these cheap and overpriced tools were, I decided to get ready and ordered some higher quality pencil compasses.

Mainly there are two types of pencil campuses: spring tensioned and screw operated, hinged and arc (wing quadrant) compasses. The former is lighter, faster to use, easier to work with and allows for very precise beam configuration by turning the adjustment nut. The latter is a sturdier tool that won’t bend or twist while operating it, but it lacks the fine-tuned adjustment mechanism that the threaded rod and lighter bush nut.

Ledin 6 ″ pencil compasses. Notice the 300 degree spring that stretches the legs together on the brass pin barrel.

Three wing compasses. The Groz (black) is a good quality tool sold on Amazon. I bought the two vintage wing dividers / compasses on the right on ebay and restored them.

I have both types of compasses in my collection and find them a good use in my work. But if you’re only going to own a compass that will give you good results for both drawing and layout work, I’d gravitate towards the spring and screw one in.

An all-steel construction, reliable and affordable dividers / compass that cost around $ 10 on Amazon.

There are a lot of spring and screw type compasses out there. One of my first purchases, a compass that we still use in our classrooms today, was bought on Amazon and was made in India. It is a good and inexpensive tool sold by countless companies and potentially made by a few manufacturers. Cost is reasonable, around $ 10 (like this product). All of these compasses are actually spring-loaded dividers with a steel cylinder welded or riveted to one of their legs to hold the pencil. On its face, this looks like an advantage, as you can use the compass to mark sharp arcs or measure and repeat dimensions on wood and metal. But this versatility factor comes at a price as the minimum compass radius is hampered by the width of one of the divider legs.

The French Ledin – a real pencil compass, can produce a very small circle because its sleeve carries the pencil is angels inward. The least expensive divider compass cannot produce a tight radius as one of the divider legs prevents the tip of the pencil from closing completely.

In my quest for the perfect compass, I tried the Lee Valley catalog where years ago I purchased a spring and screw compass that I still use today. This compass is fantastic (although it did have a small glitch in that I took care of) but unfortunately Lee Valley doesn’t carry it anymore. Instead, the company has two types of wing compasses that look good (Check them out Here is Here) but they are expensive. So I kept scouring the web and finally found a good tool. At around $ 20 the Aime Ladin THE CIBLE compass line has everything I was looking for: a sturdy mechanism, an inward-facing pencil holder, plus another feature I like: a quick adjust nut that lets you quickly open or close the spread legs to increase or reduce the radius, then engage the threaded rod for fine adjustment.

6 ″ Ledin compass in polished steel.

We have purchased some of the 6 ”compasses on Amazon and in the next pictures you can see the comparison between them and the least expensive one we have.

Ledin’s legs (left) are thicker in order to increase the rigidity of the compass.

The sleeve holding Ledin’s pencil is welded along the leg, where the less expensive compass has the sleeve welded from the centerline.

Ledin also makes a line of wing compasses (or quadrants) for anyone interested in getting that design. Wing compasses excel at tracing large radii as the combination of a sturdy hinge and heavy legs prevents the development of slack or deformation. And speaking of high-end wing compasses, I suspect the Lee Valley body compasses are manufactured by Ledin and then completed in Canada.

A large French-made (probably Ledin) wing compass purchased in Lee Valley, is a formidable tool that will excel when drawing large rays. The Gorz on the right is a cheaper tool, but still a great tool. Note the wing compass hinges in the following images.

Some additional links:

Ledin Compass line on Taylar Toolworks

Groz Wing Compass 6 “ ($ 16)

Buy Ledin in Australia

And if you have the time and motivation, here’s a video that will walk you through the process of making your compass dividers:


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