Incredibly Easy Beam Compass

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While walking the tool aisles at my local box store I can’t help but think of how many commercially available tools there are that are really easy to make yourself. Not always will making it yourself save you money but more often than not you get a product that is more tailored to your needs and built the way you like it. That’s the case with this tool.

When it comes to making it yourself the first thing I think of is not only can I actually make it but can I make it unique to me? After not coming up with anything unique I thought to myself this is just silly. I’m wasting my time trying to re-invent a crazy simple tool. I already knew John Heisz previously made a simple, working beam compass so I decided to just use his design.

It’s a super simple design that only requires a few pieces of common hardware, a marking device, and very little scrap wood. For the wood I went with a piece of 1/4” thick figured poplar. When I have time, I always look through the small hardwood piles when I go to the box store to hopefully stumble upon a nice figured piece. When I find a hidden gem I get it and wait for a perfect use for it. That’s where this piece of poplar came from. It has been floating around my shop for over a year now waiting for a use. I also printed off the plan from John’s website.

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First, a few strips need to be cut. Literally, this is all the wood that this compass requires. Everyone probably has enough scrap material laying around to make this.

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Next comes the big glue up.

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To make the pivot pin a point is formed on one end of a bolt. I clamped my angle grinder to my work table and gently rotated the bolt over the disk.

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On one end of the material two holes and a slot are needed. This end will eventually hold the marking device. All of the dimensions are listed in John’s plan.

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The vertical hole is for the marking device and the horizontal hole is for the locking bolt.

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A quick trim to final length and I cleaned up the top and bottom surfaces with a plane at my homemade moxon vise.

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I’m really glad to finally put that piece of poplar to use and am quite pleased at how it turned out with just a coat of mineral oil to bring out the grain. Since making this project I have already used it on my cyclone and shopvac cart. It’s one of those tools that you may not need often but when you do need it it really is handy to have. This project is incredibly easy and I recommend everyone adding one to their shop. For free plans as well as John’s original build article click here. Good luck and have a great day!

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21 Comments

  1. Ryan

    I’ve been wanting to build one of these. Thanks for the inspiration! I might build one of these next week. Thanks again! By the way keep up the great work. Love all your videos!

  2. Doug Burke

    Thanks Jay, I can’t tell you how many times I needed a beam compass and had to look for Round items to trace. I have some black walnut in my Shop that might be perfect so I will use that wood. As always, thanks for some good ideas on Shop projects to build. I think I will find some brass bolts and washers, shine them up, they should look great against the walnut wood.

  3. Michael Olsen

    Nice article Jay. Making a tool or jig is alwalys a great way to improve both your skills and unerstanding of the craft while generally saving money. It also increase one’s self esteam. I find I, and most crafts I know, take great pride in their “home made” tools and in the fine works they produce with them. Best of all, most are fairly simple to make and will be extreamly accurate even when made using crude tools and techniques.

  4. Daryl Stokes

    I have some 1/4 Ash that I salvaged from an old pallet. Been wondering what to do with it. Now I know at least one thing.

  5. Cory

    Jay I really appreciate you sharing all your great projects. You are a great carpenter and I learn a lot from you. Thanks!!!

  6. Reggie

    There has been several times i needed a tool like this one. I will make one thus coming week so i have it for my next project.

  7. Jose Arrue

    Best regards from Panama City Panama. I have recently retired and your great projects and ideas are now my challenges but with a great teacher time will fly and will finish them.

  8. cricket

    Noticed a custom built table at your drill press as you were drilling holes for the compass you were building. Are the plans for the drill press table available?

  9. Troy Meredith

    Had to make this for your shop vac cart as well. I did have to make a quick run to the big box store as I didn’t have ANY of the hardware…unreal. lol. Very useful device. I just need to spend a little more time grinding the bolt though; not pointy enough. Thanks for the walkthrough.

    1. Jay Bates

      You’re very welcome. Thanks to John for the design and plan. Be careful when sharpening the bolt. Mine is extremely sharp. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

  10. Andrew Stivison

    I made one of these awhile back when I saw John Heisz make one. I went one further and made it out of 2 wooden yard sticks and has an instant scale!

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