Learn how to Forge a Compass with Blacksmith Peter Ross

Learn how to Forge a Compass with Peter Ross

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 3.34.00 PMPeter Ross’s blacksmith and whitesmith work is unparalleled. I’d wax prolific here, but instead, I’ll just share with you the entire story I wrote about him for our November 2012 issue, “Controlled Irregularity.”

And, we’ve just released a DVD from Peter – the first in our new Blacksmithing for Woodworkers series – “Forging a Compass.” Peter walks you through the steps – both at the forge and at the bench – for making an 18th-century-style square-head compass (what we (erroneously, according to two Peters – Ross and Follansbee) call “dividers”). All you need is a coal forge, an anvil and a handful of files (you’ve been looking for an excuse to build a small forge in your backyard – right?). And even if a forge isn’t in your future, it’s fascinating to watch the process of turning an iron blank into a beautiful tool. Get your copy of “Forging a Compass” now at ShopWoodworking.

— Megan Fitzpatrick


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Showing 14 comments
  • Leon Renaud

    I’m a blacksmith ironically because about 30 years ago the first pay Tv channel we got out here featured Roy Underhill’s TV show the Woodwright Shop! Roy did a piece on blacksmithing as part of the show and off I went! It is very easy to start blacksmithing take just a minute and do an internet search on the subject. One of the best sites is Iforge you need a control able air source, A container for your fire, Coal or Charcoal , a hammer of about 2pounds. and a flat chunk of iron for an anvil. Scrounge a bit and you should be able to start hammering iron for 50$ or less! You can find most of this stuff on the side of the road on trash day! You don’t need any fancy equipment just to start out!

  • TomHolloway

    Maybe I missed it, but the parenthetical note on terminology caught my eye: What do the Peters say about “dividers” vs. “compass”? Is it in this book, or available somewhere online?

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      “Forge a Compass” is a DVD, not a book, FYI. Both Peters say the correct historical term is “compass” – not “dividers.” Now, I think we tend to use “compass” for something that has a pencil or pen on one leg, and “dividers” for a tool with two pointy ends, both sans ink/graphite. John Donne would agree with the two Peters:

      If they be two, they are two so
      As stiff twin compasses are two ;
      Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
      To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

      And though it in the centre sit,
      Yet, when the other far doth roam,
      It leans, and hearkens after it,
      And grows erect, as that comes home.

      Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
      Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
      Thy firmness makes my circle just,
      And makes me end where I begun.
      (From “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” 1611)

  • McDara

    You can begin by making a forge out of an old hair dryer, some sheet metal from your local home center and a hand full of bricks. Also for an anvil a 6 to 12 inch section of railroad tie works perfect. I am rather a novice at blacksmithing but I’ll consult my professional friend and post more details.

  • switzforge

    How long is it? (in minutes not inches)

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      I’m not sure of the final edited length – I watched it early on in editing. But I’m told it’s around an hour.

      And I know we’ve another with Peter already filmed – not sure of the release date though (on hardware)

  • switzforge

    OK I ordered my copy. I hope there are lots of others in the series.

  • WiseGuy81

    I love that this came out just as I was thinking of contacting him to simply buy one from him (A la Chris Schwarts’ blog)…the only problem is that I do not have a forge. I would love to buy this disk but can you tell me if there will be content in this or following releases on the construction of a forge (gas vs. coal options?).

    I think it would be really fun to make items from old files or lawn mower blades…or any scrap or new stock. I just need to know how to get started.

    • WiseGuy81

      Even if it is not video. Say an article saved on the disk or some sort of downloadable content.

    • switzforge

      There are plenty of info out there on forges and equipment. Try getting in touch with your local group. Start looking at the ABANA web site. Even if you never want to forge a pair yourself I am sure watching Peter do it will make you want to own a pair. I have seen him do this at our local conference, then ordered a pair from Peter and I do have all of the tools to make them myself.

      • WiseGuy81

        You know that it a great idea. The local woodworkers guild helped me get started with that. Why should I change gears for this…thanks

    • shannonlove

      If want to know how to improvise a forge, or anything else, I recommend instructables.com. It’s your one stop resource for seat-of-your-pants engineering of all kinds.

      I myself have been hoarding an old transformer from a microwave so I can build a roll-your-own arc welder.

      Don’t tell my insurance agent.

  • griffithpark

    I hope this is the first of many in this series.

    Here in Los Angeles there are many blacksmiths, but the movie industry keeps them busy on prop work.
    So I’m just going to have to make my own stuff.

    RWW – there are always gas forges, which the HOA will never discover. The ‘hammer on anvil’ sound is an entirely different animal, however.

  • renaissanceww

    Hmm, I wonder how my homeowners association would feel about a coal forge in my backyard.

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