View Full Version : A surveyor's compass I made for David Brinkley

07-08-2011, 10:54 PM

This is a copy of an 1802 surveyor's compass I was asked by Colonial Williamsburg to make for David Brinkley,the late news caster. He was head of the Raleigh Tavern Society,a group of large donors. They wanted to encourage him to stay for 1 more year as he was a big draw in that heavily social group.

The compass took 4 months of unrelenting work to make. Upper management always waited till beyond the last instant to throw a large job to the craftsmen. I think I got it ready a few days in advance.

The compass is made from 1/4"plate 260 brass. The sighting posts,and the heavy ring around the compass were cast from crude patterns I made. I chopped up 260 brass into chunks to keep the colors the same,and had the Geddy foundry cast the basic shapes. Then,I machined them.

The dial is dead silvered,like the original. This was done with a few small batteries and a wad of cotton dipped in plating solution,and lightly rubbed over the dial. The engraving as filled with black,as was the original. There is a graduated ring divided into 360 just inside the glass.

The engraving was done with hammer and chisel.

The needle is hardened and fire blued W1 steel. Originals had to be re magnetized at times by passing a lodestone over the top of the glass. Hardened steel holds magnetism better than soft.

I made the leveling vials from glass tubing. One end was melted shut,and a slight upwards curve bent into the tubes. Usually,the open ends were filled with putty,but over the years many old vials have leaked out. I did not want mine to ever leak out,so I sealed both ends melted shut. This was a bit of a trick to do,as the liquid just boiled out when heating the vials to seal them. I had drawn the open end to a thin neck and broken it off. I tried several fluids,settling on turpentine as it took the heat best,and melted the little necks shut. They can never leak. These vials are mounted under thin brass windows that conceal the ends of the vials.

The Screws are exact copies of the originals. They had sort of pan heads with built in little washers,very classy. The sighting posts are held on with knurled knobs with old style convex straight knurls that I made to match the originals.

There is a counter that cannot be seen well in the picture. Its numbers,and the numbers on the degree ring,are stamped with exact copies I made of the original numbers. I still have the number stamps.

Polishing this compass took 9 days of hand polishing with hand buffs. This is the only way of not blurring the little engraved grids on one of the compass arms,which the surveyor could make notes upon.

The original had a "working finish" on it. This being a presentation grade instrument,I polished it,leaving every detail crisp,cleaned it thoroughly with Stoddard solvent,and lacquered it with a gold toned lacquer,like many high class instruments like telescopes and microscopes were lacquered with in the 18th.C.. It is still done to brass horns today. Lacquer refers to a process,not the material.

The sighting post are unscrewed and stowed in the case. I made little swinging hold downs with little brass handles you can see in the picture. The hold downs are ebony. The case is lined with green broad cloth(pool table cloth). The escutcheon is ivory,and the case is walnut.

The size of the compass is about 14" long,and the original was made in Winchester,Va. by Chamblee in 1802.

David Brinkley collected scientific instruments. They chose this because he was "showing the way". (The way to donate!) This gift went well into 5 figures to produce.

I hope this picture works,as it is my first picture posting. Mr. Bulliss is welcome to use the image in his magazine if he wishes.

07-08-2011, 11:04 PM
Now THAT is truly something to behold! I have an ugly crinkle-grey Brunton pocket transit and can appreciate the workmanship involved. But that begs the question:- "Why did David Brinkley need a compass?" Surely he knew the way to the newsroom!

07-08-2011, 11:10 PM
That is very nice. Got any more close ups of you nice work.

J Tiers
07-08-2011, 11:22 PM
IIRC you made the box as well, correct?

Both are clearly the work of a true craftsman.

07-08-2011, 11:33 PM
VERY nice.

07-08-2011, 11:38 PM
With the last minute rush of this,and many other presentation gifts,as was usual,I was only able to get 1 picture made. Williamsburg wanted to display it for the last days before it was presented.

Yes,everything was made from scratch,even the swinging brass hooks you will see on other boxed items I made. I even had to make the lock to get a proper one.

07-08-2011, 11:49 PM
That is truly a work of art beyond words. Phenomenal!

07-08-2011, 11:54 PM
Thank all of you. Now,once I figure out how to post several pictures of different views of an item in the same posting,all will be well.

I have a MAC,if you give advice,it will be appreciated.

07-09-2011, 12:19 AM
Huzzah GW! Very well done. Having had several friends who have worked at CW over the years and hearing their stories relating to management, I understand where you're coming from on the tight deadlines. As others have already stated, this is a work of art. Mr. Brinkley should have been proud to receive this piece.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

07-09-2011, 12:45 AM
To the right of the image on your Photobucket page there are 4 small text windows. The bottom one is labeled "IMG code". Just click in that window. It will say "copied" in yellow. On a line by itself on your original post right click and select "Paste".

It should look exactly like this:


And the result will be this:


That is beautiful work.

07-09-2011, 01:51 AM
Thank you Evan!!! This crap worked,too!!:)

07-09-2011, 07:41 AM
OUTSTANDING craftsmanship!

07-09-2011, 08:47 AM
Beautiful workmanship,,,, Very interesting!!!

07-09-2011, 12:19 PM
Striking craftsmanship - do you happen to know if the compass is still held by the Brinkley family?

Paul Alciatore
07-09-2011, 12:33 PM
Beautiful work! I am sure he must have greatly valued it.

So, did the bribe work? Did he stay for another year?

07-09-2011, 01:46 PM
George, that is a masterpiece a cut above all the rest.


07-09-2011, 02:23 PM
He did stay for another year. Now that he has died,I have no idea where the compass is.

07-09-2011, 03:34 PM
Let's see a few of your other pieces George. I snuck a look while on your Photobucket page.

07-09-2011, 04:01 PM
I have not figured out how to post more than 1 picture at a time in spite of instructions given to me by Dragon in another thread.

Some of my items have more than 1 view. Any suggestions? I think photobucket is very cumbersome.

07-09-2011, 04:09 PM
You may include up to 4 images per post. Just do as I explained above with each IMG link on a separate line by itself. All you do is copy the IMG link from the photobucket page, switch to the forum post edit page and paste the link there. Then preview and adjust/comment until you are satisfied, then submit.

07-09-2011, 04:15 PM
So,you add images AFTER you have posted the original post,and go to edit to add more?

07-09-2011, 04:36 PM
Youu can do that but you can also put them in when writing the original post.

07-09-2011, 04:38 PM
I must be doing something wrong. I can't make it work.

07-09-2011, 06:01 PM

This is what you type to have your picture show up inside the thread.
Hmm the code command does not behave as I wish...

07-09-2011, 06:14 PM
Really fabulous work!!!!

The picture issue??

Here is a graphical description.

Make a post, write what you want. Then copy the IMG Code for the image you want to post.


Then paste the copied characters to the HSM post you are making or editing. Do the same for as many as four pictures in the one post. It will look like this...


Then submit the post or edited post. JR

07-10-2011, 09:34 AM
I'll try again to post multiple pictures when I recover from my spent efforts at trying to do so.

A.K. Boomer
07-10-2011, 10:10 AM
That is one piece of work :eek: totally flawless and I hope its in the hands of someone that appreciates it, there are talents and then there are masters and You Sir - are a master craftsman.

I do have a question - how does that lid close on that box? It looks like those vertical pieces are riveted to the base plate of the compass......... ?

George Barnes
07-10-2011, 12:31 PM
One thing that I haven't seen mentioned that helps when posting pictures from Photobucket is to go to File and open a new page and open up Photobucket there. Then when posting multiple pics, you can switch back and forth when copying the codes.

07-10-2011, 01:30 PM
George is using a MAC computer so the instructions given by me and others may not work as expected. If anyone knows how to do it using Safari now is the time to speak up.

07-10-2011, 02:16 PM
I tried again this A.M.. Still cannot post multiple pictures.

07-10-2011, 07:04 PM
Gosh, that's some beautiful work. Thanks for posting.

07-10-2011, 07:12 PM
George is using a MAC computer so the instructions given by me and others may not work as expected. If anyone knows how to do it using Safari now is the time to speak up.

George, if you have a fairly up-to-date Mac OS version and Safari version, here's how I post pics, typically:

1. Find the pic you want to post somewhere on the internet.

2. Put cursor over the pic, then "right click" your mouse (or click your mouse while holding down the OPT key if you have a one-button mouse) and when the drop-down menu pops up, highlight the line that says, "Copy Image Address" ... which will copy the URL of the image to your clipboard.

3. In the "forum posting" screen, click on the button that shows a mountain, and when the pop-up window appears, paste the URL from your clipboard into that window by hitting CTRL-V (for "Paste from Clipboard"), then close that window...

- or -

simply create the tags and and paste the URL between them by hitting CTRL-V.

Hope this helps.

07-10-2011, 07:29 PM
I know what the control button is,but what is V? You don't mean to just hold down the button for the letter V,do you?

Ron of Va
07-10-2011, 07:31 PM
Did you sign that piece of artwork? Will the next generations know that you are the one who made it? I hope so.

07-10-2011, 08:31 PM
Wow George, that (and the other projects) is so far beyond my skill that I shouldn't even degrade it with my compliment, but I'll offer it anyway. Fantastic work!

As for Ctrl+V, yes, that's exactly it. You press the CTRL key (the apple key on mac?) and hold it down while then pressing the "V" key. That is the short-cut keystroke for "Paste" on Windows, though not sure that works on a Mac.

07-10-2011, 08:37 PM
Ron,you can make out part of my name engraved in the silvered dial. Look at the enlarged picture Evan was so kind as to put up. Scroll down to it.

Thank you,Bad Dog. I'll give that a try.

07-10-2011, 09:14 PM
George, the recommendations above are correct, of course, but there's an easier way:

presuming Flash is enabled (and it is on any modern MacOS), when you move your mouse pointer over any image in your photobucket, four "Sharing" links will pop up: Email & IM, Direct Link, HTML Code, IMG Code.


If you double-click on the last link: "IMG Code" the link with show "Copied", and the IMG link is now in your cut buffer.

Then you and just paste it in the BBS reply window.

07-11-2011, 09:44 AM
Thanks to all for the kudos and computer advice. I am dead tired of trying to make Photobucket work. Soon I'll have some computer help here,and maybe can get things straightened out.

07-11-2011, 09:49 AM
That's a gobsmackingly awesome piece of work.

You could fill books with the techniques and steps required to create that.

Lord knows I'd own them.

07-11-2011, 09:56 AM
Lots of people have been urging me to do a book on another forum. I still need to get my slides made into decent photographs. Thing is,I was NEVER a good photographer. When I was young,it just took more time than I wanted to give it. Now that I'm retired,I wish I had given it more time. I probably didn't shoot 10% of my work.

Any professional quality pictures of my work were taken by the Audio Visual Dept. in the museum,some by my wife. Bad ones by me.

07-11-2011, 10:10 AM
I just love the idea of a single book (or series) that's the soup to nuts of something elaborate like that. A true deep study. Starting with a couple machines 6 months ago at 41, I am not so deluded to think I'd be able to approach that level of workmanship in this lifetime. But such a publication would be positively riveting.

A.K. Boomer
07-11-2011, 10:18 AM
Lots of people have been urging me to do a book on another forum. I still need to get my slides made into decent photographs. Thing is,I was NEVER a good photographer. When I was young,it just took more time than I wanted to give it. Now that I'm retired,I wish I had given it more time. I probably didn't shoot 10% of my work.

Any professional quality pictures of my work were taken by the Audio Visual Dept. in the museum,some by my wife. Bad ones by me.

No book needed - I just want to know how you get the lid closed ? Please. thanks

07-11-2011, 11:13 AM
The sighting posts are removed and stowed flat in the case. Too dark for you to see where they are stowed.

A.K. Boomer
07-11-2011, 01:25 PM
oh - those must be screws then - they look allot like rivets - I can't remember the last time I seen anything so polished and precision looking.

07-11-2011, 01:41 PM
The ends of the screws can be seen from this top view. The nice knurled grips are underneath,and not visible in this one picture. The photographer was too busy to take other views.

07-11-2011, 02:08 PM
Let's start with something small. How did you make the spirit level?

07-11-2011, 02:32 PM
The process is described in the initial written material,Evan.

A bit long,but I tried to cover questions that would arise.

07-11-2011, 02:54 PM
Sorry, I missed that. If this instrument were compared to an original would it be possible to tell the difference on close inspection?

07-11-2011, 03:55 PM
The reproduction has a better finish on it. I mentioned that the original had a "working" finish on it,where you could still see marks from the lathe. It's case was a hollowed out 2 piece poplar case,hollowed out to rather roughly fit the instrument. Not as bulky as this case either. It had to be carried on horseback into the wilderness,so the case was form fitting. Just stained a dark color on the outside,no leather or anything fancy.

Even so,the original instrument would have been terribly expensive back then.

A well bound,but not exceptional book cost the equivalent of $2000.00 in Colonial times. This instrument must have cost as much as a car does now in those days.

07-13-2011, 06:43 AM
...I was NEVER a good photographer. When I was young,it just took more time than I wanted to give it.

After seeing examples of your craftsmanship, I somehow find that hard to believe, sir!

07-13-2011, 09:37 AM
You will believe it when I put up photos I took myself!!:) My present digital camera doesn't auto focus reliably. Canon SD 890 IS. Wife says it is obsolete,though only 3-4 years old. Not a thing I can do about it,all automatic.

07-18-2011, 08:36 PM
I saw this originally on Saw Mill Creek. Dang, it still looks fantastic! I can only dream of your skills.