The humble drafting compass has come a long way from that rudimentary two-armed tool you may have used in your first geometry class. Many available today are fitted with extra joints and interchangeable parts to offer users greater utility and better stability. Whether you are trying to draw perfect circles or achieve precise measurements in your drafting projects, you need a reliable instrument that will stay in place and allow you to work efficiently. Our picks will help you choose the best tool for your needs.
1. Staedtler Comfort Compass
For precision, ease of use, and flexibility, this German brand’s compass is the best all-around option. It’s made of zinc and plastic, but don’t let that latter material dissuade you. This is a sturdy tool with a satisfying weight, and it’s easy to move in graceful arcs without its anchor point slipping. You can set your desired radial length either by turning a central wheel to slowly move the arms or by pushing two sliding buttons for faster adjustment. The lower half of each arm can also be bent inward so you can widen them while keeping their points perpendicular to the paper surface. This compass comes with a lead attachment (and extra leads) as well as an adapter that grips writing implements as thick as a standard Sharpie.
2. Mr. Pen Professional Compass
This compass comes with a lot of intimidating-looking doodads, but it’s actually very user-friendly and offers some nice features at an excellent price. The basic structure is similar to Staedtler’s: two arms—one with a lead and one with a point—that are adjustable with a wheel or with a quick-release button. You can also angle the bottom of the arms for less awkward circle-making, although they can get a little loose and bend unexpectedly. The compass does come with a little screwdriver, though, so you can tweak all joints to your desired settings. The lead tip can be swapped out for an adapter that fits a range of pens and pencils, or you can attach an included extender that allows you to draw even bigger circles. Note that it’s best to use a light touch, as this arm can be a little wobbly.
3. Alvin Introductory Bow Compass
If you want a reliable compass without the bells and whistles, consider this option from Alvin, a leading manufacturer of drawing tools. You get one arm with a sharp needle and one with a replaceable lead tip, and both are made of unbendable silver zinc with fiberglass heads. Adjust them with the simple turn of a wheel to create circles between ⅛ and 12 inches in diameter. Solidly made and resistant to slipping, this is a perfectly utilitarian tool that will last you a long time.
4. Offidea Woodworking Compass
Sometimes you just need to draw massive circles. This is a heavy-duty compass built for demanding projects, and it’s perfect for drafting giant circles and arches all day long. Made of a thick carbon steel and with a sizable length of 12 inches, it won’t skip or slide out of your control. The arms simply pull open or close, and a locking mechanism keeps them firmly in place. One arm has a holder for screwing in pencils and pens, and the other has a point with good tooth to stay put on surfaces from wood to leather.
5. Rotape Tape Compass
This option combines a compass with a tape measure to ensure you get precise circles every time. One end of the retractable tape—which features both metric and imperial markings—features a holder with a short piece of lead, so you simply pull it out to your desired length, anchor it in place, and draw. The main body is held in place with a sharp pin, which you do have to push into your drawing surface, but the hole it makes is minimal. One other downside is that you have to use the included lead and find same-size replacements, as the holder does not adapt to fit standard pens and pencils. It also takes some practice with larger circles as the tape is flexible, but this system enables you to draw some astounding circles, with the tape extending out to 6 feet.