Graphical Construction Glossary >> Tools. >> Hand Tools >> Wing Compass

A drawing instrument used for drawing circles and arcs.
Wing Compass
A compass, often large, for scribing arcs and circles, with an arced wing that helps to steady the legs in use, and with a locking screw on the arc to hold the legs firmly in position.
A drawing instrument similar to a compass but with two points, Used for dividing lines and stepping off distances.

Two bronze compasses

A couple of sets of bronze compasses or dividers and a set square. Ancient Greek tools that are still being copied and used with little change today. These ones are on display in the Science Museum in London.

William Blake - the ancient of days
William Blake - "The ancient of days"

It is common for art historians and the like to talk about Blake's famous watercolour above as showing the architect of the universe using a compass. Of course they are not talking about the compass found in tech drawing sets. They are large tools used by building tradesmen for setting out work, often full size. So they can be called either dividers or compasses.

The masons that Blake would have known in his lifetime (1757 - 1827) would have been very familiar with these tools. When they were setting out full size drawings for their work they often made a flat slab of plaster to make their drawings on so the tools that they used would have been pointed on both ends.

a large compass
A large wing compass photographed at the 12Th century Cressing Temple Barns in Essex, UK. (The timber wall plate behind is about 10" x 10" and the vertical 8" x 8").

This large wrought iron compass could quite easily be a few hundred years old. Despite it's age this Wing Compass will still do the work it was built for. It will scribe a circle about 4ft diameter.
It can of course be used for other things than scribing arcs. It can be used for stepping off a series of equal spaces very quickly. It can by trial and error be used for dividing a line or arc into any number of equal parts. Anything larger than that then it is time to use a beam compass or trammel. The link here goes to a page that expands on the usefulness of these tools.

A small drawing compass and a small beam compass
A small drawing compass and a small beam compass
Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons, User: Peng

What we see above are a couple of drawing instruments. They are student grade and the use of these is usually confined to doing scale drawings. The small beam compass is tiny and it is something that I have not seen before.

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