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    Re: Refilling a compass
    From: Jared Sherman
    Date: 2004 Jun 23, 15:17 -0400

    Henry, in the states we generally refer to ethanol, isopropanol, and
    methanol as "alcohol".
    Whatever a trihydric alcohol may be...if you went into any pharmacy and
    asked for alcohol, you would be offered one of the above--but never
    Perhaps more to the point, when is the last time you knew of glycerine being
    professionally used in a compass?
    And if it is no longer in use, why was it phased out?
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Henry C. Halboth" 
    Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 2:37 PM
    Subject: Re: Refilling a compass
    Your dissertation on glycerin is a bit difficult to understand, since you
    allow that alcohol may be used in the magnetic wet compass. By definition
    glycerine is a trihydric alcohol, commonly referred to as glycerol and
    glycerine; further, as most modern compass manufacturers allude to
    "special" fluids being utilized in there compasses it would appear
    necessary to perform an analysis to be sure as to what constituents were
    actually included therein.
    I have no problem historically with allowing alcohol and water as the
    basic constituents of compass fluid or that petroleum distillates are now
    also used, but would respectfully invite your attention to glycerin and
    alcohol being alternately referred to in texts that apparently predate
    the experience of both your good self and that of your experts. Please
    refer to for starters only Knights Modern Seamanship, 10th edition, and
    Reisenberg's Standard Seamanship for the Merchant Service, 2nd edition,
    in both of which glycerin and water, and alcohol and water are referred
    to as floatation fluids for the magnetic compass card.
    For the benefit of those who have otherwise asked, I would quote from A
    Practical Manual of the Compass, US Naval Institute, 1921 edition, to the
    effect that "The bowl is entirely filled with liquid, 45% alcohol, and
    55% distilled water." My notes of some 60-years ago give the same
    proportions except that they employ the then alternately employed term
    glycerin instead of alcohol. Regardless,  I would not employ any home
    brew fluid to make up a deficiency in a modern compass without completely
    evacuating and thoroughly cleaning the bowl - or at least consulting the
    By the way Vodka and water seems to remain an uncontested alternative.
    On Wed, 23 Jun 2004 11:58:09 -0500 RSPeterson 
    > I've put myself out front on compass issues, so I best stand and
    > deliver.
    >  From no sources or my experience do I find any reference to using
    > glycerin and water as a compass fluid.  I've talked to the old guys
    > and
    > checked every compass reference known and nothing on glycerin/H2O.
    > And
    > I've never seen a compass come across my bench in almost 20 yrs that
    > contained same though I've seen some strange home-brew concoctions.
    > My
    > concern is that glycerin and water will freeze.  Historically, there
    > have been only two compass fluids: alcohol/H2O and petroleum
    > distillate.  And all modern compasses use petroleum derivatives.
    > That's
    > it.  If others have references, I would like to review them 'cause
    > this
    > is an unknown technology to me.
    > Ritchie was the first to develop the "wet-card" compass; previous to
    > that all compasses were "dry-card" compass of the British type.
    > Kelvin-White (later Danforth)  was the first to develop the
    > spherical
    > compass as against the Ritchie flat-top.
    > I would like to hear more.  This is a good time of the year for me
    > to
    > respond;  "Schoooools, OUT for summer!"
    > Thanks.  -- Bob Peterson
    > Courtney Thomas wrote:
    > > I'd appreciate your information regarding the proper mixture for a
    > > compass fluid.
    > >
    > > Thank you,
    > >
    > > Courtney Thomas
    > >
    > > Henry C. Halboth wrote:
    > >
    > >> It was my understanding that, starting from scratch, compass
    > fluid was a
    > >> proper mixture of glycerin and distilled water (my notes give the
    > >> correct
    > >> proportions if anyone is interested) - lacking that a good grade
    > of
    > >> Vodka
    > >> was always recommended as the fluid to get rid of a bubble. Many
    > years
    > >> ago there was always a problem with sailors tapping the compass
    > for a
    > >> surreptitious drink.
    > >>
    > --
    > Robert S. Peterson
    > 31 N Alfred, Elgin IL  60123  USA
    > 847/697-6491
    > Compass Adjusting & Repair for Lake Michigan Navigators Since 1985
    > Physics @ Bartlett HS
    > e-mail: rspeterson(at)wowway.com

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