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In Minecraft, it's useful to know which way is north in order to determine how to manipulate mine cart tracks. Usually, people keep track of which way is north by placing torches on the northern walls of their mine shafts. How can you initially determine which direction you are facing? (Above ground)

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The sun may rise in the Easy at least it settles in a finer location ... – Sadly Not Mar 10 '11 at 21:05

10 Answers 10

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Above ground, you can use the sun or moon to orient yourself. They both rise in the east and set in the west. Also, according to an answer here, you can punch the ground, and the pattern of cracks will always be oriented the same way relative to north.

Finally, there are third-party mapper programs that you can use to orient yourself (although I haven't used any and can't vouch for them). Some players might consider this cheating, or at least unsporting.

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Whoops didn't notice the question you linked; I think my question might be a duplicate. – Kevin Yap Oct 9 '10 at 18:47
@Kevin, it's not :) – badp Oct 9 '10 at 18:52
In versions prior to beta 1.9.4 (and the XBox version), the Sun rises at the "top of the map". So either you are holding the map with North on the left (unconventional), or the Sun actually rises in the North and sets in the South! – BradC Jun 13 '12 at 19:54

Using cobblestone, there is an "L" shape in the block looking at it from the top. When the "L" is in the top left corner and right side up, then you are facing north.

Please refer to this awesome paint diagram.

enter image description here

Note: Once seen, can not be unseen.

Also works on netherrack.

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+1, due to the availability of cobblestone, this is a much better answer than most of the others. It's what I use. – zzzzBov May 24 '11 at 22:44
I think this is the best method of determining north. It works when you can't see the sun, only requires common materials, and works even in the nether. – Joe Dovahkiin May 25 '11 at 4:56
1.8 update: Jeb has announced a new texture for cobblestone, which means the 'L' method will no longer work. No change has been announced for the netherrack texture, though, so this method may still work with netherrack. – Joe Dovahkiin Jun 30 '11 at 19:15
The new cobblestone texture has appeared in 1.7, and it still has an 'L', although the 'L' is now in the top right of the block. – Joe Dovahkiin Jul 1 '11 at 23:08

In addition to what sjohnston said, clouds always move west.

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This to me is the easiest way. – The Communist Duck May 25 '11 at 11:34
Clouds move towards west since a long time ago. – Alvin Wong Jul 13 '13 at 8:52
@AlvinWong Thanks! I haven't played Minecraft in quite a while, so I didn't realize this changed. I've updated my answer. – StrixVaria Jul 13 '13 at 10:48

A great trick is to use redstone ore. When you place down the redstone, there is a cross shape on the block. On two of the 4 arms, there are rectangle shapes. When you orient yourself so that one of the rectangles is to the left and one is in the front, you're facing north.

alt text

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Can you give us a picture of what this looks like? – StrixVaria Nov 9 '10 at 21:43
I'll insert it for you. – StrixVaria Nov 9 '10 at 22:09
thank you very much :D – Nick H Nov 9 '10 at 23:10
Brant user posted this in the chat: It shows how you can use the Cobblestone and Hellstone texture to orient yourself. But be careful! What is seen can't be unseen! – Denilson Sá Nov 13 '10 at 12:36
This no longer works, as the redstone texture has been changed. – Resorath Dec 15 '11 at 23:04

Press F3 to get the debug menu, then look under the x, y, z coordinates and see the letter "f". This gives you the direction you're facing (0 south, 1 west, 2 north, 3 east).

If you need more help then you can also go to the Minecraft wiki and look up anything you may need.

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The current answers are excellent. You could also try Zan's Minimap Mod, which works in both SSP and SMP. However, since Minecraft 1.6 is releasing this week, and one of the new features is going to be a map, this mod may become obsolete very soon.

You can also set waypoints with it.

Minimap, displaying direction

EDIT: Since the maps of Minecraft 1.6 are virtually useless, I've just installed the new update for this mod, which now displays coloured wool as the appropriate colour, and as a bonus, no longer requires Modloader to install. I'll also include a video of the mod in action.

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Handheld maps, mind. If people aren't able to read the maps (and thus orient themselves) mods like this will still be better, and will probably remain simpler to use to boot. – Raven Dreamer May 25 '11 at 0:20

There is a program called cartographer, and if you build an arrow on the ground and then load your map in cartographer, you can see what direction your arrow is pointing...

But if you know the direction of the sun moon and clouds, you can then orient yourself from there.

Consider building landmarks to keep yourself oriented quickly

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The compass with point towards your spawn point, not north or south. Still a nice tool though.

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A nice tool that doesn't answer the asker's question :) – badp May 25 '11 at 10:23
+1 A modded compass, however, does point North. Else you can still deduct it... – Tom Wijsman May 28 '11 at 1:06

If you have a few minecart tracks available, you can use the south-west rule to orient yourself. There are two ways:

Orienting yourself using cross-intersections (and a minecart)

You need one minecart and at least 5 track pieces.

Lay out two cross-intersections (or lay out one, destroy, and lay out the second). Then, put a minecart on it, push the minecart and watch the direction it moves when hitting the cross.

Look at this image from Minecraft wiki to understand what I mean.

Orienting yourself using T-intersections

You need 4 track pieces.

The T-intersections also try to follow the south-west rule when they are laid out on the ground. If they are unpowered (no button or redstone powering the T), the curve will try to point to south-west. So, if you lay out two T-intersections, you can orient yourself.

Look at this image from Minecraft wiki to understand what I mean.

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You can make a compass. With that, and a combinations of useful signs, you can have great exploration adventures without fear of losing your home base.

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I don't see how the recipe for a compass is a spoiler. – StrixVaria Nov 9 '10 at 22:10
There's a player on a multiplayer server I'm on that wants to discover all the recipes himself without being told or looking them up. To him, it would be a spoiler! So I like to error on the side of caution. :) – patrickgamer Nov 11 '10 at 16:15
But the compass don't point north. Instead, it points to your spawn. If you have a mine under your spawn, it will confuse you more than help. – Denilson Sá Nov 12 '10 at 11:15
he is finding what direction he is facing, not towards his spawn point. – user8949 May 25 '11 at 9:34

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