Telescope making
June 4, 2008 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Mark VandeWettering makes telescopes, and has written a set of guides for those who would like to build their own. Francis O'Reilly has made a similar set of guides, except as a series of videos.
posted by Upton O'Good (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

SOUND WARNING for next link (Also Sprach Zarathustra)
posted by spock at 10:32 PM on June 4, 2008

Amateur telescope tinkerers are awesome. My batty uncle took me to an amateur astronomers' convention when I was a little kid, and I will never forget the guy who brought his gorgeous handmade wood and brass telescope which had custom ground lenses to correct for his own severe astigmatism. The whole thing had a very elliptical cross-section. All that work and he's the only dude in the world who can see anything through it.

I can't find it on The Google but in retrospect it was steampunktacular, both in aesthetics and in ethos.
posted by mindsound at 10:44 PM on June 4, 2008

The biggest telescope I've ever had a chance to look through was a handbuilt Dobsonian mount. Something like 22" of primary mirror. I got to see Orion, the Crab Nebula, and the rings of Saturn so close I could almost count them - if it wasn't for the planetary rotation and the non-motorized nature of Dobsonian scopes. Thankfully, Dobsonians drift easily. No climbing up and down ladders to fiddle geared knobs. Just grab it and move it around to where you want it.

The price it cost him to build it was mostly in the cost of the mirror blanks. The total price was much less than 1000 USD at the time, if I recall correctly, something like under 700 USD, including the hardware, mirror and lens mounts, etc.

Granted, the thing was made out of electrical conduit tubing, cardboard, MDF, a lazy susan bearing plate and some teflon strips, more or less.

Telescopes of that size used to cost so, so much more. Before Dobson came and invented his cheap little big 'scopes not so long ago, a custom built 20+ inch reflecting telescope, mount and optics used to be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And you couldn't break them down and pack them in the trunk of your car.
posted by loquacious at 11:05 PM on June 4, 2008

I have actually done this, and it requires a lot of time, money, and patience. It is easier to buy your own mirror (I built a truss-tube reflecting Dobsonian), as it is difficult to grind parabolic optics by hand. There are a lot of interesting machine-shop junkies that make specialized parts for the things, including some really beautiful aluminum focusing mechanisms and "finder-scopes," which help you find nebulae and star clusters.

I had a lot of fun, learned a great deal about optics and now have a fabulous tool for astronomy. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to put in the time.
posted by roygbv at 11:36 PM on June 4, 2008

Nice post. Always wanted to do this and now I have one less excuse.
posted by archaic at 3:39 AM on June 5, 2008

I also made a simple, boxy dobsonian. Purchased optics, made everything else. It's pretty sweet, although I rarely use it. Astronomy is more fun in theory and without mosquitos.
posted by DU at 4:16 AM on June 5, 2008

I built a copyscope a couple of years ago, I think I spent a total of about $30 making it, and it works almost as well as a friends $1000 telescope.

But I'm with DU on this, mosquitoes are the enemy of a pleasant night stargazing.
posted by quin at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2008

Oh man, if only I could use my machine shop at work for projects like this. Come to think of it, I need a project to work on, but I think this may be a little elaborate and expensive at the moment.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2008

Such things would not be possible if it wasn't for John Dobson and his Dobsonian (or 'light bucket') telescopes along with the Sidewalk Astronomers Club

John still teaches classes on how to grind your own lens.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:53 PM on June 5, 2008

1) Oh man, I wish I'd known about copyscopes 3 years ago. Woulda saved me $X.

2) Oh man, if only I had a machine shop. Oh and hey, Des Moines! I used to live in Prairie City. So tiny that even a Des Moinester may not have heard of it....
posted by DU at 5:37 PM on June 5, 2008

My teenage son Ted and I ground a ten-inch mirror and it was very satisfying and also surprisingly easy. John Dobson was showing the sky through one of his scopes on our street, and he sold us the blank (well, gave really; I think he took only ten dollars) and gave us instruction sheets and design. Thank you John for a happy time! It's good to know he's still teaching.

Unfortunately we never quite finished the mirror --the figuring was tricky, and we didn't get as far as having the mirror silvered-- so we never quite completed building the telescope although all the parts were assembled and even painted.

Eventually after several moves all the parts were left behind; I don't know where the mirror went but now I'm hankering to start again. Maybe a bit bigger than ten inches this time. It really isn't difficult!
posted by anadem at 7:09 PM on June 5, 2008

Ahhh markv! One of the nicest guys I know. He's also the only guy I know where you can join him for lunch discussing with friends the feasibility of launching their own satellite, and they're seriously discussing the feasibility of launching their own satellite .
posted by lucidprose at 7:17 PM on June 5, 2008

As a little side note, Mark is quite the coder as well and wrote a pretty nice free ray tracer.
posted by plinth at 7:56 AM on June 6, 2008

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