Welcome to Mike's Telescope Workshop
Astronomical instruments and innovations from my workshop.

I have been involved in amateur telescope making (ATM) for over 20 years. In that time I have built many different telescopes and other instruments. This web page chronicles just a few of them. ATM is a great and very rewarding hobby. You can build a better telescope than you can buy. After you build your first telescope you'll never buy another mass-produced scope. You'll be hooked for life. It's really not as complicated as some people think. It's easier than brain surgery and learning how to speak Spanish and people still do those things every day! Click on the photos for more information on the various projects.

The Projects

An edge grinding machine for telescope mirror blanks. Since I've been casting my own telescope mirror blanks for several years now. I finally decided it was time to build a machine to help me grind the edges of the blanks true and round. This is my home-built edge grinding machine for grinding down my home-cast mirror blanks.

Click to see the whole project.

A finished honeycomb back telescope mirror blank. This is a 12.5 inch diameter, 1.5 inch thick, light-weight honeycomb-back telescope mirror blank that I made myself. The blank only weighs 10 lbs, 4 oz. I am very excited about this process. It makes nice looking and very light blanks. Click the photo to see how I did it.

Click on the photo to see how I made it.

A finished cellular telescope mirror blank. This is a 12.5 inch diameter, 1.5 inch thick, light-weight telescope mirror blank that I made myself. The blank only weighs 11 lbs, 15 oz. This is a process I call The Waffle-Back Design, because the finished mirror blank looks like a big waffle. I have pretty much abandoned this design in favor of the honeycomb design above.

Click on the photo to see how I made it.

A large equatorial platform for a big Dob I have been experimenting with making telescope mirror blanks by fusing together disks of thin glass in my kiln to make the full thickness blanks. I am having quite a bit of success with this project. Check out how I do it.



Click on the photo for more information on how I do it.

A large equatorial platform for a big Dob Here is my latest creation, fresh out of the workshop. It's a large and sturdy equatorial platform for the 17.5 inch Dobsonian telescope. It gives me 40 minutes of tracking time. The platform was surprisingly easy to build. It only took a couple of weeks and it works great.



Click on the photo for more information on how it works.

The Planet Saturn I'm getting interested in astrophotoghaphy again after many years of avoiding it like the plague. Cheap web cams are making it easy to capture images of brighter objects without a lot of the hassle that I used to have to go through with film photography. They can't do faint nebulae and galaxies, yet, but they do a pretty good job on planets. This is a photo of Saturn taken on 03/04/06, using the 16 inch Meade SCT at the Carol Samuels Observatory, at prime focus (4000mm fl) using a Philips ToUcam. It's a 500 frame video capture stacked with RegiStax. The seeing was exceptionally fine that night and only minimal post-processing was needed to bring out the detail in the cloud bands on the planet.

An 8in. f/4.5 Newtonian telescope on a ball mounting This is the "Cookie Jar" telescope. It is an 8in. f/4.5 Newtonian scope on a ball mounting. The truss design reduces the weight of the upper section and helps keep the center of gravity low. The short focal length keeps the eyepiece low to the ground even at zenith, making the Cookie Jar a very "kid friendly" telescope. The ball mounting allows smooth movement in azimuth, altitude and rotation.

Click on the photo for more information.

A 17.5in. f/4.5 Dobsonian telescope This is the 17.5in. f/4.5 Dobsonian telescope I built for the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club. The scope was designed and built to be rugged and easily transportable. It collapses into a cube that can be moved easily by one person once its wheels are strapped on. One person can setup or breakdown the scope in about 10 minutes. The scope even maintains reasonable collimation from setup to setup.

UPDATE! I have refinished and remodeled this scope. Click the photo to see new pictures.

A 4.25 in. Newtonian telescope with a wooden tube This is a 4.25 in. Newtonian reflector with a wooden tube. I designed it to be a matching finder scope for the 17.5 in. Dob above. I decided that something larger than the little 50 mm refractor I had been using as a finder would be helpful in hunting down faint objects. But I wanted the new finder to look like it belonged on the 17.5 in. Dob.

Click on the photo for more information.

An 8in. f/6 Dobsonian telescope This 8in. f/6 Dobsonian telescope is one of several nearly identical scopes built from the same set of jigs for some of my friends. Several of my friends asked me if I could design and build scopes for them that had all the features they wanted but could not find in the mass-produced scopes. The design goals were to create a scope that was beautiful but functional, and lightweight yet rugged.

Click on the photo for more information.

A home-built solar camera This is a solar camera I built out of an old 70mm refractor and some PVC pipe and an old Pentax K1000 camera. I also made my own solar filter. For a quickly thrown together camera made from improvised parts it works very well.

Click on the photo for more information and to see photos taken with this camera.

A gallery of telescope designs Click the blueprint to visit my growing gallery of "paper telescopes." These are telescope designs that I haven't gotten around to building yet because I lack either the skills or the time to execute them. Designing them is an interesting intelectual exercise though, and maybe someday at least some of them will get built.

Click on the image to go to the "paper telescope" page.

Photo of mars taken with a modified web cam This is a photo of Mars taken about a week and a half past the closest opposition in 60,000 years. The photo was taken with a web cam I modified for astrophotography. The photo shows a wealth of detail including, Syrtus Major, the Hellas Basin, Hellespontus, Sabaeus Sinus, Meridini Sinus, and of course the very prominent South Polar Cap. Not bad for a cheap web cam. Click the photo for more information.



A homebuilt astrographic camera This is an astrographic camera I built many years ago using the lens out of an old Opaque Projector and a Polaroid oscilloscope camera. It produced instant, large-format astrophotos.

Click on the photo for more information.

A quick and easy to build binocular stand This is a quick and easy binocular stand I whipped together out of found materials and my photographic tripod. It adjusts so it can be used while sitting or standing. Anyone can easily make one like it.

Click on the photo for more information.



Information sources

A couple of common questions I get asked a lot by people are where can I buy telescope parts (mirrors, mirror cells, focusers, etc.) and what sort of reference works are available on telescope making?

Parts

Here are some links to the web sites and contact info for companies selling telescope parts:

  • Willmann-Bell, Inc.
  • - Willmann-Bell sells mirror making kits as well as lots of books on telescope design and construction, plus lots of general amateur astronomy books and other reference materials.

  • Newport Glass
  • - An industrial glass supplier that carries telescope mirror blanks from tiny to immense in size. They also have all sorts of other useful products and information.

  • Orion Telescopes
  • - They carry telescope mirrors, focusers, spiders, eyepieces, etc. They also have a large selection of finished telescopes and accessories.

  • Murnaghan Instruments Corp.
  • - Formerly Coulter Optical. These folks carry a large selection of telescope mirrors and parts, as well as telescope kits and lots of accessories.

  • Kenneth Novak & Co. - Box 69T, Ladysmith, WI 54848, 715-532-5102 Generally regarded as one of, if not the, best makers of mirror cells, spiders, and other mechanical parts. My 17.5 in. DOB uses many Novak parts.

  • Edmund Scientific Inc. - Complete telescopes and all sorts of parts and optical stuff.

  • McMaster-Carr Inc. - Not specifically a supplier of telescope parts, but these people sell almost everything under the Sun. Their printed catalog is almost 6 inches thick! A great place to find nuts, bolts, knobs, sheet metal, tubing, and all sorts if hard to find doo-dads any amateur telescope maker may need.

  • - There are always lots of telescope parts for sale on . You can find deals on telescope mirrors & blanks, focusers, eyepieces and even whole scopes, telescope parts and books. Check often.

Books & Magazines

Here are some good reference books on telescope making and amateur astronomy. These are all books that I personally own or have borrowed from friends or The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club's library.


  • Amateur Telescope Making

    Amateur Telescope Making offers a variety of designs for telescopes, mounts and drives which are suitable for the home-constructor. The designs range from simple to advanced, but all are within the range of a moderately well-equipped home workshop. The book not only tells the reader what he can construct, but also what it is sensible to construct given what time is available commercially. Thus each chapter begins with reasons for undertaking the project, then looks at theoretical consideration before finishing with practical instructions and advice. An indication is given as to the skills required for the various projects.

  • Reflecting Telescope Optics I: Basic Design Theory and Its Historical Development

    This is the first volume of a monumental work that is intended to give a complete treatment of reflecting telescope optics. It addresses the specialists in the field, both in the astronomical community and in industry. Consequently, subjects such as practical alignment, test techniques, and maintenance aspects occupy a significant part. Whereas the second volume will concentrate on technical aspects and modern developments, this book is devoted to the theory of reflecting telescope optics and with its historical development it should also be useful to students.

  • Reflecting Telescope Optics II: Manufacture, Testing, Alignment, Modern Techniques

    This concluding volume is concerned with modern developments in telescope optics, i.e., since 1980. In the last twenty years, modern technology has revolutionized not only manufacturing and test procedures, but also the whole area of quality specification with the introduction of active control into the functioning telescope. Other subjects treated are alignment of telescope optics, atmospheric optics, reflecting coatings and ancillary equipment (adapters and baffles). Although an independent work, Vol. II is heavily cross-referenced with Vol. I

  • Astronomical Optics

    This book provides a unified treatment of the characteristics of telescopes of all types, both those whose performance is set by geometrical aberrations and the effect of the atmosphere, and those diffraction-limited telescopes designed for observations from above the atmosphere. The emphasis throughout is on basic principles, such as Fermat's principle, and their application to optical systems specifically designed to image distant celestial sources.

  • How to Use an Astronomical Telescope

    Astronomy has never been a more popular pastime than it is today. The increased availability of less expensive, more powerful, and more sophisticated telescopes has given rise to a new generation of stargazers. And for these beginning astronomers here is the comprehensive book covering everything from the difficult task of selecting an instrument to the equally daunting choices that arise when a telescope is turned to the heavens.

  • Astrophotography for the Amateur

    Astrophotography for the Amateur provides a complete guide to taking pictures of stars, galaxies, the Moon, the Sun, comets, meteors and eclipses, using equipment and materials readily available to the hobbyist. Based on suggestions from readers of the first edition, the new edition has been completely updated and expanded to include new chapters on computer image processing and CCD imaging; expanded advice on choosing cameras and telescopes; completely updated information about films; a much larger bibliography; and hundreds of new photographs (in color and black and white) demonstrating the latest equipment and techniques. Astrophotography for the Amateur has become the standard handbook for all amateur astronomers. This new edition provides an ideal introduction for beginners and a complete handbook for advanced amateurs. It will also appeal to photography enthusiasts who will discover how to take spectacular images with only modest equipment.

  • Telescopes and Techniques: An Introduction to Practical Astronomy

    An easy-to-read book explaining how to use a small telescope and find your way around the sky. Covering all the basic topics - telescopes, optics, positions and motion, observing, and instruments - Telescopes and Techniques has been designed as an introduction for anyone wanting a firm grounding in the essentials of astronomy. Whether you are an amateur astronomer, an undergraduate student, or just someone who wants to learn more about this fascinating subject, Telescopes and Techniques is an ideal place to start.
  • Sky & Telescope Magazine

  • Astronomy Magazine
Also check your local public library. There are many excellent books on amateur telescope making that are out of print but can still be found in libraries.

Links

Here are some useful and interesting links to other sources of information on astronomy and amateur telescope making.

I would be happy to answer as many questions as time permits that other ATMs may have about how these scopes were built. I can be reached by email at: mdavis19@ix.netcom.com


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Other places to visit:

[Mike's home page]    [Mike's home-built jet engine page]

[Mike's home-built wind turbine page]    [Mike's meteorite collection]

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