When you enjoy using your telescope to look at the night sky, you are bound, one day, to decide that you want a second telescope. You may have “aperture fever” to gather more light, to see more. Or you may have a reflector and want to complement it with a refractor. Big vs. small. Stationary vs. portable. Sketching vs. astrophotography. There are many reasons you will (and you will) consider having a second telescope.
Almost a year ago, I bought my first “real” telescope, a 127mm Maksutov-Cassegrain. It is relatively small in the overall scale of telescopes, but I did not want to buy too much in case I quickly lost interest. But I did not lose interest, and really enjoyed using it to view the Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and the Sun (with appropriate solar filter). I have also used it to view deep space objects like the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters, and nebulae. Although the latter are viewable, it is clear to me that my small 5-inch Mak-Cass is primarily intended for solar system observations.
After a few months, I decided to investigate getting a second telescope that (1) had a noticeably larger aperture and (2) would specialize in viewing deep sky objects. I immediately understood that the most obvious trade-off would be in size and weight. If I desire, I can take my 127mm Mak-Cas anywhere with minimal effort. But something far bigger would likely require greater setup and planning to transport, even just from my house into my yard.
I also wanted to at least leave the door open for astrophotography. With the Mak-Cass, I use the afocal method to take pictures. Afocal photography is just a fancy term for holding a camera up to an eyepiece (versus the more sophisticated method of bypassing the eyepiece and using a proper T-ring or other adapter for a DSLR camera). I have a few afocal adapters that allow me to take pictures with my smartphone; most of the pictures on this blog were taken afocally.
After reviewing the major types of telescopes, I was leaning towards a Newtonian reflector, specifically a “Dob” or Dobsonian. I will blog about the Dob’s namesake, John Dobson, in a future post. Reflectors in general are the most economical per size, and are intended solely for night use (since the images appear upside down, you can’t really use them for terrestrial applications). They are also primarily intended for eyepiece viewing, versus photography, but some sort of photography method is entirely possible if you want to.
I went down the path of reviewing Dobs from the major telescope companies (there are three primary ones in the U.S.A. – Celestron, Meade, and Orion). During my investigations into price and features, somehow I came across the idea of building a homemade telescope, from scratch. This intrigued me, as I had built a few other projects around the house before, even though I am not a craftsman by trade nor do I have any type of workshop (except for the half of my garage that becomes a de facto workshop when I do one of these projects).
If you search online for homemade telescopes, you will see a wide range of designs and efforts. Some look crazy. Some are well beyond anything I would attempt. But others seemed far more modest and manageable to execute. After a lot more research, I decided to give it a go. I figured that a telescope, after all, is ultimately a technology hundreds of years old, so with the right planning and designs, it should not be too difficult for anybody like me to build one.
And building a telescope, I thought, would come with a great sense of accomplishment.
So I intend to write about my telescope building experience. I will not write a “how to” guide, as there are a number of perfectly acceptable guides on the Internet, as I will reference. Instead of a step-by-step chronology, I plan to give insights into my efforts over the several months it took to plan and build. When I am done, you will probably have a adequate idea anyway of how I built my 10-inch Newtonian reflector on its Dobsonian mount.
In my next telescope build post, I will discuss one of the first major decisions – whether to build or buy the primary mirror.