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Tom How

DIY homemade telescope mount project

90 posts in this topic

For many years I’ve enjoyed imaging with an old second hand Meade LXD55 telescope mount. Sooner or later an upgrade was going to happen.

I like doing things in a unconventional manner, so I decided to try building my own telescope mount for astrophotography instead of going out and buying one. I’ve made all manner of astrophotography gear in the past with varying degrees of success. A camera kit, my own focuser, my own OAG, lots of different adapters etc, but a telescope mount is a giant project compared to anything I’d done before.

I’m not very fast when it comes to building things. I like to take long pauses for thought. Often sufficiently long to forgot what I was thinking about in the first place. As a consequence, this project has been pottering along for a few years now, but this summer I’ve eventually got the thing in the shed and polar aligned.

The main benefit of building a mount yourself is the satisfaction factor - probably on a par with using a mirror you’ve made yourself. The pleasure derived from an image which involves even a tiny bit of DIY kit is many times that which is gained by using commercial kit. I find it far more interesting and fun to try making something instead of going out and buying the same EQ6 that everybody else owns.

I can’t easily compare it to commercial mounts. Making your own telescope mount is a completely different approach to solving the problem. Commercial solutions suit those with little time on their hands whereas making your own suits people who are totally barmy (more so than the average astrophotographer). It is difficult to even estimate the load capacity. I wouldn’t have a clue how to design a mount for a specific load capacity. Designing is not the word. You work out how to make these things as you go. I just aimed for “strong” most of time.

With projects like this, the design has to be sympathetic to the tools you have available. There is no point aiming for 20 inch worm wheels on a 7 inch lathe. You also have to work within your skill set. I don’t have any engineering training, I’m a computer programmer in real life. I don’t have a workshop full of CNC machine tools: I have a manual tabletop lathe in a corner that you can buy on Ebay for a few hundred quid. Therefore I’ve probably done all sorts of things wrong according to the experts in the field, but if I was an expert at this, it would rather defeat the purpose.

Most of the major components are machined by me from aluminium plate and billet plus a few bits of steel and brass as required. The worm wheels and gears are all homemade, but the motors are a Meade DS motor kit controlled by Autostar (and thus easy GOTO). Various things have been purchased such as bearings. The smaller parts are anodised at home, and the larger bits are simply painted to look nice. A longer description and other photos of the mount can be found here.

Homemade GEM german equatorial telescope mount - how I made my own DIY mount for astrophotography

The proof of the pudding is in the imaging. There is little point me posting some pictures of a complicated metal contraption without some results to prove that my efforts haven’t been entirely wasted.

I’ve only just got beyond setup and aligning, but I could resist squeezing off a 30 minute frame. More details on the first light image and my other antics can be seen here. Still lots of tweaking to do but hopefully we are getting there.

Astronomy, Astrophotography and Telescope Blog » Homemade telescope mount is polar aligned and first proper light

A rather poor gallery of various construction photos is here (needs tarting up a some point)

Homemade telescope mount

Tom

post-20774-133877612874_thumb.jpg

post-20774-133877612879_thumb.jpg

Edited by MikeP
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Well done Tom :) That's a lovely job. And I understand the satisfaction of using something you've made yourself. I find doing that very satisfying. I much prefer to make something than buy it ready made. I have sometimes bought something (weather station is an example) then gone on to build my own having gained the knowledge from the bought item. I too have been a professional programmer and now just do a bit for myself. I really like to get down to the basics of things and would love to have the facilities to build a motorised mount from scratch like you.

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Tom - I think you've excellently captured the joy to be had by making your own kit!

It looks a great mount you've made there, as shown by your excellent first image. I'm very envious.

I think I need to get myself a small lathe. I'm getting fed-up having to make everything out of wood!

Cheers

Kevin

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I think I need to get myself a small lathe. I'm getting fed-up having to make everything out of wood!
Oh yes, absolutely! What I want too :) My Dad used to have one, too many decades ago to mention. He showed me how to use it and I made a few small things.

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I am in awe. We have some real talents on this forum.

Mike

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Tom,

That is excellent well done, I have made a couple of GEM's myself some years ago, but not quite upto your standard. You are quite right, nothing can live upto the thrill of using self made kit for observing/imaging, the connection between yourself and the universe is so much more meaningful.

John

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There's a nice lathe on eBay, near Minehead, but the bids have already gone past what I can afford. I guess I couldn't justify the cost anyway for the amount I'm likely to use it.

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There's a nice lathe on eBay, near Minehead, but the bids have already gone past what I can afford. I guess I couldn't justify the cost anyway for the amount I'm likely to use it.

And like Astrophotography, the initial outlay is just the start.

Once you have lathe you want lots of tools. And then you want a bandsaw. And.... and... and....

Engineering is as bad as Astronomy for giving you a nasty case of inflammation of the credit card.... not to mention "tool envy"...

Edited by Tom How
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I've actually got a mini-lathe, a bandsaw and a small mill. All collected over the last 10 years or so.

The rough equivalents today are

Conquest Lathe

Cobra Mill

New Page

However, like some cheap chinese-made astronomy equipment, cheap chinese machine tools require an aptitude for making stuff work. Any professional engineer will be quick to attack products like this - and I'd not want to use them commercially, but for people like me who don't have thousands of pounds to spend on a lathe that weighs 300kg, they are a godsend!

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Tom - I think you've excellently captured the joy to be had by making your own kit!

It looks a great mount you've made there, as shown by your excellent first image. I'm very envious.

I think I need to get myself a small lathe. I'm getting fed-up having to make everything out of wood!

Cheers

Kevin

Thanks Kevin. A small metalwork lathe is a fun thing to have - go for it! Something to do when it is cloudy!

Don't ever ask me to make anything out of wood. I am hopeless at woodwork. Anything I make out of wood just falls to pieces.

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Awesome.... I am in envy :)

I wish I had the facilities and equipment to do the same, I think I have the technical ability :(

What is the maximum load capacity?

Ummm, could you make one for me in kit form? I would be happy to pay for it.

Maybe that could be a nice sideline for you, manufacturing the parts to assemble a kit of the main items and sell it with assembly instuctions minus the easily obtained parts (bearings etc.) I would definately be interested. An EQ6 is the cheapest option for "heavy" scopes and they retail at UKP800+ so I would think a reasonably priced kit would be atractive to many people.

Well done sir!

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That little lathe looks handy :) Maybe one day...

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Amazing!

That's got to be one satisfying accomplishment?

Looked over your pics and sites...did you mention the estimated cost to you?

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Amazing!

That's got to be one satisfying accomplishment?

Looked over your pics and sites...did you mention the estimated cost to you?

Very very satisfying. Plus I have lots to fiddle with when it is cloudy :)

This isn't really a money saving exercise. However, since I knew I'd be asked, on this page I've had a rough guess at the cost

Homemade GEM german equatorial telescope mount - how I made my own DIY mount for astrophotography

I estimate around £350-£500 in parts, but it might be more - I've not really kept a total. Some things like the DS motor kit are hard to locate these days.

I really ought to at least make a full parts list of what I've purchased and from where.

The hardest part to estimate is the cost of the metal stock. For example, 90% of the material in the attached photo is aluminium. But how do you estimate the cost? Probably measure the volume and multiple out, but you can only estimate.

20110530-telescope-mount-parts-blog.jpg

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here is a rough guide to aluminium prices (Actually they are quite good value!!)

Aluminium | Aluminium Warehouse

This is 4x1 inch flat bar, same stuff I made the axis plates and worm housings from. You'd need at least a metre.

and then some of this to make the main bearing housings

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Aluminium-Flat-Bar-4-x-1-1-2-x-1000mm-Long-/160313898628?pt=UK_BOI_Metalworking_Milling_Welding_Metalworking_Supplies_ET&hash=item255373f684#ht_1569wt_942

Edited by Tom How

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What is the maximum load capacity?

Not sure to be honest. Carries my 30-35lb imaging kit without breaking sweat, even right down to the horizon. So I guess 60lb would be fine. Not sure about 100lb, but I've not go anything that heavy, so the point is a bit moot.

Guess I'll have to build me a bigger telescope and find out! :):(

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:eek::headbang::( Nicely done... :):icon_salut::(

I have a couple of ML7's, a Centec 2A with Horzontal and Vertical head, drill press bandsaw etc... and draws full of insert tooling metric and imperial taps and dies etc...

I dont think a car has been in the garage for the last 15 years...

Peter...

Edited by Psychobilly

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Ummm, could you make one for me in kit form? I would be happy to pay for it.

Maybe that could be a nice sideline for you, manufacturing the parts to assemble a kit of the main items and sell it with assembly instuctions minus the easily obtained parts (bearings etc.) I would definately be interested. An EQ6 is the cheapest option for "heavy" scopes and they retail at UKP800+ so I would think a reasonably priced kit would be atractive to many people.

!

An EQ6 at 800 quid is amazing value for money.

Trust me on that!

I couldn't make a kit of the parts. I don't have a machine shop. I don't have CNC tools. I don't have all those things you need to turn out duplicates in a reliable and cost effective fashion.

Even if I sat down and tried to make a duplicate it would take several hundred hours doing it by hand. It would end up costing a heck of a lot more than 800 quid!

I'm also not interested in building the same thing twice. I want to make something different now!

A lot of what I've done isn't that difficult. It isn't really anything more complicated than two strong shafts, each supported by two bearings, and each of those bearings supported by large amount of metal. You can see from the photo above that it isn't made up of hundreds of complicated shaped parts - tis quite simple really.

Any competent machine shop could do the two axis - the art is the worm gears and wheels. It took me over a year and about 4 failed attempts before I figured out all the techniques to make a decent worm wheel that tracked with anything like enough accuracy. I'm still far from happy with the worm wheels, and it is something I'll revisit at some point.

For those interested, this is my 15 page article on how to make the worm gears

Step by step Telescope worm wheels and gears on a 7x12 mini-lathe

Mounting the worm gears and attaching the motors is also an extremely fiddly job.

I'm more than happy to explain to people what I did and how I did it and answer detailed questions, but I'm not making a copy!

I might, and I repeat *MIGHT* be convinced to make worm gears / wheels for people if they are REALLY SERIOUS, but as I said, I'm not happy with my own ones yet, so want a few more attempts before I inflict them on others.

If you have access to a lathe and some experience, or a friendly machine shop, it is a project well worth thinking about. But it is a labour of love. If you are simply looking for a money-saving shortcut, forget it now! It is like telescope mirrors. Lots of people have the time and patience to make the odd one at home, but they could never make a living out of it without charging 4 times what the likes of Orion Optics charge, and for a more consistent poduct!

Edited by Tom How

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:eek::headbang::( Nicely done... :):icon_salut::(

I have a couple of ML7's, a Centec 2A with Horzontal and Vertical head, drill press bandsaw etc... and draws full of insert tooling metric and imperial taps and dies etc...

I dont think a car has been in the garage for the last 15 years...

Peter...

sounds like you well equipped for this type of project!

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I tend to just make "simple" stuff ... it was a bit of a busmans holiday.. taking "work" home at weekends..You know what they say about a mechanics car...

The whole lot cost me £200 and a fair chunk of that was transport - when they were "condemed" as they weren't easily "guarded" and interlocked to comply with H&S...

I still havent fitted the Mitsubushi inverter to the lathe , and the Miller runs of a static convertor...

Peter...

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Amazing piece of work, your use of worm gears and all the fabrication complexities got me thinking would it be easier to make a friction drive?

Edited by nightvision

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Wow I am totally awestruck. The question I ask myself is "would I spend more time looking at this gorgeous piece of engineering or the stars above". Well done Tom, if only I had some talent ..... and the tools ..... and the time ........ and the space ......

Nice one

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Amazing piece of work, your use of worm gears and all the fabrication complexities got me thinking would it be easier to make a friction drive?

I did think about that, but I didn't like the idea. And bit of slippage and the GOTO goes wrong. And it is still difficult to get the reduction. Needs more gears and confuses things.

Besides, I understand worm gears better!

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Wow I am totally awestruck. The question I ask myself is "would I spend more time looking at this gorgeous piece of engineering or the stars above". Well done Tom, if only I had some talent ..... and the tools ..... and the time ........ and the space ......

Nice one

Every man needs a shed :)

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