Talk:Amateur telescope making

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New to Wikipedia[edit]

Should we shift this to amateur telescope making? --Robert Merkel

I am new to wikipedia, but isn't the page already called Amateur telescope making? can you explain? Kurt Eichenberger

Well, Robert Merkel asked the question back in 2002 July 23, and maybe the article was named differently then and someone did shift it, although I see no name change in the history. -Wikibob | Talk 23:14, 2004 Apr 6 (UTC)

A mirror is nonconductive, so I think it's not possible to "electrically charge" it during aluminization. My understanding is that the atoms just fly straight through the vacuum. I'm going to change the text.

Could this be a static charge like what will easily form, for example, on plastic objects. This has been my impression, although I am not that familiar with vacuum plating. -- 19:16, 31 May 2004 (UTC)
it certainly is possible to charge a non-conductive object. the difficulty is getting charge to drain away. this is exactly the situation with the familiar case of "static electricity". apart from rubbing two non-conductors, spraying electrons over a non-conductor will charge it (albeit unevenly). this is why your glass tv screen develops a charge 04:11, 19 August 2007 (UTC)snaxalotl


"Dobsonian" is, according to the link, a type of telescope mount, not a type of telescope. The following therefore makes little sense: "The most common telescope design for the amateur telescope maker is the Dobsonian Telescope. The dobsonian very simple and easy to make. A Dobsonian telescope can be optimized for both planetary and deep sky observing. It is not suitable for astrophotography because it does not have the ability to automatically track the sky." --Jsnow 05:02, 4 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Good point, this term may refer to either the mount or the telescope design that uses this mount. Duk 14:58, 4 Dec 2004 (UTC)
Actually the linked "Dobsonian" article is wrong. "Dobsonian" refers to a telescope design and a mount design. I have corrected that article.(Halfblue 17:06, 10 March 2006 (UTC))

No Instruction[edit]

It is now Wikipedia policy to not instruct readers on how to perform various action (Wikipedia: What Wikipedia is not. If this in violation of that rule, we got trouble. HereToHelp 02:58, 22 October 2005 (UTC)

Problematic... article does not fit topic[edit]

A larger problem I am noticing with this article is it’s a "how to build a "Dobsonian" article more that an article about "Amateur telescope making". One of these days I may volunteer my self to rewrite it..... if someone doesn't beat me to the punch. (Halfblue 02:29, 10 March 2006 (UTC))

Ok, since no one beat me to the punch, I am putting up a rewrite. This rewrite addresses several problems in the article to date including the "No Instruction" Wikipedia: What Wikipedia is not problem cited by user HereToHelp and the lack of relevance to the topic cited by me. Large sections of the article I am replacing cover topics that are already addressed in their respective articles so I have truncated or removed them as well. Since this is such a major rewrite I am moving the old article to this talk page as per Wikipedia policy so that others may find a way to integrate the redacted parts back into the article and/or adapt and move them to to a more relevant article. Halfblue 02:30, 27 May 2006 (UTC)

Archived: Amateur telescope making[edit]

There is a strong tradition of amateur telescope making within the amateur astronomy community.

The most common design in amateur telescope making is the Newtonian reflector. It has the advantage of being a simple design that allows for maximum size for the minimum expense, especially when built in the Dobsonian style. Some also build refractors and a very few attempt compound designs such as the Maksutov telescope. Amateur telescope makers typically make some or all of parts their telescope, including the optical elements.

Making a telescope should be fun, but is technically challenging. For a modest cost, a first class instrument can be constructed. Another reason to grind and figure the primary mirror of a telescope is that it is possible to produce a hand made mirror that is far superior to commercially made mirrors. It is well within the range of any reasonably competent person to produce a primary telescope mirror that is diffraction-limited.

The Newtonian reflector has two reflecting surfaces: the primary mirror (usually parabolic), and a small flat secondary mirror. The primary mirror reflects and focuses incoming parallel light rays back through the tube of the telescope until they are intercepted by a flat secondary mirror set at a 45 degree angle. This flat secondary mirror reflects the light sideways to an eyepiece mounted on the side of the telescope, where it converges at the focal plane.

  Telescope design

The most common telescope design for the amateur telescope maker is the Dobsonian Telescope. The Dobsonian very simple and easy to make. A Dobsonian telescope can be optimized for both planetary and deep sky observing. It is not suitable for astrophotography because it does not have an equatorial mount.

First, the amateur decides what size to construct. The difficulty of construction grows roughly as the square of the diameter of the mirror. A 4 inch (100 mm) mirror is a moderately easy science fair project. An 8 inch (200 mm) mirror is a good compromise between ease and constructing an instrument that would be expensive to purchase. A 12 inch (300 mm) mirror is difficult, and a telescope over 24 inch (600 mm) usually must be ground and lapped with mechanical assistance. Amateurs have constructed telescopes as large as 1 metre across (39 inches), but this is foolhardy for anyone other than the best-funded, experienced clubs.

 Mirror making

The mirror is usually ground and polished to a shallow spherical section, and then carefully "figured" to a paraboloid using a special polishing lap and a rotating W shaped stroking motion.

The depth of the mirror's curve will define the focal length of the mirror and hence the f-stop of the telescope. If the focal length of the mirror is long enough, such as f/12, a spherical curve's performance will be nominally equivalent to a parabloid, and the more difficult task of achieving a parabolic shape becomes unnecessary. Also, the longer the focal length, the greater the resulting magnifying power of the primary mirror when used with a given eyepiece, although the field of view will be smaller.

The shape of the mirror surface is periodically checked with a Foucault tester, this will be described in the mirror testing section.


Mirrors are usually ground from a "mirror-blank" of low-expansion borosilicate glass (Pyrex™ is one brand name). Alternatively, glass ceramics such as Cer-vit™, Zerodur™, or Astrosital™, may be used. Glass ceramics costs more, but produce mirrors that deform less as the temperature changes.

The mirror-blank is ground against a "tool," which is another piece of glass, either a thick piece of window glass or another mirror blank. An abrasive such as silicon carbide mixed with water is used between the mirror and tool. The tool is usually placed in a frame on a barrel in order to provide access from all sides.

To grind the hollow in the mirror, the mirror maker strokes the mirror-blank back and forth across the tool. Each stroke grinds the abrasive against the blank and tool. The mirror maker takes a step around the barrel every 10 or 30 seconds or so to average out surface errors. This ensures that the shape of the mirror grinds to a perfect concave spherical surface. Fresh abrasives and water are added as required.

During grinding, the piece of glass on top becomes concave as the piece of glass on the bottom becomes convex. The mirror is rough-ground using coarse abrasive until the curve begins to approach the desired depth (or radius).

The depth of focus is checked by wetting the mirror's surface, and seeing where a light's image focuses against a cardboard card.

The same basic step is repeated, using successively finer abrasives. Silicon carbide is typically used from 60 down to about 500 grit, after which aluminium oxide is used. Fine grinding to a 3 micrometre size abrasive will greatly speed up the polishing step.

It is important to clean the system carefully when reducing grit sizes to prevent scratching from the previous size abrasive. It is also important to periodically check the focal length of the mirror during the grinding process. The curve of the mirror will continue to deepen as long as the mirror is on top. If the curve becomes too deep, the system is flipped over, and grinding continues with the tool on top. This will cause the curve to become shallower.


After fine grinding is done, a polishing or "pitch" lap is made from the tool. A pitch compound is heated in a double boiler until it becomes liquid. This compound is poured over the mirror, and the tool is pressed on top of the tool and pitch so that the lap will take on the exact shape of the mirror. It is important to coat the mirror with rouge before this step to prevent the lap from sticking to the mirror. After the lap and mirror are separated, the lap has channels cut in it to let water and abrasives run off. Alternatively a rubber mold can be used when the lap is poured, to make the channels.

Then, using the lap, one begins to polish the mirror using rouge or cerium(IV) oxide. Polishing is very similar to grinding, except that the resistace between the mirror and the lap is much higher. Cleats must be fastened to the work surface to keep the lap and mirror from sliding. The scratches of the rouge are smaller than a wavelength of light, and the mirror thus becomes a specular (mirror-like) reflector.

   Mirror testing

The basic trick to making a good mirror is to measure it, and then fix its problems by altering the lap to polish the problems away.

The quality of the figure of a mirror is frequently expressed in terms of wavefront error. Assuming a beam green light at 500 nm, a 1/10 wave mirror would have no imperfections excess of 50 nm. Most amateur-built mirrors have a wavefront error between 1/4 and 1/12 wave.

    Foucault test

Although it is possible to test the unfinished mirror by putting it in a telescope assembly and making a star test, most mirror makers construct a simple device known as a Foucault tester. The foucault test is the traditional mirror test for amateur mirror makers. It is also the least subjective of tests available to amateurs.

The Foucault tester consists of a pinhole light source and a vertical knife edge which is mounted on micrometers or home-made screw adjusters. The knife-edge is mounted at the focus. The light illuminates the mirror, and the user looks at the mirror past the knife-edge.

After the mirror is polished out, the mirror is placed vertically in a stand. The Foucault tester is set up at a distance close to the mirror focal point The tester is adjusted so that the returning beam from the pinhole light source is interrupted by the knife edge.

Viewing the mirror from behind the knife edge will show a pattern on the mirror surface. If the mirror surface is a perfect sphere, the mirror will appear evenly lit across the entire surface. If the surface is parabolic, the mirror will look like a donut or lozenge. Imperfections as small as a half-wavelength high (a quarter of a micrometer) show as flat spots or bumps.

It is possible to calculate how closely the mirror surface resembles a perfect paraboloid by placing a special mask over the mirror and taking a series of measurement with the tester. This data is then reduced and graphed against an ideal parabolic curve.

   Ronchi test

Described in 1922 by Vasco Ronchi, the Ronchi test uses simple equipment in the testing of optics. Ronchi testing is similar to the foucault test in set-up. A light source is emitted through a diffraction grating, reflected by the mirror, then passes through the refraction grating again and observed by the person doing the test.

The result is a pattern of interference that reveals the shape of the mirror. The interference is compared to a computer generated diagram of what the mirror should look like. Inputs to the program are line frequency of the diffraction grating, focal length and diameter of the mirror.

The Ronchi test is much faster to set up than the foucault test but more subjective. It offers a quick glimpse at the mirrors shape and condition, and can quickly identify a 'turned edge' (rolled down outer diameter of the mirror).

    Star test

Star testing tests the entire optical system of the telescope. It is a very subjective test that requires a high degree of skill to interpret, but is considered to be the best test available to amateurs.

A star is brought into field under high magnification and then observed inside and outside of focus. Diffraction rings appear around the star. The shape and brightness of the diffraction rings are analyzed to determine the quality of the mirror.

For primary mirror testing, all optical components are assumed to be perfect and the results are applied to the primary mirror only. In a cassigrainian telescope, for example, the secondary may be complete and the primary can be tested and adjusted to correct for errors in both the primary and the secondary.

   Figuring the mirror

The true "art" of mirror making is in shaping the final curve or "figure" of the mirror. The figuring process begins after the mirror is fine ground and polished. The polishing lap continues to be used in this process.

The first goal in figuring a mirror is to obtain a perfectly spherical section. If the mirror is spherical, the surface of the mirror will appear to be evenly lit when inspected with the Foucault tester. The rotating "W" stroke described above will tend to bring the surface to a spherical shape.

It is important to allow the mirror to thermally stabilize or "cool down" after each figuring session. The friction of the lap against the mirror will cause the glass to expand slightly and will affect the figure.

The parabolic curve is obtained by slightly deepening the curve in the center of the spherical mirror. This is done by changing the "W" stroke so that more time is spent with the lap against the center of the mirror. It can take less than a minute of work to turn the spherical surface to a paraboloid, however the process is not exact and may need to be repeated numerous times. The shape of the curve can also be manipulated by flipping the mirror/lap over, or by using a small sub-diameter lap.

It is also best to remember that we need a smooth surface as well as a parabola for the best results. The foucault tester can measure the shape of the parabola for accuracey but the mirror must be free from roughness or other problems such as a turned down edge.

The Foucault tester and testing mask are used to obtain data used to calculate how closely the mirror matches a parabolic curve. Visually, the mirror surface will appear to have a slight circularly-symmetric donut appearance when viewed with the Foucault tester.

   Aluminizing or "silvering" the mirror

Although the finished mirror will work in the telescope without a reflective coating, the image will be very dim. So, a very thin coating of a highly reflective material is added to the front surface of the mirror.

Historically this coating was silver. Silvering was put on the mirror chemically. This was then polished. Silvering was typically done by the mirror maker.

Since the 1950s most mirror makers have the coating applied by a firm specializing in the work. Modern coatings usually contain Aluminum and other compounds.

The mirror is aluminized by placing it in a vacuum chamber with electrically-heated nichrome coils that can sublime aluminum. In a vacuum, the hot aluminum atoms travel in straight lines. When they hit the surface of the mirror, they cool and stick. Some mirror makers evaporate a layer of quartz on the mirror, others expose it to pure oxygen or air in an oven so that it will form a tough, clear layer of aluminium oxide.

 Telescope construction

Once the mirror is done, it is mounted in a mechanical tube. The idea is to maintain the optical alignment between the primary and secondary mirrors and eyepiece. In smaller telescopes the tube is typically a cylinder of either metal or cardboard. Larger telescopes tend to use a truss-tube arrangement where the secondary mirror is housed in a cage that is held in place above the primary mirror with metal support struts.

In a Newtonian telescope, the primary mirror is located at the bottom of the tube. The small secondary mirror is suspended in the middle of the tube at the top using a low-profile mount (called a spider). The eyepiece is aimed at the secondary mirror on the spider, from outside of the tube.

Alignment, known as collimation, is achieved by adjusting the position and tilt of the mirrors to focus light through the secondary and into the eyepiece.

The combination of the tube and optics is sometimes referred to as the OTA or "Optical Tube Assembly".


In a Dobsonian mount, circular disks called altitude bearings are attached to the side of the tube at its center of gravity. These bearings rest on pads of teflon, which provides very little friction so that the telescope can be moved very small angles without jerking. These pads are part of the rocker box assembly, which itself rotates in the azimuth on pads of teflon.

A dobsonian mount can be adjusted by computerized motors to track the stars, but the star field rotates, making the field of view useless for photography. It's theoretically possible to correct this with a rotating erection prism, but most people opt for a standard equatorial mount.

For astrophotography, an amateur equatorial mount is usually a "T" shape made of pipe, with roller bearings around the stem and top of the "T." The telescope tube is attached to one side of the T, with a counterweight on the other side to balance the weight of the telescope. The fixed axis (the stem of the "T," the one closest to the ground) is aimed at the pole-star, parallel to the axis of the Earth. In this way, moving the telescope to counter the rotation of the Earth requires movement only on one axis, the bearing wrapped around the stem of the "T."

Another form of equatorial mount is a two-tined fork. There are three bearings. One is wrapped around the "handle" of the fork. The handle of the fork is parallel with the axis of the Earth. The other two bearings are on the tines, and support the telescope tube from two sides. This mount is very popular for small professional telescopes because it weighs less (no counterweight) and since it gives better support, the tube and optics distort less. It's less popular with amateurs because it has three bearings, of two sizes, and it can be difficult to align the two secondary bearings.

Some amateurs construct setting circles on their mounts, or use motors that can move by very precise amounts. These let the amateur "dial in" astronomical objects by coordinate. A few amateurs have even constructed precision setting circles, and performed astrometry, measuring angles to nearby stars!

External links cleanup[edit]

I have cleaned up some of the external links and consolidated others. There still may be some cleanup to do namely the links to possible vanity additions and links to telescope building "how-tos". Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not states that among the links to be avoided are (paraphrase) "sites that do not provide a unique resource beyond what the article would contain if it became a Featured article". I would interpret this to mean that since Wikipedia is not a "how-to" or an instruction manual (WP:NOT) links to "how-tos" should not be included because they would be beyond what the article would contain if it became a featured article. A valid link would be a link to a site about the over all field or history of telescope making, not a site on how to make a telescope. Halfblue 04:35, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

New Page Needed[edit]

There should be a separate page for "Amateur Telescope Making", the famous series of three books edited by Albert G. Ingalls GHJmover (talk) 08:11, 3 February 2009 (UTC)

Done! GHJmover (talk) 13:13, 20 August 2009 (UTC)

Solar Telescope lenses =[edit]

(dark glass is not safe enough, see Arc welding lenses, see Telescope solar lenses)

was added as correction

Please either say nothing, refer to manufacturer instructions, or correctly say it is a special solar lense. Dark glass alone will cause blindness over time. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:30, 9 April 2014 (UTC)