The journey to building my first telescope
By Michael Moller -
I became interested in ATM (Amateur Telescope Making) sometime after buying my first telescope and joining ASSA in 2012. In 2013 I started working on photographing the objects in the ASSA-
At ScopeX 2013 I found the ATM exhibitions particularly interesting and again resolved to take up an ATM project in the future. At the time I was deep into the ASSA-
That winter the weather was nice and clear and to my surprise, by the end of August, I was nearing the end of the ASSA Top-
I was finally ready, and had the time to tackle my first ATM project; but what to build? First-
After some research online I came across a telescope design called a Schiefspiegler. This unique telescope was designed by the German, Anton Kutter, in 1953, and the more I read about it, the more I became convinced that this was the perfect telescope for me to build. The construction was only slightly more complex than a Newtonian, and the small aperture and long focal-
So it came that on the last day of August 2013 I paid my first visit to the ASSA ATM class at Parktown Boys High in Johannesburg to discuss my project options. There I met Dave Hughes, one of the instructors at the class, whom, himself having built a Schiefspiegler to the exact specifications to the one I had in mind, not too long before, got me going on an unexpectedly quick start. The small aperture meant that some spare glass was quickly found in a cupboard somewhere, and I left class that same afternoon with two freshly cored glass disks, ready to start grinding.
Looking back, everything went surprisingly quick after that. The small aperture and long focal length meant that shaping the mirrors required surprisingly little grinding. Working only Saturday afternoons, I finished the fine grinding by the end of November. At this point the project became more than just a weekend pass-
This felt like it took forever. During the grinding process, some progress could be measured every few hours by measuring the sagitta using a plunger micrometer.
Hours of work polishing left a barely observable difference on the surface of the two would-
Up to this point the mirrors had taken up all my attention and I had not given the construction of the rest of the telescope much thought. Christmas had arrived and I had a week off to do some construction. I had saved an empty coffee can which I had thought would be the ideal housing for the primary mirror, but I still needed a long tube to house the secondary and the focuser. Online searches and even a visit to some local aluminium extruder was disappointing. The only tube diameters available locally were either too small or too large. I finally happened on a galvanized steel gutter down-
Now while I'm fairly practically minded, I always consult my wife Robynn when it comes to things aesthetic. After discussing the technical aspects with her, we came up with a sketch of a light, femininely curved, open-
By New Year's the telescope was almost complete. Over the next week I constructed the focuser, and applied some varnish to the wood. The focuser turned out looking very steampunk, which inspired me to continue the theme and add some more copper trim and brass screws just for the look.
The Schiefspiegler turned out with so much personality, that my initial plan to simply use it with one of my exising mounts just wouldn't fly. By February I had decided to build it its own tripod. The easy way would have been to use standard door hinges between the legs and the platform, but I felt this would spoil the steampunk motif, so I designed it with a intricate embedded wooden hinges. It still only took one weekend to complete.
The reaction I get when people see it for the first time is often astonishment at how simple the design is. Even old pros joke that it is too simple, and I hope that its simplicity inspires newcomers to give ATM-