As a child growing up during the 50′s and 60′s I was intensely interested in astronomy. The space program under President Kennedy helped fuel that interest, and I began bugging my parents for a telescope. I guess I was a pretty good little bugger as on my 16th birthday that’s exactly what I got. I couldn’t wait for night fall that evening to explore the heavens like I’d never been able to before. The telescope they bought me was a Newtonian type reflector of probably 3.5 inch diameter complete with it’s own tripod.
It didn’t take me long to set it up in the backyard and between then and sunset I spent the time trying to focus on some nearby objects with limited success. As the evening grew darker I became more excited. The first object I could see was fairly low on the western horizon, probably Venus, although I wouldn’t have known it at the time. I pointed the telescope in the general direction as best I could and looked through the eyepiece. Much to my dismay there was nothing to be seen. Grabbing the telescope I began searching by moving it up, down, left and right. It seemed no matter how delicate I was with my movement I couldn’t locate the object. Then I noticed that the moon was rising in the opposite sky so I redirected the telescope towards the moon. Looking through the eyepiece I didn’t see anything at first, however there was a glow toward one side of the eyepiece so I gently moved the telescope in what I thought was the correct direction. The eyepiece darkened. So I moved it in the opposite direction and the glow intensified. Continuing, I finally got a glimpse of the crescent of the moon. After several small adjustments I was able to get the moon centered, and in focus. I was delighted. However, try as could it was very difficult aim and target smaller celestial objects.
I was convinced after some time that the targeting problems where due to the light weight construction of my small scope. The lightest touch would send the object out of view. Frustrated, I eventually lost interest in that scope and became convinced I needed a larger, heavier model. The problem was that at my age there was no way I could afford a bigger commercial scope. It wasn’t until sometime later that I discovered that many amateur astronomers actually built their own telescopes. Still I was a little intimidated to undertake such a task on my own. Resources at the time were very limited and I new of no organizations that could offer assistance, so I resigned myself to shelving the idea for the time being.
Now, many years later, I discovered a group here in San Diego, the San Diego Astronomy Association. One member of that group, Peter Debaan, offers telescope making classes out of his garage. You can find his contact information here. I got in touch with Peter before the new year and joined his classes in mid January. Although you can purchase supplies directly from Peter in the class, I chose to order an 8 inch mirror blank online from Firsthand Discovery. In preparation for the class and grinding the mirror blank, I needed to construct the tool used to shape the mirror. Read more about that here.