I guess for most of us the ultimate dream is to have that big observatory in the back yard. Unfortunately though, too often it is just that; a dream that likely will never be fulfilled. There are more basic ways to make home observing simple and easy, though, on a surprisingly small budget.
I moved house recently and finally decided that it was time to set up a permanent observing area in the "new" yard. Not as grandiose as an observatory, but at least a permanent mount, allowing me to just take a cover off the mount, drop in an OTA and take out the EP case with everything else all ready to go. No more nightly carting a tripod and heavy mount, no more nightly tweaking of polar alignment, just a couple of minutes and I'm observing.
Lets start from the bottom and work up.
Base Preparation: Half a tonne of crushed granite was laid, watered down and compacted, then levelled. Next some 400 x 400 x 50 pavers were laid. The pavers in this case are actually two different colours as they were left overs that I picked up from a local landscaper in exchange for a carton of beer. If you had to buy them at retail they would be around $10 each.
The Column: The base is an old 20" truck wheel rim; you pick these up on any property or at a truck repairer or transport depot for nothing. The actual column is a cut down oxygen cylinder. Again I picked this up for nothing from a scrap yard. It did cost $20 to have the ends sawn off at a local machine shop. Out with the welder and there you have it.
The Mount Head Socket: Here I had two 10mm steel discs cut to the diameter of the oxygen cylinder ($20). Three 20mm bolts were welded to the lower disc, and the upper disc was drilled to accept these. Since I didn't need the tripod anymore I simply removed the legs, then drilled, tapped and bolted the socket to the upper disc. There is a central bolt to lock the mount head down
Finish and Assembly: I had all the steel parts sandblasted ($20) then I painted the lot inside and out with an undercoat of "Galmet" cold gal and three coats of "Kill Rust" industrial enamel. The paint was the expense part ($80). The wheel rim was sealed down to the pavers with some polyurethane sealant and the column filled with clean dry river sand, to dampen any vibrations. This is one solid pier!
Sight Screens: Well true to form I moved into the one house in the street that had the one and only streetlight straight into my face. If I could have moved one house either way it wouldn't have mattered. Similarly I have one paranoid neighbour who leaves the 150 watt security light on all night. So off to the local demolition yard, and I turned up two old aluminium awnings for $10 each. A couple of old star posts, some #8 wire and an old barby table integrated to take the accessory case and so forth, and no more light issues. The flat black paint did cost $16 though. Note I didn't take the sight screens all the way to the ground. It gets hot here so the more breeze the better. I just screened high and low enough to block the lights.
The mount stays permanently, covered with a heavy canvas tarp, which is in fact a part of an old truck tarp. I can't emphasise this enough, don't use plastic tarps, you need something that is waterproof but also that breaths.
The Bottom Line: In fairness, if you had to pay someone to supply and build all this then it could be rather expensive. As a bloke with a trade background (and also a cheapskate and scrounger) I was able to do most of the work myself and had a lot of bits and pieces lying around in my shed, but here is what my costs were:
|Band sawing cylinder||$20.00|
|Sundry Hardware (bolts etc)||$25.00|
(which is less than the cost of one half decent eyepiece)
In Conclusion: Perhaps the above might give a few readers some inspiration or ideas to adapt something similar for their own needs. Please feel free to contact me via the forum if you need more detailed information or have questions.