How to build a telescope case

Construct an easy to make, practical case for any size of telescope.

Written by Mark Parrish.

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Image Credit: 
Mark Parrish

A spreadsheet to help with this 'How to' is available to download here.


There will eventually come a time when you need to transport your telescope to star parties or darker skies, and when it’s not being used your cherished instrument needs to be properly stored. Some telescopes come with hard cases, but often all you get is a soft case or the original bulky packaging, neither of which is ideal. It is possible to buy flight cases and adapt the foam interiors, or you may be lucky – and wealthy – enough to be able to buy a custom-made version.

If you’ve ever been tempted to make your own hard case but have been put off by working out the construction, our How to project this month is a sturdy, self-built, wooden telescope case. We’ve taken the hard graft out of working out the dimensions by creating an Excel spreadsheet to do the maths for you, which you can download from the ‘Software’ section via the link above.

Once you open this, you simply enter your telescope’s dimensions and the thickness of the wood and padding material you intend to use. The spreadsheet then calculates the size for each piece of the case. You can even print off a cutting list and take it to your timber merchant, who may be able to cut out the parts for you, saving time and reducing any worry about accuracy.

Designed to be compact and robust, our case is suitable for storing and transporting any telescope. The design is very simple to build, requiring only modest tools and practical ability. It can be built from easy-to-obtain materials.

The telescope case is a plain, hinged box, constructed with simple butt joints (flat surfaces touching one another), which are glued together. The case is made as one box and then sawn in two, creating the base and the lid. Using this technique, even if your box is not perfectly straight, or you are not very neat at sawing, the bottom and lid will fit together perfectly.

Externally mounted hinges and clasps eliminate the need to cut recesses and to reduce costs we made a simple rope handle. Inside the case, two dividers provide extra stiffening. They have padded circular cut-outs that cradle the telescope tube and stop it from sliding around. Cutting these isn’t too tricky, but if you do ‘wobble’ the soft padding material will cover a multitude of ‘sins’. Before gluing them inside, check that they don’t foul on the finderscope or any other accessories. It is not necessary for the top and bottom parts of the dividers to line up exactly.


Tools and materials

Tools - A hand saw, a coping saw, a small hammer, panel pins, glue and some paint.

Timber - 9mm- or 12mm-thick plywood or MDF for the case works best, but you can improvise with other materials if they are available.

Finishing Touches - You need brushes or a small roller to paint the various parts. You’ll also need two external hinges, a clasp and a carrying handle, all with suitable fixing screws. Padding material can be craft foam, felt, carpet or the rubber from old computer mouse mats.

Lighten the load - We chose 9mm plywood throughout for the case illustrated here because it is strong and stable. It is possible to use 12mm-thick board for larger cases, or even 15mm, although the case can become rather heavy. To reduce weight, substitute thinner material (we suggest 6mm) for the lid and base panels, but keep the side and end walls thicker. For the padding material, any thin, soft material should work – it needs a little give so it can absorb vibrations and a soft surface so it doesn’t cause any scratching.

Plywood or MDF needs a coat of gloss paint or varnish if you want it to last. For natural timber, a preservative stain or varnish will give you a very classy look – especially if you invest in some nice brass fittings. Paint the lid and base before you fit them together to avoid making a mess of the hinges and clasps.

You may want to add wheels or a padded seat to larger cases and you could add lockable clasps to keep sticky fingers out. Once you have created cases for all your telescopes, you can adapt the design to hold mounts or eyepiece sets so that all your equipment is in matching boxes.

Building your own case is a satisfying project, and when you’ve made it yourself, you have the peace of mind of knowing your telescope is well looked after!


Step 1

Use the spreadsheet calculator on the coverdisc to produce a cutting list for all the parts of the case. You can cut them yourself, but it is far easier to take the list to your local timber supplier and let them do the work.

Step 2

Trial fit the pieces first to check the size. Use a good quality wood glue to join them together. Use small pins to hold the joints together while the glue sets. Hammer them into the outer panel before putting the panels together – this helps you get them straight.

Step 3

A hand or tenon saw works well for cutting the case in two. You can temporarily pin a strip of wood to the box to act as a guide. Before cutting the last side, make a pencil mark to remind you which way round the lid fits best.

Step 4

Use the information from the drawing produced by the spreadsheet calculator to mark out the two dividers. Carefully cut out the shapes using a coping saw (or jigsaw if you have one). When their position is determined, glue the dividers inside the case.

Step 5

Once all the woodwork is complete, test fit the hinges, clasp and handle. After removing the fittings, sand the disassembled base and lid and paint them. We used a gloss paint applied with a foam roller. A couple of coats produce an attractive, practical finish.

Step 6

Once the paint is dry, reassemble the case. Cut padding material and glue it to the inside of each end wall, as well as strips to line the divider cut-outs. Check to see how snugly the telescope fits, adjusting or adding to the padding as necessary.


This 'How to' originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

 

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