JeffPo's Observatory Plans Page

Last update:  06/24/15

I thought I'd put the latest update at the top of the page.  And holy moly!  I can't believe how much time has went by without the observatory being built.  I just ran out of time, energy, and motivation.  Life got way too busy with work, the kids, soccer, etc.  I moved to a new house about two years ago.  So this observatory never got built.  I got to the point of working on the rafters but never moved beyond that.  I still have the pieces, just taking up space in my garage.

But on a very positive note I'm actually working on another observatory right now.  I've purchased a commercial dome and homemade building from a fellow that just wasn't using it enough, and is moving, so he decided to sell it.  It's actually a roll-off dome design, which is pretty neat.


It needs a bit of work.  We had to build a new base for it because it was previously on a cement slab.  The previous owner also only operated it in alt-azimuth mode.  I'm adding an equatorial wedge to the telescope setup (which I also purchased from him) so I had to lower the pier a bit for clearance.  Instead of my 8" Meade SCT, this observatory will house an 11" Celestron SCT.  The insides have been gutted and need to be redone.  I'll have to work on sealing the area between the pier mount and floor to keep the critters out.  On the outside, I need to get rid of the cedar shakes and AC unit, and put on new siding and get it waterproofed.  I also need to build the rails (which you see under the AC) for the top to roll off onto.  And of course, I need to get power to the building, and security.  It's going to take a bit of work, and I'm not all that handy, but in the end I should have a very functional and nice observatory.  I'll be documenting the entire process, with images, and will update this webpage when I'm done.  I'm going to leave the old observatory notes below, for now.  I still have plans for the building I did start working on.  I think I'm going to turn it into a shed for tools and such.


Old notes:

In lieu of building an observatory, I did put a pier in the backyard.  It hasn't solved much beyond getting rid of the need to setup the tripod and polar align.  Polar aligning is not a big deal to me anyway since it takes all of about 2 minutes.  But there's other problems.  I wasn't able to put it in my first two spots because of drainage lines.  The spot I currently have it in is bad because a) too close to the trees, b) "security" light way across a field and across a road and in someone's backyard is in direct sight (didn't notice this in the daytime), and c) the pier is also exposed to headlights of cars coming into my neighborhood (also didn't notice this in the daytime).  So I really need to try and get the pier back to my original, intended spot.  But the sad thing is that I still don't have the time or energy to setup and breakdown on a typical night.  The pier only saved me about 5 or 10 minutes of work, but the biggest hassles are still there.

I DEFINITELY want, need, got to have an observatory.  And I want it now!  So, I've re-thought my plans and I have come up with another solution.  As soon as I work out some details, I'm heading to the lumber yard.  It will be a small, modified roll-off style.  But instead of the top rolling off, the roof will split in half.  I guess you could call it a flip-top design.  About one foot of each sidewall will flip with the roof.  They will be opened manually.

Although I'm sure there are a host of other issues I'll have to deal with, the biggest two that I can think of are a) weight and b) weather.  Since the roof also incorporates a section of the eastern/western walls, there's a danger of it getting too heavy for me to flip it open.  It might also put a lot of torque on the walls and stress on the hinges that will hold it.  I figure there will have to be some kind of bracing between the plywood for the roof and the wall section that folds down with it.  I don't want the roof section separating from the wall section, or the whole thing ripping itself off the hinges, or putting too much stress on the main wall.  I do think I would use less wood in the roof panel to make it lighter (i.e. don't use 16" centers for the 2x4s).  I guess I need someone with enough carpentry skills and experience to tell me if this design is even possible.

As for the weather, naturally there has to be some sort of overlap at the top to keep the rain out.  I haven't really figured out the best way to do this yet.  I've been soliciting ideas but haven't heard anything absolutely solid yet.  Someone did suggest using a ridge vent attached only to one section of the roof.  I'll have to investigate that idea more thoroughly.

I also want to build this thing as modular as I can get it.  I figured I'd build the walls, roof panels, and floor separately, and then bolt them together (or use lag bolts).  That way I could easily dismantle it in case I wanted to move it.  Whatever I decide to do, I want it right now!  Too many observing opportunities have passed me by because I didn't have the time and energy to setup my equipment.  As soon as I think I have the roof design solved, I'm going to start work on getting it built.  The rest of it will probably be a design as I go approach.

Update:  03/01/04

Well, I've been doing more thinking on the observatory but no construction yet.  Here's the dimensions of my scope when it's setup on the tripod:

Scope height

As you can see, the minimum height clearance has to be 70", which is about the lowest the scope will go (i.e. telescope tube level, and yes, I want full tripod height).  With this in mind, I think I will have my stationary walls be 5 feet high and the section of wall attached to the roof will be 1 foot.  With a pitched roof, I should have plenty of room.  I've also decided that I want a 6x8 foot building:

Observatory dimensions

This means that the roof section, not even counting the attached wall, is a little greater than 3x8 (since I want a little extension for rain drainage).  We might be reaching the limit of what I can flip open, and what will be structurally sound.  

At this point, I think I'll frame the floor with 2x6 boards on 16" centers:

Observatory floor

I'm going to build the roof as light as I possibly can, perhaps with 2x2 boards, or 1x4 boards.  I'm going to try to approach it in a way that if I learn that it will be too heavy, I can switch to the roll-off design without too much waste of time, work, or materials.

Concerning rain entering between the gap in the top, I did check out a ridge vent at my local hardware store.  That is NOT going to work!  Those things are way too flimsy to be supported only on one side.  A moderate wind would have it flapping all over the place, so I'll have to have some other means of securing the top against weather if I do end up with a flip-top design.

Update:  03/09/04

Well I've finally started construction of the Fingernail Moon Observatory.  I began work Sunday, March 7, 2004.

Observatory floor framing  Here you see the floor framing for the building.  It's made out of 2x6 boards.  The size is 6ft wide by 7ft 6in long (so that 8ft plywood will have a 3in overhang on the front and back).  I've also put in a few cross braces to strengthen the floor (not seen in this image).  And that's all I have built at this time.  Next will come the plywood floor and three of the stationary walls.  I'm not quite sure how to build the back wall and door.

And I still don't know what I'm going to do about the roof design.  I guess I'll worry about that when I get there.

Update:  03/26/04

ObservatoryI've now got the floor down and the main wall framing up.  I've pretty much reached the hard part of figuring out how I'm going to do the roof.  More brainstorming is needed.

Update:  05/07/04

Now I'm back to figuring on how I'm going to construct my roof.  Remember that it will be an "A-frame" that splits down the middle, with a one foot section of sidewall flipping with it.  I'm going to build on of the one-foot side sections next, along the lines of this drawing:

One foot flipwall sectionI'm not really sure yet about what size wood to use or how many vertical boards (the studs) I should have.  The goal is to make it as light as possible, but still be structurally sound.  I think this section will be built with 2x4 boards.  Since the rafters are only going to be halfway across, I'm going to have to figure out a way of attaching them securely to this one foot wall section.  The only way I can think of at the moment is to make braces out of triangular shaped pieces of plywood.  One side would attach to the rafter while the other side would attach to the vertical stud of the wall section.  That means that I must have the rafters aligned with the studs.  I'm not sure how that will work out on the ends because those studs will be against the north/south end-wall sections.  I'll probably have to add a couple of more studs just behind these.  I'm also not sure what size wood to use for the rafters.  I think 2x4 would just be way too much, so I'm thinking either 1x4 or 2x2 boards.

As for how the flip-top section will attach to the stationary wall, I'm currently leaning toward using about 4 door hinges.  Although they need more precision and work to install, I think they will look better, be more sturdy, and will allow me to attach the sections without first having to install the wall siding.

Update:  02/24/05

Okay, the observatory project has set for almost a year without being touched.  I have GOT to get back to work on it.  Although my skies are becoming more and more light polluted, I would definitely do more observing if I didn't have the hassles of setting up and taking everything down.  Plus, whenever we move, I plan on taking the observatory with me.

All of the time since my last update hasn't been idle.  I've been doing a lot of brainstorming.  I've stood in the middle of my observatory framing many times, thinking about how to solve the roof design.  But no matter which way I think about it, I think I'm going to have to abandon the flip-top idea.  Even with 4 or 5 hinges, that is still a lot of stress on the wood.  I'm just not sure it would hold.  I'm not even sure if the roof itself could be structurely sound, since it would only be a half truss.  By the time I put enough bracing in to keep it from falling apart, it may be beyond what the hinges can take, what the wall itself can hold (given the torque of having these hang off the side), and what my body can take.  Let's face it, I'm going to have to be able to grab the thing at head level, and pull it all the way over and lower it to the side.  I think the weight will be too great, or at the very least, I won't be able to get enough leverage on it to get the thing started.

With all this in mind, I think I'm going to go with a roll-off roof.  It's a proven design with a lot of examples in the field.  I'm still going to approach it from a modular point of view with regards to construction.  I'm a one man show so I need to be able to break this thing down into small components for assembly/moving.  I'm not quite sure how to build the roof with this in mind.  The whole thing that slides will be quite heavy, maybe beyond what two men could put into place during assembly, so I need to think about this a little more.  At the very least, I can proceed with building the one foot tall wall sections.

I appreciate any advice, ideas, or suggestions anyone has to offer.  Especially ones that will save me money and labor.

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