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telescope techniques

A Simple Truss-Tube Dobsonian

This inexpensive conversion can turn your bulky Dobsonian into a lightweight dream scope.

By Barry Leger

he traditional Dobsonianstyle Newtonian reflector has

many attributes that make it an
attractive choice it is rugged,
sets up in an instant, and is simple to use.
Unfortunately, it also tends to be on the
bulky side, which is a major disadvantage
for the legions of amateurs who must
transport their scopes to remote locations
to enjoy dark skies. Most of this bulk is
due to the tube itself, which, in the majority of moderate-size home-built and
commercial scopes, is made from a single
length of rigid, dense cardboard. This
works fine, but if your vehicle is cramped
for space, you have a problem.
The instruments described in The
Dobsonian Telescope by Richard Berry
and David Kriege demonstrate the trusstube designs many virtues, especially for
large scopes, where solid tubes become
impractical. However, even moderate-size
instruments can be made this way. For
observers going mobile, some kind of
break-apart truss tube has a lot of appeal.
Like many telescope makers, I first resisted the urge to build a truss-tube Dob
because I believed that the seemingly
complex design would require specialized tools and materials as well as a great
deal of time and skill. But necessity (in
the form of a newly acquired two-seat
sports car) forced me to take the plunge.
Now, after successfully converting my 8inch solid-tube Dobsonian to a simple
truss design, I can tell you that none of
my initial fears were justified.


The Drawing Board

When I sat down to design my new telescope, I knew that certain difficult criteria
would have to be met. First, I needed an
instrument that would fit into the tiny


December 2000 Sky & Telescope

2000 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Author Barry Leger is seen here at Saints Rest

Beach, New Brunswick, Canada, with his highly
portable 8-inch f/6 truss-tube Dobsonian. This
south-facing beach is a favorite observing site.

Plotting and Cutting

The specific type of wood one might
choose depends mainly on personal tastes.
I used high-quality oak plywood, for the
beauty of its wood grain; however, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) can also
be used. Altogether, the parts required less
than 13 of a full 4-by-8-foot sheet. Club
members looking for a good group project might consider making three scopes
from a single sheet and sharing the cost.
Begin by copying the parts layout


Rocker box


1 3/4

13 1/8

Upper ring

(1 3)

19 1/2 Dia.

Rocker box
base (sides)

Mirror box
base (sides)

6 1/8

4 5/8

13 3/4 Dia.

6 5/8

11 5/8
10 f/4.5
8 f/6

1 1/4 struts
7/8 (1 3)
11 5/8

Ground board

Cross member C

1 11/16

8 1/4
12 1/4
14 1/2

The exploded view shows how the various

wooden pieces go together to form the telescopes mirror-box and rocker-box assemblies.

(shown above) onto your sheet of material.

Next, cut out all the pieces the parts for
my scope were cut using a compass saw.
Take your time for best results. Although a
bandsaw or jigsaw would make the job
much easier and faster, one is not required.
Once the circles for the side bearings
and rocker-box sides are cut out and divided in half, temporarily clamp the matching
pieces together and go over the edges with
a hand plane to remove any rough spots.
This will ensure that the side bearings are
symmetrical important for smooth altitude motions. Last, mark and drill out all
the holes for the truss-rod bolts and
screws, then sand all the pieces smooth.

M i ox


R o ox

The Mirror Box

The mirror box consists of five parts: two
semicircular sides and three rectangular
cross members (labeled A, B, and C in the
plans). The telescopes primary mirrorcell bolts pass through the center cross
member, A. Counterweights also hang
from this part. Fore and aft truss rods are
connected to the other two cross members (B and C ). Left and right truss rods
are connected to the sides, which also

Below: All broken down and ready to go. One

of Legers primary design goals was a telescope that disassembled into a package compact enough to fit into the limited trunk space
of his two-seat sports car. Below right: The secondary cage is joined to the truss tubes with
4-inch bolts. The brackets on the secondary
cage are sandwiched between truss-pole pairs.


(3.9-cubic-foot) trunk of my Fiat X1/9.

Obviously no solid-tube telescope would
fit it would have to be a truss tube. Second, with no workshop in sight, the scope
would have to be built using my modest
collection of tools: a power drill, a handsaw
(compass saw), a plane, some clamps, and
a screwdriver. Furthermore, the completed
scope had to be easy to assemble by hand
and, more important, easy to take apart
theres nothing worse than having to spend
20 minutes in the cold tearing down a
scope after a long observing session. Also,
because I like to plan ahead, I wanted a design that would accommodate a 10-inch
mirror so that a future upgrade would be
possible without a total rebuild. Finally, I
had to be able to do all this on a next-tonothing budget. This meant keeping things
simple and avoiding specialty hardware.
To achieve these design goals I began
by reducing the number of parts usually
associated with truss-tube designs. The
mirror box and altitude bearings were
combined into a single unit, and the secondary cage consists of a single octagonal
ring. The eight truss rods are attached
simply with nuts and bolts instead of
elaborate clamping mechanisms.
Since truss scopes of this size are inherently lightweight, my main goal was
to ensure that the finished instrument
was as strong and rigid as necessary. I accomplished this by using 34-inch plywood
for the mount and secondary cage, and
4-inch wood dowels for the truss rods.

2000 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Sky & Telescope December 2000


telescope techniques

Truss-Rod Lengths
The dimensions listed here are from center to center of each hole. Two of each size
length are required. For the 8-inch f/6 scope: 32 38 inches, 34 78 inches, 38 34 inches,
and 41 inches. For the 10-inch f/4.5 model: 27 78 inches, 30 38 inches, 34 14 inches, and
3612 inches.
These values are correct only for the scopes described in the article. If you are not
using a low-profile focuser (nominal focuser height of 2 inches), subtract an inch
from each truss pole for every inch of extra focuser height. If your mirrors focal
length is longer or shorter than those specified here, adjust the truss-pole lengths
accordingly add if your mirrors focal length is longer, subtract if it is shorter.

function as the altitude bearings.

Prior to assembly, paint the inner faces
of the mirror-box pieces with flat black
paint. Once assembled, some areas will
be difficult to reach, particularly if youre
using spray paint.
Now its time to put the pieces together.
Lay one of the mirror-box sides face down
and carefully place a cross member in
position. Use a small amount of 5-minute
epoxy to hold the piece in place. Repeat the
procedure with the remaining two cross
members and then attach the other mirror-box side with epoxy. Once the glue
has set, finish the job with wood screws.
Epoxy Ebony Star Formica strips to the
edges of both side bearings with contact
cement. Finally, run the eight 38-inch-by-2inch truss-rod bolts through the holes in
the mirror-box sides. Although T-nuts
could be used, I found that drilling the
holes slightly undersize and threading the
bolts directly into the wood worked well.
The Secondary Cage
The secondary cage consists of only three
wooden parts: an octagonal plywood
ring and two struts for mounting the focuser. Position the side of your focuser
flush under the upper ring and make
sure that it points directly at the optical
axis of the scope. Trace the focusers outline. The two struts are then epoxied and
screwed in position, bracketing the
focusers outline. After the cage is assembled and painted, the focuser will be secured to these struts from underneath
with wood screws. The scope shown here
uses a helical focuser and a single aluminum rod to hold the secondary mirror. A hole through the octagonal ring
allows access to the secondary holders
set screw, located on the side of the focuser. If you plan on using a four-vane
spider, simply mount four more blocks
on the front of the octagonal ring to provide attachment points.
Four metal L-brackets are used to at136

December 2000 Sky & Telescope

tach the truss tubes to the secondary

cage. During assembly, each bracket is
sandwiched between truss-rod pairs and
connected with a 14-inch bolt. On the four
L-brackets, drill 14-inch holes 214 inches
from where the brackets bend. Carefully
center each L-bracket on the top, bottom, left, and right sides on the underside of the octagon, and secure with small
wood screws. (There should be a distance
of 1214 inches between opposite brackets

whether you are building the 8- or 10inch version of this scope.) Paint the entire structure flat black.
The Rocker Box and Truss Poles
With the secondary cage and mirror box
assembled, it is time to turn our attention to the remaining pieces. The rocker
box consists of eight parts: two semicircular sides, the base, a ground board, and
four altitude-bearing blocks. Epoxy the
blocks to the inside of each side piece as
shown on page 135, and then epoxy and
screw the sides to the base. Epoxy Teflon
pads to the top of each bearing block
and a piece of Ebony Star Formica to the
underside of the rocker box.
The ground board could not be simpler.
Use the 11 58-inch square piece of plywood,
drill a hole in the center for the pivot bolt,
and attach three hockey pucks (I am
Canadian after all!) for feet. Rubber can be
tricky to drill through, so use nails. Finally,
epoxy three Teflon pads to the top of the

Single-stalk secondary holder

Secondary cage

Legers Simplified

Light shield

Truss rods (8)

Cookie-tin mirror cover


Rocker box
Bearing blocks
(2 of 4 visible)

2000 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.


Visible in this view are the scopes rocker-box

and mirror-box assemblies. Note the two
home made counterweights and the three
primary-mirror collimating bolts on the back
of the mirror box. The side bearings (which
also serve as the sides of the mirror box) are
faced with Ebony Star Formica.

ground board, directly above each foot.

The truss rods are simply 34-inch hardwood dowels cut to length, with holes
drilled at either end. They are connected to
the mirror box with 2-inch long 38-inch
bolts, and to the secondary cage brackets
with 14-inch by 2-inch bolts. Different bolt
sizes guarantee that the rods will not be
positioned upside down during assembly.
The most important thing is to ensure

the correct distance between the center of

each hole (the distance given in the sidebar on page 136). If you have access to a
drill press, by all means use it, but a hand
drill also works well. Drill a 38-inch hole 34
inch from one end of each dowel, then
measure and mark the appropriate length
on each truss rod for the upper hole. Start
with the longest rods first so that if you
make a mistake you can redrill the hole

and still use the piece as one of the short

truss rods. After all the holes are drilled,
trim the ends with the 14-inch holes, leaving a 34-inch overhang. If you have not
drilled them perfectly, dont worry. Slight
variations will cause your truss rods to
twist during assembly, which only improves the structures rigidity.
Once all the poles are cut and drilled,
assemble the scope and permanently
mark the position of each rod. Unless
you have done all your drilling with extraordinary accuracy, you will have to replace them in exactly the same position
each time the scope is assembled or you
will have to recollimate.
Installing the Optics
If you are converting your solid-tube
Dobsonian to this design, you can use
your existing focuser, spider, and mirror


2000 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Sky & Telescope December 2000


telescope techniques

cell. The mirror cell I made is simply a

disk of plywood the same diameter as
the primary mirror, with three 38-by-2inch bolts supported by springs and attached to the mirror box. The mirror itself sits on felt pads and is secured to the
cell with three small L-brackets.
To protect the mirror when the telescope is not in use, I incorporated a cookie
tin into the mirror cell. Holes in the cookie
tin match up with the mirror-cell bolts.
Washers positioned between the springs
and the bottom of the cookie tin hold it
firmly against the back of the mirror cell.

I simply remove the tins cover to begin

using my telescope. I was fortunate to
find an octagonal cookie tin that neatly
matches the shape of my secondary cage,
but any tin of the right size will do.
A Balancing Act
I like to use both a red-dot EZ Finder
and a 6 30 finderscope and prefer to
have them positioned near the eyepiece
for easy access. The result, unfortunately,
is a telescope that is rather front-heavy and
requires counterweights to balance properly. To save weight the finderscope could


be omitted or mounted on one of the

truss poles, nearer to the center of gravity.
With Dobsonians that feature low-profile
rocker boxes, the center of balance is going
to be located near the mirror end of the
scope. As a result, every once of weight at
the focuser end requires about 4 ounces of
counterweight at the mirror end to balance
out. With two finders, my scope probably
represents the heaviest configuration but
still uses just under 8 pounds of counterweight for a total instrument weight of
about 30 pounds. A heavier 10-inch f/4.5
mirror would require less counterweight
than my 8-inch f/6. Lead fishing weights
or barbells make fine counterweights that
are both inexpensive and readily available.
Finishing Touches
For a professional-looking finish, I applied oak strips around the curves of the
rocker-box sides, the tops of the altitude
bearings, and around the outside of the
upper ring of the secondary cage. The
scope was finished with a few coats of
wood stain to bring out the grain of the
oak plywood and the truss rods. A baffle
made from a black kitchen placemat was
added to the outside of the secondary
cage and secured by the two truss-rod
bolts positioned opposite the focuser.
The baffle needs to be large enough so
that you cant see past it when you look
in the fully racked-in focuser (without
an eyepiece). A short cardboard tube extension directly under the focuser provides additional baffling.
Once my telescope was completed, I
couldnt wait to use it. I am happy to say
that I was not disappointed. Not only
were the first views through this telescope under dark skies superb, but the
structure showed no detectable flexure in
use. In fact, it is so strong that it can be
picked up and carried by the truss rods
and still maintain its shape.
Upgrading from the 8-inch f/6 to a 10inch f/4.5 model is as simple as cutting a
new upper ring and shortening each
truss rod by 412 inches. Although my
scope works very well, Im certain there
is plenty of room for improvement. I encourage anyone thinking of venturing
into telescope making to give this conversion a try!
Barry Leger is a mechanical/environmental
engineer from New Brunswick, Canada. He
can be reached at 68 Champlain Dr., Saint
John, New Brunswick E2J-3C8, Canada, or by
e-mail at


December 2000 Sky & Telescope

2000 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.