I went to my first class yesterday. It also happened to be the first meeting of the year for ASSA Johannesburg‘s telescope making class, held in the workshop of Parktown Boys High School. I was surprised by how few people were present, but I was assured that this was because most people are still away on holiday, and things will really come to life over the next few weeks. As it was, there were only two people present grinding mirrors, myself included. I arrived at the venue to find two people I already knew (Johan Smit and Bosman Olivier), with their completed telescopes set up on the lawn. After chatting a bit about telescope making and the path ahead, and showing me some of the finer technical details of their scope’s construction (Who knew that a piece of angle iron, two bolts and a pair of hair elastics could make such an elegant and effective finder scope mounting?), we headed inside.
They made me sign a waiver, promising not to sue the class or the school if I injured myself on their machinery, selected a relatively blemish-free six inch mirror blank and tool, and set me up. One brief lecture and demonstration later, and I was grinding glass! Time passed quickly, and before long it was time to head home.
So what exactly did I do? Well as already mentioned, I’m making a six inch mirror. Since I’ve never done anything like this before, I’m taking the advice of all the experts and keeping it simple. I will be making a six inch f/8 Newtonian telescope, on a Dobsonian style alt-azimuth mount. This will be a simple, general-purpose first scope, but since I intend to build something far more ambitious as a second (or third) effort, I’m going to do my best to get the optics as perfect as possible. I want to be good at this!
But back to the class. The advice simply never stopped coming. Now I have done a LOT of reading on the subject over the last few months. I’ve even read all three volumes of Amateur Telescope Making. But I didn’t want to come across as the newbie who thinks he knows everything so I kept quiet while the very basics were explained to me. This turned out to be a wise decision, as these guys were all speaking from personal experience. All that dry, intimidating theory was turned into easily applied practice.
I clearly have a lot still to learn. Although I achieved a lot in the two hours of actual grinding, my strokes were uneven and poorly controlled. It will be a while before I properly master the simple motions needed. But that’s the point of the class – people with experience can see your mistakes and point them out, saving you a great deal of time and heartache from learning the hard way. I’m confident I’ll learn a lot!