Build a telescope… or buy a new one?

Store-bought scopes are available at reasonable prices.

Is it really better to roll your own?

I don’t know when the idea occurred to me that I might be able to build a scope. Somewhere along the line of researching my soon to be purchased telescope, I stumbled upon some Web sites of people who had built their own. I know that as I continued to research, building a scope had become an option.

After doing some research with Canadian suppliers of telescopes and telescope parts, I realized something that surprised me. Building a telescope would not be much cheaper than buying one. Whatever telescope I chose to build, I could buy a commercial version with the same aperture for roughly the same cost, perhaps just a little more. Depending on the make of scope, it might be even cheaper to buy a commercial version.

After some thought, I decided that cost was not the most important factor. I’d had some prior experience with a similar question. Six years ago I took some spare computer parts and built myself a computer. The experience was incredibly liberating. The act of building a computer from parts took away the mystery of the beige box. A short while later, I purchased all new parts and built two computers for my family. The cost was roughly the same as purchasing cheap computers from Future Shop, but in the process of building I learned a lot about computers. More, by using Linux as my operating system, I learned a lot about how computers work. In the end, I got far more use out of my computers because I know how they were put together and how the operating system works, than if I’d purchased a low end beige box from Future Shop with OEM Windows installed. If I built a telescope, would I reap the same benefit?

If I built my scope, would I know more about how telescopes work than if I bought one? Would some of the mystery be taken away? Would I observe better if I built my own scope? Would I enjoy observing more? I decided that even if any of these statements turned out to be true, it would be worth the effort, and the expense, to build my own. I wanted to learn about how telescopes worked. I wanted the satisfaction of building my own telescope. The benefits to me would outweigh the costs.

My final decision: I would build a four or six inch, fairly portable reflector.