How to Make a Telescope at Home

With a telescope like the one here described, made with his own hands, a farmer boy many years ago discovered a comet which had escaped the watchful eyes of many astronomers.
First, get two pieces of plate glass, 6 in. square and 1 in. thick, and break the corners off to make them round, grinding the rough edges on a grindstone.
Use a barrel to work on, and fasten one glass on the top of it in the center by driving three small nails at the sides to hold it in place. Fasten, with pitch, a round 4-in. block of wood in the center on one side of the other glass to serve as a handle.

Homemade Telescope

Use wet grain emery for coarse grinding. Take a pinch and spread it evenly on the glass which is on the barrel, then take the glass with the handle and move it back and forth across the lower glass, while walking around the barrel; also rotate the glass, which is necessary to make it grind evenly. The upper glass or speculum always becomes concave, and the under glass or tool convex.

Work with straight strokes 5 or 6 in. in length; after working 5 hours hold the speculum in the sunshine and throw the rays of the sun onto a paper; where the rays come to a point gives the focal length. If the glass is not ground enough to bring the rays to a point within 5 ft., the coarse grinding must be continued, unless a longer focal length is wanted.

Have ready six large dishes, then take 2 lb. flour emery and mix in 12 qt. of water; immediately turn the water into a clean dish and let settle 30 seconds; then turn it into another dish and let settle 2 minutes, then 8 minutes, 30 minutes and 90 minutes, being careful not to turn off the coarser emery which has settled. When dry, turn the emery from the 5 jars into 5 separate bottles, and label. Then take a little of the coarsest powder, wetting it to the consistency of cream, and spread on the glass, work as before (using short straight strokes 1-1/2 or 2 in.) until the holes in the glass left by the grain emery are ground out; next use the finer grades until the pits left by each coarser grade are ground out. When the two last grades are used shorten the strokes to less than 2 in. When done the glass should be semi-transparent, and is ready for polishing.

When polishing the speculum, paste a strip of paper 1-1/3 in. wide around the convex glass or tool, melt 1 lb. of pitch and turn on to it and press with the wet speculum. Mold the pitch while hot into squares of 1 in., with 1/4-in. spaces, as in Fig. 1. Then warm and press again with the speculum, being careful to have all the squares touch the speculum, or it will not polish evenly. Trim the paper from the edge with a sharp knife, and paint the squares separately with jeweler’s rouge, wet till soft like paint. Use a binger to spread it on with. Work the speculum over the tool the same as when grinding, using straight strokes 2 in. or less.

Detail of Telescope Construction

When the glass is polished enough to reflect some light, it should be tested with the knife-edge test. In a dark room, set the speculum against the wall, and a large lamp, L, Fig. 2, twice the focal length away. Place a large sheet of pasteboard, A, Fig. 2, with a small needle hole opposite the blaze, by the side of the lamp, so the light from the blaze will shine onto the glass. Place the speculum S, Fig. 2, so the rays from the needle hole will be thrown to the left side of the lamp (facing the speculum), with the knife mounted in a block of wood and edgeways to the lamp, as in K, Fig. 2. The knife should not be more than 6 in. from the lamp. Now move the knife across the rays from left to right, and look at the speculum with the eye on the right side of the blade. When the focus is found, if the speculum is ground and polished evenly it will darken evenly over the surface as the knife shuts off the light from the needle hole. If not, the speculum will show some dark rings, or hills. If the glass seems to have a deep hollow in the center, shorter strokes should be used in polishing; if a hill in the center, longer strokes. The polishing and testing done, the speculum is ready to be silvered. Two glass or earthenware dishes, large enough to hold the speculum and 2 in. deep, must be procured. With pitch, cement a strip of board 8 in. long to the back of the speculum, and lay the speculum face down in one of the dishes; fill the dish with distilled water, and clean the face of the speculum with nitric acid, until the water will stick to it in an unbroken film.

The recipe for silvering the speculum is:

    Solution A:
    Distilled water………………………..4 oz.
    Silver nitrate……………………….100 gr.

    Solution B:
    Distilled water………………………..4 oz.
    Caustic stick potash (pure by alcohol)….100 gr.

    Solution C:
    Aqua Ammonia.

    Solution D:
    Sugar loaf…………………………..840 gr.
    Nitric acid…………………………..39 gr.
    Alcohol (Pure)………………………..25 gr.

Mix solution D and make up to 25 fluid oz. with distilled water, pour into a bottle and carefully put away in a safe place for future use, as it works better when old:

Now take solution A and set aside in a small bottle one-tenth of it, and pour the rest into the empty dish; add the ammonia solution drop by drop; a dark brown precipitate will form and subside; stop adding ammonia solution as soon as the bath clears. Then add solution B, then ammonia until bath is clear. Now add enough of the solution A, that was set aside, to bring the bath to a warm saffron color without destroying its transparency. Then add 1 oz. of solution D and stir until bath grows dark. Place the speculum, face down, in the bath and leave until the silver rises, then raise the speculum and rinse with distilled water. The small flat mirror may be silvered the same way. When dry, the silver film may be polished with a piece of chamois skin, touched with rouge, the polishing being accomplished by means of a light spiral stroke.

Fig. 3 shows the position of the glasses in the tube, also how the rays R from a star are thrown to the eyepiece E in the side of the tube. Make the tube I of sheet iron, cover with paper and cloth, then paint to make a non-conductor of heat or cold. Make the mounting of good seasoned lumber.

Thus an excellent 6-in. telescope can be made at home, with an outlay of only a few dollars. My telescope is 64 in. long and cost me just $15, but I used all my spare time in one winter in making it. I first began studying the heavens through a spyglass, but an instrument such as I desired would cost $200—more than I could afford.
Then I made the one described, with which I discovered a new comet not before observed by astronomers.

Excerpt from the book: