My Questar sits on a surveyor’s tripod. The three legs can be adjusted to any height, and the platform can be levelled with a bubble level. These are very accurate, even a tenth of a degree will move the bubble off centre.
From there my wooden equatorial wedge is bolted down, and set to 35 degrees latitude. It is not adjustable. The Questar is then attached with the central screw, and if everything was cut and levelled correctly, the declination should read 35 degrees with the telescope optical tube in the vertical position. You can check this with the bubble level by having it rest on top of the optical tube assembly and read declination. Moving the optical tube horizontally and placing the bubble level on the side of the tube should in my case read 55 degrees (55 + 35 = 90). It does to within to less than one degree error (this will be close enough). Declination is now set, and does not need to be adjusted again.
Imagine now that the Quester telescope is a compass and can draw circles in the sky (the celestial sphere). If the optical tube is 90 degrees to the fork arms, it draws the largest circle when the right ascension drive turns 360 degrees. This is the celestial equator. If the optical tube is in line with the fork arms it should only rotate around the celestial pole. Finding this spot in the Southern Hemisphere is difficult, but you do not need to use this.
I remember from physics 101 that if you have one equation and two unknowns, you cannot solve it. You know declination, its set and not an unknown. You just need to know how east or west to rotate the equatorial platform to match up the celestial centre to avoid an ascension error. The easiest way is with a magnetic compass. True south is not the same as magnetic south. You can look up in a map to find out the discrepancy. In my case celestial south is located 19 degrees east of magnetic south. Use a map compass to adjust the direction of the mount. You are now aligned to within a degree in ascension (it will be close enough).
Now wait till a bright star shows up, and use the finder to locate and centre this. You do not need a pole star, any bright star will do you just need to know what it is. Look up in an atlas what its declination and ascension is. The declination should already be correct, now rotate the ascension plate till the coordinates match. If you have the clock drive running, there are no more adjustments to make. The eye piece plus the long focal length of the Questar gives you a narrow field of view, and the degree or less of inaccuracy in ascension combined will get you off centre, but it will always be in the view finder which covers 10 degrees in a 16 mm eyepiece. So that is the theory, does it work?
Last night I used the setting circles for the first time using this method. The moon was coming up, and only the bright stars were visible, and a picked some random targets around the sky, Alpha Centauri, Acrux (both double stars), Omega Centauri, Mars, Canopus, Sirius and the Jewel Box. I wrote the coordinates on a card, and rotated the fork arm in ascension and optical tube in declination. All targets showed up in the view finder. Flipping back and forth between the finder and telescope view, I was able to centre all the targets in a few seconds. You only have to adjust ascension and declination less than one degree. Once centred in the eyepiece I checked the setting circle readings. They were accurate to within ½ degree declination and 2 to 4 minutes ascension. It was a lot faster than trying to line up the optical tube by sight alone.
There are more accurate ways to align the telescope perfectly for astrophotography, but I found this was not needed for visual observation; you can make minor tweaks manually. You can really get bogged down in the fine details to the extent that you start to think of getting digital encoders, (and then get bogged down in the manual).
If you don’t use setting circles, you are missing out on a useful half of the Questar’s capabilities. It is all very retro, but that appeals to me also. You can actually make use of a star atlas to plan an evening rather than randomly hunting for things to see, which is what I have been doing so far. The best way to do this, may be to make small cards (size of playing cards) on an object of interest, the RA and Dec reading, some notes on this, and put them in your pocket, and go through them one at a time with a red led flash light. (You do not need a data base of 40,000 objects with a 3 ½ inch telescope). I have not done this yet, but I can see how star hoping via setting circles could work, by calculating the difference in right ascension and declination of a small target in relation to a local big target.