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Orion Pluck Foam Accessory Case vs. Harbor Freight Pluck Foam Toolcase
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In the interest of full disclosure, I have no financial stake in any of the companies mentioned in this article.
One of the most important accessories in an amateur astronomer’s arsenal is simply something to keep all of one’s other accessories in. Some astronomers use bare-bones toolcases with some simple padding. Others use high-end pelican cases layered with custom cut foam and dividers. Those in the middle typically get a case marketed as an eyepiece case from sources such as Orion or Scopestuff. Often, though, nearly identical cases can be obtained at a lower price from other sources. These cases are usually mass-produced in the far East. When sold through specialty retailers (such as telescope dealers) you tend to get hit with a bit of a markup. Sometimes this can substantially increase the price you ultimately pay.
To illustrate this, I am going to compare cases from two sources. One is the large pluck-foam accessory case from Orion telescopes and binoculars (item #05977) and the Harbor Freight tools large aluminum pluck-foam case (item #39196-0VGA). Both have identical internal dimensions and both are constructed from similar materials. Both include a shoulder strap and keys as well as customizable pluck-foam. In most respects, the cases are identical. However, there are a few key differences:
In the Orion case, the egg-case foam is glued into the lid. In the Harbor Freight case, the egg-case foam is held in place by a pair of metal clips. A removable pocketed tool-divider stows behind the egg foam. This provides a very convenient place to stow lenspens, collimation tools, wrenches, screwdrivers, flashlights or green laser pointers.
The Harbor freight case includes several removable neoprene-coated wooden dividers which can be used to further customize the interior of the case. The Orion case does not have this option.
Both of these features give the edge to the Harbor Freight case, but how do they stack up in terms of price? The Orion case costs $49.99 while the Harbor Freight case costs $29.99. Not only does the case cost $20 less at regular price, but Harbor Freight stores frequently hold large sales and I have seen these cases discounted all the way down to $23.99.
There is a useful lesson in this to many beginning astronomers. In many situations, you can cut down on the cost of accessories by looking into sources other than specialty distributors. Saving $26 by going to a local hardware store can translate to half the cost of a decent Plossl eyepiece. Astronomy is an expensive hobby. Sometimes knowing where to cut your costs can help you make the most of it.
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