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An Observatory Grows in Maine

astrophotography DIY imaging observatory
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#1 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 03:58 PM

Greetings CN addicts!

 

I am posting this thread to document my backyard observatory build.  The observatory has been already built and completed, but I will post the progress here as I captured the images during the build.  Doing it this way will hopefully ensure the information is correct to everyone who wishes to do the same.  This build is inspired by ChrisWhite's Slide off Roof OBSY Build.  Thanks Chris for all the details you provided in your build!

 

So, here we go...

 

07-03-2020

 

This is my ambitious undertaking of building my backyard (actually front yard) observatory.  I will be providing as much detail, including all plans, etc. if anyone else wants to know the nitty-gritty.

On July 3, I marked out the location of my 6’x8’ obsy and officially began the project.  I have spoken to my direct neighbors and they are aware of the build.  As a matter of fact, everyone in the neighborhood is super supportive, so I'm grateful for that!

 

The basics:  The obsy will be 6’x8’ with a truss roof which will slide North to South.  I will be pouring an 18” concrete pier with 36” concrete footing ~6 feet underground, sufficiently below the New England frost line.  The concrete footing will sit on 2 inches of packed gravel, with rebar supporting both the footing and the pier itself.  Once set, on top of the concrete pier, I will have my 53” high x 8" diameter steel pier bolted and exposed centrally within my obsy.

 

This project is just beginning, so detailed notes and pictures for each step will follow.  For now, here is the roughly demarcated spot, in my front yard, where the obsy will go!

 

07 03 A
 
07 03 C

 


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#2 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 04:02 PM

07-13

 

Before the dig, I called DigSafe to coordinate my local utilities to come and mark any potentially buried power, water, or sewage line and got the clear go-ahead from that!

 

A neighbor’s friend has a John Deere with a backhoe, and offered to swing by and dig up the “pit” for me, where the concrete pier would go.  A wonderful, kind man who didn’t even want any payment in return!  He was genuinely excited about the observatory when I told him what I was building smile.gif

 

07 13 A

The dig lasted about 2 hours and, in the end, I had a 5’ x 5’ square hole about 5.5’ deep!  And I thought I was going to do this by hand!!
 
07 13 B

 


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#3 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 04:08 PM

07-15

 

A friend from the local Southern Maine Astronomers (SMA) club helped me build a 3’x3’ by 1’ deep wood template with rebar mats for the footing.  I tried to pump out the water beforehand, but it was too sandy for my water pump.  This proved to be the most challenging part for the footing since we didn’t know the template started to float a bit as we poured concrete into it :/  In the end, I used about 14 80lb. bags of concrete for the footing.  At the end of the pour, we pounded down the 4 vertical rebar rods for the central column of concrete.  I forgot to take pictures of the footing template and pour, but it was heavy, messy, work :/

 

Later that day, my SMA friend, a neighbor, and the acquaintance with the John Deere tractor helped put in the 18” diameter concrete tube and kept it level as we backfilled the pit with the tractor and shovel.  We packed this in as best as possible and that was it for that day.

 

07 15 A
 
07 15 B

 


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#4 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 06:25 PM

07-19

 

A few days later, we poured the concrete into the tube.  This is a concrete mixer I purchased from Harbor Freight for $200.  It took a painful 3 hours to put together.

 

07 19 A

 

…and set the template in with the anchor bolts.  I made the template out of plywood matching the holes on the base of my steel pier.

 

07 19 B

Edited by jerahian, 14 October 2020 - 06:25 PM.

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#5 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 06:29 PM

07-24

 

On the weekend, my friend and I installed and leveled the custom-made steel pier I had bought from a local member of my astronomy club.

 

07 24 A

 

This pier housed an AP900 pier plate before, so I was ecstatic to find it and buy it for my AP900.  But, my pier plate would simply not fit.  The pier opening was a hair too narrow for the plate.  So, I whipped out my angle grinder and went to work.  It fits now 😊!

 

07 24 B

 


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#6 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 06:32 PM

07-26

 

Then came the tedious exercise of adequately grading the ground and leveling the blocks the obsy will sit on.  This part just requires time, time, and more time to measure and remeasure to get right.

 

07 26 A

 


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#7 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 06:36 PM

08-01

 

Once I had the blocks level and the ground properly graded, the weekend arrived and I could devote my full day working on making progress.  I threw down 3 layers of heavy-duty landscaping fabric and crushed stone on top.  My daughter helped with this part as a second pair of hands and she really enjoyed spreading the stone around 😊

 

I used old shingles from a neighbor’s newly refinished roof as shims to perfectly level the rim joists.

 

08 01 A

 


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#8 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 06:41 PM

08-02

 

So now the wood work can begin.  I had already purchased the 2x6 x 8’ PT lumber for this part.  Luckily, my neighbor has a good framing nail gun I could borrow, so I used 3 ½” nails to frame up the rim and floor joists along with end braces for the floor joists which are not sitting on blocks.  The steel pier didn’t end up exactly center to the floor plan, so I put in an extra cross-joist to help secure the trap doors I intend to put into the floor once laid (you'll see what I mean toward the end).

 

08 02 A

 


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#9 Astrola72

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 07:45 PM

I love a good build story. Looks great - keep them coming!

 

Joe


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#10 Benschop

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 09:50 PM

Following your build - looking good so far. 


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#11 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 11:07 PM

08-11

 

At this point, we went on a summer vacation to an island off the coast of Maine.  It was beautiful, and we largely relaxed, read books, played games, ate and drank beer, and watched the stars at night smile.gif  This was my view when reading my book.

 

08 16 0

 

I lost 2 weekends of obsy build time...


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#12 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 11:13 PM

08-16

 

I had a few hours on the Sunday we returned, rejuvenated from our break, to start framing the walls. So, I got the floor down using 3/4" PT plywood...

 

08 16 A
 
...and the front wall framed.
 
08 16 B

 


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#13 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 11:18 PM

08-23

 

The following weekend, my goal was to finish framing the remaining 3 walls and standing them up.  Since this was my first time framing walls, it took the WHOLE weekend :/  But, I managed to get them done.

 

08 23 A
 
08 23 B

 


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#14 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 11:46 PM

09-06

 

With the walls in place, I could now start the more complicated elements of the roof:  The cantilevered supports, the roof slider sides, the roof slider base, and then the roof trusses.

 

The cantilevered supports are PT wood.  The top beam is installed first and basically sits on top of the side walls and runs out to a point at which a 2x4 then cantilevers it to the base of the obsy.

 

The root slider sides, which are basically on the side walls and a support/stop on top of the front wall, were put up first.  I then mounted the 71" (1804mm) 227kg Titan series heavy-duty slides I purchased from Dunn & Watson in Australia, which will be the guides to the roof motion while rolling.  Once secured and solid, I built the roof slider base which is the part where the casters are mounted in this picture.  This base needs to be as perfectly square as possible, which proved a little tricky.  I then finally mounted the roof slider base to the slider hardware itself. 

 

09 06 A
 
09 06 B
 
Here, the roof slider base is fully mounted and rolled off to full extension.
 
09 06 D
 
I built and installed all 5 roof trusses, at 6/12 slope, to the roof base.
 
09 06 E
 
09 06 F
 
...and then I added the cantilevered support beam.
 
09 06 G
 
Here I'm checking to make sure my obsy wall height calculation was correct with regard to my local horizon and trees.  I wanted to maximize the protection from wind and light without going above my surrounding tree heights.
 
09 06 H

Edited by jerahian, 15 October 2020 - 11:48 AM.

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#15 jerahian

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Posted 14 October 2020 - 11:59 PM

09-12

 

Saturday was about getting the roof completed.  I mounted 1/4" plywood on top of the purlins, then stuck GAF StormGuard Film-Surfaced Leak Barrier to the plywood, on top of which I installed brown sheet metal roof panels.  I also put in drip edges along the sides to protect the plywood before sticking the StormGuard on.

 

09 12 B

 

09 12 A

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#16 Astrola72

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 08:30 AM

waytogo.gif



#17 Travellingbears

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 08:56 AM

jerahian

 

Very nice plan and construction! I had also used GAF stormguard on my 8x8 observatory split-roof (highly recommend it).
 

Dave


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#18 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 09:04 AM

jerahian

 

Very nice plan and construction! I had also used GAF stormguard on my 8x8 observatory split-roof (highly recommend it).
 

Dave

I see your observatory is a split roof, which I was initially thinking of doing to reduce the weight being rolled off, especially with the sliders.  However, I couldn't come up with a design I was comfortable with to keep water out, especially for a split right over the scope and mount.  We get a ton of snow here in Maine in the Winter :/  Looks like you solved that problem!?



#19 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 10:55 AM

...continuing...

 

09-13 - Sunday

 

With the roof largely completed, I moved on to getting the outer wall sidings in place.  I used 4'x8' pre-primed OSB siding I got from home depot.

 

For the double doorway opening, I installed the sidings over the opening completely.  I then used a 1/2" drill bit to drill a hole through the siding right up against one of the framed jack studs.  This hole was used to insert a 1/2" flush trim bit attached to my router and route completely around the inner perimeter of the door frame.  Since I made sure the two overlapping sidings on the front wall met right at the center of the wall and, hence, right at the center of the 2 planned doors, what gets cut out then becomes the siding for the doors themselves with a good gap for the mounting hardware.

 

Once the siding panels were installed, I installed flashing to prevent water from dripping into the observatory where the gable siding will be separated. 

 

09 13 A
 
09 13 B
 
09 13 C

 


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#20 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 11:04 AM

09-27 - Sunday

 

Installed the siding for the gable ends.

Finished building the frames for the doors and installed the siding onto them.

Painted the outer walls the same color as my house.

 

09 26 A
 
09 26 B

Edited by jerahian, 15 October 2020 - 11:06 AM.


#21 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 11:13 AM

10-04
 
To pull electricity and ethernet to the observatory, I dug an 18" trench between my home and the observatory, wide enough to run 2 separate PVC conduits (to separate electrical from data).  The total length of the trench was about 18ft.
 
10 04 A
 
With the help of an electrician, I installed a light switch to flip on 3 bright LED lights to help with those late nights fumblings with spacers, USB cables, etc. and 2 separate double-pair outlet boxes.  For data, I pulled 2 separate Cat6 ethernet cables and have since wired the observatory end with keystone jacks for a wall plate, which I have not purchased yet.

 

10 04 B

Edited by jerahian, 15 October 2020 - 11:14 AM.

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#22 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 11:32 AM

10-11

 

Trim completed, gable vents installed, doors hung, and, thankfully, the roof still rolls off, lol! smile.gif  My observatory is now 99.9% complete!

 

...and, with this posting, I'm now caught up with my historical updates, so any other update will come hopefully in real-time.

 

10 10 F
 
10 10 C
 
10 10 B
 
10 10 D
 
10 10 A
 
10 10 E

 


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#23 Travellingbears

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 12:48 PM

jerahian

 

Your observatory looks like it’s ready to bring out mount/scope!  I also did the trenching for electrical and I remember it as a tough day with ‘trenching shovel’.

 

Related to your question on ‘water tightness’ with my split roof I haven’t had problems where needed to add any rubberized flashing yet at any seams. In my split roof the north and south segments have 2” overlap on side panels and flashing (keeps out blowing rain). The framing of south and north roof sections at the ‘ridge line’ is well aligned so gap is about 1/2” at normal stopping point. The key to prevent water penetration at top (apex ridge line) is the row of broad ‘cap’ shingles with 7” wings which is attached along ridge line permanently to south side and north side ‘wing’ extends over north shingles by 3-4” when roof is closed. I had used Onduvilla shingle system for roofing and GAF system underneath to fully cover deck.
 

Dave


Edited by Travellingbears, 15 October 2020 - 01:03 PM.

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#24 Astrola72

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 12:59 PM

Beautiful. Very nice work. Looking forward to first light.

 

Joe


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#25 jerahian

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Posted 15 October 2020 - 04:39 PM

For those interested, here is my SketchUp 2016 plan for this observatory.  Each "section" of the building is layered separately so you can limit what you see and focus directly on the section being built.


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