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Question about wooden tripods

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#1 godelescher

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:06 PM

I'm a cabinet maker with a full shop and I want to make a wooden tripod. My question isn't about the build, but about the wood.

 

At first I thought about hickory or ash. Both are very dense hardwoods but hickory has wonky grain patterns and wants to bow and twist when it's cut. Ash is nice and heavy and straight grained, but it's just about the least interesting wood on Earth to look at. It's just blonde and nothing else.


Then I thought about Ipe, which is both harder and stronger than either ash or hickory and also very interesting to look at, but after building a patio table out of Ipe, I had to send every blade in my shop out for resharpening and swore I'd never touch it again.

 

White oak is a thought. It's strong and beautiful and it would show as quartersawn on many of the tripod faces. But with its big open pores, I'm concerned about moisture absorbtion altering its shape


Teak would be the natural choice, but real teak prices are prohibitive and have been for years.

 

Maple, Cherry, and Walnut are all tight grained and readily available to me. I know a tripod out of any of those would be beautiful and I could easily use only the straightest grained boards, but none are very heavy.


I guess my question is about what do you look for in a wooden tripod. Are you looking for lightweight and transportable? Are you looking for heavy and stable? Are you looking for the warmth and beauty of wood? What's your suggestion?

 

Lastly, I'll add that rigidity isn't my concern. The rigidity will be taken care of by the leg design and spreaders. My concern is mostly about weight. Legs of an Ipe tripod might weigh 25 lbs. Legs of a cherry tripod might weigh as little as 8 lbs. If rigidity isn't a factor, how much of a factor is weight?


Edited by godelescher, 15 March 2021 - 10:46 AM.

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#2 Ken Sturrock

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:23 PM

My favorite wood tripod came with my old Takahashi EM-200 (teak?). It has fixed-length legs and is quite sturdy but not heavy. The hardware is interesting because the leg tension at the hub is maintained by shortened bicycle hub skewers and the metal tripod easily snaps into spring-tensioned holders on the inside of the legs with pins. It quickly snaps together without tools or the need to stand on your head.



#3 Bomber Bob

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:24 PM

My 1950s Edmund 4" F15 came on a beautiful Maple tripod:

 

Edmund 4 - OTA Done (Mounted) S04.jpg

 

Sturdy, very fast damping time, and I could carry the whole rig short distances around my back yard -- the LONG scope caused more off-balance issues while toting than the tall tripod.


Edited by Bomber Bob, 14 March 2021 - 10:26 PM.

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#4 William Whitaker

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:25 PM

Ash is traditional. Strength and resilience is what I mostly look for in a tripod.


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#5 Terra Nova

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:30 PM

TeleVue tripods are either ash or walnut. Both of mine are ash. If I had the skills to build a tripod tho, my choice would be red oak. 


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#6 PirateMike

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:35 PM

Back in my "medium format" picture taking days, I used a nice wood tripod (I still have it) and as I understand it... Ash is the best wood to use when making a tripod because of it's unique natural properties.

 

 

Miguel   8-)

 

.


Edited by PirateMike, 14 March 2021 - 10:47 PM.

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#7 Bomber Bob

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:36 PM

The tripod on my 1885 MacKenzie AZ Mount is Burmese Mahogany:

 

Mogey 3 - Prism Diagonal S12.jpg

 

Still has the original finish.  I just wipe it with lemon oil to keep it clean & moistened.


Edited by Bomber Bob, 14 March 2021 - 10:37 PM.

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#8 Jethro7

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 10:36 PM

Hello godelescher,

My Berlebach tripod is of ash and and it's as good as it can get. I have often thought laminated Bamboo would be a awesome material to use for a tripod because it does not expand nor contract with either heat, cold or moisture. I have a couple of of longhows made of Laminated Bamboo and they have stayed true for many years.

 

HAPPY SKIES TO YOU AND KEEP LOOKING UP Jethro



#9 apfever

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 11:03 PM

I think the most elaborate staircase we ever did was made with Jatoba, Brazilian Cherry.  This is very similar to Ipe, Brazilian Walnut. Jatoba is also heavier than water and loaded with silica.  Not only did we have to send out the shop for sharpening, we had to send out our wits when it was done. Talk about gorgeous character though. Extremely short grain that required using a Time Saver Sander for a planer. 

 

It's a good time to think about Black Walnut since the Govt. control experiment still has mask up.  Might as well go with the flow and you will definitely want to mask up for Black Walnut. I also suggest separating the sawdust if you give yours away for any animal bedding or stalls. Black Walnut can get up through hooves and your animals will falter.  Beautiful and strong but toxic, irritating to work, and so is the smoke if you burn it. 

 

Purple Heart is pretty.  I built a tesseract with Purple Heart and Black Walnut, and a couple other exotics. 

 

I go for character. My biggest suggestion is to keep the structurally sound knots. Strategically locate them if necessary. I think it insane that some of the elaborate staircases we did had to have the knots removed, standard operating procedure. By contrast, one we did for Budweiser had specific knot and character requirements to match the log cabin it went in. I was ecstatic.   

 

If you are into character, then ash becomes an excellent firewood. It really is.  I heat with wood, mostly maple and locust. 


Edited by apfever, 14 March 2021 - 11:08 PM.

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#10 godelescher

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 11:11 PM


 

Purple Heart is pretty.  I built a tesseract with Purple Heart and Black Walnut, and a couple other exotics. 

 

 

Purpleheart is a thought. I built a banjo retainer ring out of purpleheart and it basically machined like ipe i.e. it was horrible to work with, but the density and stability would be way beyond ash.

 

I'm not going to be using black walnut. Not because of heath concerns, but simply because the price of walnut has jumped from $4 b.f. to $11 b.f. in the last two years. It's nice, but it's also not all that stable or strong.

 

Purpleheart has really got me thinking. It might be too much, but man, it would be a pretty impressive tripod. Maybe bloodwood? Bloodwood has a janka hardness of 2900 which puts it in the same ballpark as cocobolo and brazilian cherry.

 

Also (I forgot to quote your penultimate paragraph) for a tripod I would only use FAS lumber and would discard even the smallest of knots, generally speaking. You mentioned standard operating procedure of getting rid of all knots and that you think that's not always the right decision. I know exactly what you're talking about. The "character" is in the wood's nature to be imperfect... Wood happens.

 

On the other hand, I think a wood tripod should have ONLY the straightest grained materials. Anything less would be a compromise. It's one thing to have some figuring or a small knot in a stairtread, it's another thing when you're using wood as a medium to build better science - it's a struggle to combine woodworking and astronomy under the best of circumstances, but it only makes it harder when you incorporate imperfections like knots and figured grain.

 

To be absoultely clear, I 100% agree with you, I just don't think science will appreciate it. And as woodworkers in a hobby ruled by advanced scientific tolerances, life is hard enough for us already.


Edited by godelescher, 15 March 2021 - 12:00 AM.


#11 godelescher

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 11:23 PM

My favorite wood tripod came with my old Takahashi EM-200 (teak?). It has fixed-length legs and is quite sturdy but not heavy. The hardware is interesting because the leg tension at the hub is maintained by shortened bicycle hub skewers and the metal tripod easily snaps into spring-tensioned holders on the inside of the legs with pins. It quickly snaps together without tools or the need to stand on your head.

Teak is hands down the best possible wood to use for a tripod. It's strong, beautiful, weather and rot resistant, and stable. If it weren't $25 a board foot (a tripod will take about 9 board feet) I wouldn't hesitate. In contrast, I can get quartersawn white oak for a little less than $4 a board foot, and cherry for less than $1.50 a board foot.



#12 MisterDan

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 11:41 PM

I used Baltic Birch for my tripod legs (and hub), way back when.  Sure, faces are plain, but I was shooting for strength and straightness, and the contrasting plies added some interesting detail.

 

Whichever wood you choose, we'd love to see your results (perhaps a few "in progress" photos, as well).

 

Best wishes.

Dan


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#13 wrnchhead

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Posted 14 March 2021 - 11:45 PM

That's interesting about black walnut, I had no idea. I only lightly hobby in the wood shop, but I do like it. 



#14 godelescher

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 12:10 AM

I used Baltic Birch for my tripod legs (and hub), way back when.  Sure, faces are plain, but I was shooting for strength and straightness, and the contrasting plies added some interesting detail.

 

Whichever wood you choose, we'd love to see your results (perhaps a few "in progress" photos, as well).

 

Best wishes.

Dan

I'm going for the golden ring of meshing the natural beauty of wood with the exacting tolerances of astronomy. Baltic birch ply would definitely solve a lot of problems, but it wouldn't be the same thing, you know?

 

As for photos, I would love to photo-document the process. I'm not by any stretch a knowledgeable or experienced astronomer - not compared to most others here at least, but I think I could contribute by offering the knowledge that's more in my wheelhouse. So look for a thread about "building a tripod". I expect it will start soon.


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#15 godelescher

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 12:12 AM

TeleVue tripods are either ash or walnut. Both of mine are ash. If I had the skills to build a tripod tho, my choice would be red oak. 

Just out of curiosity, why red oak? I would do that for you


Edited by godelescher, 15 March 2021 - 12:17 AM.


#16 godelescher

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 12:56 AM


Still has the original finish.  I just wipe it with lemon oil to keep it clean & moistened.

Withou knowing what lemon oil you're using, I'll day this: Pure lemon oil will ultimately remove the finish. The acids in pure lemon oil do a great job of cleaning, but they also break down the finishes and cause premature failures. Mass market Lemon oils, like Parker and Bailey's, are probably fine because they're heavily diluted with additives that offset the corrosive nature of pure lemon oil.

 

Still, if my goal were to preserve the wood, I think I would clean it mild soap and a damp rag, then give it a wipe-on coat of either linseed oil (not boiled linseed oil) or tung oil. If you did that regularly, the finish would get stronger over time.


Edited by godelescher, 15 March 2021 - 12:59 AM.


#17 Kasmos

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 03:38 AM

Back in 1979 I had a Arts and Crafts college class where a couple of the assignments involved woodwork.

For one of them I built a tripod for my C90 and used Purple Heart with Ebony details.

Purp-Tri.jpg

Because it's dark I can never get a good photo of it.

 

Purp-Hub.jpg

It was my own designed based on the size of a Celestron locked triangle.

I find it interesting that years later I've seen a few antique scopes with an almost identical design.

 

Purp-Foot.jpg

You wouldn't believe just how bright purple the color originally was. The instructor warned it would darken with age.

I believe the ebony has actually lighten a bit.

 

He instructed us to give our projects several coats of Watco Oil using #0000 steel wool and to do it every ? years.

Why do I suspect Watco was a better product back then? I never did it again but think it's time I do.

 

For the other project I made a bowel from African Walnut.

 

A year earlier (1978) I built a tripod for my Jaegers 4" from what I believe is White Oak.

Until last year it was rough and never finished. Because of a skylight in the attic it darked from exposure to sunlight in storage.

I'm not the biggest fan of Oak since it's very grainy, but it's hard and durable. 

It lighten some when sanded but darked quite a bit when oiled.

It came out a little orange-ish but I've grown to like it's new color.

Jaegers-Tripod.jpg

The color looks good with the brass hardware.


Edited by Kasmos, 15 March 2021 - 05:14 PM.

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#18 walter a

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 06:53 AM

I enjoyed making a couple out of our local black ash. Chris your purple heart and ebony is sharp. My son is building a tractor trailer out of ash, black walnut and african padauk and I think that padauk would make for a great tripod if you like that color. I might give it a try on my next one.

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#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 07:09 AM

I guess my question is about what do you look for in a wooden tripod. Are you looking for lightweight and transportable? Are you looking for heavy and stable? Are you looking for the warmth and beauty of wood? What's your suggestion?

Lastly, I'll add that rigidity isn't my concern. The rigidity will be taken care of by the leg design and spreaders. My concern is mostly about weight. Legs of an Ipe tripod might weigh 25 lbs. Legs of a cherry tripod might weigh as little as 8 lbs. If rigidity isn't a factor, how much of a factor is weight?

 

 

Weight and rigidity of the tripod are coupled.  Design of the legs and the spreaders are dependent on the weight, you can only do so much with design.. 

 

Aesthetics are a matter of opinion.  Rigidity and weight are measurable.  

 

Ash seems to be the material of choice, though boring to some eyes.

 

Jon



#20 PawPaw

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:09 AM

I enjoyed making a couple out of our local black ash. Chris your purple heart and ebony is sharp. My son is building a tractor trailer out of ash, black walnut and african padauk and I think that padauk would make for a great tripod if you like that color. I might give it a try on my next one.

Walter those are beautiful examples from your Canadian black ash species.........I especially like the one on the left....waytogo.gif

 

Don



#21 apfever

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:19 AM

Aesthetics rate extremely high. It is a major aspect of this forum. We love pictures.  If one has a particular appreciation for a mediums appearance along with an ability to work the medium, then it would be foolish to sacrifice aesthetics when the domain offers plenty of options with ample other characteristics of pertinent nature.  I for one would never sacrifice a wood's appearance or design for trivial differences in structure, weight, etc. There are too many options to do so for the person with inside knowledge.  

 

This has been a delightful thread. 

Godelescher, you have specifically stated a desire to discuss the wood type and not design in this thread.  I would gladly discuss two major flaws in most production legs, in pm.   


Edited by apfever, 15 March 2021 - 08:30 AM.


#22 godelescher

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:20 AM

I really like that purpleheart and ebony tripod. Nice work!


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#23 godelescher

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:26 AM

I enjoyed making a couple out of our local black ash. Chris your purple heart and ebony is sharp. My son is building a tractor trailer out of ash, black walnut and african padauk and I think that padauk would make for a great tripod if you like that color. I might give it a try on my next one.

The one on the right... Are those cam locks on the legs? If so, where did you source them? I think that's a sharp looking tripod

 

I agree about padauk.


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#24 Garyth64

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:28 AM

My first wood tripod I made out of Maple.

 

6339a on new tripod.jpg

 

I made a second one out of Poplar, identical to the Maple one.

 

two tripods.jpg

 

My 3rd tripod I made out of Oak, and I modified my design.

 

tripod for Edmund.jpg

 

I think I like the Oak the best. But all three are very solid.

 

 

 

 


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#25 walter a

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 08:29 AM

Thanks Don, I thought you might.




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