Instructables

Casting a Large, Light-Weight Telescope Mirror from Recycled Glass

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The first photo below shows a 12.5 inch diameter, 1.5 inch thick, telescope mirror blank, made from recycled glass, that has been lightened by casting the mirror in a mold that made lots of hexagon-shaped pockets in the back of the mirror. This is the story of how I did it.

Why light-weight mirror blanks? Well, telescope mirrors are made from thick glass. Thick glass is heavy, no, really heavy. Most people don't realize how heavy thick glass actually is because they usually only deal with small pieces of thin plate glass. Handing a large telescope mirror to someone who has never seen one before, is a revelation to them about just how heavy glass really is. I like to tell them that it is as heavy as granite. So imagine the piece of granite that was cut out of a granite countertop to make a sink opening. That piece of granite is about the same size and weight as a large telescope mirror. It's heavy stuff.

In a large telescope, the primary mirror can constitute 1/3 or more of the weight of the entire instrument. Supporting the massive weight of the mirror requires that the rest of the telescope be sturdily built. The result is that large telescopes can be shockingly heavy. I know this first hand because I have thrown out my back several times moving my relatively "easily portable" 17.5 inch Dobsonian Telescope. So I decided to try making some-light-weight mirror blanks, just to see if I could do it.

Let's start this story at the beginning. About two years ago I bought a small kiln at a garage sale and began experimenting with making my own telescope mirror blanks by melting together pieces of thin scrap glass in my kiln to make the thick glass needed for telescope mirrors. The process works great. I started out small, producing 6, 8 and 10 inch diameter blanks up to 1.5 inches thick in the small kiln (Photo #2). Then I saw a much larger kiln for sale cheap on Craig's List. I bought it (Photo #3) and scaled up my mirror making process. The kiln was in rough shape. Well, to be honest, it was near the end of its useful lifetime and about ready for the landfill. But I fixed it up and gave it new life. So not only am I using recycled glass, I am also using a recycled kiln. Fixing up the kiln though is a story for another Instructable. I have now produced wonderful solid mirror blanks in the bigger kiln, up to 14.5 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches thick (Photo #4). Once I had the process of making solid blanks pretty much perfected, I wanted to try making light-weight mirror blanks.

Two years of trial and much error went into developing this process. This Instructable just presents the finished product. If you would like to see the whole history of my glass casting (mis)adventures, please visit my web site at http://www.mdpub.com.
 
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I assume that the honeycomb is to add stiffness to the mirror, right? I would suggest "next time" to consider isogrid(triangular shapes) or orthogrid(square shapes) cause these patterns add also flexural rigidity while honeycomb is rigid mainly in compression in the direction normal to surface(but needs support on the other side).

With isogrid maybe you can also avoid the back plate of the sandwitch and save even more weight (isogrid is used to produce light and stiff panels for rockets and spacecrafts

http://hypersizer.com/industry/projects/Pretest-prediction-composite-isogrid.php

)

jexter5 months ago

Thanks for posting this. I've got an older 8" Meade, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't go larger diameter unless I built it myself (why? cost.)

This inspires me. Thanks!

Ian018 months ago

How do you silver it?

ilpug1 year ago
I've heard that mirrors can be put in a rotating mold that makes a convex surface. The rotation of the mold full of molten glass makes a perfect convex shape.
This is my favorite instructable I've ever seen. I've been tossing around the idea of building a telescope, and had no idea you could cast your own blanks at a reasonable cost.

You rock! I'll definitely be checking out your site!
A pressure washer is supposed to be very effective for removing the plaster too.

GREAT project.
Oscelot1 year ago
Awesome instructable! I'm curious, have you tried vibrating the kiln to get out the bubbles? I haven't worked with one so I don't know how well it'd work, but I know that's how they get carving ice so clear.
nmessic1 year ago

This instructable is awesome. The finished mirror (on your website) looks truly professional. Congrats.


In case you didn't know, it is possible to add flux to float glass to lower its melting point. I successfully did this with bottle glass after looking at the prices of commercially available glass billets.


My recipe was inspired by the flux recipes from the "Post-Consumer Container Glass Remelting Process Assessment" via the Clean Washington Center (CWC).
Link:


http://www.cwc.org/glass/gl965rpt.pdf


Lots more useful (technical) glass info here:


http://www.cwc.org/glass.htm


My flux recipe was a combination of sodium carbonate, sodium tetraborate, and potassium nitrate. I didn't add the more toxic fluxes (lithium, lead, barium) nor the de-colorants (antimony, manganese).


I've also read about people using an angle grinder fitted with a diamond sanding pad mounted on an adjustable arm to sand/grind glass as it turns on a potter's wheel / lazy susan. I'd post the link, but can't remember where I read it.


Hope it helps.

acheide2 years ago
Very nice and thorough Instructable. I have just acquired an old Quickfire 6 kiln and your instuctions on building your mold encourage me to try casting.
Thanks
Wazzupdoc2 years ago
Beautiful. Thanks to you, stars twinkle brighter and unseen nebulae emerge to amaze us. Great work!
maewert2 years ago
Any thought to spinning the mirror as you cool it to get it a rough shape? Could save you from having to remove one pound of glass in rough grinding!

Best Wishes
splatman2 years ago
About the plaster:
Does the heat actually reverse the chemistry that's set in motion by the water? If the removed plaster dust is mixed with water, will it set like new plaster?

A way to lighten the mirror further, is to make the hexagons at the rim taller, even slope their tops (down toward the center) slightly, so after grinding/figuring, the top surface is of uniform thickness.
benwade2 years ago
This is a work of art. Thank you for sharing the process.
Excellent work!!!!
Re-design2 years ago
Wow! I'm almost speechless after reading your instrucable. Excellent work.
Is there a genuine reason for picking hexagonal shaped voids?

There is a technique used in casting called "shell mould casting."

The pattern is usually wax, and it's dipped in a refractory slurry / ies, to build up a sufficiently strong and thin shell. The shell is dewaxed or flash heated, to rapidly melt the surface layer of the wax inside, and after dewaxing, the shell if often sunk in sand as a backing support and the metal is poured into it.

I was thinking that it's possible to cast up a single once piece shell of refractory, to melt the glass onto.

Kind of like slip casting.

And you can use an acid wash to remove the plaster - much easier on a thin shell.

And by removing the hex shapes, one could use a router to make a simple linear webbing that runs radially under the mirror.

Wow! Now THAT is cool! Question though,: Why aren't large 'scopes made with precision lightweight materials like, say, magnesium alloy, then silvered to create a lightweight first surface mirror? Assumming there not...
Need to rephrase the question:

"Why aren't large 'scopes made with precision lightweight materials like, say, magnesium alloy, then silvered.. etc."

"Why are 'scopes not precisely made with light weight materials like magnesium allow etc.."


That is a good question.

I think it's because everything is a compromise.

Glass offers HARDNESS, STABILITY and it's INERT and can be resilvered many times over a long working life span.

And without too much hassle, the mirrors can be made and ground by anyone who has the persistance and determination to do so.

Tho to be fair, a uniformly pressed or cast magnesium mirror base and an extruded magnesium frame - does have a great deal of merit expecially for thermal equlibrium - warm day / cold night, and identical expansion co-efficients.

I guess tho, that glass is a traditional material for optics and given the fact that really GOOD mirrors gan be made by anyone, it's stable and holds it's shape for ever, and it can be resilvered almost indefinitely, that I think would be the reason why all and especially larger and fixed location telescopes use glass mirrors.



Wow! Now THAT is cool! Question though,: Why aren't large 'scopes made with precision lightweight materials like, say, magnesium alloy, then silvered to create a lightweight first surface mirror? Assumming there not...
rimar20002 years ago
Awesome work!
Loebas6672 years ago
fantastic project! very inspiring.