Starlight Cascade Observatory Construction

Page Created: 2003 September 03
Page Last Updated: 2005 October 24

Photo album * Notes * ToDo * Parts List * Tool List

2003 September 03

The observatory was originally thought to be constructed out of an old 9'x12' floor from an old shed, built east of the house this summer. Events got in the way and the planned fence extention, which the observatory would fit inside, didn't happen. So instead, Plan B came about where we would build a temporary observatory over top of our existing observing deck and piers. We bought an 8'x10' metal shed from Canadian Tire on sale for about $400. Then we expanded the existing 5'x10' deck to 8'x10' and started assembling the shed.










The piers were originally centred on a 5'x10' deck with not a lot of clearance, but the original design size was limited to 10' lumber that we could carry on our vehicle. We may have to move the shed a bit to get the piers a little more centered.

The walls went up ok, but are not strong enough to support a rolloff roof. So then we designed a wooden internal frame to support the rolloff roof using 2"x4" non pressure treated lumber.

The roof was originally designed to mount to the walls of the shed, but since we wanted it removable, we needed to build a base support for the roof. Luckily the shed kit came with a floor frame that we were not using, so we assembled the floor base and started building the roof section on top of it.

With the roof frame complete, we tested it for weight and rigidity. It was quite light and fairly rigid. Once the roof panels were assembled it should be more rigid and definitely heavier.

2003 September 09

The roof was completed but we quickly determined that even then the bottom frame of the roof bent when it overhung in the half open position... so rails need to be added outside of the walls to support the roof. These will be going in tonight. Two 4"x4" posts with 2"x6" runners level with the existing wall top and 2"x4" supports off the 4"x4" post (pictures to follow).
In addition, we will be adding eight 1" square teflon pads for the roof section to move on as currently it is a few screw heads gouging into the 1"x4" track and a little bit of the alumnimum frame itself.


2003 Sept 11

We moved the entire shed one foot to the south east as the piers were in fact too close to the walls. Four of the floor boards were removed (they were screwed in, not nailed), the shed was pushed very slowly over, then the four floorboards were put back in. We then releveled the floor & frame, since we were on a slope, the level changed quite a bit. Once levelled, we adjusted the position of the shed so as the floorboards would not touch the piers.







To stop weather from coming directly in through the roof/wall gap, we added a 1"x2" strip to the base of the roof frame and tacked onto that a 1"x4" skirt. This has the added benefit of keeping the roof "ontrack" when moving down the rail.

2003 September 12

We started construction of the external runners for the roof. Using a 4"x4" pressure treated post and deck blocks, we added a 2"x6"x8' piece of wood to act as the main track runner and added two 2"x4" braces. The 4"x4" post was cut and chiseled out to provide a better base for the runner.
A single 2"x4"x10' cross brace was added between the two supports.. More will be added later (another run to the lumber store!)








Added a 1"x2" strip along the back roof frame and a 1"x4" skirt to act as a weather stop and also a roof stop when closing the roof. We left space for the roof skirt to get by the 4"x4" post as well.

2003 September 13


Replacing small teflon roof pads with larger ones


Four pads on each side of roof




A large 5" handle mounted to a 2"x6" block on the inside


The 2"x6" reinforcing block on the inside


a view of the back teflon pad


a view of the back teflon pad




Walk around with the Observatory Roof Open








Walk around with the Observatory Roof Closed







2003 September 15

Big huge thunderstorm rolled through. The roof stayed on but a little water came in from one side on the floor and a little drip from the roof. Ran an outdoor 110vac 16/3 extention cord out to the observatory from a GFCI outlet.

2003 September 16


Found some $0.49/ft^2 indoor/outdoor carpeting and bought a chunk of 8'x12' (it only sold in lengths of 12'), had them cut it down to 8'x10' and took it home and installed it. Cutting around the piers was not nearly so bad as I thought, and neither was trimming it down to size around the sides. Boy is that Chipmunk going to be surprised the next time he tries to get in!
We added some eyebolts to the end of the cross piece at the end of the runners to hold flower baskets (must keep the observatory looking nice!) and did some more sanding of the runners.
Ran a surface power cord out to the observatory with the intention of burying it before the ground freezes. Running a data cable out (or several, actually) is more problematic as it must be at least 10-20 cm away from the 110VAC power cable to avoid RFI and other interference and noise. So we are starting to think wireless networking... will check out prices, performance and ranges and see what happens.

2003 October 08

added outdoor caulking to many of the wood joints, cut two 4" holes in the southeast and northwest roof gables and inserted in a screened vent to allow hot air to escape better. Caulked around the vents as well.
varathaned outdoor track

2003 October 13

Big Windstorm blew roof off the night of Oct 11

2003 November 13

Took roof off and apart about 1/2 way. patched holes and used a lot of silicon sealant to try and make the roof relatively waterproof again

2003 November 22

Replaced the northern roof 1x4 skirt with 2x4 skirt, added east end blocks so that when the roof closes, the eastern end locks under some new wooden pieces designed to hold the roof down. The whole keep-the-roof-safe idea depends on the two pins inside not allowing the roof to roll open, out of the holddown locks. Added four more teflon pades for the roof to ride on, at each end point.


  • im009995.jpg The roof is held down at the back by some pieces of wood attached to the internal frame, in an inverted "L" shape, so that when the roof closes, the trailing edge of the roof frame slides underneath these inverted "L"s, preventing the roof from lifting. The "Front" of the roof is tied down at the moment to the internal frame.
  • im009994.jpg There are two 2"x2" pieces of wood (sanded down to remove the harsh sharp corners) mounted to the roof to act as a push bar to open and close the roof. So far they are working great.
  • To open the observatory from the inside, untie any tiedowns, and push on the push bars for about five feet. Then duck under the roof and continue to push it from the outside until it runs up against the internal stops.
  • To close the observatory, pull on the large metal handle for a few feet, then duck under the roof and inside and push on the push bar until the roof is fully closed.
  • The end points of the 2"x6" runners were cut round to reduce the number of head injuries due to tall people running into them.
  • The 2"x6" runners were sanded down with #80 and #150 sandpaper to smooth them out and help the roof move better. The top sides were also sanded down as we added the older smaller teflon pads to the inside edges of the 1"x4" skirts on both sides.
  • The front end of the 2"x6" runners were cut out to fit under the 1"x4" wall runner and then screwed into it as well. Then 4" screws connected the inside 2"x4" frame post to the 2"x6" through the shed wall. It's solid!
  • The front roof skirt could not use wood but needed something flexible so when the roof moved, it would drag overtop of the wall. We used a 4" wide garage door weather stripping that was 9' long (as long as we could find). We screwed that onto the 1"x2" external roof frame nailer and it reached most of the way. It did have a tendency to get caught under the roof rollway, so it got trimmed a little.

    First Light is planned for the first night without clouds! Funny how the clouds start showing up when the observatory is nearing completion and is actually functional!


    A few items left to attend to, including:
  • See how the teflon pads are wearing and consider adding a formica material on the top surface of the runners to reduce friction and wear
  • Bury power line out to the observatory (110vac)
  • Run data lines out to the observatory (telephone, network, sound)
  • Add in a red LED clock and thermometer

    Long Term Items:

  • install all sky camera on pier near the observatory
  • install a low end computer into the observatory to run both the allsky camera and the FM radio meteor detection systems

    Parts/Price List

  • Canadian Tire Metal 8'x10' shed $400 (on sale!)
  • two 4"x4" x8' PT posts $10 each
  • two deck blocks $7 ea
  • two 2"x6"x8' runners
  • six 2"x4"x8' internal framing posts
  • one 2"x4"x10' internal framing brace $5 ea
  • three 2"x4"x10' PT external runner cross bracing $6 ea
  • six 1"x2"x8' strips for external roof frame nailers
  • five 1"x4"x8' external roof skirts
  • one 9' garage weather stripping $13
  • two 2"x2"x8' internal roof frame support $2 ea
  • two soffet vents (circular, 4inch) $4 ea
  • The observing deck cost is not included here as you could have assembled all of this on bare ground and perhaps pour gravel as a flooring material
  • 8pack teflon pads/glides with metal base, screw and sticky base $8
  • screws - a large assortment of 1", 1.5", 2", 2.5" and 3" screws.
  • #80 and #150 sandpaper
  • eight 2" metal L braces - use where necessary
  • 6" zinc handle $5
  • indoor/outdoor carpeting 8'x10' (acutually 8'x12' and cut down) $48 and double sided carpet tape $10 total $60
  • silicon exterior clear caulking $4
    Approximate total cost $600-700

    Tools used

  • Power tools: jigsaw, mitre saw, circular saw, drill, palm sander
  • 6' stepladder, two work tables
  • assortment of robertson screwdrivers, chisels, hammer, level, tape measures