How to make an azimuth setting circle
Point accurately to anywhere in the night sky with this simple project to help you to locate targets with a Dobsonian telescope.
The Dobsonian mount is well known for its simplicity of use: locate an object by star-hopping to it and then give the mount a gentle nudge every minute or so to keep it within the view of your eyepiece.
However, many deep-sky objects can be rather difficult to find as they are so dim that they can’t be seen in your finderscope.
The use of setting circles can make this task a little simpler by allowing you to point accurately to anywhere in the night sky.
Although the RA and dec. coordinates of almost all celestial objects visible to amateur astronomers are readily available, they can’t be used with an altaz mount such as a Dobsonian.
Download our azimuth card (PDF) and azimuth diagram (PDF) to help you complete this project.
Altaz mounts instead rely on altitude (degrees above the horizon) and azimuth (degrees clockwise from due north).
And, unlike RA and dec., the altitude and azimuth of a celestial object constantly change with the movement of the sky overhead.
This constant shifting means that, with an altaz mount, you will need to refer to a planetarium program to find the positions of objects you want to see through the eyepiece.
Electronics – A digital inclinometer – various makes are available, including Wixey, Minipro, Bevelbox and Digi-Pas.
Materials – A vinyl record to act as a ‘table’ for the setting circle. Ask a local printer to reproduce the setting circle on card and laminate it.
Sundries – A 2BA x ½-inch bolt, two 2BA nuts, two penny washers and a small section of silicone vacuum hose are required to complete the assembly; you’ll also need a paperclip and epoxy resin to fashion a pointer.
Tools – Hand file and bench vice to modify the mounting bolt, scissors and craft knife to trim the setting circle template, and a hand drill to create the hole for the pointer.
Let’s say you know the position of the object you want to observe.
The altitude of the telescope can easily be set by using an electronic inclinometer, but for the azimuth, a calibrated 360° setting circle is required.
Conventionally, this would be installed on the baseboard and read through a peephole in the base of the rocker box.
In our design, we make use of the fixed azimuth bearing bolt that is attached to the baseboard.
This bolt has an Allen key cap and the azimuth setting circle simply presses into the hexagonal cut-out in the head.
We’d recommend printing the setting circle on card via the link above and then giving it a matt lamination, as this will reduce any reflections that would make the scale difficult to read.
We also used a vinyl record to support the card.
Your first task is to modify the hexagonal head of a 2BA bolt by filing each of its six sides evenly until it is an interference fit (ie, it holds by friction) inside the head of an M10 azimuth bearing bolt.
Hold the bolt head (not the thread) in a small vice and file each side in turn.
To make a firm but adjustable bearing to support the vinyl record, cut a 2mm ring from a length of silicone vacuum hose and press it into the centre of the LP.
Finding your position
Cut a 5mm hole in the centre of the azimuth circle and then assemble the unit with the modified 2BA bolt, 2-inch M6 penny washer, vinyl record, setting circle template, 1-inch M6 penny washer and two 2BA nuts as shown in the downloaded Assembly Diagram.
Tighten the 2BA nuts against one another to lock them.
It is not always possible to arrange for the mount’s baseboard to be correctly orientated to north so we have designed the azimuth setting circle to allow for simple calibration.
First, point the telescope at Polaris (nominally 0°) or centre a known star in the eyepiece.
Then rotate the setting circle until the pointer aligns with the star’s azimuth.
The scope can then be set to any azimuth by rotating the rocker box until the pointer aligns with the required angle.
The telescope’s altitude angle can be set by placing the digital inclinometer on the rocker box base and setting it to zero then placing it on the telescope and adjusting the telescope to read the correct angle.
Ask a local digital printing company to reproduce the azimuth setting circle template available through the link at the top of this article on stiff matt card and have both sides laminated with a matt finish.
Carefully cut around the perimeter with scissors.
File down the head of a 2BA x ½-inch hex bolt by holding the bolt’s head in a bench vice, making sure that all six sides are evenly reduced.
File until it is an interference fit in the M10 Allen key cap head on top of the bolt that forms the azimuth bearing of the mount.
Cut a 2mm section of silicone vacuum hose to form a small ring – this will be a carrier to firmly support the azimuth setting circle while allowing rotational adjustments to be made for calibration.
Carefully insert this ring into the centre of the LP prior to final assembly.
Assemble the setting circle using the modified 2BA x ½-inch hex bolt, 2-inch penny washer, vinyl record, azimuth setting circle, 1-inch penny washer and two nuts to match our Assembly Diagram.
Tighten the first nut to gently grip the assembly then lock it with the second nut.
Place the completed setting circle onto the azimuth bearing bolt and drill a 1mm hole into the rocker box base near the edge of the circle.
Bend a right angle in the plastic coated paper clip to form a pointer and insert it into the hole, its end smeared with epoxy resin.
Level the mount using the adjustable feet.
Locate Polaris or a known star in the centre of your eyepiece, look up its current azimuth and rotate the setting circle until this figure lies directly under the pointer.
The setting circle is now calibrated.