Member’s project: Judith’s Kitchen Facelift

YuKonstruct member Judith sent us the following story about sprucing up her kitchen with a little help from the tools in our shop.

The kitchen before re-finishing
The kitchen before re-finishing

For quite a while I wanted to renovate my kitchen.  The wooden doors were faded and rough looking and needed some TLC.  I never got the time and the tools to do it until recently after I talked to a volunteer at YuKonstruct.  I asked him if he thought I could sand down the doors and re-finish them.  He encouraged me to do so because there is a big sander in the wood working workshop I could use.

When I brought in my kitchen doors after a few days Logan, YuKonstruct’s facilities manager, had a look at the doors and we made an appointment for an evening to get the job done.  Logan was very supportive.  He showed me how to work with the sander and helped me put the first few items through the machine.

After the doors were done they already looked better than before.  The next weekend I painted the doors and installed them complete with new knobs that matched the counter.  Now I have a beautiful kitchen again!

It is great to have a place like Yukonstruct with all kinds of tools and help available to make things happen I could not do otherwise.

Like new!
Like new!

Member’s Project: A Telescope Built From Scratch

Why don’t you just buy one?

That’s a question I’ve heard countless times, and when it comes to building a telescope, you really have to think about it twice. After all, buying a decent telescope is quite easy and relatively cheap. You can get a good view at the moon, the planets and some galaxies for a few hundred dollars including shipping to Whitehorse. On the other hand, building a telescope is an arduous task; you have to find the materials, build your own tools and spend hundreds of hours around a polishing stand. it also involves a lot of patience and precision. At first sight, anyone sensible would take 15 minutes to place an order on-line and wait for the telescope to arrive. Well, call me crazy… I chose the DIY option.

glass blank
The starting point: a blank of borosilicate glass

As a maker, I always favor building over buying, even if it costs more money for the final product. You simply can’t buy the pleasure and knowledge that you gain by building something yourself.

Silicon Carbide seeping through the tiles during rough grinding

Making the mirror of the telescope is the most time consuming part but also the most interesting. First, you need to order a circular piece of glass with a low coefficient of expansion (pyrex, zerodur, borosilicate, etc). Then you need to build a circular tool out of waterproof plaster, cover it with tiles and rub it against the glass with silicon carbide in between. Using finer grit will slowly make the concave surface smoother. Once you’ve reached the desired sagitta, you can polish the surface using a different tool; this one is covered with pitch and the polishing agent is cerium oxide. When you have a nice polished surface, you need to transform that spherical surface into a paraboloid. This is where the time consuming part begins. During that step you will remove a minute amount of glass to approach the perfect theoretical shape. If you complete that step successfully, your mirror will have a surface so regular that if you were to stretch it to the size of a football field, the highest default would only be a thousand of an inch high. Of course, to control the surface with such precision, you need to build a special instrument which takes even more time and material.

mirror on pitch
Polishing the mirror on pitch

When you’ve reach that step, it’s already been a few month since you began the project. However, if you managed to reach the desired precision, you most likely have a better mirror than most commercial mirrors.

Once the mirror is complete, it is sent for aluminizing. During this operation, a thin coat of aluminium is evaporated onto the surface of the mirror; this requires a vacuum pump and a high voltage source. As much as I would like to do it myself, I reckon it is not really worth building an entire vacuum chamber for a single mirror.

The mirror back from aluminization

The focal length is measured on the finished mirror.  We will use this measurement to design the tube of the telescope. I wanted to use something nicer than plywood so I went for red cedar trims that I resawed to get 1/4″ boards. These boards where assembled together using bird’s mouth joinery to form an hexadecagonal tube (16 sides). Some baffles were laser cut on YuKonstruct’s Epilog laser cutter; these will prevent internal light reflection. The tube was then painted black inside and coated with several coats of spar varnish to make it dew proof.

Building the 16 sided tube

The last step consists of putting everything together. A hole is drilled on the side with a hole saw to accommodate the focuser; a cell is built for the primary mirror and a support is made to hold the elliptical mirror in place. I went with a curved vane for the ease of build and for the fact that it will limit diffraction spikes around bright stars.

wooden telescope 25
Curved vane, focuser and mirrors in place

As I was busy building other things, it took about a year to complete the instrument. On the first afternoon after completion, I tried to locate Jupiter in the evening sky; it took about 5 minutes to spot it with the naked eye because the sun was still shining bright above the horizon. Once I found it, I aligned the scope and focused on the planet. As a first observation, I didn’t know what to expect. Well…turns out I saw details on Jupiter that I never saw before on other instruments.

I am now really eager to try it on deep sky objects on a dark winter sky. Next project: make a proper stand for the instrument.


first light
First light on Venus and Jupiter

Member’s Project: A YuKonstruct Souvenir

Cheap trinkets made in China and embroidered sombreros that scream “Mexico – Uno cerveza por favor!” are not my idea of a nice souvenir (even though I really like cervezas).  I’m also not a very patient shopper, so as a result I usually get pretty frustrated when I’m trying to find something to take home with me from a trip abroad. Good thing my girlfriend and I stumbled across an authentic hand-painted tile shop on one of our last days in Mexico that was full of interesting stuff and inspiration…


We were nearing the end of our month long escape from the Yukon winter when we spied this shop in La Paz.  The moment I walked in, the wheels in brain started turning about how I could turn something from this shop into a keepsake from our trip.  It was quickly apparent that we would be unable to carry enough tiles home to redo our bathroom, but I managed to form a plan about how I could turn some of these beautiful tiles into something cool once I got back to Whitehorse.

Now just to back-step a bit and provide some context – my day job involves a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen grinding out spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel.  I’m not very good at staring at computers,  I can get pretty restless and stir-crazy by 5 o’clock.  As a result I’m drawn to hands-on projects in my free time.

Back to the Mexican tile shop where a plan started forming… I remembered building an end table with a glass inlay eons ago during a high school woodworking class.  I decided that I could do the same thing this time around, except  I would use some of these cool Mexican tiles instead of glass!  This was also a perfect excuse to check out the woodshop at YuKonstruct, something I had been meaning to do since the start of winter.

So, my girlfriend and I compared different tiles and picked our favourite design.  We don’t always have similar tastes, but this time we did so the decision was easy to make together.  We ended up buying nine tiles for 25 pesos – not a bad deal!

Although neither of us speak a lick of Spanish and the shop keeper did not speak any English, he couldn’t stop smiling as we paid for the tiles.  He was probably wondering to himself – what on earth are these two tourists going to do with nine tiles.  After we paid he then started wrapping them.  He used copious amounts of newspaper and packing tape to complete the job , and much to my horror the finished product looked just like what I imagine a compact brick of hard drugs would look like – and of course I was about to fly home!  Sure enough, once we were home and I unpacked my backpack there was a notice inside from the US Border Service informing me that they had searched my bag at LAX.  I’m sure they were a bit disappointed when they found tiles instead of cocaine wrapped up inside my backpack.

It didn’t take long to find nice pieces of wood to build my table, and I then hastily drew up some plans.  Now the real work was to begin, how exciting!  It took me a few days to get comfortable working in a woodshop again, after all it had been almost 10 years since high school, which was the last time that I had done something similar!  My ‘woodworking’ projects during my university years and early twenties mostly consisted of finding the cheapest wood I could find, using my Dad’s old hand-me-down drill, and slapping something together as quickly as I could with minimal concern about appearance.  But that wasn’t the plan this time – these tiles deserved more than that!


Luckily, there were plenty of helpful folks at YuKonstruct to lend a hand if needed, and all my skills learned a decade ago came back pretty quickly.  After I figured out how to work the dust system and turn the planer on (after numerous failed attempts) I was off to the races.  A few minor mistakes were made during the building process, but at the end of the day I’m happy how the table turned out! My creation turned out to be infinitely better than that “made in China” shot glass I would have bought otherwise.

Member’s Project: Custom-built Bed

When I was asked to build a bed for a friend I was supper excited! But I didn’t have a place to build it or a good quality table saw. Then a light went on and I thought “Yukonstruct! I should go and check out the space.”

From the first tour I was hooked and the ideas for this bed started flowing.

With the huge table saw, a great chop saw, access to clamps, drills and all sorts of hand tools I didn’t have to bring any of my own tools. I knew I was going to be able to create a great bed with lots of storage underneath.

I started to design my bed with SketchUp after taking the Intro to 3D Modelling workshop at Yukonstruct. As I was playing around with the head and foot board design I was excited about the possibility of using the CNC machine.

Once I started cutting pieces and assembling it was all down hill. Everyone was so helpful and I had a great time talking about my project and other projects people were working on. It’s such a creative space and there is so much knowledge and experience to tap into.

I can’t wait to start building my next project!

Siana's Bed


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