Like a great many astronomers I have grown my eyepiece collection and accessory collection over the years. Eyepieces have come and gone for better or worse and every change means cutting new holes in foam rubber in an eyepiece case OR acquiring a new 'pluck foam' case for extra hardware. Worse still the amount of equipment meant I was already carrying two aluminium cases and a carry bag. Perhaps I could rationalise this down to a single case.........

After some time swapping eyepieces around I had reached, what I consider, to be the best set of eyepieces for my own use and resolved to make the 'final' case for them all. While I was considering how to cut yet another load of foam rubber it occurred to me to ask, why foam ? Why not something else ? After all astronomical and scientific equipment use to be supplied in beautiful boxes lined with felt. I used to own some pistols in just such a box and a 19th Century doctors set and also a violet wand from the 1920s in its own beautiful rosewood box lined with purple felt. So why cut more foam rubber ? With that I resolved to go buy some wood, glue, fabric and make myself something a little unique, something sassy, something a bit sharper than the average eyepiece case - something 19th Century with a 21st Century use. Planned well I was sure I could get more equipment into a single case and cut down the amount of equipment I typically have to carry around with me.

The pictures and text below document the build on the way to something just a little bit different. I hope you will enjoy the article and perhaps it will inspire some people to perhaps get stuck in and have a go themselves and, if you'll pardon the pun, think outside the box.

1 - Building the Case
Heres my eyepiece case from a few years back. The case was an old photographic case I picked up in a junk shop and bought some foam for. The case is very solid - unlike a lot of pseudo flight cases sold in bargain shops. Eventually the case looked like this as the collection of eyepieces grew until..........Now one of the problems with foam is apparent. You have to leave around 1" of foam around everything or else the foam starts to tear. Its a terrific waste of space. was joined by another case containing extras that just wouldn't fit in the original case and once again a lot of space is wasted. Foam also has a habit of shedding a fine dust. Not so good where optical equipment is concerned.
Eventually most of the eyepieces changed so radically that the foam was just never going to be right again. More and more foam and on top of that without a professional cutting service the foam never looks quite right and pluck form is worse - tearing over time and seldom looking good. And so the project began. All of the foam was ripped out from the top of the case....after a few years it was looking shabby. It was only held on with a few dabs of fixing gel. The bottom of the case was also cleared of foam. The old foam was retained as source material in case I needed to use some padding later on. In fact that never happened and the foam was eventually discarded.
A quick trip to a model shop procured some Basswood. Its light, quite strong and can be cut readily with a sharp craft knife. Its also relatively soft so that it would protect anything that knocks into it. I bought a selection of thicknesses and some super strong PVA wood glue.
A note on glues here. I used a glue called Tite Bond which is very strong but takes a while to set but its waterproof. You could work with something like a simple Aliphatic wood glue favored by modelers which sets a bit faster.
Heres the inner skin of the case being assembled. The thicker pieces of Basswood were cut to size and fitted into the case and glued together with basic joints plus a gusset of pre-formed square Basswood for strength. This is the basic structure of all joint in the case as work progressed. The inner skin of the case was left free so that it could be removed from the case if needed later on. At the outset I made up various templates to get the best possible density of equipment into the case. As the project evolved I made some changes as I went along. Heres a picture of the inner skin of the case with its first divider installed (as per the original plan). As this divider would run from side to side it was made of thicker Basswood, like the inner skin to give the interior some strength.
Some eyepieces have been put in to gauge the space and check there is enough finger room to get stuff in and out of the case.
Heres the inner skin removed from the case. Each cross member is supported by a gusset of the square cut Basswood. Heres the first divider with some Balsa blocks installed. These would have holes cut into them to hold the smaller 1.25" eyepieces. Each of the blocks was designed to be removable so that alternate blocks could be fitted for different eyepieces (or omitted altogether). Another cross members of thinner Basswood divides the two groups of blocks. Heres the inner skin with another thick cross member fitted. The original design called for all wood partitions that run entirely across the case to be of a larger gauge to keep the inner skin rigid.
The second cross member has a space for two larger eyepieces. The very hefty Explore Scientific pair of 14mm 100' and 30mm 82'
A small deviation from plan......Originally the case was designed to be a bit more general purpose and not built towards a specific set of EPs. However some of the EPs would always be retained. I decided to make a small cradle to hold one of the heaviest of these (the two Explore Scientific eyepieces). The 14mm is slightly thinner and no usable space could be created down the side of the eyepieces so I decided to create some space underneath it by elevating it away from the bottom of the case. Heres some thin panels of Basswood laminated together and cut to the diameter of the explore Scientific 14mm 100' EP. The cut out has a band of soft child safe rubber (i.e. no fumes or toxins) which I bought from a craft shop. The rubber is bonded on using a conventional PVA based fabric glue. After the rubber strip had bonded down it was covered with the material I had chosen for the inside of the case. This is a deep bluish purple synthetic felt. Before use it had been washed in a washing machine for two or three washes to remove any lint and run over with a lint removing roller. The material was quite cheap but as it turned out I needed a lot more than I had thought.
Next the front and back of the cradle rings were covered in felt. These were cut out against a paper template and glued onto the wood. There is surplus at the ends of the cradle as this will be folded underneath the material at the join line later and hide any gaps. To give the larger eyepieces, which would be put into the case laying flat, some protection at their ends some squares of rubber were added. These have a very slight interference fit with the eyepiece stop to stop in moving about in transit. Heres both of the cradles installed for the Explore Scientific 14mm EP. This was taken at an earlier test fitting showing one cradle half felted while the other has only the rubber 'mattress' applied. Part of the secret of building this type of project is a relentless testing of each fitting and a constant, almost obsessive, retesting of each idea to see if it can be done better.
And, once the glue had fully dried, heres the ES 14mm inserted. Unfortunately the space created underneath it wasn't large enough to be of much use. Its mostly used to keep a silica gel bag under the EP to reduce any moisture in the case. These are the modules for the 1.25 eyepieces drilled out using a large wood drill. They were drilled to different depths to accommodate differing 1.25" barrels. If I were building again I would drill them out to a uniform depth. Lining the bases of these proved to be quite a challenge. Here are the 1.25" EP modules inserted into the case carcass with some 1.25" EPs in place to assess spacing.
A picture of the 1.25" holders with their velvet applied. Getting the felt to fit well inside the holes proved to be a hard challenge......  In the end I settled for using some off cuts of Protostar flocking paper. This also had problems and tended to come loose. It was eventually sealed down with a thin bead of Superglue around the edge where it joins the velvet material And finally a pair of UO orthoscopics nestled into the 1.25" holders for a test fitting. Needless to say no EPs were put in for testing until the glues had dried fully.
Heres a progress picture showing the various elements completed so far. The cradle for the 2" EP and the 1.25" holders.

One of the bigger challenges for the case was how to carry two possible finders. A Stellarvue F50 RACI 8x50 and a TAL 6x30mm.
This was quite a taxing problem the SV F50 is a lot larger. The Stellarvue made it impossible to find a good fit because its quite bulky in height.
It eventually dawned on me that the F50 can have its EP removed shortening its height which opened up some new possibilities. You'll see how this works later in the build. The finders would ride on a pair of cradles. These have quite complex curves as can be seen above to accommodate both finder sizes. The smaller curve at the base of the cradle is to hold the TAL 6x30 while the larger opening at the top of the cradle allows the wider bodies F50 finder to be held safely and securely. Heres a test fitting of the cradles. A lot of thought and testing went into the final arrangement. The carcass of the case in this picture is sat on some cardboard with various markings for me to work out how to fit all the bits together. You'll see also the cradles have writing as reminders about which way various parts fit.
Here are the two almost completed cradles. The near one has a built up area at the base of the curve to support for the TAL 6x30 eyepiece. Both of the cradles have a base applied to give them some extra rigidity and help with test fittings. Heres the Stellarvue F50 RACI finder in place for a test fitting. The SV50 has a removable eyepiece like a normal telescope with a helical focuser. Once it dawned on me to have the F50 carried in pieces the design came together quite fast. You can see how the F50 rides towards the top of the cradle. And heres the TAL 6x30 installed for a test fitting. You can see how the thicker base in the cradle gives the eyepieces stalk a good wide support. You can see how the TAL finder snuggles down to the vase of the cradle.
The pen marks on the cardboard underneath are for sizing the extra parts.
Heres the finder area of the case. The F50 finder is installed with its eyepiece (top right) and its Rigel Pulse Guide illuminator (bottom left). The additional compartment at the bottom right is for a filter. The picture above shows the wooden carcass of the case approaching completion. Most of the compartments have been installed and only a few small sub dividers remain to be sized and fitted. By this point in the case design I had been back for more Basswood at least three times and the cost of the case was rising rather quickly. My plan had been from the outset to have something a little different and part of this was an illumination system for the case. Here is the first part of the lighting. A switch ! I shopped around for something retro looking as I did want the case to be a little bit yesteryear in look and feel.
This is the location for the switch. It now has a built up ledge which will hold one side of the switch. And finally the switch in place for a test fitting to make sure all is is well. The compartments around the switch were designed to hold a 2" diagonal , 1.25" diagonal and a Baader Skysurfer V OR to be used as general compartments for other equipment/eyepieces in the future.
As part of the illumination system these holes grooves were cut into the side of the cases carcass. The holes will hold a 12v LED and the grooves are to allow the LEDs wires to fit. A small diversion........It was a few weeks before I could shop for LEDs and wire so I made a start on the lid of the case. The first part was to create a space for the Synscan handset and small controllers to fit. Heres one of the lid modules almost completed. The large slot will hold the Synscan hand control and the smaller slot will hold a fan controller and dew controller. The 'pouch' will hold cables and leads.
Meanwhile on the main case some extra wood was bought. One of the joys of this project was there was always something to do - like take a drive for more supplies. The new supply of wood was for 'base boards' these would form the base of the case and give some of the bigger equipment a soft bedding. This one is for the ES 30mm eyepiece showing its backing. Here is the 30mm EP base board. Once again the velvet like material was glued down with a waterproof fabric PVA glue. And finally a base board in place for another test fitting. In fact this one was later thrown away as it turned out to raise the 30mm EP slightly too high. Another of the joys of this project was spending time making things only to scrap them afterwards !!!!!!
But despite many set-backs the case is finally starting to take shape. Heres a progress report picture showing all of the wooden compartments installed, some of the rubber inserts and even some of the velvet installed. In order to get cables through the case for the LEDs, small notches were cut along the cable path for the cables to run in. Heres an LED installed. Working out the sequence for getting these in with the velvet was problematic and it was quite definitely a 'think before you act' job. The velvet had small holes made in it at LED locations by applying a hot soldering iron to it until it burnt through as a perfect hole. Then the LED was glued into place wires soldered to it before being covered with heat shrink tubing.
Back to the case lid - heres the Synscan handset in place. Its held down by a friction fit of rubber around it and, eventually, will have a Velcros back. Back to the wiring. the LEDs are wired with short tails of thin wire. The thin wires will eventually be soldered to a kind of buswire that will run around the case. And heres another progress report picture with much work having been done. The thin slot alongside the right of the case holds filters.
Finally the case has all of its velvet and LEDs installed. Applying the velvet was hard work. The left to right panels were cut as a single panel with slits to fit around the verticals. The vertical panels in this picture were then covered. Each piece was slightly oversized to cover gaps and the finally sealed with a small bead of superglue along joins. You can just make out two LEDs in this picture along the edge of the case near the 1.25" eyepieces. Here is the back of the carcass with the white buswires in place. They link to the switch at the bottom of the picture. Power comes into the case via a small 2.1mm DC jack that's drilled through from the outside of the case allowing it to be powered from my powertank. I was reluctant to have batteries in the same case as eyepieces in case of leakages.
Another progress picture. The carcass has now been fitted into the case and some of the base boards have been fitted. In the end I used rubber sheeting covered with velvet. Each baseboard was slightly oversized to give a good snug fit and hide any small gaps. Finally the base of the case is completed. To allow any fumes from the glues to vent the case was left open with no equipment in it for a week. The inner frame/carcass is not glued in. Its quite a tight fit and I wanted it removable should the need arise. This turned out to be smart as within a few months I did need to make some modifications Heres how the LEDs looked when lit up. Needless to say these were tested prior to installing the lower carcass.
And heres a picture of the finished lower half of the case. Continuing with the lid a second module was assembled. This one is to hold small leads and accessories. The pegs are holding on a small lip to the rear of the compartment to made the edge a bit more rigid. And here are the two lid compartments completed with their covering. The bare space at the top of the left hand one is where a Velcro tab will be fitted later to hold the covers for these modules.
A range of different hinges were tried to hold the covers to the lid modules. None were perfect or what I had in mind. The lids for the two modules were made from Baltic ply NOT basswood. The lids needed to be a bit more rigid, more hard-wearing. The right hand lid has been covered with rubber sheet in this picture and both have had finger holes drilled so they can be opened. Heres how the lid of the case was starting to look. The inner lids have a backing of Protostar flocking which made for a neater trim than I could manage with the velvet for this part of the project.
The lid modules are held in place by a pair of Basswood strips glued to the lid of the case. Each module has shims between it and the edge of the case glued into place so that they are held by glue on all four sides to give them strength. The controller holders to the right in this picture have Velcro strips applied. The backing of the case is alternate strips of rubber covered with velvet and thin strips of ply covered with Velcro. This approach was needed to stop the Velcro ripping the velvet away from its rubber backing. Heres a picture of the inside of the case after a few weeks use. Spare cables can be stored underneath the finder and you can also see large silica gel bags underneath the ES 14mm EP and the finder. The biggest change though has been the disposal of the Baader Skysurfer V and the acquisition of a new EP in the lower right.
Finally.....two pictures of the completed case as it was originally built. The upper left module holds controllers and their leads while the upper right module contains leads, cleaning kits and small tools for collimation. You can see in the final pictures the Velcro tabs that hold the upper modules lids shut.
A late addition to the design was the small compartment in the lid to the bottom right which holds spare batteries and fuses.

The large central area of the lid was originally to have been a compartment for extra filters but in the final build there was not enough space available to justify increasing the cost of the project even further and the space was used solely as a large foam pillow covered with velvet to act as a pad for the finders.

The final cost of the case was probably in excess of £200 and quite possibly more but I found it worthwhile. The project had its ups and downs and there were days when I wished I had never started it but the final results justified it. Its a beautiful case that's completely unique in a world of mass market consumerism. It also holds more equipment than the two cases I had originally !

This was not to be the final chapter though so read on
2 - Changing........

Shortly after the case was completed (is anythng ever !) I grew dissatisfied with my 5mm TMB Planetary II and after due consideration replaced it with a Pentax 5mm. While the case was designed to accept small modifications the Pentax 5mm being an odd shape caused it to not sit well in one of the general compartments. In fact it occupied the slot used by the now departed Skysurfer V finder. I resolved to manage something better than to have an expensive eyepiece rolling around......

The first step was to build a base from some spare Baltic plywood left over from the original build. This has a cradle attached to grip the eyepieces 1.25" barrel. As with the other cradles in the build this was covered with some non toxic rubber strip. The base was also eventually covered in the rubber to protect the eyepiece. A test fitting showed that the Pentax 5mm didn't sit well in the original design and a second step was made using a balsa block...... ......In the final picture of the eyepiece holder you can see the second step. The module has now been covered with felt and also has a small riser glued to its base to bring the eyepiece up a little from the base of the case so that it is pinned to the lid of the case.
Far Left Picture: Here's the Pentax 5mm resting on its bed showing how the module holds the eyepiece snugly.

Left Picture: The case with the Pentax 5mm module inserted. The 1.25 Diagonal has also moved to take up the space left by the departed 5mm TMB eyepiece creating a spare slot in the centre of the case.

Unfortunately the Pentax 5mm led me into more expense it was good I HAD to have the 10mm for use with my Maksutov telescope. Unfortunately the 10mm would place demands on the case that couldn't be met without a more radical rebuild.......
3 - .......and Re-arranging
The 10mm Pentax was slightly too wide for the only spare compartment that could be freed up. A more radical rebuild of the case was needed. Here's the state of play after a few compartments were ripped out. I could have wept as the hardwork I had put in was ripped to bits. Curse you Pentax ! After all the scrap had been removed and the case hoovered out of any stray particles this was the space the new EP would occupy. The velvet material was carefully cut away prior to ripping out the wood. What was satisfying was finding that the Tite Bond glue had done its job. The wood had to be chiselled away in places proving the strength of the joins. A new compartment was added to the left of the power switch and the switch was orientated differently. The space above it would be the Pentax 10mm home. In this picture a small compartment is being created for the power switch which also acts as the end plate for the 10mm eyepiece compartment.
After rearranging the compartments and careful re-gluing of the velvet covering the case is almost perfect again. The 10mm Pentax being a bit shorter did not require such a complex bed to lay on. A scrap piece of Baltic Play was built up with layers of rubber and a balsa 'pillow' for the eyepiece 1.25" barrel to rest against. Finally back together.....the 5mm and 10mm Pentax EPs find a home. The small module for the 1.25" EPs at the lower left has been removed and the case is, I hope, now finished unless some thoughtless astronomer sells a Pentax 30mm at a good price.
The final case layout..... After all the mods and changes this is how the case looks today.

Although it started out as a general case and ended up being a custom fitted job I am very pleased with it. In use its been a joy and many of the possible issues have never materialised. Some people were sceptical that velvet would work as it would absorb moisture but I have not found this to be the case. The material has not shown a disposition to shed particles and its been, so far, quite hard-wearing. A little wear is not always bad because on a good material it actually adds to the charm.

Would I do anything different ? I think if I were building this again I would have made each compartment a fixed size rather than too heavily customising it. I wouldn't fit the LEDs in a second case. They look pretty and are crowd pleasers but they serve very little practical purpose. Its seldom so dark that you cant see anything and if its really dark the LEDs aren't powerful enough to help you read things or find that lens cap that's fallen down in a compartment. The LEDS complicated the build and slowed things down for very little value in my mind.

So there you are, I think its a beautiful bit of kit that really did acheive what I wanted. Something with the looks of yesteryear astronomy but built for modern 21st Century eyepieces.
Theres just one final thing to this article.....I'd like to send a big thanks to everyone on the Cloudy Nights forum who read my almost endless thread while the case was being built. This article is in fact an edited down version of an original very long thread on the forum.

People there were generous enough to read my posts and contribute ideas and thoughts and the feedback was very much appreciated. At times I felt like packing in the project but felt I would let people down and just knowing people were reading the thread helped me to find the enthusiasm some nights to work on this project. So a very special thanks to the folks on the forum for taking an interest, there are too many of you to name individually.
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