Wood Eyepiece Case

Rod Nabholz



For many years I hauled my eyepieces around in one of the Home Improvement Store aluminum cases with the pluck foam. It was a satisfactory arrangement, and good compromise between function and cost.


But, as will inevitably happen in this hobby, my eyepiece collection continued to grow, both their number, and their physical size, as I added some 2” eyepieces to the mix. I was facing the need for a second aluminum case or needed to do something completely different.


I had long admired some of the custom wood eyepiece cases that I had seen, and often thought that I would get around to making one for myself someday. Maybe now was the time. I started thinking about the materials I would use and remembered that I just might already have just the stuff required for the job.


When we moved into our house last year, the previous owners left a few things in the basement that they did not want to deal with. One was a very large upright piano that, due to a reconfiguration of the stairs, would no longer fit up the stairs, at least not in one piece. They also left couple of chairs, a typing stand, and way back in the corner were three table leaves, each of them 10”x44” in size and they appeared to be oak. They were in tough shape, dirty, scratched and covered in a very dark finish, their worth was not evident at first look, but I thought that they might have potential. Ten inch wide solid oak boards this size would be a considerable expense if purchased today, so it made sense to see if they could be recycled.  Below you can see the condition they were found in, and the improvement that a pass through the planer made.


Now that I had a handle on the material, it was time to think a bit about what I needed the case to do, how many eyepieces, what sizes, what other things would I want to contain inside? After a quick count, I found that I needed space for eight 1.25” observing eyepieces, a cross hair eyepiece, a couple of barlows, and a 4 or 5 collimation tools. I settled on eighteen 1.25 spaces.


On the 2” side, I had just acquired a *BIG* William Optics 28mm UWAN that needs some serious elbow room. I also have a couple of mid focal length Naglers, a Paracorr and a 2” Barlow to accommodate. Leaving myself a couple empty holes, - you never know what the future will require – means I needed 7 spots to get the job done. One of those will be placed with some extra room surrounding it to accommodate the UWAN.

Two other features I wanted to include was a storage area for my filters, and a handy place to store my green pointing laser so it was readily available.


I like to make a simple drawing or two on my projects, it has saved me more than once in terms of making sure that things will go together, not interfere with another part's function, etc. For this project I used the software called Visio to draw the case and play around with various layout schemes.


Using the eyepiece space as the baseline, understanding what space requirements they would have, and then adding the space I wanted for the other accessories, gave me a good idea of the overall size that would be necessary to accommodate everything. I settled on a case with an outside dimension of 14”x 20”x 8”. I took my plan and headed to the shop.


In order to remove the old finish, thin the boards down to a working thickness of ”, and see just what the quality of the wood was, I planed and jointed all three pieces. The results showed a little of the quarter sawn grain pattern I was hoping to see. However, the boards were not solid, they were glue ups of narrower boards, and there were some differences in color, not apparent immediately because of the dark stain. Still in all, some nice material, and suited well for the job at hand.


None of the boards were wide enough to cover the 14” span I would need for the top and bottom, so I put together some panels using a biscuit machine. I was careful to place the boards in the best order to accentuate the best grain in the highly visible spots. I tried to match colors where possible, and where not possible, use the color difference as a feature. The top shows some of that effort, with a lighter colored board running down the middle.


I don't intend this to be a play by play as to how to make this project, after all, in its basic form it is just a box. I will offer a couple of tips on things I did that I think make the job easier and a more useful end product.


  1. I have found that the best method to make a box of this type is to complete the entire box, even enclosing the bottom and top panels. Once it is built and the glue is dry and stable, use a table saw and fence to make a cut around the entire perimeter of the box, yielding a perfect fitting top. With this method, care must be taken with regard to any mechanical fasteners during the build. You want to make sure that you maintain a “cut zone” that is free of any nails or screws that might come in contact with the saw blade.
  2. As I mentioned, I had a drawing of the project done on the computer. From that drawing I was able to print out full size templates to assist in laying out the placement of the holes for drilling. I just attached the print to the wood and marked the center mark of each hole. Much quicker than manually laying out the spacing.
  3. Using forstner bits for drilling the eyepiece holes will make for a much cleaner cut than a spade bit or hole saw.
  4. Make the eyepiece trays removable/replaceable so you can adjust for future changes in your equipment.
  5. For the kind of durable, dew resistant finish required by this project, I like to use polyurethane. I am a very big fan of a product from MinWax called Wipe On Poly. You apply this by hand with a cloth, it could not be easier or yield better results. It is available in Satin or Gloss (I like the Satin). It dries in 3 to 4 hours, making applying multiple coats in a day very easy. It puts off just a mild odor, much less than many polyurethanes that I have used. But the best part for me is the wonderful control I have with the cloth application method. I was never able to get good results using a brush with polyurethane, but this is a cinch.


Assembly was done with glue, biscuits, a few gun fired finish nails, all clamped until dry and stable. I then made the nerve testing cut to remove the top. Take this one slow and careful, as a mistake here is hard to recover from. I made the cut without incident and was rewarded with a perfect fitting top.

For the filter storage, I installed a 3/8" square wooden strip that will hold the cased filters tight against the eyepiece tray.  Using this small strip instead of a full height "wall" allows me to more easily extract the filters.  Until I come up with something more elegant (if ever), they are held nicely in place by a small piece of closed cell foam that is just wider than the storage trough. When compressed to fit, it provides enough tension to keep the filters upright.

The green pointing laser has a spot reserved at the front side of the 2" tray so it is easy to grab anytime.


While I generally avoid staining wood, preferring to see the natural color and grain, this oak in its natural color was not very appealing. I decided to use a light stain, a cherry color from Minwax that yielded a wonderful warm color that I am quite happy with.


I then applied six coats of polyurethane over a couple of days. The wipe on product does not go on as thick as the brushed variety, and so the result of six coats is a nice finish, not at all thick or plastic like.  The final step to add another layer of dew protection and give the finish a really beautiful shine is three or four coats of hand buffed Minwax Finishing Wax.


It was time to add the hardware, some hinges, a couple of handles and a lid knob. The oak and its color suggested a Mission / Prairie style might be in order, and that suits my taste perfectly.


The lid was secured from falling backward by a simple chain lid keeper.

I added a small plastic box to contain all of the miscellaneous items I carry, lens cleaners, batteries, eyepatch, etc.



As usual with my projects, there are mistakes here and there, and a couple of things I wish I had another crack at, but all in all I am quite pleased with the result. Especially satisfying is reclaiming wood that might have been considered useless and tossed out. It will now serve a productive use for many years to come.

I welcome your comments and questions at



2008 Rod Nabholz

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