After reading a lot of modifications to the Meade #883 tripod for use with the ETX 125 and experiencing first hand the frustrations of many dark night factors, I modified my tripod for under $10 to make life a lot easier. Follow the step-by-step instructions by referring to the attached photographs (numbered).
1) The metal plate supplied by Meade for the -125 should be permanently attached to the tripod head. Since Meade does not do it, you can easily do it by two ways. The first is best, but you may not have a tap-and-die set. An alternative is offered following. In Photo 1a you see the four (4) holes to accomodate mounting the plate. Please make note of some very important safeguards in installing the plate PRIOR to drilling the holes.
a) Note the positions of the BASE RUBBER LEG NOTCHES in Photo 2. Some users have recommended removing these for stability. DO NOT - it is important to leave them on so that you can position your scope in the dark as discussed at the end! There is only ONE POSITION for these notches that correspond with the two (2) 1/4-20 holes in the mounting plate through which you screw down the telescope. You must first position the plate against the bottom of your scope base to align these notches and then make sure that the plate and notches align to the tripod fitting through which the bolts attach the telescope as well as the holes through which the two mounting bolts pass to hold the socpe in place. Once you have done that, MARK the plate to north "N" to correspond with the appropriate leg Photo 2-c making sure that the plate, scope and tripod all align to "home position."
b) Once done, carefully center the plate on the tripod head (leave the scope off at this point) and SECURE with the 1/4-20 thumb screws provided with the tripod and a couple of 1/4-20 nuts; tighten lightly with a wrench.
c) While attached, get UNDER the plate and draw (with a pencil) the circumference of the tripod head onto the bottom of the mounting plate.
d) Now, determine where the holes are to be drilled (Photo 1-a) to NOT conflict with the cast ribs on the underside of the tripod head. It is important that your holes be aligned such that they are equally positioned in each quadrant and not passing through one of the tripod head ribs.
e) BEFORE DRILLING make one last check with the base of the scope to make sure all - the tripod, the plate, the 1/4 holes and the base of the scope - line up to north (home position with the scope. USE THE RUBBER FEET as guide marks as shown in Figure 2c.
f) Drill holes first in the metal plate and countersink; use ONLY 10-32 bolts, as fine threads are needed against the very soft cast aluminum head of the tripod. Now match the plate up once again against the tripod head; using a nail or scribe, mark through the holes you just drilled onto the TOP of the tripod head as a guide to match holes you are about to drill in the tripod head. If you THREAD the tripod head holes, remember to use a smaller drill bit accordingly to allow for the tap tool to cut the threads. If you cannot tap the 10-32 threads in the tripod head, simply use a 3/4" long 10-32 bolt and fasten to the underside of the head with a lock washer and bolt. If you CAN thread, the attachment is much more secure, but I like to still install the locking washers and nuts for security. MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE that the flat heads of the machine screws are totally countersunk; if they protrude even the slightest out of the holes, then your scope will ussuredly rock, even when the large knobs are tightened fully.
Note here that, based on several recommendations, I too have added some Velcro strips atop the mounting plate; use the felt side, and this will give you much greater stability against the plastic plate on the bottom of your scope's base. These strips are plainly seen in Photos 1, 2, and 3.
3) Ever loose your 1/4-20 hand screws that mount the scope? Here's a great tip: While drilling and tapping the 10-32 holes for mounting the plate, simply add a couple of threaded 1/4-20 holes on the plate for placing the hand screws when not in use? This keeps them where you know to look and prevents loss in the dark!
Now, once the plate is permanently attached to the tripod head, what is the advantage? WOW! #1: You do not have to fumble around in the dark attempting (with three hands) place both the scope and the plate in place at one time; and, #2: You can align your scope to the tripod and appropriate mounting holes IN THE DARK!! That's why I told you to LEAVE THE RUBBER FEET in place; they serve as alignment "knobs" which fall into place on the notches when the scope is in the right position! Once in place, the rubber feet extrude out the bottom anyway, so they do not interfere with the stability of the base.
I can set my ETX 125 up in the dark, screw the 1/4-20 knobs in place and lock down in less than 15 seconds.
Now, a word of advice since we are "on" the tripod. I found early on that there is no place to put things, other than the inconvenient "shelf" (that's where my eyeglasses go). The Autostar (or electronic standard controller) is a delicate instrument and does not need to be dropped; likewise, sometimes I choose to independently use the hand box of my electronic focuser instead of running through Autostar....but WHERE do you put these things? In addition, I did not want to have to "string out" my AC adapter every time I wanted to use it....WHERE do I put it?
Velcro, once again, was the answer. I attached a long strip (4") on the INSIDE OF EACH sliding leg of the tripod of the "hook" side (for cleanliness purposes). On the back side of: 1) the handbox for the focuser (not used much); 2) the Autostar; 3) the standard hand controller; and, 4) my AC adapter box, I put a matching strip of FELT side Velcro. It is amazing how well these items stay in place when not in use....plus you always know where to look. By placing Velcro on each leg, you can position the Autostar in three different observing positions! (see Photo 5f)
As for the AC adapter, I have attached a cord, plug end at ground level, along the outside of one dedicated tripod leg (the one closest to the "control panel" on the base) with cord clips (Photo 4f); the outcoming cord to the telescope is determined for the height of my tripod and the rest rolled up with a twist-tie to keep out of the way. If leg adjustment is needed, there is ample cord available. Also, by putting the Velcro on the INSIDE leg, you can adjust at will, with no interference from the Autostar or other accessories hanging on!
When transporting, I leave the AC adapter attached with its cords, but remove and carefully pack the autostar and/or control units. Every bit of this was done in one evening and works absolutely flawlessly!
It makes set-up in the dark convenient and easy, avoids item loss, and simply makes the entire night out more enjoyable and hassle-free!
P. Clay Sherrod
794 Drake Drive
Conway, Arkansas 72032
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