Making instruments remains and always has
been one of the challenges of cutting edge science. Research instruments
are still mostly one of a kind things. There is no large market demand
for multi-channel spectroscopes, nucleon colliders and gama-ray telescope
satellites. Specialty machine, glass or electronics shops required
to produce what's needed are an adjunct to any research. And large
experimental apparatus requires the technical skill of large teams of workers
as a matter of course. Science is about exploring the unknown and
the tools required are equally unknown before an experiment is proposed.
Of course amateur astronomers don't have
to make their telescopes today. They don't even have to make relatively
sophisticated support equipment like computer drives and CCD cameras.
All that is available to anyone with enough money. But at the beginning
of the last (20th) century none of the commercial products available today
existed and amateurs like professionals made their own equipment out of
necessity. The availability of surplus optics after World War II
fed a cycle of supply and demand that saw amateur telescope making (ATM)
and commercial products grow side by side.
Today ATMing thrives as a means of capturing
some of the flavor of the cutting edge science, the "good old days" and
remains the only way to get that "one of a kind" telescope. It is
also a way of stretching the bucks for those who don't have many.
With "sweat equity" the frugal amateur can make more than can otherwise
be acquired. It is also a way for people with some mechanical skill
to add another dimension to their astronomical experience. To these
belongs the gratification of seeing the wonders of the universe with the
product of their own hands.
to Tom Jonard's Astronomy page