Peterson Engineering's EZ Binoc Mount Kit
A few months ago I decided to increase my binocular observing. After using 10x50 and 11x70 models more and more on nights that boasted good binocular targets, I decided to buy some 25x100 Barskas after getting a good deal on a pair. I knew before I bought them that the photo tripod I had been using for the smaller binoculars wouldn’t work with the big Barskas and I would need a larger, more stable mount due to their weight and increased magnification.
I was faced with a choice: build my own mount, or find something else. I wasn’t interested in a fork mount at all. When considering “something elses,” I realized that I really did not need the added expense and complexity of a parallelogram mount and its ability to keep an object in view when raised or lowered.
“Pipe Mount” came to mind, so I decided to see what I could find on the Internet. My first search for a “homemade binocular pipe mount” took me directly to Peterson Engineering Corporation’s Sky Division and their “EZ Binoc Mount Kit.” When I started the search, I was planning on finding some pipe mount ideas, plans or photos I could adapt to my own use, but the more I looked at the EZ Binoc Mount Kit, I realized that somebody a lot more skilled than myself had already done so and was offering a binocular pipe mount in kit form.
The kit costs $99.99+PriorityMail postage and you pay a visit to your local hardware store to pick up some additional commonly-available pipes and fittings in order to save on shipping costs. Considering the low cost compared to other mounting options, the wealth of information on the web site and my need for a simple binocular mount, I decided to give it a try and ordered the EZ Binoc Mount.
Pete Peterson’s EZ Binoc Mount Kits, as Mr. Peterson states of this and his other products, are designed to meet his own needs, especially a mount that could stay outside year-round ready for instant use. I believe a niche has been nicely filled here for those looking for a stable, very functional and low-priced binocular mount.
Within hours of ordering, I received from Mr. Peterson an email a containing a detailed list of what I would need to buy on my end to complete the mount so I could go ahead and get the items and have them on hand when the kit arrived. I went to Lowe’s and within 5 minutes had gone through their plumbing section and easily found everything called for on the list: mostly different lengths of ½” and 1” pipe and assorted fittings.
I chose black iron pipe as it is recommended if you intend to paint your mount. If you want to leave the mount unpainted and outside, you can use galvanized pipe, but galvanized pipe contains a coating that must be stripped/sanded off in order for paint to properly adhere. The small lengths of pipe and fittings supplied with the mount kit are galvanized, but sanding them isn’t much work if you opt for black iron for the rest of the mounts.
Barbell weights the mount utilizes for balance can be found for roughly $1 a pound for weights with a 1” center hole. The amount of weight you will need depends on the size of binoculars you will be using. My 25x100’s at nearly 9 pounds with homemade dew shields required three 5-pound weights and two 2.5-pound weights. I chose to use four 5-pound weights mounted further up the shaft, but that’s just personal preference. Three 5-pound weights at the end of the shaft would have worked fine. Lighter binoculars should only require one 5-pound counterweight.
Total cost for all the materials purchased locally to complete the kit was around $65 Two days after I bought the supplies to complete the kit, the kit itself arrived in the mail after a 3-day Priority Mail journey from Rhode Island.
The Peterson Engineering-supplied part of the kit consists of items that have been machined, welded or may be hard to find locally. While some of these items are common and could have been found locally, I still appreciated them being included with the kit to reduce hunting/gathering on my end. The instruction manual, complete with photos, that is included in the kit is very well-written, clear and concise with plenty of photos and guides the builder precisely through the construction of the mount. At no point in time did I have any question about what I was doing now or would do next.
The only flaw I found with the kit was that one of the hose clamps used to position and retain the counterweights was much smaller than the others and couldn’t be used for its intended purpose and had to be replaced with a larger clamp in order to securely position the weights.
Safety is stressed throughout the process, beginning with a warning that reads, “If you are going to do something stupid and hurt yourself while assembling this kit, please don’t assemble the kit.” At first I laughed at this, but it caught my attention and it rings true. Some of the machined parts have very sharp, freshly cut threads and possible metal slivers in areas where you’ll be putting your fingers . Another danger is that as assembly on the mount progresses, the mount becomes heavy on one end and can pivot unexpectedly if you’re not careful, even before the counterweights are installed.
It is important to be aware of these possibly unsafe situations. If assembling this mount with children around or helping, you should think ahead and be careful of the possible dangers pointed out in the assembly/instruction manual. There is a lot of potential energy stored in this design, especially with the counterweights installed, so be aware of during construction of the mount and when installing or removing binoculars from the mount: common sense will serve you just fine here.
Assembly of the mount is very straightforward and easy, requiring only a pipe or strap wrench and some common hand tools. The mount is constructed of 1” and ½” pipe and common fittings associated with these sizes of pipe and all pipes and accessories use NPT threads.
Another common item you will need a lot of is either paper towels or shop rags. Most of the labor involved in constructing the mount involves “lapping” the threads on 5 of the joints that provide movement. The NPT (National Pipe Thread) threads are slightly conical and are designed to grip tightly and seal within a few threads, not screw all the way to the end of the threads and then tighten and seal.
The more turns the threads make, the harder it gets to turn them. In order to ensure an engagement of at least 4-5 threads to make the joints stable, smooth and less likely to come apart after a couple of turns in the wrong direction, the threads must be “lapped,” that is ground with a grinding compound that consists of an abrasive in a grease base to smooth out the threads and make them turn easily through 4 or 5 complete revolutions by hand instead of the 1 or 2 turns you might get tightening initially by hand.
To lap the threads, you apply grinding compound to the threads, tighten them to where resistance is felt, then using one of the pipes as a lever/handle, you begin to turn the joint/threads back and forth in a 90-degree arc. You’ll find that as you continue to work the threads back and forth, you will be able to rotate them a little further and within about 5 minutes of this, stopping a couple of times to add some more grinding compound, the threads will have engaged down to four or five turns and the turning movement of the threads will be nice and smooth and that’s all there is to it. When you’re done, you clean off the grinding compound and apply the lubricant of your choice to the threads. I chose automotive grease, but Vaseline is also recommended.
The grinding compound seems to migrate, so it will wind up on your hands, on the pipes and, in my case, on my clothes, so either be prepared to be neater than I was, or to do some cleanup when you’re done. I chose to get dirty first and clean up later.
If you’re going to paint the mount, as I chose to do, it will take a lot of rags and a degreasing solution of some kind to get all the dirt/oil residue and any smeared grinding compound off the metal. I used paint thinner and then some alcohol to get mine ready for painting and used fine-grit sandpaper on the galvanized parts to remove the coating so paint would adhere.
As the mount nears completion, you have to decide how to configure it depending on the weight and mounting options of your binoculars. My larger Barskas use a center post configuration where the 1\4-20 mounting stud is perpendicular to the optical axis. Smaller binoculars usually have a ¼-20 mounting hole that is parallel with the optical axis, so you’ll have to finish the “business end” of the mount depending on what type of mounting your binoculars offer.
If you want to switch sizes/types of binoculars used on the mount, you have to reconfigure that portion of the mount where the binoculars attach. You also have to add/remove/reposition the barbell weights, so while it is possible to change from larger or smaller binoculars with this mount, it really can’t be done on a moment’s notice depending on what size binoculars you want to use.
To mount my binoculars with a center mounting post, a supplied 1/4x20 threaded rod about two inches long is first screwed into the mounting hole on the binoculars. This rod then passes through a drilled hole in one of the pipe fittings and the binoculars rest on the fitting. You then thread the large plastic hand nut supplied with the kit onto the portion of the threaded rod exposed on the other side of the fitting and tighten it down securely.
When you’re ready to remove the binoculars, you simply unscrew the large plastic hand nut and lift the binoculars straight up off the mount. The 2” threaded rod can remain threaded into the binocular’s mounting post (unless you want to put them back in their case) so the next time you mount the binoculars, you simply insert the threaded rod through the hole and use the large plastic nut to tighten down your binoculars to the mount; a process that takes all of five seconds and is very handy.
When mounting plus-size binoculars, it is necessary to pull the binocular end of the mount down low enough (roughly parallel to the ground) in order to be able to reach the binocular mounting provisions at the end of the arm. As you do so, you are also pulling the 15 pounds of weight on the other end up, so are left carrying their load while trying to mount your binoculars. I am able to tuck the mount arm under my own arm and still use two hands to attach my binoculars. If you are unable to do so, the owner’s manual contains a nifty suggestion sent in by a user who utilizes a dog leash attached to the base of the mount to hold down the mount arm while he uses both hands to mount his binoculars. In fact, owner’s comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged by Mr. Peterson.
When you have gotten this far with the assembly and get your binoculars mounted, you begin to appreciate the “5-axis” design of this mount compared to a parallelogram mount. Not only does the mount provide azimuth and altitude movements at the center “pivot point” of the mount, but the end of the mount arm where your binoculars perch also provides altitude and azimuth motions independent of the larger movements of the mount and also a "roll" motion to keep the binoculars parallel to the ground as you raise and lower them.
This means that if you’re comfortably reclined in a chair observing, you don’t have to rotate the entire mount (and also move your chair)to scan a few degrees left or right. The possibilities for viewing positions with this mount are much more diverse than with any other mount I can think of: you can stand, sit, even lie down flat on your back.
The mount primarily relies on mass from the barbell weights to “float” the binoculars in front of you, but friction knobs(that screw into three of the drilled/tapped parts included with the kit) are also utilized to fine-tune movements if necessary. So far, I have never found it necessary to use these friction knobs as my binoculars balance perfectly with just the counterweights no matter how I orient the mount or the binoculars.
So far, I have found fault with only one part of the design of the mount. This issue is addressed in the instruction manual, but as with all things, instruction manuals are forgotten over time and even important aspects of an object’s safe use can be forgotten; hence the reason for “checklists.”
While it’s not possible for any of the other joints on the mount to unscrew unintentionally during use, I could see the large, central azimuth pivot joint of the mount doing just that with possibly disastrous consequences. The manual suggests that every time you use the mount, you walk the mount around until these threads are tight, then back them off just enough to allow the movement needed to observe. Mr. Peterson also notes that if you paint the mount white, it is easy to notice the unpainted threads if a joint is coming loose.
With the majority of people and situations, these warnings and practices to insure these threads don’t come unscrewed would be enough, but you never know: all it would take is a couple of curious kids experimenting with the mount when you’re away from it to spell disaster. I chose to attach a 9” length of plastic-coated clothesline wire to each side of the joint using plastic zip ties so the cord will wrap around the larger 1” center support pipe and stop the joint from turning after about 3 turns so I never have to worry about the joint unscrewing no matter how inattentive I might be.
So, how does the thing work? I believe it works exceptionally well. My binoculars balance perfectly without even using the friction knobs, I can observe comfortably from any position I choose and my binoculars are stable and smoothly and easily turned in any direction. I have never used a high-end parallelogram mount for binocular viewing, but I really can’t see how most of them could possibly work any better than this pipe mount does, especially for the money.
One thing to be aware of is the size of this mount. The span of the main “arm” of the mount is 80 inches from the end of the counterweight pipe to my binoculars mounted on the other end. This size and the area taken up when you’re using the mount increases the danger of somebody walking into one end of the mount while you’re looking through your binoculars at the other end and is another good reason to paint the mount a light color so it’s more easily seen in the dark.
With all required weights for 9-pound binoculars, my mount weights 45 pounds total and is easily picked up and carried although it can be tricky to get it through a door and does require thinking ahead and some contortions with the three long tripod legs and the long arm but I tried and can get it through the 30” doors of my 100-year-old house. Without weights, the mount weighs around 15 pounds. Also remember that this mount was specifically designed to be left outside permanently and ready to use at a moment’s notice if you choose to do so. I’m lucky enough to have a 5-foot-wide basement door. I leave my binoculars attached to the mount in the basement then simply pick up the whole assembly and carry it out to anywhere in the yard I need to go.
I have included only one photo of my finished mount. The Peterson Engineering Sky Division’s web site has several good photos of the mount demonstrating its design and use and can be found at www.petersonengineering.com/sky/binocmount.htm. I highly recommend this mount.
Good value for the price.
Binoculars can be attached/detached in a matter of a few seconds.
Easy to put together.
Built like a tank, yet surprisingly light.
Can be left outside permanently.
Good balance and smooth motions in all axes.
Can observe from any position you choose.
Virtually impossible to damage and should last a lifetime if protected from corrosion.
Excellent assembly/instruction manual and Customer Service.
Not Really Cons, But Things To Be Aware Of
Rather large overall size.
Must show respect for unbalanced conditions caused by the counterweights during assembly and when binoculars are not installed on the mount. (Addressed in the owner’s manual.)
Potential for main azimuth joint to unscrew. (This possibility and measures to prevent it are addressed in the owner’s manual and should be satisfactory precautions for most people.)
I have been an amateur astronomer for 22 years and currently observe from the dark skies of rural Missouri with a 10” Discovery reflector, 6” Orion reflector, 11x70 Garrett Optical binoculars and 25x100 Barska binoculars.
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