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4/07/2015

Catsperch Pro Observing Chair Review


I received today my Catsperch Pro Observing Chair.  The UPS man delivered it around 12:30pm today. I was off today so I broke open the box in my messy garage, as we wait for our spring cleaning dumpsters to arrive any day.  The completed chair arrived neatly box, quite well protected and easy to take apart and remove from the box. Inside the box was the main part of the chair, the foot rest, the seat, the front stabilizing bar that connects to the bottom front of the main part of the chair. Also there were four clips to lock the dowels for the chair and seat components to rest on the curved cutouts on the back of the main part of the chair. I assembled the chair, it took all of 5 minutes to put together if that and that is my first compliment to the design. The ease with which to put this chair together is a compliment to Jim Fly, the designer, creator and to Ron Wood at Wood Wonders for making it all go together so easily.

The chair did have of new coats of polyurethane, that brought back memories of making my own chair 3 years ago.  After the chair was assembled, and I tried it out, I got out my memory foam and my hard foam and tracked the seat on both, then cut a rough draft out of the foams. I need to trim them up nicely and then put a cover on them,which isn't not too hard to do, and then use the Velcro on the seat to attach it to the wood slots when I am observing so I am comfortable all night.  After doing that I sat down on the chair at different levels and it worked quite well. To be honest, it was almost exactly like using the chair I had built out of Red Oak three years ago this March and April (see this LINK to those posts on my blog here).  I found that the moving of the chair and step stool were easily done and easily to pop out their metal clip that held the wooden dowel on chair.  I actually at first thought I liked the metal pegs I used, but after about 15 minutes of playing around with them, I found the Catsperch metal clips easier and quicker to use and in the dark, that will be a good thing.  I might easily replace my metal pegs with the metal clips on the chair I built!  So now to the things I like and things I would improve on both chairs.

The Catsperch Pro fully assembled is ready for use right out of the box if ordered that way. You pay for it, about $360.00 with shipping for the base model, but man, it is nice not to have to spend four to six Saturday's and a few weekdays working on building your own. Then again, there is sanctification that comes from building something on your own and using it. So it really comes down to having time, materials, tools, and know how to build your own vs. the convenience and ease of ordering and getting a finished product ready to go. In the end there isn't one correct decision here, it is up to the individual to decide.

The next feature you'll see that I love on the Catsperch is the build of the seat. The slants work wonderfully as do the side arms that are enclosed on the front end. You can see that in the video. The slants allow for a Velcro strap to wrap around to attach a cushion to the slant boards that make up the seat. Wonderful design and implementation here.  On the Shaun's plans that I used, my seat was attached to two side arms that are open on the front, and I used plywood not Red Oak to make the seat top. I wish I had made the slants. On my chair I used hard sleeping bag pad, blue in color and then a piece of memory foam on top of that.  I enclosed it in a patch work of old jeans that were sewn together and make an outstanding and comfortable, and long lasting cover. On the Catsperch you can see I am following that same model of hard foam on the bottom, memory foam on top and I will be using not jeans but a vinyl faux leather covering, much like the Smart Seat cover material and attaching it with Velcro.  I think this will be a better set up then the other seat long term, and on dewy nights, it is easier to wipe off vinyl then to have it absorb into the cotton material.  Then again, the vinyl can be slippery so I will consult with my wife and see what she thinks. Either way, I'll end up with a nice, cushion seat to go over the three wooden slants. This lets me personalize the Catsperch as well, like I did with my chair three years ago. Bottom line though, the Catsperch design is far superior to mine, though the basic concepts are the same. The dowels that hold the chair in the front and back are the same tension system, locking into half crescent ridges. On my chair I used one inch dowels and on the Catsperch, they used what looks like 1/2 inch dowels.  Both work and one is not more sturdy then the other. Please realize like I said in the video, at the time of using my chair, I weighed in at around 340 to 345 pounds. Since June of last year I have lost 75 to 80lbs due to medical need and my desire to be healthier, so at 261lbs to 265lbs there is a big difference on using the chairs. Neither chair though can I see having a problem for me despite my weight. As I go down to the 200 to 210 level of weight, it will be interesting to see how I respond on the chair. You can see in the video I am a little careful about getting up high on the chairs. More on that in a minute.

The plans and model of the chairs are basically the same, with a few differences.  One of the biggest to me are the two feet rests and the foot step on the chairs. The Catsperch comes with anti slip material on them, my chair has nothing. Now I have to state in the three years of using my chair, and I use it four to six times a month usually, I have never slipped or come close to it. However, it is a nice feature to have. The Catsperch and my chair have two feet rests off to the side of the middle step. I guess you can use those when sitting but I have always used my foot step to rest my feet one, or a step ladder as you can see in the video when up high, or the ground itself if my feet can rest on the ground. Feet on the ground is determined by the scope I use. With my 14" I can often observe for part of the night, with my feet on the ground. With the 17.5 truss dob, that is not going to happen very often.

Now the Catsperch foot step is about two inches in width and that makes a problem. My son, at age 21 and who weights 190 and is 5"11' tall, has to mount the chair from the side because he cannot fit both feet on the step.  On my chair that same step is 6 inches long, and I can, as I do in the video, put both feet on the step and then mount the chair above if I don't have a stool. So that is one design on my chair that I HIGHLY recommend Ron at Wood Wonders consider adapting, or if someone buys the plans to build the Catsperch models. Make that step about four inches wider! It makes a HUGE difference for big men like me, and normal size men like my son to get up and down on the ladder.'

Now a point. On my 17.5" truss dob, I always have my step ladder for observing up high and for when I am not sketching. I use my chairs for sketching and for continuous long term observing of an object. Since I have the step stool, I use it to get up and down on my chair, and to get up and down on the Catsperch. In the video you'll see on the Catsperch I may use the step ladder a little more, that is because my current "cushion" isn't fastened down that well on the seat.  However, I do find that using a step ladder helps in my comfort level in getting up to the last four or five rungs on the chair. Once on either chair, I am stable, do not feel like I am going to fall, and feel secure up there. The only thing I need to invent is a table that high to store my sketching material so I can easily get to it when I am ready to sketch.  Hmmm . . . I have an idea on that one, and I can't wait for summer to come to try it out!  I have no problem on the chair I made, and I actually like the stability of the Catsperch Pro just a little bit more, not much, just a hair in that I think for a big man, it is very stable. In the end, the stability is a tie and I see no need for a back brace/support to make it more stable.

On the Catsperch Pro I LOVE the connecting arm from the main chair's back, to the back leg. That is a clever and well use part to put there to connect both the leg and the chair.  On my chair, I used a steel bar that has a hook and a screw, much like what many can find and many have used on a Denver Chair to connect the main chair to a back leg.  It is functional and works, but I truly and deeply DISLIKE how that metal bar will fall out and ding and dent things if I don't put my Velcro around it to secure. Then the Velcro will fall off in the dark at my dark site so then I have to find it, brush it off and secure it back on. Guess I need a better system. Advantage here is HUGE and goes to the Catsperch Pro.

The bottom arm or support brace, that connects to the bottom front of both chairs is a challenging piece to mount. On my chair, the bolts are permanently mounted. I can attach the support brace or arm by taking off the black knobs, putting on the brace/arm, while ensuring I have a washer behind the brace/arm, and another washer on the front where the knob screws down on. This protects the wood. The Catsperch Pro Chair has two bolts that come off, and then go in and two gold knobs that turn on the back of the screw.  Both are relatively quick to get on and off, but the workmanship here on the Catsperch Pro is slightly better, a square hole n the back matches the bolt so the bolt doesn't impact the wood. I had to learn that lesson and repair by brace/arm and then put that into mine. Catsperch Pro here has a slight edge but either work if set up correctly the first time.

The next item is a MAJOR one on the comparison of the two chairs. I cover this in the video and you can see that I cut out on my chair a rounded and oval shape handle to carry the chair. The handle also helps when climbing up the chair when the seat is high up. I also use it to move the chair at night around the scope. The Catsperch Pro doesn't have this, though I suspect if I had ordered a special constellation or planet engraving on the chair, I could have gotten three holes drilled out as a handle. I probably should have inquired of this, though I did not think about it until comparing the chairs which is my fault. So if your ordering a Catsperch Pro, ask about that feature as I think it is an important one.  You can see the handle in this image from the Wood Wonders site and that image is also on their site located at this LINK.


So since the Catsperch Pro observing chair that I got, did not have the handle, and my chair does, this is a MAJOR advantage to my old chair.  It is a feature that if I was building and make chairs and selling, that I would make an additional item on checkout when purchasing the chair and charge $25.00 for doing it. I would have paid it and I think others would too if it was an easy option. I love my handle and it was the first think my son Nathan pointed out when comparing them. Much easier to move the chair around the scope when a handle in the dark, then to lift it with no handle. I will be installing a handle of some sort on the back of the chair at some point.

Another feature that I have on my chair and I think is essential for these chairs. They are made of a good old hard wood, Red Oak. However, at a dark site, and yes, I go to some remote dark sites both in the mountains of Utah and mainly in the West Desert of Utah, the bottom support arm/brace and the back leg can get chewed up pretty good with small rocks and other obstacles found in those environments. On my chair I installed rubber bottoms to those positions that stops the wood from being abused and protects the wood there and my investment. The Catsperch Pro chair has no such protection, for now, and that will be the very first modification I will be doing. I am going to try to find some rubber bottoms that will fit the bottom of the brace feet and the back leg foot that slip over them. If not, I will use what I have but I would highly recommend to Ron and Jim to see if they can manufacturer those type of rubber boots to go over the back foot and brace feet and then offer them for sale. I would purchase several of them to ensure I always had protection for the bottom supports of my feet. A ten or twenty dollar investment for two or three of these would be well worth it in the long run and I think provide enhance care for their product. Either way though, I will be adding rubberized feet or bottoms to my chair to protect it.

Finally is workmanship.  My chair was built under the help and eye of my friend Mat, who ensured I sanded, drilled, sanded, and took my sweet time in both building and finishing my chair.  The quality of my chair is such that it has lasted for 3 years with a very large set man and that is a testimony to its build quality.  I love the features of my chair and knowing that I built it with some help when it was needed. Is it perfect? Nope, for example, in February I re-coated it again to protect it from the weather and conditions at my dark sites. I have learned from my first chair though, and if I were to build another chair, I would incorporate what I have learned into it. However, for a second chair since I have several scopes now, I opted to get a Catsperch Pro chair.  The Catsperch is beautifully crafted and made. Ron does a fantastic job with that, his work is outstanding. There are no rough edges anywhere, everything is smooth, and fits together wonderfully.  It is evident that Ron has the building of these chairs down to a science. So over all I would give the edge to the Catsperch Pro, but only because my chair was a learning experience and it has unique personality traits that I adore.

So here is my overall of both chairs:

Item                                               Catsperch Pro                                   My Chair
Handle                                         None                                                      Functional Handle
Makes it easier to move the chair in the dark at a dark site

Step Size                                     2" wide                                                   6" wide
The larger step makes it easier without aid to get up and own on the chair, especially to the higher levels of the seat.

Seat Build                             Slants, Covered Front, Strong                    Strong, No covered front
The covered front adds additional strength to the build, making the seat stronger in my opinion. The slants of Red Oak are an advantage to the plywood I used. I should have done the Red Oak Slants.

Cushion:                              Purchase for $76                                           Build my own for both
I much prefer to build my own to save the money and to get a seat that I know supports me.  Remember a strong foam on the bottom then I use memory foam on the top with a covering. Vinyl sheds water or wipes off moisture. Jean or other cloth material absorbs moisture well personalizing the seat. Choice here.

Connecting Arm                 Connected seat back to back arm               Metal brace with hook
The Catsperch system of hooking the back is far superior and the arm won't fall and nick items or you won't be chasing around for Velcro to secure it.

Anti Slip Material Step Feet Rest    Stops slippage of feet in moisture           None, can add it.
Advantage if any to Catsperch. I don't have it and I have never slipped.

Rubber Feet Bottoms                    None                                                       Built on mine
Critical to protect the chair and the investment in the chair. I will be putting them on my chair within the week before I head to dark sites this month.

Dowel Supports/Locking Mech.      1/2"                                                      1"
Not a real issue for me as both are very supportive and I felt totally comfortable observing from both chairs and sitting up high.

Bottom Brace/Support              Bolt and screw down back side             Knobs, bolt permanent, washer
Both systems work fine, but I believe the Catsperch will work better in protecting the wood long term. I have had to modify mine based on experience so that it matches the Catsperch while repairing a few nicks that came with the first way I connected my bottom brace.

Workmanship                           Many years and chairs                                1 chair 2 months experience
Well, my workmanship is good, Ron's is excellent and it is evident he has the experience from making over 400 chairs and it shows. There is a lot I would improve on for a second chair, but what the heck, I didn't make another one and I ordered one from Ron. I am a VERY happy customer and glad I ordered a Catsperch Pro, though I would make three key changes: One, the rubber on the bottom of the two ends of the bottom brace.  Two, the handle on top. Three, a step that is about six inches wide. not two inches. That makes a HUGE difference if your getting to the top rungs of the seat with no support.

Overall, as I said I am extremely please with the Catsperch Pro chair, and for that matter with the chair I built. I'll be using both chairs in the field and at my observatory.  That should one of my next new posts, my observatory with my new scope.  Anyway, I give the Catsperch Pro 9/10 stars, maybe 8.5/10 because of the three things listed. I give my own chair a 8 to 8.5/10 stars also.  In the end, if you want the best observing chair you can have and are going to purchase it, the creme de creme is the Catsperch models and you will not go wrong in ordering, paying and owning one.

Here is the video we made comparing the Catsperch Pro Chair to the observing chair I made 3 years ago based on Shaun's Plans found at the earlier link.  I hope this helps!



EDIT: November 26th, 2015

In August/September of this year (2015) I was using the Catsperch Pro Chair on a regular basis at my observing sessions. I was doing this to give it a really good use and to really compare it in the field to the observing chair I had made.  Well one night as I put the chair away into the back of the Outback, I noticed the following crack in the base of the foot. Here are the pictures so you can see the crack.




The crack starts on the bottom of the leg, curves down and then back up along the grain moving toward the top of the wood.  Now I want to state up front that my own observing chair that I made that is very similar to a Catsperch Pro, has never had a problem like this. The only repair I have done is to re-coat it in August with several new coats of polyurethane.  Just wanted it secure even though I do not face the dew like others due back east.

My take on this crack is that there had to have been a crack in the wood prior to the chair being built and the tightening of the bottom spar probably caused the crack to crack so it is easily visually seen.  As the crack goes along the grain of the wood I feel this further strengthens my theory. To repair it basically will call for me to spread the crack open just a tiny bit, get some wood glue in the crack and then using some C clamps to clamp down the wood. The wood glue will actually make the wood stronger than it was before.

 I contacted Ron Burrows who makes the chairs and this was his reply.

I would say that there was a crack in the wood that didn’t show itself until some humidity got to it. I really think that if you can spread the crack open a little and get some glue as deep as you can, and clamp it, it will be fine. Looking at where the crack is I don’t think it makes the chair unusable. The stress is in the opposite side and the carriage bolt holds everything together.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Well, I don't have any questions because I know what needs to be done per above. Ron confirms the fix and in truth, I did it earlier this evening. I'll know in the morning how the repair went and I'll probably film it and add it here.

So why share this? First I wanted to make the point that last week in the field my 17.5 inch dob had some issues with screws.  I was able to make it work and still observe, since a friend had an extra bolt.  That led to a review of the 17.5 inch dob and deciding to upgrade how the L brackets connects to the spider and to the upper ring of the scope. Took a little bit of time but the mods went off great and now I will not have any issues in the future in the field with these items. I also made sure I had spares in case I need them.

With the Catsperch Pro, I have to state that I haven't heard of issues with them from anyone. I am sure it is just my luck of the draw. Luckily I know how to fix it and have no problem fixing it.  However, IF you don't know what to do, I can say with a certainty that both Ron and Dennis were helpful in answering questions or confirming the steps I had decided to take. Not sure what to do? Then ask them what to do. Don't have the tools? Ask in your club, I promise there are people in the local astronomy community that do have the know how and the tools. You'll just need to find one that will help you to do it. Don't let them do it, you do it so your learn. I knew how to do this because of my friend's Mat's ATM sessions one Saturday a month that he had for several years. So glad he did! Thanks Mat!

Things may not always work the way you want but with patience, thinking, reflection, collaboration with others will result in repairs or enhancements that will improve whatever equipment is needing to be fixed.  Don't get emotional. Get pass that and find solutions that will leave you confident in what you've done, happy you did it yourself and knowing you can tackle what ever comes up. Anyway, it is true that a dob, or any equipment is always a work in progress.  Cheers!

Jay


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