One of the weakest points of many new telescopes is not the lens or mirror, but the mount. Often small, inexpensive scopes are woefully undermounted, leading to shaky views at high power and difficulty tracking objects. For larger scopes, it's a matter of improving the current mount to make it better, or simply a large enough one to handle the weight and mass of a given telescope. Here are projects I have worked on to improve some telescope mounts over the years.
Many retail stores sell decent lenses in not so great telescope packages that are stuck on top of even worse mounts. However, since the lenses for these telescopes are usually at least "decent," there is a way to salvage what you've purchased, and make your department store telescope into a useful scope. In January 2010, I wrote a column about how to do that for my local paper. The link to the slightly longer, link-filled version of it online is no longer online, but you can find plans upon which my mount was based here.
In late 2011 I added a new feature to the tripod for this mount. It is a simple, rotating spreader bar that keeps the hinged legs from flopping around or unintentionally collapsing. It was a simple addition, but make a vast improvement in performance and use of the tripod and scope. Interestingly, I didn't even know about the spreader bar listed in the link above as I originally saw this mount at this page, but apparently great minds think alike.
I purchased what is probably considered a rather large 127mm refractor in late 2008. To use it smoothly, relibaly and effectively, I needed a mount large and steady enough to handle that size scope. I didn't have the money to buy one (that would have been about $500-$1000, so I built one instead, for about $100. This was my second attempt at it (the first one was a little clumsy to use).
It's effectively a "Dobsonian" style telescope mount, but made for a refractor. For more information about this design, click on this link.
There was an "original" version of the mount for that 5" f/9 refractor. Click here for the details.
As someone who owns - and has owned - a number of the less-expensive, but still quite good, "older" or "vintage" telescopes from the 50's, 60's and 70's, I know that many of these instruments are capable of producing quite fine views of the night sky. The lenses and/or mirrors are often quite good, the mounts - for the size scopes they carry - are often stronger and better-made than today's counterparts, and very often they are only in need of a little TLC to get in working again in "like new" condition. To get a sense of what can be done with them, here are a few resources that may benefit those who have these older scopes - these are telescopes I own (or owned at one time, and have since sold/given away to others) and posted about on CloudyNights:
60mm Sears 6333-A refractor
76mm Tasco 10-TE refractor
114mm Tasco 11-T reflector
114mm Tasco 11-TE5 reflector (the same as above, but different)
10" Coulter Dobsonian reflector
How to rebuild an equatorial mount for a Sears / Tasco 3" refractor
If you own an older telescope and need information about it - whether it be how to fix it up, clean it, or even what might need to be done (or should be left UNdone, like cleaning mirrors or lenses) so you can sell it, I would strongly suggest posting about it in the "Classic Telescopes" forum on CloudyNights.com. There are very knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful people there who will be glad to guide and encourage you.