Small telescopes aren't universally bad. In fact, the optics in most of them are quite good. The problem is, most manufacturers cut corners on most everything else, especially the mount. They often vibrate or wiggle while moving the telescope, making aiming them and following objects as the Earth rotates an exercise in frustration.
This mount, which can be built with nothing more than simple hand tools, can improve your small telescope. It consists of little more than a few pieces of pine, three hinges, two PVC pipe fittings, a bit of PTFE (Teflon) tape, and some assorted screws and nuts. And if you don't even have a telescope and are looking for a very inexpensive - but decent - one, you can get the same telescope tube shown in this picture for about $25 or so from Telescope Warehouse on Ebay (as of this writing, November 2012). Look under the "Filters, Finders and Guidescopes" section. Sometimes he has 80mm and 90mm refractors for only a few dollars more!
Add a couple used Plossl eyepieces, and you can have a rock solid, decent-performing telescope on a tripod for under $100.
I'll go ahead and post the PDF plans for them here. These will work for the scope seen in the picture above. You may need to adjust the cradle width, and the mount width, depending on your telescope's tube diameter. If narrower, you can simply shim the tube in place. If wider, you'll need to add some width accordingly.
Small telescope plans, PDF
Small telescope spreader bar 1, PDF
Small telescope spreader bar 2, PDF
Cut the telescope legs to about 48" length, and cut one end at a 25 degree angle; this is where the leg will attach to the top of the tripod using a simple hinge. The other end can be cut to a gentle taper, or sharply to stubby point for the end of the leg. The rest simply gets glue or screwed together - the cradle just makes a "U" shape, and the PVC parts are attached to the side of it. The mount itself attaches to the tripod via a simple 1/4-20 threaded shaft, using some washers and lock nuts. The spreader bar can them be placed underneath this at a spot high enough up to engage the legs and keep them locked in the open position. A quick twist of the spreader allows the legs to instantly collapse for quick tear-down.
It's a great, simple design. More to come soon!