Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Warning: First of all be warned that this is a long instructable! About 1 hour of reading. Maybe it is more easily 'digested' by just having a glance at the photos and later come back to read a bit of the history behind it and a few tips on the parts you are more interested in.

What I'll showing in this instructable:

- how to build an aquarium stand that looks good in any living room;

- how to build a complete and versatile lighting system for an aquarium;

- how to get a low maintenance planted freshwater aquarium running;

- some tips on using different materials;

- hopefully inspiring you to build your first aquarium system or upgrade yours :)

The background

I had an aquarium system when I was a kid. It was about 80 liters (21 gallons) and was bought at a big retail store. I had some success with easy tropical fish and zero luck with plants. Internet was still not available in our town (yes, I'm feeling old now) and the books I could find were not of big help in that area.

After that, for many years, I abandoned the hobby. When I came back about 4 years ago it was already with the idea of getting a much bigger aquarium. But now that there was lots of information available everywhere, I easily found that back in the day I didn't have even the very basics for supporting plants: a suitable light. I really liked the photos of planted aquariums and I didn't want to fail big so I got my old 80 liter aquarium to work again and started testing my new found knowledge of plant keeping. There are people that like planted aquariums so much that don't even keep fish but I prefer to have both so I didn't let them out.

The vision

My aim with this project was to put an aquarium about 1,2 to 1,5 meter long in our living room.

As most 'fish lovers' know, our love is not always shared by the other members of the family and they might be reluctant to agree with putting an aquarium in a central part of the house. Many times the aquariums get pushed to a less noble part of the room where they are not appreciated as they should be. I believe part of the problem is that aquariums and their stands don't always look good. If you buy or build a good looking stand and take care of your aquarium its more likely that it will be accepted and appreciated by all.

With this in mind I wanted the aquarium to integrate well with the rest of the furniture in our living room. The existing furniture was mainly made of wenge, a tropical dark wood, or darkened oak, with very straight lines and a few details that I like and wanted to duplicate.

I also did not want any cables or piping laying around or hanging.

Finally, while searching online and recalling two very nice aquariums from two friends, I decided I wanted the aquarium to be visible on 3 sides, with just a shorter side hidden (almost unavoidable when you want all the hoses and cables to be hidden).

Since no commercially available stand would allow this, I was left with only two options, to build one or to have one built for me. Guess which one I chose.. :)

Step 1: The project

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Research

As with any project, I always start with an online search for ideas. The wheel has been invented and there are certainly many good ideas out there. I find that with almost any subject the fastest way to search is by using Google images.

A picture is worth a thousand words and you can get 100 pictures in seconds. I just look for something I like and go and read the page it is at. I'm a believer in images, and that is why I got so many into this instructable :)

Sketch

Next is is important to put your ideas on paper. Sketching on paper will make it very easy to see what looks better, what is possible and what is not, the details that were not addressed and might need some thought and eventually dictate a few changes.

After a few sketches, and I always make a few major changes in this phase, I usually also design it in a 3D CAD software. Today there are many solutions for this, from the more intuitive to the more complete professional systems. I use Autodesk's Inventor Pro, a professional software for mechanical (in my case) design that allows one to design the simplest part or the most complex machine on earth.

3D helps better visualizing the final look and construction details and this always dictates a few more changes to my initial idea, making the building part easier, with less surprises

Finally the 3D renderings that, at least with Inventor, can be generated without any effort are almost worth the time by themselves :)

Note: for Inventor users trying to get a good looking 3D render just use 'global lighting', it can't get easier.

Dimensions and Design

After analyzing the possible locations for the aquarium in the living room, the best place only allowed for a 1,2 meter long aquarium so I decided on a 1,2x0,6x0,6 meters (47''x23,5''x23,5'') for plenty of volume. For hiding the hoses I chose to have a side column as part of the stand (with a side door for easier maintenance).

Step 2: The frame

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Material

One major question you'll have to decide on is what material you're going to use for the structure of the stand.

There are two main options: wood or steel.

On smaller aquariums I believe wood is the obvious option but as the weight rapidly increases with the aquarium dimensions, steel becomes a good solution.

Most builders prefer wood for many reasons, like availability of materials, easiness to work and the fact that it requires less specialized and cheaper tools.

On the other hand steel is more durable (beware on saltwater aquariums) and for most people provides more confidence and peace of mind. A 1,2x0,6x0,6 meter (47''x23,5''x23,5'') aquarium with 12 mm (0,5") glass weighs around 100 kilos and holds about 300-350 liters/kilos (660-770 pounds) of water. Plus stone decorations and in my case the lid supported on the aquarium we easily get 500-600 kilos (1100-1300pounds).

Note: to calculate glass weight, select glass thickness and many other aquarium related calculations including filters and fertilization visit The Aqua Tools, a great site.

But there are many great stands of any size made from wood and it ultimately comes down to what you are more comfortable working with.

In my case I had no experience either with wood or steel. But I work at a metalworking company (desk job) with great access to materials and machines, and since I was going to learn some woodworking anyway building the outside of the stand I decided to take the chance to also learn some metalworking :)

Dimensioning

This step goes a little outside the DIY area but I think it might be interesting to many. Anyway, these tools are far from necessary, and anyone with experience in welding (that you'll need anyway if don't have experience yourself) can help you decide on dimensions.

I took the chance of dimensioning the steel frame to learn a bit more about a tool I had little experience in: finite element method (FEM). The software I made the 3D project in, Autodesk Inventor Pro, also includes a FEM module that basically allows one to apply a set of constraints (which parts move in what directions and which are not allowed to move) and a set of forces applied (in this case the weight of the glass + water + decorations + lid), and calculate the displacement and tensions that result. Knowing the maximum tension that the material you're using can sustain you know the safety factor implicit to the section of the material you are testing and can adapt to use thicker/greater or thinner/smaller materials.

Long story short, I decided on using 50x20x2mm pillars and 30x15x2mm crossbeams. This is more than enough safety wise and was chosen to ensure a maximum bend of less than 1 mm. Again, this was more to give me peace of mind if this structure is still used in 100 years from now :)

But like I said, just choose what your 'welding guy' tells you to. He knows better.

Welding

Dimensions chosen it was time to cut the pieces and weld. This was the first time I welded and I was pretty happy with the outcome. I will not give hints because you will to have to get them from the guy that lends you the welding machine. It is a mix of hearing the welding machine and looking at the resulting weld but with a few test runs and some help regulating the machine you'll be welding in no time!

Be sure to keep pieces well aligned and perpendicular. The welding sequence in also important in long pieces like this as they can bend on cooling, but again your welding guy will help you with that.

After all done, just 'polish' it with a grinder and of it goes for painting.

Step 3: The inner layer of wood (1)

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Why an inner layer

The design I chose resulted in a lot of additional work in the wood part.

I wanted the material in the small spacing between the face parts to also be wood and not the steel structure. Also when the doors are open I wanted to still have the look of a wood structure (to some extent).

For this reasons I decided to have an inner layer of wood sheet. This did not have to use prime quality material so I chose to use MDF with oak veneer applied by me. A few steps ahead I'll explain how to protect it from water.

Cutting the MDF with what?

I had some MDF laying around but had only a handsaw to cut it. Once again I didn't have any experience with it so I thought it would be easier to cut if I had some sort of saw table. So I made it :)

I drilled some holes in an old wood sheet (from an old door I believe) and finished opening a hole for the hand saw with a saber saw. Than I just bolted the hand saw to the table and secured the button with a zip tie.

Warning: This is a DANGEROUS MACHINE. Its similar to a commercial machine with the lack of an easily accessible cut off button, which makes even more dangerous. I did it in lack of better solutions and was always very cautious to not put myself in danger. I highly recommend using a proper table saw!

While cutting the MDF I was constantly thinking how to move and how to push the piece so that, if for some reason my hands slip or I lose my balance, I don't go in the direction of the blade. Please, if you must follow this method in lack of a better one, keep this in mind at ALL times. The moment you loose you focus might be the moment you lose your hand.

That being said, I am now designing my table saw (maybe I'll make an instructable :) ) so consider buying one or also making one as your first woodworking project, because you'll need it in any woodworking project and this way you'll start safer.

Cutting the MDF

First be sure to make a cut plan to see if all the parts fit ( I had to change some parts so that I didn't need to buy more MDF) and to chose the correct cut sequence.

I recently found a very useful software that will optimize the use of boards while cutting rectangular pieces. It is easy to use and even shows you the cut sequence. Its GoNest 2D.Its a commercial product, but the trial limitations are enough for a small project.

To cut the MDF I clamped a long wood 'bar' to the table as a guide.

As the 'bar' was very long and could flex, I also clamped another bar perpendicular just behind the blade to help maintain the cut width.

Step 4: The inner layer of wood (2)

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Applying the MDF

After cutting all parts its time to apply them to the structure.

I used mainly machine screws with nuts to secure the MDF to the steel frame. Take care to make them lower that the MDF face because the outer layer's interior will have to be flush with the inner layer's exterior.

Some MDF parts were secured with L shaped steel parts that I had bought long ago just in case. These parts were then screwed with self-tapping wood screws to one MDF part already secured to the frame and to the other MDF part that we were now securing.

Step 5: The outer layer

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Material selection and purchase

Like I said before I wanted the aquarium stand to resemble the other furniture already in the living room. It's primarily wenge or oak darkened to look like wenge.

Solid wood was out the picture as it is too expensive, but I wanted something very durable so I went with natural oak wood-veneered marine plywood. Marine plywood is specially resistant to water so its a great solution for aquarium stands. I was going to buy MDF instead (considerably cheaper) and then give it some good varnish to protect it since it deforms very easily with water, but at the last minute MDF was not available and I got the marine plywood for a reasonable price, a much better option.

I've seen many stands with MDF and I believe they can hold well for a long time if is it well sealed, but if water gets in, it gets ugly... There is also hydrophobic MDF, probably the best compromise, and it can also be wood-veneered for a natural look

The sheets of plywood already come with a thin layer of beautiful wood on each side. You can choose between many types of wood and even different qualities on each side because usually one side gets hidden in the final product.

Since I wanted a good finish on these outside pieces I had them cut where I bought them so, once again, I first made the cut plan.

Edge veneering

To finish the pieces so they look like real wood we must 'coat' the edges with a thin layer of wood because on the cross section of the plywood we can see the different layers and on MDF it just looks plain, like all MDF.

For this we can glue a thin piece of wood or, much better, apply some wood-veneer edge banding. This consists on applying a thin sticker like band made of wood that comes preglued with hot-melt adhesive.

To apply the wood-veneer edge band we just put the band on top of the edge, align it with the wood piece and iron it.

The heat activates the glue and in a few seconds the band is perfectly secured to the piece.

The band is usually selected to be wider than the wood piece so after gluing the excess must be removed from the sides. This can be done with an X-acto or more easily with a sharp wood chisel. I found the cut must be made in the correct direction, with the fibers going out of the piece and not in. Do some tests before and you'll easily get the hang of it.

I don't know if you can get away with buying the band with the exact width of the wood piece, but I think it doesn't work very well because it would be difficult to align. On very small pieces you can reheat the band to adjust but in long pieces you'll have a very difficult time.

Preparing the plywood

With the plywood all cut to the right dimensions I only had to make some 45 degree cuts on some pieces. For this I used the improvised table saw but now with a brand new precision saw. This one had 22 teeth and made a much cleaner cut that the other I had, that I later found out was meant for cross cuts. Goes to show that sometimes one must have the correct tool for the job.

Applying the plywood

For applying the plywood I used self-tapping wood screws, fixing the plywood to the MDF in some places and to the steel structure on others. In both cases I pre-drilled the support material so that the screws only had to 'make their way' on the plywood.

On some corners where two 45 degree pieces met the join wasn't perfect so I had to fill the gaps with a mix of sawdust and wood glue. Just add sawdust (collected from the table saw) to some glue until the mix gets really thick. Then just apply it to the gap. It doesn't look as good as wood but its the next best thing and since in my case the stand would be veneered to a dark color you can't even notice it.

Step 6: The lid

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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Making the lid

The lid consisted on two pieces glued together. I have since looked at several wood projects online and many only use glue to hold the pieces together but I was not that confident in my skills and used also some screws to secure the pieces.

To keep the two pieces perpendicular to each-other I used a clamp and some pieces of wood as you can see in the photo and checked with an engineering square.

I also added some holes cut with a drill and a hole saw. The holes had two functions: one for feeding without having to lift the lid, and other two for moisture exchanges, to prevent moisture to accumulate between the plywood lid and the glass lids.

Making the lid support

Before making the lid support I studied with some pieces of wood how the articulation would work. This proved very important as I was not correctly visualizing the full movement and had to make some changes to the lid support. Basically, with the hinges I bought there needed to be some space between the back of the lid and the lid support. Once again, planning and testing saves you hassles :)

After that cleared, the lid support support was built in the same way the lid was.

Step 7: The waterproofing

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Wood doesn't like water

And MDF likes it much less.

I used MDF for the interior because is was cheaper and its a less noble part of the stand, but I knew I had to prevent water from coming in contact with it. While 'window shopping' at the local equivalent to Home Depot I believe (Leroy Merlin or AKI) I found this great product. Its liquid rubber and is meant for waterproofing rooftops and cement in terraces. If its good for waterproofing in the exterior it's certainly enough for the eventual spill that can always happen below an aquarium.

To apply it I previously limited the area I wanted to waterproof with mask tape on the edge and old newspapers to cover a bigger area. The area I wanted to waterproof was all the interior, where the filters would be and also some piping eventually, where some leaks can always appear.

To apply I just used an old brush. I don't know how, or even if it is possible, to clean the brush. So prepare the work so that you can make it in one go, because when the rubber starts setting you can say goodbye to the bush.

But the result is very good, that MDF will never know the taste of water ;)

Step 8: The drawer

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Organization needed

It was time to make a drawer. I wanted the inside of the stand to be very open so that I could fit big equipment like filters or maybe a sump (a specific type of filter), but there is need for some place store small things like food, fertilizers, fish nets, etc.

Since the drawer would be used daily for taking the food out, I made the sides also in wood-veneered plywood. For the bottom I used a thinner plywood to keep the weight down that I got from a pallet at work.

I used the same L shaped parts I used before and the bottom I screwed directly to the sides' plywood.

And again, to make look nicer, I glued the wood-veneer edge band.

Step 9: The drawer mechanism

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Make it slide

To make the most of the drawer I made it full length. This means that with a normal wood guide below it would not be able to completely open the drawer because it would fall. And opening only halfway would mean that the back would be less accessible. So I chose to use these drawer slides. They aren't very cheap but are very sturdy, will make your drawers be completely accessible from the top and make the movement very light no matter what you put in the drawer.

To put slides in place I riveted two pieces of metal to the steel frame and bolted the slides to these pieces. The pieces of metal could also be screwed to the frame but I had the rivets and had never used them before so I took the chance to learn one me thing :)

I riveted one side of each steel piece to the frame at the same height and then used a spirit level to make sure it was level before riveting the other side.

Step 10: The varnish

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Materials

Like I said I wanted the aquarium stand to look like the rest of the furniture that is wenge and darkened oak.

Since the wood-veneer of the plywood I bought was oak I needed to darken it. For this I bought some darkening varnish and two different finishing varnishes: one wenge mate and the other clear satin.

Varnishing

I first tested the different combinations in a small piece to see what I liked most and what looked more like the existing furniture.

I ended up not liking any of the finishing varnishes and chose to use only the 3 coats of darkening wenge varnish. In the photos you can see the tests, the comparison between before and after the 3 coats, the lid and the main structure with only one coat and finally the main part of the stand in place.

Step 11: The details

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Mounting in place

With the main structure in its place I started attaching the remaining parts. With the steel frame and the thick plywood the structure was already very heavy so I had to mount it in place.

I started by attaching the drawer to the slides with some more L-shaped pieces.

The back panels where attached with yet some more L-shaped pieces (I knew they would be very useful) to the MDF inner layer.

Step 12: The doors

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Finishing the bottom part

It was time to close the doors. I bought some hinges (they probably have some specific name but I don't know it) that allow the movement that was needed to fulfill the design I chose. The thin spacing between between the door and the other parts of the outer layer don't allow a normal hinge to work. To secure them I simply used some wood screws.

On the long run I should probably have used some better quality hinges because after a few months the heavy doors started to be misaligned. I saw some that where much stiffer but really expensive...

I also used the same type of hinges on the side door. This door covers a small area that connects the bottom, where the filters and electrical parts are, to the lid with the lights and the top of the aquarium. This is where the cables and hoses will pass, away from sight.

Step 13: The aquarium

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Finally the centerpiece

The aquarium is in fact the first thing you must decide on. It wouldn't make no sense to make the stand without at least knowing the exact dimensions of the aquarium.

I had decided on the dimensions based on the available space, and them I had another choice to make. Buy it or build it. As the aquarium dimensions grow buying a new one can get a bit expensive, so my first idea was to build one. It's simple process. I built a very small one (20 liters, 5 gallons) a long time ago and I have seen many people make them at home in forums, I believe always with success. You just have to buy the glass cut in the right dimensions and glue them with the proper silicone. The silicon glues quite well and I think it will be hard to mess this one up. One thing you should take in is choosing the right thickness. The need for a greater thickness grows with the aquarium height (meaning greater pressure at the bottom) and to a minor extent with the length. The Aqua Tools can give a quick help but I recommend asking in some forums what thickness you should use for your exact dimensions.

At the same time I was looking for places where to buy the glass and 'learning the trade' of making the aquarium in online forums, I was also keeping an eye on used aquarium ads. The bigger the aquarium the most luck you must have to find a used one that suits your needs. But if there is one, the chance is that there are not many people looking for it, so you can get it at a fair price. That's what happened to me. I had transportation (very important), it was near and fitted the bill so I bought it.

Shape the glass

As simple as an aquarium is, there are still some variations on their construction. One option is to have or not what in our country we call 'French crossmembers', don't know if there an English term for them. They are just some glass beams on the upper part of the aquarium, some along the length and some across. They give more stiffness to the aquarium and allow therefore the use of glass with less thickness (this means a cheaper aquarium). On the other hand it also means that the access from the top is reduced in comparison with a completely open top. For the dimensions of my aquarium the recommend thickness is 10mm with reinforcements and 12mm without, so I had decided to buy a 12mm one because access is already bad as it is. It it high and I wanted to place some big and heavy decorations so the more open the better.

As you can see in the photo, the aquarium I bought had such reinforcements although it was 12mm thick, so the person who built it was really playing safe, but they are not needed so I removed them.

Like I said, silicon is very strong so it was not an easy job to remove the reinforcements. I used a paint scraper, a tool with a very thin sheet of metal, and inserted it bit by bit between the glass pieces I wanted to separate, cutting the silicon. Only when the silicon is completely cut does the glass pieces get free and by doing this you can really see the strength of the silicon.

Another construction option on aquariums is to have holes on the bottom. These are popular in saltwater aquariums for a certain type of filter the takes the water from the surface (surface cleanness is very important in aquariums but specially in saltwater ones because the fish are generally more fragile). The holes can also be used for easy drainage.

The aquarium I bought had holes but they had been covered with a piece of glass glued with too much silicon. Unlucky for me that wanted to use them. This proved to be a nightmare to remove and took several attempts and even a damaged steel paint scraper... So if you want glue two pieces of glass be sure to leave some access all around and be easy on the silicon, because like I said, only when you cut all the silicon are you able to start separating the two pieces. In my case I had to break the glass in parts... not for the faint hearted :)

One last change I wanted to make is darken the side that would be against the area where hoses go up. This was to prevent seeing the hoses from outside. To achieve this I just limited the area I wanted to paint with mask tape and them some old newspapers and used some spray paint I had around. This is painted on the OUTSIDE so there is no contact with water and we don't need to worry with contaminating the water. The quality of your painting is also not important as the inside will always look perfect as long as you completely cover all the surface well (check in photos)

Put it in place

And finally it was time to put the aquarium on top of the stand.

The aquarium goes on top of a thick insulating sponge to prevent any irregularities in to be in contact with the bottom glass. Then the sponge goes on top of a sheet of 10mm marine plywood that rest on the steel structure.

Step 14: The water protection

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Water will drip

From my other two aquariums I know that it hard to sometimes prevent water from dripping along the front glass when you are make a bigger maintenance. With my design the water would not rest on top of a table like in my other aquariums but it would enter a waterproofed area and accumulate there, eventually causing some damage. So I had to prevent that. Easy, just go and get the mask tape again and place it a few milliliters away from each side of the gap. Then use some silicone in between. I used some dark silicone I had for a better look. It had some strange texture but got the job done and causes much less visual impact than usual white and transparent silicones.

Step 15: The reflectors

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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Shape the light

Another part where you can spend a lot of money in a big aquarium is lighting. Mainly if you want saltwater or a planted one, which was my case. You can buy complete aquarium light fixtures in wide range of sizes, technologies of lamps, wavelengths, etc. In open top stands these are a very good looking and trouble free option, but in my case the lamps would be hidden so looks weren't important, I wanted the option to individually control each lamp,and price is always an issue so once again I went the DIY way. Yes, the main reason is that it fun :)

I started once again with a sketchbook, this time a sketchMDF to be more exact. I drew the possible paths for the light so that I had some good coverage and was not losing to much light on the sides. I ended with one design for the two center reflectors and another for the two on the outside.

For the reflectors I used some sheets of aluminum, I believe, that I had stored. I think they were sheets from a big industrial printer. The pieces where the lamps attach I got from an old aquarium light fixture that I got with the aquarium in a very bad shape.

To fold the sheets of aluminum into shape I first clamped them between two pieces of wood so secure them and then with a this block of wood I pushed until I got the desired angle.

Since the sheets were not long enough for the all length of the lid I had to put 3 parts in each row, so while bending I used one as 'mold' for the next so that they would align well.

Step 16: The lighting

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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Securing the reflectors

With the reflectors ready is was time to put them in place.

I had previously place some inside threaded screws on the inside of the lid so that a could bolt the reflectors and the lights. I then used some bits of aluminum to space the reflectors from the lid to allow space for the wiring.

Wiring

I used two 8 hire cables to supply the 4 T5 tubes. I chose to have a ballast for each tube in order to be able to individually activate each tube. There are also ballasts for 2 or 4 tubes that are a bit more expensive but make it cheaper overall. In my case I just used the ballasts from the old fixture I got with the aquarium. This made the aquarium deal a good one since the fixture was in pretty bad shape but the insides worked good.

Feed hole

I had made a hole on the lid to feed the fish without opening the lid and that was now covered with the reflectors so I cut a hole to match the one on the lid.

The lights

For planted aquariums the amount of light is of big importance, and a mater of big discussion and little consensus. There is a rule of thumb that says that there should be 1 watt for each liter. But then it start to complicate. Its is not the amount of power (watts) that count but the amount of light that gets to the plants. So different lamp technologies like leds come to make the choice and quantification harder. Than off course there are the different types of plants that might need more or less light. There are different wavelengths that the plants benefit from. The use of fertilization is very important because of the plant growth rhythm. Aquarium depth is also important because of the light penetration...

I will not try to instruct anyone one these matters as I read A LOT and I still can't find any consensus anywhere.

So my approach was the the following: I'll give plenty of room for testing different settings to be able to look for the one that works with me.

With this in mind I chose to have 4 T5 54w tubes individually controlled so that I could turn them on one by one, at different times if I wanted and have different wavelength also in each one. T5 are some high density lamps with not much heating that I believe to be a good compromise between price and performance.

That said, many certainly don't agree and would chose something else, but lets not go that way :)

The moonlight

One popular feature in lighting aquariums is the 'moonlight', and I didn't want to miss on that one either.

Its a low intensity blue light that is used when the main lights are off and it gives a night look to the aquarium.

Plants must have a night period and fish might benefit from it too, so main lamps will have to go out at night but with these blue lights we can continue to appreciate the aquarium and maybe even see some more shy habitants.

I don't know if there are any other options but the ones I saw were always LED. But they can be spot or strip.

Small aquariums can get away with one led but bigger ones will need several or a strip.

Another option is to have RGB LEDS. These can be controlled to have any color of the rainbow for some sunrise and sunset effects or just to go wild on the lighting (don't know if the fish will appreciate that as much as you... :P )

A chose to buy a waterproof RGD LED strip from ebay. I got 5 meters but only used one strip of 1,2m. These can be cut in certain places to length and them just connect an adapter that comes with the strip. There is usually also a remote controller supplied but I chose to have it directly connect to a power supply. To get the blue light you just have to power the B line. I chose the RGB kind to later make a sunrise, sunset effect with an Arduino controller but have not found the time yet.

Step 17: The lid application

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

In my design the lid and its support are supported on the aquarium vertical glasses. This might seem odd at first but it works very well and the glass is very well capable of sustaining the weight since it is so thick.

For making the support I screwed together a few L-shaped aluminum parts I found in the garage and then to the lid and lid support in the way you can see in the picture.

In the front (inside) of the lid I also screwed two aluminum parts that fall on top of the front mirror working as a stop.

This construction has the advantage that nothing is glued to the aquarium so it can easily be removed for some heavy maintenance, for example when there is a major layout change.

Step 18: The glass lids

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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Keeping the water and the fish in

While there are some aquariums without glass lids, and they are very beautiful, most aquariums have them.

They help keeping some of the evaporating water in but also the fish. Some fish are more prone to jump than others, but I found, some times with casualties, that the very common platy likes it a lot.

Even more the freshwater butterfly-fish is natural jumper and he will use any hole he finds to jump from the aquarium... not a pretty sight.

So glass lids are a must for me, even because the top is already covered by the plywood lid.

To support the glass lids I now glued some more aluminum to the glass with transparent silicone.

I also glued some plastic on the bottom back of the front glass lids to make the sliding smoother and a piece of aluminum on the front top act as a handle to push the front lids back and forward.

Step 19: The root

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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Aquascaping

While working on the aquarium stand I had already started working on the aquascaping, the landscaping of the aquarium. While driving near my town I saw the stump of a cut tree by the side of the road. I had already been hunting for stumps on a river bank, where we can usually find some very dry wood that will probably not rot if placed in an aquarium but I didn't find anything I liked. So i stopped and removed a bit of dirt around the stump and found is exactly what I was looking for, so I went back with some tools and got it home.

Once again, wood is also something you can buy for your aquarium with the advantage it comes pretreated.

But once again, if you want to go big, you'll have to go expensive also. So an option is to collect it from the woods and treat it yourself.

There are several way to treat wood to keep it from rotting and make it sink. I think the best way is to hard boil it and them put in fresh water. Maybe do this for a couple of times. Some people also put it in the oven, probably not the safest thing.

Since my stump was very big I could do neither so I just left it for a long time in water with bleach, changing it from time. And in the the the end a few weeks with just fresh water.

It wasn't a complete success but it kind of worked because it got from very buoyant to neither buoyant nor sinking but I still had to bolt some iron pieces to the back to make really fall into the bottom.

After that I studied the position of the stump and where I had to cut it. I started by trying to do this inside the aquarium but because the stump was so big I have make a 'stage' for it replicating the aquarium dimensions where I could simulate cutting parts of the stump by hiding them.

Step 20: The filters and heating

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Keep the water clean
Filters are of big importance if you keep fish in the aquarium (some like to keep only plants).

Filters are chosen according mainly to the water volume of the aquarium. Rules of thumb exist from 3 to 5 liters per minute (lpm) for each liter of water in the aquarium. My aquarium holds about 300 liters so a 1000 to 1500 lpm filter with some good volume for filtrating components should be enough.

With this in mind I bought a cheap but big 1600 lpm external canister filter.

When I putted it to work I was immediately disappointed as I could see there was not enough flow. It seemed that even two of those would not be enough so once again I started looking for a used one. I found a eheim professionel 3e 2078 canister filter, a top of the line 1850 lpm from a major brand that fit my bill so went for it and what a difference.... Still I kept both at work because even the eheim alone did not enough flow.

Another option is also the DIY way. You can make a filter cheaper by buying only a pump and using a reservoir to put some filtering material. But always have maintenance in mind while choosing the design!

Keep the fish warm

A heater is also necessary and two are recommend. If you have two you can put one at each end to make the temperature more even and if one breaks down the other will keep the water warm and prevent any deaths if your fish are sensible. Of course you must check them once in a while to see in they are working but less times than if you only have one.

Step 21: The plants

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Aquascaping part II

Having decided on the major piece of the aquascaping, the root, is was time to put the plants in.

I had some previous experience with plants, basically a learning period to get to this aquarium, but not much. So I didn't know many plants or their needs. Instead of buying some 100 dollars of plants from a store and possibly let them die, I decided to buy one or two packs of plants that other fish-lovers (more aqua-plant-lovers) sell when their grow too much or they want to change the layout.

I found a pack that had a few plants that I decided I wanted and the others I would plant also as a learning experience.

With the plant pack at home I sorted them and started planting after adding just a few centimeter of tap water, taking care to plant the smaller in the front and the high growing in the back.

The substrate I used was akadama, a very porous clay material that comes from Japan and is mostly used in bonsais but its great for planted aquariums also.

Many prefer some subtracts with fertilization which are more expensive but will reduce the need for liquid fertilization for a while. They are probably right but I preferred to learn the liquid fertilization, a science in itself, without the background noise of the substrate fertilization. Fertilization, even more than lighting, is one of those things you will find all kinds of opinions on. You just have to read a few things about it and them learn from experience, because what I have read from more experienced and successful aquascapers, when they are not advertising for their sponsors is that they can almost sense the plant's needs by their colors and development... There's a lot to learn here :)

Step 22: The filling

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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The end is near

With all plants in place is time to add water. Some people will use rainwater to add to the aquarium, other will fill a deposit with tap water and let it rest for week before putting adding it in the weekly changes. I think both are good methods but for the first filling tap water is fine because there are no fishes (and there shouldn't be for a few weeks! more on that later).

To prevent the water coming in from making a big mess on impact you should direct it at a rock or maybe put a bowl on the bottom and direct to water to the inside of the bowl so that it then gently comes out from all around it.

After you are done filling just close the lid and turn on the filter and heater.

With akadama, after putting the water in, there is lots of dust floating but it disappears after a couple of hour with the filter running.

Step 23: The fish and maintenance materials

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room

Fish? Or no fish?

You have the aquarium filled with water so next thing is to fill it with fish, right?

Wrong. It's time for you to read about the nitrogen cycle. This is if you don't want half your fish to die within a few days. I will not explain it here (please do read the pages in the link if you don't know what the nitrogen cycle is) but you will have to add the fish very gradually and keep testing the water parameters.

Failing to do this is a common mistake and cause for fish dieing. You don't need pH adjusters, colony starts, tap water water additives or any other chemicals, just good old patience. Start slow with a more resilient species (I've found platys to be very resilient, don't ask me how..), and slowly add more fish, like once a week at the most.

Buying materials

To take you mind out of the fishes maybe this is good time to shop for all the things you need like fish food, fish nets, something to clean the glass, water quality test, fertilization components' tests, liquid fertilizers for the plants, aquascaping tools, etc.

Regarding the glass cleaning, and since I tested quite a few types and destroyed the front glass of my old aquarium with improper cleaning, I strongly recommend buying a cleaning tool like the one on the drawer picture, that has a shaving steel blade on the tip. It will give you a perfectly clean glass without scratching if you use it correctly (always flush to the surface)

Choosing the fish

This, as any other other, is also a good time to read on fish species and their needs. Not all fishes like to live together, and not all will like the same water pH and temperature so you will have to decide on a range of fish species by water parameters, and social compatibility and not just the one you like the most.

When I find a new fish at a shop that I like I always search its name online to check these issues to see if I can take it home or not. This is there is space of course because there is a limit to the amount of fish you can have without causing them stress.

Step 24: The finished aquarium and the future

Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
Build an aquarium that looks good on any living room
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The end is the beginning

So you ended the stand, you filled the planted aquarium, you added all your favorite fish SLOWLY and respecting the compatibility between them, so now what?

Now its time for get more information on fertilization so that you can grow lusher and more difficult plants, maybe add CO2, be creative with your aquascaping, showoff your results (we all like to see beautiful new aquariums).

On the fish side maybe you can try to help some species reproduce. Some have some pretty interesting methods like the bubble nest of the colisa lalia in the picture or the cichlid keeping its fry in the mouth.

Or maybe you like electronics and you can start automating the aquarium with a microcontroller. Schedule the light, give it a full color sunset and sunrise, automate the feeding, the weekly water changes, or the pH control with CO2, etc

There are many paths to walk and all with give you some well spent time and make the aquarium the new central focus on your living room for you, your family and your friends to appreciate.

 
 

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