How to Build an Aquarium – the Starter Guide

When starting your aquarium, you get the choice of opting for pre-made tanks in the market. Those are good for people who only want an aquarium; others might want to be a bit more involved and decide to build their aquarium tanks.

So here we are, for those limited DIY species, who want to know – how to build an aquarium.

Preparation for the build

Material

Most fish keeping enthusiasts and hobbyists rely on either glass or acrylic for their aquarium structure. Glass is heavy and brittle; acrylic is light and scratches easily. Here’s an informational breakdown of each material (glass and acrylic) to weigh your options.

What would we suggest?

For a beginner, you are better off working with glass. It is easier to handle and cost-effective than acrylic.

Tools required

Apart from the glass sheets, you will need to have some tools in possession for constructing your custom aquarium.

Here are the tools required:

Measuring tape

You will use a graduated scale or tape for measuring the glass sheet.

Washable marker

You will use a washable marker to trace out the glass shapes after measuring the glass sheet. The washable marker will also help to mark the orientation of the pieces to assist in the final assembly.

Cutter

When buying the glass sheet, consult the dealer and also buy a glass cutter to help cut the pieces. If you are not confident about your glass cutting skills, you could take the help of a glazier to create the panels for you.

Silicon sealant with a caulking gun

A silicon sealant will hold the panels of your aquarium together while ensuring a water-tight seal along the edges. Opt for a silicon sealant that isn’t harmful to the fishes. Consult the shop on this matter before buying any particular sealant.

Acetone

You will use acetone for cleaning the glass panels before assembling them.

Paper towels

You will use paper towels along with acetone to wipe the glass panels clean.

Duct tape

Duct tape will help to hold the aquarium structure together until the silicon cures properly forming a strong bond.

Emery cloth or silicon carbide sandpaper

You will need sandpaper to smoothen the sharp glass edges.

 

Aquarium blueprint

The type of aquarium you plan to build depends on two things:

  • Size
  • Shape

Size

The size of the aquarium will be corresponding to the pool of fishes you want to host and the available space in the room. Factor in the available space, measure the length, width, and height available for the aquarium.

Shape

You can shape your aquarium the way you want, however, you will have to work out bigger calculations along with more cuts and joining to get the desired aquarium. It is not something you want to indulge right away as a beginner.

For beginners, the most basic structure would be a cuboid with an open top.

Planning the aquarium

  1. First, measure (length, width, and height) the available space in the room.
  2. Subtract some inches (say 3-4 inches) from the obtained dimensions of the space. (This subtracted inches will compensate for space between the aquarium and the walls; in case, there aren’t any walls, leave more space around the aquarium).

For example, if you are planning a 25 gallon (i.e., 5775 cubic inches) in the space of dimensions 30 inches long, 18 inches wide and 20 inches tall.

The volume of available space would be 10800 cubic inches.

Accounting for the marginal space between the wall and aquarium, ideal dimensions of the aquarium could be 26 inches long, 14 inches wide and 16 inches tall (i.e., 5824 cubic inches, just a bit over our required 25-gallon size).

  1. Alter the dimensions of the aquarium till you get a suitable size.

Note: The above planning is only for a cuboidal aquarium with an open top. The dimensions obtained are the dimensions of the internal space of the aquarium.

The Build Process

Measuring and cutting the glass sheet

You will need a total of five glass panels (one bottom glass panel, two side panels, one front, and one back panel) to complete the structure.

  • For the bottom panel, mark a rectangle of length and width equal to that of the original aquarium dimension.
  • For the side panels, mark a rectangle with
    • length equal to the sum of the internal height of the aquarium and glass thickness, and
    • width equal to the width of the aquarium.
  • For the front and back panels, mark rectangles with
    • length equal to the sum of the internal length of the aquarium and two times thickness of the glass sheet, and
    • width equal to the sum of the internal height of the aquarium and the thickness of the glass.

For the above example of internal dimensions of 26 x 14 x 16 inches and glass thickness of 3/8 inch, we would require:

  • One bottom panel of dimensions 26 x 14 inches
  • Two side panels of dimensions 16 3/8 x 14 inches
  • Front and back panels of dimensions 26 ¾ x 16 3/8 inches

Trace out the five panels and then cut them with the help of a glass cutter. File down the panel edges to smoothen and remove any sharp ends. Wipe down the panel surfaces with acetone and paper towel.

Arranging the panels

After cutting out the required panels out of the glass sheet, mark them with a marker. Then, arrange them over a flat surface according to the way they are going to be assembled.

Assembly and curing

Use the duct tape on each edge of the bottom panel, leaving the stick side of the tape upwards for sticking on the other panels. The duct tape will act as a temporary hinge/brace to hold the panel edges together during assembly.

Put the silicon sealant on the outer edges of the bottom panel with the help of a caulking gun.

Start with one of the side panels, holding it upright and pressing it firmly against the bottom panel edge. Stick the duct tape ends from the bottom panel on the side panel.

Next, align the edges of the back panel with the edges of the bottom and the installed side panel. Press firmly on at the edges to join them followed by the sticking the duct tape ends.

Now, align the side panel against the back and bottom panels and press it against the edges to join the edges. Then, tape the ends.

Finally, put the front panel in place while aligning against the side and bottom panel edges. Press on the edges to join the panel to the rest of the structure.

The final structure should have the side panels sandwiched by the front and back panels. All the panels should sandwich the bottom panel.

Remember to put the sealant between all the edges and run your thumb over them to smoothen it.

Support the entire structure on the outside with heavy objects till the silicon cures. Curing usually takes from 24 to 48 hours. We suggest leaving the tank to cure for about a week.

After curing the tank, add water to the tank and inspect for leaks. If you find any leaks, use the sealant after drying the tank.

The build is over, and your tank is ready. Now, you only need to start the aquarium.

Notes:

  • Use annealed glass for constructing the tank if possible. In case of accidents, annealed glass break into large chunks and slivers. Alternatively, you could use laminated glass, toughened glass or polycarbonate glass.
  • Do consider the glass thickness for the project. Taller tanks will require thicker glass sheets. Refer to this article to know what suits your build.
  • Use gloves when handling glass.
  • Try to make clean cuts on the glass. We suggest you cut the pieces a bit larger than the required dimensions to have a margin for smoothening the edges.
  • Ensure the panel edges are smooth before assembling the aquarium structure.
  • Do not move the panels once they are set in place. It could introduce air into the seal.

 

Take things slow when working with glass. It is exciting to work on your custom aquarium build but not at the expense of cuts and injuries. Measure twice and cut once.

This article is an outline of how to build an aquarium. Building aquarium gets easier if you keep things organized and proceed sequentially. Have a plan and procure the required tools before beginning your DIY project for a freshwater aquarium or saltwater aquarium.

Hope that helps answer your question on how to build an aquarium.

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