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Building Your Own Aquarium

Submitted By Karen Howell

Building Your Own Aquarium

Many a time I have looked at expensive large aquariums in a store and thought to myself, "I could build that!" I mean, all an aquarium consists of is a few pieces of glass glued together, right? Well, yes! There are a few precautions to take to ensure that your homemade aquarium will hold strongly, but the basic process is actually very simple. An obvious factor is the weight of water. Water is very heavy. It is the water that will break your heart, if you underestimate that weight of your fish tank.

A liter (around a pint) of water weighs one kilogram (about 2 pounds) and only takes up a space of about 4 inches high, 4 inches wide and 4 inches deep, that is 100 x 100 x 100 millimeters. Considering how many pints of water would be in a 55 gallon aquarium, you can see the astronomical amount of weight they have to contain!
One material that could be used is plexi-glass . It is inexpensive and workable, but does have the drawback of being easily scratched, and is harder to join and seal than traditional glass. For my purposes here, I will be showing you how to assemble a tank using glass that has been professionally pre-cut for you, although if you know someone who has old glass around that is the right thickness and size, you can most certainly cut your own. Most glass is produced as "annealed" glass. Also known as "plate" glass, or "sheet" glass . When glass is in this state, it breaks into large chunks and slivers with razor sharp edges. The overall strength of 6mm (1/4 inch) plate glass is perfect for aquarium building. Do NOT use tempered glass. (If damage occurs, you won't have a tiny leak, it will burst all over the place!) Before using the glass you have cut, make sure that all edges have been well sanded. Don't build a tank more than 14 inches high with 1/4 inch glass. Plan ahead before cutting the glass by drawing a good schematic. Use precision measurements. This will insure a proper fit. The end pieces should be fit inside of the back and front panes, as shown in the diagram below, and the front, back, and two side panes should set on top of the bottom base pane.

You can always have a professional glazier cut and prepare the glass for you. Use only a non-toxic 100% silicone sealant appropriate for aquarium use. Undoubtedly you will be putting a lighted hood on your tank, so design it accordingly. Do not put a solid glass cover on top of an aquarium, as this restricts the oxygen-carbon dioxide gas exchange efficiency, resulting in poor or inadequate aeration of the aquarium. Don't build your aquarium under humid conditions. Duct tape will not stick to glass when it is humid, therefore, the glass may move before the silicone can set up. Humidity slows the silicone curing process as well. With these instructions you can build a tank up to 55 gallons in size with 1/4 inch glass or plexiglass.

Order of Construction:
Start with the bottom base pane, install the sides, and lastly the back panel. For a larger sized aquarium (above 30 gallons), add a "brace" at the center of the tank. This can be done by using a six inch wide piece of glass siliconed to the top edges of the front and back pieces of glass. For extra strength, you can pancake two brace pieces together, using silicone to glue them together.

How To Install the Glass Panes:
As each pane is installed, as you go along you will be applying a thin but adequate solid line of silicone to each inside edge of all areas to be joined, then, at a slight forward angle, align and inset the piece of glass onto the bottom glass pane, and slowly tilting it upright, press it lightly, but firmly down into the silicone, fitting it solidly into position. Do not wipe off any excess silicone that might squeeze to the outside edges of the glass. This can be cleaned up or trimmed later on, once the silicone has fully cured.

Before Assembly:
Buff all the raw glass edges, just enough to take off the sharpness, with emery cloth or silicone carbide sandpaper. Clean all the glass pane joint areas and edges about 1/2 inch inward (any place where silicone will be applied) with acetone on a paper towel. Cut 16 strips of duct tape, about 5 inches long, and stick them to anything close by within easy reach that has a clean surface to it, that the tape won't stick to too much, with at least half of the tape hanging down freely. If during assembly you run out of pieces of tape, before installing another panel, cut some more pieces. If at any time during construction you have trouble with the tape not sticking to the glass, just clean the area with some acetone on a paper towel and try again.

How To Assemble The Tank
After all your glass pieces are cut and prepared, lay or arrange the pieces out so you know which piece is going where. Once placement of the panes has been determined, to help keep track of where each piece goes (which edge or side of the glass pane is going to go up or down, inside or outside, etc.) you can mark them with words or directional arrows using a washable felt tip marker.
Take the bottom base piece of glass, place it on a flat, non-abrasive surface, and firmly press and stick 8 pieces of the duct tape (2 pieces on each side) to the glass from the bottom side with the sticky sides up. This is easily done by lifting up the glass from each side just enough to stick the tape pieces in place.

Install the front glass piece.
Once the front glass is in place, fold the 2 bottom pieces of duct tape upward and stick them to the front of the glass. Tip: This step is much easier to do with an assistant to hold the front glass pane upright and in place while you complete installation of the first side piece in the next step. Using the same installation method, install the first side panel , fold the 2 bottom pieces of duct tape upward and stick them to the front of the glass, and secure the side piece to the front piece of glass by wrapping 2 additional strips of duct tape around the corner from one side to the other. Following the same procedure as above, install the other side piece, and finally the back panel. With all the pieces in place and the tank constructed, run a thin but adequate solid line of silicone into the eight joint areas on the inside of the tank, then run your thumb over the silicone from one end to the other of each seam, preferably in one continuous motion, to smooth the silicone down and force it into the joint areas. (Install the "brace" here, if adding one).
Allow the silicone to cure for 24 hours. Refill the tank with fresh water and allow it to sit for at least 12 hours, 24 is better. This gives you a good test period, and you will feel much more confident of success when you finally fill the tank with water, put it all back together and add your inhabitants.

As you can see, building a tank from scratch is really not all that difficult to do. Just plan ahead, take your time, and follow these tips and guidelines and you'll have one put together in no time at all!

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