A 20gal Build Journey (Image heavy)

  • #1
We're going on an adventure!

Or, well, I am. Long story short, I've been planning a 10gal shrimp tank using an old tank we had in the garage, but a few weeks ago I discovered the 10gal was damaged and unusable. Luckily my patient husband was willing to listen to my arguments that a 20 gallon replacement would be better, and Petco was having that sale...Anyways, now we have a 20gal Long!

This will be my first actually aquascaped tank, so I wanted to document the whole thing. I've been gathering materials, which has taken a while because covid, and the usps situation. (Still waiting on my light. And light riser. And....)

So! First up is just a pic of everything I've gathered so far. To whit:
20 gallon Long
Pile o' black plastic
Container of insulation styrofoam
Silicone caulk (I sadly under-ordered and am going to have to get more, guaranteed. Boo.)
2 sizes of filter pumps, because I OVER ordered, then realized I had a pump strong enough to recreate Niagara Falls... (yeah so the kitchen ceiling got wet.)
Tubing and fittings.
Great stuff expanding foam
Bio-balls and seachem matrix
Tetra quick start
30 pounds of slate rocks
Foam pads to disperse rock weight on the base
50lbs of medium-fine black diamond blasting sand (not pictured cause that's heavy)
Measure-y and cut-y implements
Disposable gloves, because of the caulk

I'll probably remember something I forgot to mention/isn't here yet, but ehh.


Today was all about getting the filter area installed. I'm doing a built-in filter to hide all my heaters, thermometers, etc. into, as well as to turn the filter into a waterfall. Go big or go home. (Yes, the divider between the filter and tank is taller than the tank is, which is deliberate.) That's sitting on its end right now curing until tomorrow. I had no idea how much silicone caulk stinks like vinegar! (Don't judge too hard on how messy the caulk looks, please. I have no excuses, I'm just bad at it.)



I also took the time to wash the dust off all the rocks so they'll adhere. They turned the water sludgey. My dog wanted to drink it, the heathen. Gross. Here they are drying! (And the sludge Beeves the dog wanted to drink. Yummy)



Still to do today: Begin cutting styrofoam and gluing it together! I discovered already that stacking the stone alone will not work for my desired hardscape structure, so this will probably look more like a paludarium build than an aquarium.

Meanwhile, my shrimp watch in envy. Yay! Wish me luck with this whole journey!
  • #2
I like the built in filter idea. Might have to borrow that idea on my 20 long build I will do in the future.
  • #3
Very cool! Looking forward to seeing how this comes together!
  • #4
This is very interesting. I would like to see how it turns out too. Planning more shrimp tanks myself so I may have to do this!
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  • #5
Thanks guys! I'm hoping the built in filter will help keep the equipment hidden, since this tank is intended to be a display piece which will be viewed on 3 sides. It'll theoretically also just offer an unholy amount of homes for bacteria to live.

Update time!
Working to cut styrofoam up to build up the background and hardscape support:


Also, this morning the caulk was secure enough to stand the tank upright. Here's a better look at the filter area. Water will overflow from the upper left, go down through sponge/filter floss, then go under the next divider and up into the bio-media chamber, then overflow up and over the next divider into the chamber with the heater, thermometer, and pump.


Messy caulk lines and needed cleanup nonwithstanding, I'm pretty pleased with how it looks. Here's a couple wider views.



So yeah! I'm pleased so far. Taking a break from cutting up styrofoam and stacking/taping it...I'll post some pics later once I'm happier with my arrangement and the angles I'm establishing. It's gonna look weird at first, but bear with me.

Hope you guys are enjoying a good weekend!
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  • #6
Another update! Got lazy yesterday and didn't post. Sorry. Little progress was made, I mostly spent a lot of time fiddling with layout and the general shape of the hardscape. This isn't set in stone (hah!) yet obviously, and the styrofoam is definitely going to get carved down when I'm ready to start attaching the rock, but it helps me to use it as a placeholder and get a feel for the shapes and the way the scape will fill the space.

This is probably breaking the rule of thirds, though I have attempted vaguely to stick with it, but I do have a very specific goal in mind with all of this. I'm going slow, because once this is together it's going to be near impossible to tear apart. Also, right now I only have 1 tube of caulk on hand, can't get any locally, and will have to wait a week for new tubes to arrive, so frankly I don't want to open the thing until I'm actually ready to commit to a design. So for now--lots of fiddling and stacking and re-arranging.

To explain the pics: The plastic pieces are being assembled with twofold intentions: I want something to establish the angle the rocks will sit at relative to the bottom of the tank; and I want to have a structure established so that I can put substrate into it for planting purposes--so some of those gaps will be left open deliberately. They'll eventually be hidden by plant matter, but will look weird at first.



The angle is a BIT steep, I think, now that I've stacked some of it in the tank. I'll probably cut it down somewhat, now that I've seen it in place. If I have too steep an angle, it's going to look quite unnatural--on the other hand, I DO want an angle on it rather than having the stone parallel to the ground, as that will draw the eye nicely and make the structure look like eroded strata, which is often at an angle to the horizon.

Here's a view of the mock-ups:

The above is my favorite angle so far, and is probably what I'll go for.

Wider view:

You'll note that the styrofoam background is sitting around an inch too high in that pic--that was a measurement error on my part, and I trimmed it down, so the whole thing sits about an inch lower. I might end up trimming it lower yet, but haven't decided.

Pardon the mess in the background. The laptop is actually what I'm using to upload photos and post here, haha! The rest are supplies for the tank. (I've got a very patient husband who hasn't said anything about the giant mess. I should do something nice for him. Maybe bake him some cookies.)

Also: The mesh I needed for blocking the inflow to the filter and for making moss walls with has arrived, yay! Good news! Also, the light arrived. It's a 30'' Finnex 24/7, and I'm extremely excited to see it once it's set up. The light risers will hopefully ship out soon--I'll need them to get the light high enough to clear the rock scape.

Thanks for reading! Sorry to bombard you with such long posts, I hope it's not too boring.
  • #7
No need to apologize! You are doing a wonderful job detailing your build and it is going to be super awesome. When you are done, if you could make a list of what you all used in the tank as emulating this would be really, really awesome in my fish room.
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  • #8
No need to apologize! You are doing a wonderful job detailing your build and it is going to be super awesome. When you are done, if you could make a list of what you all used in the tank as emulating this would be really, really awesome in my fish room.

Thank you! I sure hope it will, lol! I'm happy to do that, sure. It's been a bit of a challenge finding stuff locally, so a lot of it's sourced online. I'm happy to provide links to exactly what I bought as well, if that's allowed on here. It's been a little bit of a challenge figuring out what/where/how much to buy as I've been working through this process as a newbie to the hobby. I'll share whatever info I can to help anyone else who wants to make something similar.
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  • #9
Time for another update! (Aside: My laptop's keyboard is being weird and wants to type an apostrophe basically constantly. Unsure what's going on there, but please forgive any weird stray apostrophes that may appear.)

I've finally settled on an angle and layout I'm pleased with, so I re-constructed my little plastic boxes, which will serve double-duty as planters and as a structure for the back wall, and conveniently the space between them will serve as a cave hiding space for shrimp/shrimplets to escape from hungry fish one day.

The whole lot got moved outside because silicone caulk reeks, and because great stuff expanding foam needs a well-ventilated space, and I don't want to fumigate the house. I then layered the whole area with parchment paper (annoyingly, painter's tape won't adhere to this, so honestly I recommend against it for anyone following along. Maybe paper towels.) so that the silicone and great stuff won't adhere to the tank.

The reason I'm doing this is because we move frequently, and for our purposes we need to be able to fully disassemble the entire tank periodically--so, my setup is going to be built to have 3 removable sections that will nest into one another. Once in place, they shouldn't be capable of coming apart unless the entire tank gets knocked over. Others might prefer to build it all as one continuous unit that's secure to the tank, and honestly that would probably be easier.

So! Here's the rough setup:


Next, setting up to glue-up the planters/structure. Note the cardboard: I highly recommend protecting your work space and only wearing clothes you don't care about. This stuff can get everywhere and is basically impossible to wash out.

*Protip, if you get it on your hands, soap and water is only iffy at removal. Highly recommend gloves. If you get it on your hands anyways (which I did!) grab a plastic grocery bag and scrub your hands with it. The silicone will adhere to the plastic and mostly come off your hands.





The tape isn't necessary for very long. I just left it on long enough for the caulk to set, though certainly it wasn't fully cured. I put a bunch of caulk all over my back board and bottom support in the tank and slapped these puppies in place (remove all tape from the back and bottom, though--you'll never get it off again.)


Chip bag clip acting as a clamp to help maintain a 90 degree angle on the back. Note that there is about 1 inch between the side of the tank and the side of the boxes--this is deliberate and will be filled with substrate, rocks, and plants. I need this thing to be able to come out of the tank, as mentioned before. I recommend doing this even if you don't mind it staying in permanently, because that will avoid having the boxes show through the glass.

The open center is, like I said, going to be a little shrimp cave. Eventually. Anyways, I went ahead and squirted a ton of caulk into that area, then used my gloved finger to smear it around until it coated the entire area, so that no shrimp come into direct contact with styrofoam. I'm not sure if that's absolutely necessary, but it makes me feel better.

Now this all gets to cure for a while before I start attacking it with the expanding foam. Hope you're all doing good!
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  • #10
It's been a long week, hope everyone's enjoying the weekend!

Got another update from work done slowly over the week. It's still rough looking at the moment, but bear with me, we'll get there.

So, first a view of the background setup, which I removed from the tank for ease of working--it means I can't run it right up to the sides of the tank, but that's alright. (Actually, this reminds me that I need to test and make sure it still fits!) It'll be removable for cleaning and moving, so that's convenient for me. The space between the two plastic boxes will be a little shrimp hidey-hole cave. I coated the styrofoam bottom in silicone to prevent direct contact between shrimp and foam, which was a pain but makes me feel better about it.


Note the bottom layer of styrofoam is .75'' thick, and I plan for my substrate to sit about 2 to 3 inches thick in this area, so I will be adding a lip along the bottom opening to prevent the whole thing from filling with substrate. This is also the reason I'm setting the first layer of stone so high up; no point wasting stone down below where it will even be visible!

Here's another piece worth showing you. This is a piece of PVC piping intended to act as duct work, which we got a few months ago but didn't fit in the intended space. It will, however, be a great little cave structure to provide more hiding places as well as help me establish the rock's angle relative to the flat plane on the other part of the hardscape. I took some heavy duty wire clippers to it once I realized a saw wouldn't work, and made the angle approximately match the angle on the little plastic planter boxes. I siliconed another piece of plastic to the top to seal the cave off, and voila! We have a nice set angle base to work around. The edges of the bottom are a tad bit jagged, but it's going to be resting on a soft foam bottom which will distribute the weight well enough. You can't see in this photo, but the piece has a approx 3/4'' hole in the front and back.


Fast forward a bit--I worked with silicone initially to start out the base layer of stone; note that it can be quite the pain to figure out how to get pieces to fit together, so I recommend dry stacking at first before using silicone.


Pardon the mess...but it IS a garage.

As I was working, I'd toss small handfuls of black diamond blasting sand at the silicone between stones while it was still wet, just to hide the silicone itself. I expect that over time moss will mostly cover the gaps, but I'd prefer it to look presentable even with no moss--so. You could probably also use grout/concrete between the stones and seal it (and I might end up doing that in places) but for now, I'm giving this a shot and seeing if it looks nice. We'll see.

Side view, to see the established angle:

I also tried smearing caulk along the box and pressing sand to it to hide the plastic. I'm not sure if that's really necessary though--I'm leaving the other side plain, and we'll see if there's actually a difference! You can also see here the beginnings of using the great stuff expanding foam. Again, experimenting with tossing sand onto it to see if that improves how it looks--I might end up just cutting it out with a knife and covering with black caulk (just arrived!) or cement. We'll see. Fundamentally, this is all an experiment, since I've never done this before!

Giant mess!!! The aquascaping/planting tongs actually were extremely useful for placing tiny shards of stone.

More progress! Please note that there is stacked chunks of styrofoam inside/under the great stuff expanding foam acting as structural support. As you work your way up, you will have to add layers and allow 20 minutes to an hour between layers in order to allow the foam to set. Any given "layer" of expanding foam will expand to about 1 inch, maybe 1.5, but if there's anything on top of it (such as...rocks!) it will spread out, not up. I do expect to have to trim a lot of this, so it looks like (in my husband's immortal words) "a hot mess" right now, it'll clean up. I'm not placing all the stones I eventually want right now--I'm spacing out the larger ones with the foam, and will carve out niches and silicone the smaller ones into them later.

Note the exposed chunks of styrofoam, which are just in place to support the front of the stones until the foam cures and solidifies.

Front view where you can start to see the planter boxes. I put pieces of styrofoam in to section off only the front portion of the boxes, to make cleaning them out easier. If you want a ton of space for roots, you could probably just leave them open. Also, the bottom partition of the 'cave' door is in, too. We'll see if it's tall enough.

And a final update of the second part of the hardscape base. It's a terrible photo, but the whole thing was half-cured silicone and wet great stuff foam, so I didn't want to touch it much at the time. I'll get better pics today as I go out to mess with it all.

Other updates:
- I realized I didn't have enough caulk and bought more. They arrived, so all set to keep going!
- My light risers still haven't shipped yet, so waiting on that.
- Figuring out the planting plan for this tank has been fun, but I think I've got it narrowed down and will be ordering from 2 places as we get closer to being done.
- So, did I mention we don't have a table or stand for this thing yet? Yeah! Well luckily, my husband's good at woodworking, so today he's going to begin building the stand for this tank! I'll take photos as he works and include his (much more skillful, I assure you) build project along with this one.
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  • #11
Bear with me, things are starting to look a little wild. (I need to sweep the garage, too.) But progress is happening. It better happen fast, too, because looks like the future inhabitants of this tank are back in stock soon, and we'll be placing an order to get 'em before they sell out!

Here's where I started this weekend: (Pardon the glare)`

Here's an overhead view so you can see the planter spaces:

The foam on the right hand one will need to be trimmed to make space. It ended up being a slightly smaller space on that side than intended, so I might still yank that one rock out and replace it. We'll see.

I then began adding more stones to the background.

The top part of the foam had cured nice and solid, and using a common box cutter I was able to carefully carve out spaces for the rocks to fit into--almost "shelves" which would offer some support along the bottom and a nice flat space at the back for silicone. Here's a close-up of how that looks.


And in place, temporarily supported by extra foam while the silicone cures:


I then switched to carving some of the excess off my giant laminated styrofoam tower. What ended up working best was a saw blade, as a combination of "i need something bigger" and "wow, serrations work well on styrofoam!" It is, unfortunately, a messy process.

The channel down the center top is actually for the water line to go:

That's 1/2'' inner diameter tubing. It's heavier duty than probably needed here, but it's the right size and my choices were limited. I carved out the channel using a simple box-cutter. I'm going a little deeper than the top of the styrofoam, with intentions of hiding this channel with a combination of stones and moss mats, so that if needed, it'll be accessible for repair.

Meanwhile, I realized the base for the other piece was a little wobbly. I laid down a piece of parchment paper on the floor, plopped down the piece and used expanding foam generously around the base.

I figured I'd have to trim aggressively to get rid of the parchment paper, but to my surprise/delight, it actually didn't adhere at all! Perfect!! (Extra plastic piece as a shim to level a poorly-cut place.)


I then added my filter protector screen, which is just a plastic mesh used for yarn arts and crafts. Siliconed in place, but I figured it's worth showing since it'll be important to keep things out of the filter.


I have officially hit the image limit for posts, so I'm splitting this into a second post, haha.


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  • #12
I was also able to start carving out the place where the top piece will sit into the bottom:

This will be supported at multiple points, don't worry.

And, finally, assembled the whole thing to see how it looks so far. This is my stopping point for the weekend:


That's all for now. Thanks for reading!
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  • #13
Quick update, I had a few hours free today to get some stuff done. Not many pics since I was in the zone and not thinking of it, but honestly this part wouldn't have been too interesting to photograph anyways.

Not photographed:
I cut down more of the styrofoam arch base, and siliconed a double-layer of plexiglass onto the back of the top portion of the arch to create a more rigid point of contact for the support structure. I may mess with it more, but the silicone is curing. (I also used way too much silicone and made a huge mess, do not recommend.)

I realized I didn't like how I was going to have the two pieces fit together, and felt the arch was too long, and ended up cutting about an inch of material off it. Next time I mess with the lot I'll be cutting off more and attaching that piece to the other one, but that's just because I've realized I did a stupid thing and need to correct it. I'll explain further when the time comes, possibly tomorrow.

Today I realized I needed smaller pieces of stone. What I have are mostly in the palm- to hand-sized range, which are nice, but I really needed smaller shards and little pieces. I decided to try and smash some rocks. This is, with slate, actually extremely hard to do, and if you're using slate and are able to just buy gravel, I highly recommend doing that. It's way easier and safer and, overall, better.

Unfortunately, that's not an option for me. I had to mail-order slate, because apparently nobody in my city carries the stuff. I don't want to order more and wait, so... Hammer time!

I got an old, nasty towel. Stacked 2 or 3 rocks (not 1, it doesn't work with just one) on top of each other and wrapped them loosely in the towel. Make sure you wrap them a couple times. Then I went to town. It worked...eventually. The towel took some damage.


If you do the same, please be careful. Those cuts happened from the rocks breaking. The shards are extremely sharp. (I've been smoothing them by scraping sharp edges on the concrete, which blunts them enough for safety.)

Then I took the base out of the tank to work on filling it in more. Added more rocks, and started trimming out the overflow of the old expanding foam. The black silicone was the star of the show here. Went from this:


To this:


To, finally:

Oh, yeah. It's all coming together.

You'll note new expanding foam around the base, which was me experimenting to see if that'll hold some extra rocks, but I may end up removing it. We'll see.

Note that in between the big stones, I'm adding a combination of tiny shards, sand, and bigger shards. This gives a nicer illusion of presence back there than just black silicone. It'd be better if I had a really fine gray sand to match the slate, but I'm limited by what's available around here. What can you do.

It still looks a tad rough, but a lot of that will be much less noticeable once I get moss stuffed between the stones, anubias growing out of cracks, and taller plants along the sides hiding the rough edges.

Other news:
I'm finally fully set on my plants order for this tank. It's probably a bit optimistic, but I'm ambitious. I'll be placing 2 orders in the next few days. I've got a QT tank cycling now, and bio balls in the other aquarium to get them seeded, so the plants will be fine for a few days while the tank and stand are getting finished up.

My husband's working on the stand now! The details I have are thus: It'll be made from red oak; it'll have a cabinet on the bottom to hide all the aquarium stuff; and he'll be putting 2 doors on it so it can stand long-way to wall or short-way to wall, since we move every few years and never know what the house will allow in terms of furniture configuration. We have to order some plywood yet and go to get the hardware tomorrow. Yay! He's got the top cut and the first few boards glued together, and is working on the frame this afternoon.

I'll share more pics as things progress.
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  • #14
It's been a while! I'll confess, I didn't take as many pics as I have been for the stone process. It's pretty simple, really. I did have to reconfigure the arch pieces somewhat, and may end up messing with it some more to make a shorter arch. I'm starting to worry that the 30lbs of slate I bought won't be enough!

I need a way to set the arch top down onto the bottom pieces in a way that would secure it, so I'm going to embed some laminated acrylic pieces into the top piece and have it go down into a like-sized hole in the bottom piece, so that once in place it can only be lifted straight up in order to remove it.

Not the nicest picture, but you get the point. This process was messy and I used way too much silicone. (I think that could be a new title for this thread.)

Working my way slowly up the base of the arch:

Sorry for the weird angle, turns out there is no good way to hold a large object in one hand and use a phone to photograph it with the other.

Meanwhile, I worked a few more layers into the background, which I'm pretty pleased with. On the left side, there's another tiny planter area which is meant to look like a small rockslide. Did I pull it off?

Closeup of the drain overflow area. I'm only using little stones around it as I do not want to block the water from entering. I'll probably just let taller plants grow up in front of this to hide it.


And finally, pictures of it outside in the driveway with hedge clippings and some basil in the planters, because I needed to see it!



Now you get to see my husband's project--the table this will sit on!




That's all for now!
  • #15
Keep it up! Looking great thus far!
  • #16
this is amazing, cant wait to see how it turns out
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  • #17
Thanks for your kind comments, I really appreciate it! Here's hoping it turns out nice.


Not a lot to say, just more gluing stones. I will say that I'm learning that taking the time to carve the styrofoam nice and deep so the stones stay in place without any silicone helps a lot. It lets me be able to visualize the progress I'm making and how the next stone will look well in advance and allows me to make more progress at once, as I'm able to carve the styrofoam while it's still dry and not have to work around wet silicone. I'm posting pics here where you can see the stones in place dry-fitted. These all held in place without any particular care on my part while I carried it out of the garage and into better light--it's a very snug fit.


It's also, as you can see in above pic, actually frequently carved quite deeply into it. I'm hoping this will add additional strength to the structure. It does require me to space stones out somewhat--which works fine for me, since I'm starting to run low on rock. (I'm spending a lot of time with the hammer making the too-big stones more convenient, too.)

Also on the menu today: Remember those laminated plastic from last post? Here they are now:

They're sunk about half- to 3/4 inch deep into the top piece. I already marked on the top of the forward base to identify the matching spot, where I will carve out a matching hole that this will sit into. I'll be making a plastic 'box' for the male piece to slide into, which will be mounted into the base. This should prevent the top piece from shifting. The caulk around the base is just to make sure there's no chance for ugly white styrofoam to show through.

While that cures, more work on the base:




Finally, more progress on the table! I think we can all agree my SO's part of this project is by far the most legit and professional looking.

It got glued up last night! It's still in clamps right now and will be until at least tonight, if not tomorrow as it was cool overnight, and the glue may take more time than usual to fully cure.

We got impatient and set the top on the base just to see what it'll look like.


At this point, we have some more sanding to do once the clamps come off, and then hopefully tomorrow we'll get the side panels in and stain on it. It's red oak, which is a nice looking wood on its own, but it won't match the rest of our furniture without a dark stain.

I'll keep you posted!
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  • #18
This has been a productive weekend so far!

Yesterday, I carved out the hole the "key" will fit into from the prior post and siliconed some pieces of plexi that I cut to shape to be slightly larger than the "key". It dried overnight and I test fit it today--it fits and it sits!


Finally it was time to begin working on the top of the arch. I started in the middle and worked my way out--lots of dry-fitting before applying any silicone, because once I had silicone on it I knew it'd be a lot harder to manipulate it. For weight and strength concerns, I'm choosing to stick to exclusively small pieces of rock along the top of the arch. I don't know how much weight styrofoam can bear and frankly don't want to find out the hard way. If I'd been smart about it I would have built an armature of heavy gauge wire or PVC pipes at the center of this whole thing and used expanding foam around it, but I'm not smart, so here we are. Maybe next time, assuming I can sweet talk my SO into another tank...



The above image is the top piece as I finished it yesterday. You may note that there are higher and lower spots, which is where I intend to guide waterfalls into being. It turns out that the smaller gravel sized rock shards are the rockstars here, they look way better than the big pieces of rock, and combined with the sand I think do a good job of adding detail to the piece. If I do more of these (which, I'm having fun, and am scheming to figure out a way to get away with building more hardscapes!) I'll probably see if I can order just straight gravel next time, and only a few small rocks. Slate is HARD and doesn't want to break!

Some dry-fitted assembly pics:


Sorry for the consistently terrible photos at the end. It's kind of set up in an awkward spot, and the background is a huge mess. I don't see the point in vacuuming it all pristine until I'm done cutting styrofoam though, honestly.

Update on the stand!



Weights make pretty handy 'clamps' for awkward glue-ups. Today he's been working on adding additional supports to the corners and across the tops to give the piece additional rigidity and strength--not that we're worried, since it's constructed of oak, but the aquarium's going to be pretty heavy and we want to be extra safe.

Well, lunch break is over, I'm gonna head back out to do more on it!
  • #19
Wow, this is going to be stunning when it's done!
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  • #20
Thank you, Koneko, that's really kind of you to say! I hope so.

More progress from today before I make dinner, so this will be a short update.

Thought I'd share the work space setup that is working for me right now. I've got a tupperware of coarse gravel, a tupperware of fine gravel, one of sand, and a trash bucket to keep my used paper towels from blowing away/catching the discard sand that falls off and doesn't adhere. The smaller tweezers serves as a spatula to spread caulk on the foam, the longer tweezers are for placing fine details, the bigger ones only get used occasionally, and the box cutter is the hero of the project, cutting spaces for rocks to go. And random wood chunk to support work pieces, lol.

Today was more filling in on the top of the arch. Basically just using small pieces because of weight and I'm running out--but since this is all decorative now, it's going fast. Working in layers is important. Rock walls are like onions.

You can see where sometimes the angles don't line up. I'd like to say something poetic about planned imperfections being more true to nature, but it was really just me losing the line of the angle and then having to correct, lol.


Above are where it's at for the day. I have them sitting assembled while the big stone towards the back sets, using the back to hold it in place. Finally getting to see it coming together!

Today is one of the days that feel great because yesterday/today it finally looks like this is going to happen and actually come out looking something like I imagined, lol!

Finally, SO's project! It doesn't look like a lot happened, but the clamps had to be rotated around a lot to get all the supports in.


Tomorrow we begin to stain. Yay!
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  • #21
Woah, I didn't realize it's been almost a month since I posted! Things have been super busy here. Hopefully this won't be too much skipping ahead, but a TON of progress happened.

It got harder to work outside and I was past the big carving parts, so moved indoors to the table where I could work more comfortably, which was nice. Last few pics of the assembly:



Just as a note, I was very careful about working in the areas where the pieces met. If I hadn't arranged things carefully, I could have accidentally set it up so that the top of the arch wouldn't be able to come off of the bottom 2 pieces--or alternatively, I could have made it look really, really bad, lol. Here's a close up so you see what I mean. I was focusing on keeping the angles the stones were placed at consistent with both those nearby and the piece as a whole. I was also being careful to provide a natural-looking cascade of stone heights, so that there wouldn't be sudden deep jutting overhangs where it might not look natural.

In this picture, several of those stones are just dry-fitted. I did that a lot, and took photos with my phone to compare different layouts to see which I liked better--and to keep track of which stones went where. It was also a bit hairy at this point, because if I used too much silicone I could have glued it all together accidentally!

Here are a couple of final pics, when all stones were glued on. Not pictured, but at one point I laid the base on its back and "painted" silicone across all exposed styrofoam to seal it, just in case.



Regarding the table: I'm sorry, I didn't document that very well! Here is a picture of it during staining/varnishing, before we put the top on:

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I think my SO did a great job on it! We'll be making and attaching the doors at a later time, since we just wanted the table built ASAP. It's actually going to have doors on 2 sides to accommodate multiple different positioning, for future moves.

Aaaand finally, table in place, tank on table, hardscape and substrate in place, and ready to fill up!!


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Pardon the mess, as you can see the cabinet in the stand is immediately in use, lol.


Next set of pics is fast-forwarded somewhat. Side note: I ordered a light riser weeks and weeks ago, but never heard from the seller, which was a big disappointment. I ended up building my own using some acrylic sheets--need to clean off smudges of superglue off of it, so pardon the smudges in the following photos. However, it does the job and also adds another 4 inches so that any intrepid inhabitants can't jump out. Overall, a win.

Water testing: Oh, boy. So, I filled 'er up, ran it, realized I was completely and totally wrong about where the water level needed to be, and...kept filling. And cut down part of one of my baffles. Anyways, that was an odyssey. If I was to do it again, my second baffle would be MUCH lower. (Also, definitely have a towel handy during this process, and be prepared for water to SHOOT across the room.) I cut 4 additional holes across the top of my tubing and then used a long thin piece of rock to half-block the end opening, forcing water to come up through the cut holes.

For the filter, I stacked cut pieces of filter foam into the filter intake baffle and just went almost to the bottom with it--used nearly an entire sheet of filter media! The second chamber has a box and a half of bio-balls in a net bag, and half a bottle of seachem stone media, and frankly I have that center chamber only about halfway full--I may pack another bag of media into it, if it looks like I need it. This filter is beefy. In the final chamber is my 100W heater and the pump, with a little piece of porous foam shoved between them to keep them from rattling together.

For the waterfall, essentially I ran my tube, turned on the pump and just carefully fiddled with the rock placement until it both looked nice and made almost no sound. Believe it or not, despite the fact that it's visibly a little waterfall, it's almost entirely silent--you hear the soft hum of the pump more than you hear the actual water trickles, even when the room is silent. The fridge makes more noise, lol. For us this was important, as the tank is in the living room and we did not want loud water sounds--so this works well for our purposes.


Oops! Ran out of space for pics. Time for another post...
  • Thread Starter
  • #22
Ok, continuing!

I forgot to mention--it was only as I was setting up to run the water pipe in that I cut the excess height of the back plastic. I probably could have gone higher, or made more of an effort to hide it, but my tentative plan is to eventually have a couple potted plants sitting over the filter area that will hide that...but overall, I'm satisfied. You may notice that the top isn't cut to be even, which was deliberate. I wanted it to look like the crumbling edge of a cliff, ragged with stones that have eroded away and fallen into the water over time.

So, as you can see here, this stand is serving double-duty as the end table, and the aquarium is intended to be viewed both from this side, and from the kitchen area, and from the couch to the right, looking straight down the short side of the tank. Frankly, we're quite pleased with how that works! My phone doesn't like the light that much, but it's not as glare-y as you might imagine, and at a seated height the light doesn't bother your eyes.

We're continuing the cycling process at this point; waiting for the small spikes to settle out between adding new inhabitants. Right now the snails are in and we have a handful of baby endlers in there as well. Maybe early next week we'll be putting some adults in--we'll see. For now it's water-change city around here with the 20gal and 2 QT tubs running!

Glamor shots time!
View from the short end:








Thanks for following along! I'll update as the rest of the inhabitants move in.
  • Thread Starter
  • #23
New update! 3 months on and a few things have changed. Namely: Hygrophila Pinnatifidia is apparently delicious, and the snails ate it all. RIP. I've since added some Bacopa Monnieri, Ludwigia needle leaf, 1 Anubias nana golden, 3 anubias nana, and 2 Anubias snow white petite. Which are TINY. I knew it, but it still surprised me.

The dwarf sag has meanwhile gone absolutely nuts, and I had to pull a ton of it up and replant elsewhere in the tank to make way for the ludwigia and bacopa. I stuck some into my 10gal and still have 9 or 10 bunches floating in the 20gal waiting for me to figure out what to do with. (Probably gonna get some substrate to go into the now mostly permanent endler grow-out tub and plant these guys in there, lol.)

Other stocking updates: There's a healthy breeding colony of 7 endler females, 4 endler males, and currently 2 or 3 babies that have been eluding the net for a couple days. About 50 (!!!!) mystery snails of varying sizes are in there waiting to get sent up to the grow-out tub, and our alien betta male, Maury, has been in the tank since late November. Aside from a couple of flares at the too-pushy endler girls within the first 1-2 days, he's been extremely peaceful. We expected him to be the problem, but the endler girls are more aggressive than him. (One girl has been removed because she couldn't stop harassing the snails. She's banished.)

Finally: My built-in filter ended up being too much of a hassle to keep clean and functional. Water flow was fine initially, but unless I did deep-cleans far too often the water flow through the filter media slowed enough that the pump would empty the chamber it and the heater were in, which obviously was problematic. We ended up tearing out one of the filter chamber dividers and installing a Fluval 207 canister filter in the same space. The pump running the waterfall is still present and in the same place, as is the heater, and the canister outflow dumps into that chamber while the inflow is in the inflow chamber that used to contain the sponge/floss media. All of the old media got transferred directly into the canister, and we haven't seen any kind of mini-cycle. On the whole, that was a good change. We'll keep the subdivided back chamber (it's actually pretty convenient for hiding equipment) but on the whole the professional canister filter is better than what I was able to design. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but that's life.






Terrible picture of Maury, who was Most Displeased at the human sticking their hands into His Domain to mess with plants.

Edit: Didn't notice until after posting but our yellow tiger endler male cameo'd in that last photo, and is the weird yellow-black smudge to the left of the thermometer. Which is what happens while you dance rapidly in front of a bad cell phone camera, hahaha. Unsure what he was dancing at.
  • #24
Interesting tank! I don’t know how I missed this thread but it was enjoyable to see your process! Thanks for sharing and I think it looks very cool :cool:
  • Thread Starter
  • #25
Thanks CTYankee! I'm glad you enjoyed seeing the process. This was certainly really fun on my end.

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