Building a Background for aquarium

  • #1
Hey all!!!

I hadn't had my tank set up for some years, and I finally decided to reinstate it. I set it up the same way that I had it when I had my pirahnas. No lights, black gravel, a couple pieces of driftwood and some plastic plants. Filled it with water and taped on the background and Yuck....did not like it at all. Horrible. So I decided to make a background and change it up a bit. I have been asked to show the steps in making this so I'll try to be thorough. This is just how I did it, may be a bit of overkill and you can put your own spin on things. THIS WAY IS "PERMINANT", so make sure you will be happy with it. You can remove it but you will have a lot of work to do. lol.

OK, and thanks, hope you enjoy.

First of, what you will need is:

1. Tape measure
2. A tee square (for perfect right angles)
3. A marker of some sorts
4. razor blades
5. A knife (I used a serated blade steak knife and a larger serated knife)
6. A tourch (butane soldering iron)
7. 100% silicone or aquarium caulk
8. Foam board (I used a 4' x 8' x 2" insulation board from Lowes) This can be changed depending on your space limitations.
9. A bag of quicrete cement
10. Sand
11. Cement coloring
12. Fire extinguiser (just in case) lol. I'm not responsible for mis-haps

Next, measure the aquariums back glass from the inside. Cut your styrofoam to these measurements. Test fit to the empty tank, making sure it fits relatively snuggly but not too tight (notching out only what you need to fit it). You may have to cut the board into several pieces to fit them into the tank. I had to cut it into 3 pieces because of the brace in the middle. Once it fits to your likeing, remove it. Set up the tanks filtration, powerheads, air lines, h.o.b.s etc. the way you want it. Now you can do one of two things, or both if you want. 1. Measure out where everything is (infeeds, returns, what-have-you) and record them and transfer them to the foam. Or, 2. Set the foamboard back in and apply a little pressure to it pressing it to the equipment you placed in. It should leave a slight impression on the foam ( take care not to break anything). Allow space for the equipment to be removed for cleaning and maint. Remove the foam and cut out front to back a space slightly larger than what you need For all installed components. This will allow you to remove it later without disterbing your set up. I went like a half inch all around. Or you can melt out what you need with the tourch. Short quick passes so not to set it on fire. Along the back edges of the foam ( the part that will later be attached to the glass) cut the corners off allowing for the air lines and the origional aquarium sealant to "clear" the foam. Once this is done, when you place these parts in, your hoses and such should fit nicely between the foam. Foundation done!!

Now look at it and say: "This is awsome!!"...don't be shy now

Now for the rocks and the creative part. I did each rock one at a time, which took a long time. I wanted as much detail as I could get. Since the foundation only took part of the 4' x 8', I cut another piece to the measurements of the inside glass panel and drew the rocks on in a pattern that I liked adding a few shelves and two caves. Cutting out each rock, I shaped them with the knife and razorblades. Telling myself "every rock has its own shape and it will tell me when it is happy." Weird, I know. When you come to a spot for an inlet/outlet make sure you cut a spot out of the flat side of the rock large enough for the current to freely pass with no obstruction. After roughing them out, I then sealed them to the foundation using the caulk. DO NOT GLUE the ones over the dividing cuts if you had to cut the foundation. Instead attatch with a screw or nail to allow removal of foundation during construction. Tip...You can also smooth the foam with the razorblades for better melting control in the next step.

Once you have shaped, mounted (allowing caulk to set), and are pleased with what is going on, take the tourch or what ever and slightly melt the foam rocks. It will create a water worn effect on the rocks buy rounding or sharpening the edges. Will also aid in the creation of shadows and depth of the background. Be very careful not to set them on fire or melt through the foundation causing unwanted holes. If you do get a little happy with the heat and create holes through the foundation, they can be plugged with some type of filler. I used an old h.o.b. filter sponge.

Now up until now you should have been mainly working with the foundation out of the tank, placing it in and out to make sure it still fits and to see how it looks. Now it's time to mount it. Happy with the way it looks and fits and allows for easy removal of equipment for cleaning and maintenance purposes, break out the caulk again and generously apply to the inside of the tank. Place some on the back of the foundation around your cut outs to keep water out from behind it. I set it in and traced around it with the marker and placed the silicone within the markings. Carefully place in and press firmly in place. You should see the silicone spread out confirming a good seal. Wipe off any extra and allow to cure. DO NOT FILL WITH WATER UNTIL CURED. Styrofoam is EXTREAMLY bouyant and will rip isself off the wall so as an added bracing I took an old undergravel filter and cut it in strips and braced the lower edges of the foam from the foam to the front glass because with the snug fit from top to bottom of the foundation it has the tendency to want to swing forward from the bottom and believe me it's not fun trying to wrestle that thing around in the water. You can brace it real good before glueing in place and test the operation on the equipment and to check the flow of things, but brace first, fill with water, operate, Empty, remove then dry before caulking.

Time to coat it. Mix a watery (but not too) solution of cement and coat. If there are any holes simply fill with a filler of some sort. Cover all sides of the rocks, in between and along all edges where it meets the glass. Don't want those fishies getting stuck do we? Clean up any spills or extra cement. Don't worry if it dries it can be scrapped off later with the razorblades. Let cure. Keep it wet with a spray bottle or something for a day or so. If it dries out it may crack or be weak. After that you can add as many coats as you see fit, any color and amount of sand. Only the first coat should be that watery, just gives the other coats something to hold on to. I did four coats. The last being the thickest consistancy and with the coloring. You must keep them at least moist while curing. After the cement has cured fill with water, let sit, drain, fill with water, repeat. Keep an eye on the pH levels as the concrete will leach into water. It may take a while but it will come down. After that set up how you want, cycle and enjoy!!

I didn't add pics to this cause they are here:

Thanks, and sorry for typos it's 5:30 in the morn. Hope you enjoy!!
  • #2
thanks for the instruction, I really love your background. I will use this when I build my other 100 gallon tank.
  • #3
That is awesome. Can I jump to the assumption that the whole project cost under $40?

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  • #4
Nice job with the rock/wall.... Maybe you should make an instructional youtube video? I'm sure lots of people would be interested!
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
That is awesome. Can I jump to the assumption that the whole project cost under $40?

Sent from my Kindle Fire using Tapatalk 2

It would have but the foam was more expensive than I thought. It was the only 2" board they had in @ the time. Was around 30, but the rest wasn't that expensive.

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