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Custom Tank Build 36"x24"x18"

97329 Views 37 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  sulli.gibson
Hey guys! I have been a member for a while, but not spoke much, just reading and learning what I can about this hobby, frogs, etc...

A little about me, I'm 25, recently graduated with a BS in Biological Psychology, and am looking to get back into a hobby I enjoy, other than the lab research I do etc...

I have kept Marine aquariums, reeftanks, and planted tanks for years. My last tank was a 210gallon reeftank that I had for 8 years. The only reason why I no longer have it is due to unfortunately having to move 5 times in one year, the last of which I couldnt bare to tear it down and move everything again! But thats another story.

So I have setup and maintained a 20gallon long Vivarium for the past 6 months with sucess.

NOW however, I am wanting to turn my custom built tank into a show viv!
And have already started doing so.

The picture attached is the tank that I will be building on. Yes it is rimless, however, it wont be for long.
I have a friend who fortunately has access to an aquarium manufacturing companys supplies. He is getting me some trim which is all I need, I can get glass from one of our local shops without a problem.

The 20L that I have had setup for about 6 months now or so is as follows:

The base drainage layer is composed of 1inch "Bio Balls" which are nothing more than plastic perferated balls that are made for certain marine equipment, they do nothing more than provide a water basin.

Then landscaping fabric, followed by SeaChems FLOURITE (because I had it on hand), as a substrate for plant growth, which is nothing more than iron rich clay with a few other minerals in it. This product is also used for planted aquaria on occation.

Then a layer of cocobark/peat/"reptile substrate" its that coconut husk bring stuff you get at petsmart.

Then a layer of sphagnum, then leaf litter which was collected, sanitized, and boiled locally far away from the city.

The background in this tank is just coconut husk panneling, nothing special.

some driftwood.

and a few plants:
  • Crypthanus (pink earth stars)
  • Neo Bromeliad
  • some live sphagnum which as volunteered to grow
  • Tillandsia Ionantha "Mexican"
  • a Philodendron vine of some kind
  • Fittonia
  • Moss I never can remember the name too. Sel something?
  • Lemon Button fern (forget the genus/species)
  • Java Fern
  • "red veined plant" also forget the name of

Recently it started sprouting mushrooms weakly! 7 so far! Grey short ones with black dots on top.

NOW: the build...

I found GRIMM and RAF's threads and have been following them and really like the idea of doing this for this custom build and plan to do so.

The lighting will be 4 54watt T5 bulbs suspended 3 feet above the tank (for now this is temporary). I currently have all my orchids, broms, palms and tropicals all inside due to it being winter and they are using the light at the moment.

I would like to have a water feature and plan to build one into the background similar to the way RAF did.

Because the tank is so wide, I decided to also construct a stump on the left side to go in front of the background as a separate component.

I have bought the items for its construction today for the most part (pictures later).

Since Ive never done this before, Ill of course need help.

Let me know what you guys think so far.


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K now for the pictures of stuff.

Are all these products I have purchased safe to use in the construction of this stump?

Silicon GE 1 window doors atic and basement
some Rope
PVC pipe : 1 inch, 1/2inch, and for the trunk of the stump a 2 foot 4inch diameter section.

I got the reg. GS (red can) and some Nitrile gloves

OH and Twine for some rootlike details.

I plan to form the base of the trunk, then cut and bend the PVC and secure it with hot glue, then the ropes and twine, secruing them with hot glue as well. Then spray the greatstuff, allow to dry and mold / cut into shape.

NOW heres the part I need help understanding.

I have bought the silicon to mix with peat but I noticed that GRIMM (who will hopefully chime in) used a solvent/thinner along with the silicon and peat moss. I cant find Toluene... is this what you use to think the silicon/peat mixture out?

What about denatured alcohol or something else?

Mineral spirits?

After applying the mixture in layers do I need to put another sealant on it?

I also want to use epoxy and peat in the water feature (good advice I read from RAF). But I cant seem to find a acrylic concrete binder.. or anything labeled that... ?

would really appreciate the help guys!


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Okay so now for some pictures of the 20Long

First This is the area devoted to about half of my tropicals (orchids, broms, palms, etc) that I am housing inside for the winter as I do every year.

Yes behind the 20L is the tank for this thread, its currently giving my orchids a place to call home at the moment.

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Very nice. I like the 20... Looking forward to the big tank.
What kind of LED lighting is that in the picture on your first post? I'm looking to use a LED system in one of my builds.
So I have begun building the stump.

Got the "skeleton" built for it so far.

First took my 4 inch pipe, and cut it in half, and used one half of it for the stump, the other two Ill show you in a bit.
After bending most of the 1 inch PVC and then hot glueing them in place this was the result:

Then applied the 1/2 inch PVC with hot glue, and the top part to mimic a stump.

A few detailes with rope:

then Twine

These halfs of the 4inch PVC will be used in the background to mimic tree trunks at the forest floor.

Then i got a little WILD and crazy with the GS...
I didnt know how much this mess expanded... apparently a LOT!
Here are a few pictures right after I sprayed it.
little did I know an hour later it would have doubled in size...
Ill have a lot of carving to do later.

Thats it for today guys.
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What kind of LED lighting is that in the picture on your first post? I'm looking to use a LED system in one of my builds.
It is a marineland fixture that I got a while back, I will NOT be using it. I actualy have been using it on the 20 for the past 6 months,
if you notice the growth of some of the plants is rather... leggy...
its a $#*^& fixture!

Not recommended
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I believe its time for a small update.

After graduation and a few other things that have come up, I've finally got a moment to start slowly on this build.

After designing the stump in the pictures above I gave the stump its first coat of Silicon/Toluene/Peat/Coconut husk mixture...

Here is the result:

Some things about this method I have realized.

The mixture GRIMM used if I am not mistaken was 2 parts Silicon, 1 part Toluene, 1 part Peat.

I found 1 part toluene to not be thin enough. My mixture was more like 2:2:1 or 2:2:1/2

After applying this mix on in any way possible (paintbrush helps sometimes, my hands helped better), I then took handfuls of ground coconut husk and pressed into the first coat.

After two weeks of letting this coat dry and shrink a little, and of course finally having some time!!... I put the second coat on (today).

Here is the result using the same ratio as above to cover up the parts i missed, but using a 1:1 mix of peat and coconut husk. (dried of course)

Much more coverage was achieved and I like the difference in the colors.

My only dislike about the stump is the top. I was wanting a rougher texture, but after applying the two coats... it doesnt have the desired effect of a broken tree. Im sure after it gets moss and plants covered on it I wont care.

Notice above there are two holes I made in the stump for anchoring broms in.

My next step will be to buy the materials needed for the MAIN BACKGROUND.
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I believe its time for an update...

TWO MONTHS have gone by and I've not so much as done a thing!
Why you ask? Well... I graduated, and things have been MAJORLY busy!
I have been at the university and presenting data more than I did as a undergrad!

anyway! Today I found the time finally to get the trim cut (thanks to Frogart), and go to lowes to get eggcrate and greatstuff and silicon (GE2 black which I will NOT be using and return.) Ill just get GE1 and deal with any small bits of GS that shows through, which it wont when I get done. Also picked up some rope to make vines with, and 1inch and 1/2 inch PVC I think... may be 3/4" and 1/2"... but who cares about that!...

Here are some updated pictures...

The trim is in place now, and the faux bottom skeleton built.
I have landscaping fabric read to apply as soon as I figure out one thing..

I would like a water feature in this tank, the back left corner to be exact. I plan to make a root structure using the PVC pip and rope and want to encorporate the water feature in the root structure so that it trickles down the "roots" into a small pool under the structure ... the problem is I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO...

I have read, and looked a zillion times, but truth is I am NOT very good with determining how to encorporate these ideas. I know what I want and I'm trying to build it haha.


I found the corkbark at PETSMART they had two peices (logs) which I cut in half and then again to make tree trunks in the background.
I will apply great stuff to the eggcrate and then silicone and peat to fill in the gaps alone with ropes and whatnot.

I also would like to put a fan in the back left corner and hide it using the root structure somehow... ? geeze... lol now How am I supposed to do that!...

okay here are the pictures finally!

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This is going to be fine. The tree root provide depth to the viv. Looking forward to se it planted.

Just trying to figure out how to build the trickle water feature in the back left...

Should I separate the water feature from the faux bottom?
Love your tree root! Thats going to look amazing when you get everything going! Subscribed

Just trying to figure out how to build the trickle water feature in the back left...

Should I separate the water feature from the faux bottom?
I have the same problem, I have been thinking now for 2 weeks.. unable to to put the roots inside the viv so it looks natural, the water feature is more complicated. Althought you have a lot of space in you viv, Im sure you will make it look good. Otherwise you just rebuild it..:) if you are not happy. Hopefully I have put my mind together so I can continue my build this weekend.
I love tanks with tree stumps.

But they are really hard to build and yours look very good.

The stump in my tank is a real stump I carved from real wood, because I suck at foam carving...

Hope yours look awesome with all the plants growing on it.

Update : 3/4/12

Hey guys!
So I had some time today to build a little more on my tank!
I decided last week to go ahead and create a separate area for the water feature so I could do three things:
1) Control the water quality of the pool below under the roots
2) Flush when need be
3) Provide an area for breeding/retreating

The first thing I did was remove the false bottom and setup and notch out the silicone at the bottom of the tank so that I could install the glass panels (I got from lowes 5"x10" (x2) for only $3!) for the water feature.

Then Install the Glass panels...
I AM NOT a tank builder, so don’t mind my really BAD silicone job, look, I wont see it, I don’t care! lol

Then Reinstalled the False bottom with weed barrier

Repositioned the Cork Bark and started the Great Stuff Foaming FUN-NAN-ZA... (joy)

Okay, so, In order to accommodate and HIDE the fans and water feature/pump hosing etc as much as possible I constructed this for the two back corners:

The bottom screen portion is for the intake and the top of course, for the airflow.

All the unscreened crate will be covered with GS foam and silicone and Peat, so I’m not worried about that.

OH!, and I got the duel 80mm fan kit with adjustable setting from Rapid LED (thanks to FROGART for the recommendation).
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Update 3/4/12


After installing the fans when they came in, I began to start on the root/tree structures for the back to corners and sides:

All I did was take PVC of varrying diameter, heat with a heat gun, bend as I pleased, and held in place with hot glue.

Here is a detailed picture of the water feature with the main SKELETON PVC attached. Keep in mind there will be vines over this, water trickling down it, and leaf litter and an area for the water to pool when it is completed. I want a small very shallow pool of water at the bottom and under the "roots" with leaf litter in it for a cool little retreating area/breeding area as I HATE coconut huts with a passion and want it to be as realistic looking as possible.

THEN... MORE GREAT STUFF FAN-FOAMING-TASTIC FUN-NAN-ZA ... (joy)... Note: DO NOT WEAR your nice clothing while working with PU foam or silicone... goodbye $100 pair of jeans I just got three days ago :(

Other side with vine detail etc...

Some vines Im working on (havent finished)

Detailed image of back left corner:

More detailed image of back right corner water feature:
Note that in the back behind the "roots" there will be a darkened area. I plan to drape vines down the feature and create a very neat little root cave thing... I dunno just... stay tuned lol

I went ahead and dug out an area in the GS foam and installed a drain tube for a Brom (This GS will be covered with silicone and peat)

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is as far as I have gotten tonight:


Next is to finish the back right corner (behind the roots). I need to spray a little more GS above the intake for the fan to cover the crate.
Then to slap Silicone all over everything and peat moss.

I am wondering EXACTLY what I should use for the water feature (roots)...
I dont want peat to rub away, so Im working if I should mix it with Toluene or if I should just get some marine epoxy and use it with peat...
anyone have any ideas?

Comments welcome...
This is my FIRST big build.
I have a 20L with Azureus in it but its really basic...

(as of december).
Ive added some more Selaginella, and some Pep. Prostrata since.
Also separated the Brom pup which is now mostly red and seated it inside a pocket in the coconut husk background about halfway up just to the right of the mother brom.
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Update! 3/30

So its my birthday today and I thought I would give another update.
Last weekend I was able to tackle what I have been wanting to since the start of this build.
Applying the Silicon and peatmoss to the background!

So I made some time and did just that!
I also made 4 vines to go in that I later attached using Hot glue, covered by Gorilla Glue and peat

For my first build using these things I thought it turned out rather well.

I decided also NOT to use the stump that I first built earlier in the thread and instead use a med sized piece of driftwood in the viv where the stump was originally supposed to go.

I just dont like the stump anymore.

ALSO: I built in a water feature.
I used a base coat of silicon and peatmoss. After it dried fully I then used Gorilla glue and peat in the areas that will receive a high amount of water movement. To prevent the GG from expanding as it is known to I continually pressed the GG back down and reapplied peat to prevent its glossy appearance.

I then took one of the vines and attached it using hotglue, then GG and peat to the water feature BASE structure.

This is what came out :

Note the pump is hidden in the back.
and the water reserve you see below will be covered by substrate
There is an opening in the feature where in the back the fan intake is located.
I also created a space back there for the frogs to hide if they choose so under the trickle. The back was filled with great stuff foam, then covered with silicon peat and Gorilla glue and peat. I will put a small amount of leaf litter to hide the drain screen, and to provide areas for egg deposit sites.

Heres a small video of it in action right after it was built.
NOTE: I will remove the sphagnum moss clump at the top and replace it with soemthing else to create the trickle.

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Amazing build. Definitely some great potential you got there. I agree...I don't like the stump. I think its problem is too much GS. You could have rescued it by perhaps carving the GS back quite a bit. Then, once it gets covered in moss, it would look nice. But yeah....natural is definitely better. So get yourself some nice driftwood and it will definitely do the trick.

Love the waterfall. I want to do that in my tank...but I don't think its wise with a planted tank feature. lets see.

Anyways...keep it up. LOoking forward to updates. You got some nice space in there. :)

BTW...also love your living room. lol! Especially that palm. I have no luck with local greenhouse plants. They are always infested with something that bite me in the butt by infecting my rare carnivorous plants.

First time...that same palm with red spider mites.
Second time.... onions with thrips
Third time.... australian tree fern with scale.
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