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562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am having to re-post this because in the initial thread it seems that several folks could not see or download two of the sections of photos that I posted and they were asking me if I could resend the thread. I sent a note to an administrator about being able to reopen the edit ability but have not heard back. Therefore I’m just going to open a new thread and start over. Hope that’s ok with everyone. That being the case I thought that I would expand a couple of areas and correct a couple of things.


Here is the initial thread.

Detailed Tank Journal / Making Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Making Artificial Vines / Stumps

I am in the process of re-building a Tank that I have had running for almost 20 years. This tank journal will incorporate many new element that I have been researching and designing over the past couple of years. I am experimenting with a number of new things in this tank.

First an introduction:
I’m Dave Calkins. I’ve been into Frogs all my life, I have BS in Biology, and have been a part of Frognet almost since it’s inception sometime back in the 1990s.

Tank Innovations to include:
1. Modify Regular Aquarium: Create a Rear Access Panel:
a. Internal Plumbing accessed from Rear
i. Internal Pump can be removed from rear for maintenance.
ii. Valves control water flow to:
1. Drip Wall
2. Waterfall – Artesian: Water enters bottom of well with anti-siphon tube. Made from Big Box plumbing parts.
b. External Plumbing: All external​
i. Put together a portable unit inexpensive, irrigation system with timer: fits into small living room garbage can. Overflow drains back into garbage can. System Powers Misting Heads / Rain Heads
ii. Fogging system: multiple fog points within tank, entry through back of tank.​
c. Sealed Glass Rear Door / Magnetically Attached to tank.
d. Rear Chase to provide for to top of tank for future access / modifications without having to tear down tank.
e. Internal Tank Computer Fan / Hidden behind wall, accessible from rear. To Clear front glass. Possible 2nd fan to dry plants​
This was my first attempt at making a Rock Wall Using Two Colors

2. Create Multi-colored Foam Rocks / Water Feature – similar to Great Stuff, but colored throughout.
a. Very Realistic Texture Possible
b. Water proof
c. Light weight
d. Color through out foam
e. Created any color you want: Black, Dark Mud Brown, Tree brown, Multi-Color Granite Rock (Grey, Burgundy, Rose) I’ve made all of these.
f. Totally inert (safe for frogs)
g. Easy to Remove / Easy to Modify: (Carves like Great Stuff)
h. Easy to sterilize
i. Use as Glue to attach waterfalls to glass, bond items together, plumbing, etc.​
3. Compare to Present systems to create Rock Walls / Artificial Stumps / Branches
a. Cheaper to install than: Silicone / Great Stuff / Styrofoam / Thinset / Grout / Concrete methods
b. Faster to install than present systems
i. 2 – 4 minute expansion time.
ii. 12 –15 minute set time before next pour can be made.
iii. 24 hour total cure time.
c. Compare to Cutting / Shaping Styrofoam, Application time for grout concrete, thinset . Then 3 – 4 weeks cure time to lower pH.​

This is a Three Color Rock That I Have Made. 100% foam, No Paint.

4. New Drip Wall Material – Permanent, will not rot.
5. Simple Refugia shelf: tied to Drip Wall for springtail habitat.
6. Tank Electrical:
b. 12 volt Computer fan, internal to tank / hidden
c. Misting System Power
d. Lights​
7. Planting tubes w/ drain to keep roots from standing in water.
8. Tons of hide holes, hidden observation points / egg laying sites.
9. Small Tank Size. 12” deep x 24” wide x 16” height
10. Making Artificial Vines / Stumps

This sounds like a tall order, but the tank is over half done and I couldn’t be happier with how it is coming out. The following is my journal / tutorial. It has a ton of photos, which are saved as the smallest jpg format to save bandwidth and storage space on the DB.

Calcium Buildup

I decided to rebuild a tank that I had running continually for almost 20 years. As a result it had a lot of calcium buildup that I had to remove.


I attempted to use soak the glass with vinegar over night. The saran wrap keeps it from evaporating.

Vinegar Doesn't Cut It

I tried to blade off the calcium after letting it sit overnight. This didn't touch it. Forgot to try lemon juice.

Diamond Dust Buffing Compounds

Anyhow, after talking with some automotive guys, I went with the power method using a buffer these products.

Another option would be to use cerium oxide.

Buffing Glass to Remove Scratches

The green is a washable overhead marker marked on the front of the glass to give me an idea of what areas to buff. This method is slow, but it works. I then got the brilliant idea of experimenting with using my marble tile grinder and a buffing disk. It works great for shining up granite tile and so I figured I would try it. I did it in a spot on the back wall of the tank and couldn’t see any scratches so I tried it on the sides and front. What I didn't do was check the glass using the tank lights. Stupid. With the tank lights I can now see that I have a lot more small scratches in the glass than I had after I just did the buffing.

Oh-well. I can't afford a new tank right now, so I buffed it with the compounds again and will live with it.

As you can see, is vastly better than it was, but I should have quit while I was ahead.

As a precaution, I used the lacquer thinner to remove any residue that might have remained from the buffing compound.

Drilling the Glass for the bulkhead
Over the last couple years I have been thinking, why can't we build a tank with a removable back panel. We drill tanks all of the time, so I thought why not use my tile saw and cut open the back. I did it and it worked great. I now have access to the plumbing in back behind the rock wall, to the water in the false bottom, and to the power head if it ever needs maintenance.

Next I laid out the location of the bulkhead. Before I drilled, I made sure that the bulkhead’s location was high enough so that when the bulkhead’s 3/4 inch barbed fitting is installed; it won’t hit the tabletop.

Only then did I drill the drain. I made a ring of Plumber’s Putty, which is needed to hold the water and a $2.99 bit from harbor freight. Unlike what most people thing, there are only a couple of things that you can do to cause a tank to crack while you are drilling it. Understanding how drilling works will give you confidence that it really is an easy job.

If you know about drilling glass skip on ahead.

Excess Heat Causes Most Glass Breakage.
  1. Most people think that the primary purpose of water is to lubricate the drilling process. That is not exactly correct. If lubrication were the primary purpose of the fluid, then it would make sense to use oil to cut glass, because it is much slipperier than water, but no-one recommends the use of oil because it doesn’t transfer heat nearly as well as water does and it is actually slows the cutting process down because it is the grinding or friction between the glass and the little tiny bits diamond that actually causes the cutting. The primary purpose of water is to remove the presence of heat. Excess heat is one of the main causes of fracturing in glass. Diamond bits also don’t get dull the way that most folks think, diamonds aren’t ground off of the bit by the glass. The diamonds on the bits are so much harder than the glass itself, that the glass doesn’t stand much of a chance of grinding away the diamond. It is typically excess heat that causes the bit to get dull. The diamonds actually fall off the bit because excess heat generates micro-fractures in the binder that holds the diamond fragments onto the bit. The diamonds fracture off of the bit.
  2. A secondary purpose of water is to cause the ground off bits of glass to be floated away from the grinding surface into a slurry or suspension of water and glass. This does lower the friction and heat generated, but is not exactly lubrication.
  3. All of this is why a lot of guys that drill granite countertops, myself included, will often put ice in the water dam. This way they can speed though the drilling job faster with very little impact on their diamond bits. This is not an advantage to us.

Too Much Pressure
The second greatest cause of glass breakage is the application of too much pressure. When people drill holes, they are used to kind of leaning on it or pushing the bit into the wood or metal trying to get the biggest bite for their buck. Glass is brittle, and if you push too much on it, it will shatter, whether you are drilling it or not. When you lean on it, even a little, you are actually putting a great deal of pressure on a very small surface area. Initially that my be ok because the pressure is dissipated through the glass, but as you get towards the end of the cut, and there is very little glass left and it doesn’t take much pressure to pop the bottom out.

Trying to Drill Tempered Glass
Most small tanks are not tempered, and therefore can be easily drilled. If you attempt to drill a tempered piece of glass it will shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.​

If you want to learn how to drill glass, there are a ton of U-Tube videos showing how to do it.

Sorry for the lecture about drilling glass, but it is interesting to me.

Cutting a Glass Tank Open in the Back
First Big Experiment.

I have a tile wet saw, but you could borrow one, rent one (go with the 4 hour rate, it only took 10 minutes to layout and make the cuts), or buy a cheap one, $39 -$79 harbor freight. It was like cutting through butter. I would not use tape to layout the cuts. I was thinking that the tape might help keep the glass from cracking at the end of the cut, but all it did was come off and I was making my cuts blind. Use a Sharpie permanent ink pen instead.

I did have to take the water guard off to make the cuts. Just tip the tank up, align the blade with your marks, turn on the saw. To make the cut, just slowly lower the tank onto the blade.

This was the square that I cut out. Wear leather gloves and safety glasses, because it does product a few sharp pieces of glass, but most is just glass water / dust.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Hey Guys,
Let me know if you can’t view any of the photos.
Thanks for the interest,


Thread Continues

End Result / It Was Easier To Cut Than I Thought.

Sorry the picture is blurry, but you get the idea. Because the tape was coming off with all of the water, I ended up over shooting one of my cuts. The glass is surprisingly strong, even with a big hole in it. I wasn't paying attention; I got cocky with how strong it was. I had covered the tank, forgot, and leaned on it while the real of the tank with the hole was facing up. I leaned on it heard it go tink, but even then all it did was make a hair line crack from the screwed up over cut diagonally up to the top of the tank.

Glass Strips Cut To Add Structural Strength To Glass Door Way
String instrument Musical instrument Guitar String instrument Bowed string instrument

It was real easy to fix and strengthen. I just cut up the chunk of glass that came from the hole into strips.

Reinforcement of Glass Opening

I used two ton crystal clear epoxy to bond the strips of glass at the corners and a continuous piece along the bottom. I also installed a reinforcing piece at the place of the bulkhead. The glass after it has been cut is smooth and has no sharp edges.

Making Colored Foam
This leads me to the really cool thing. I have been experimented with colorizing the pourable two part expanding foam and it works better than I imagine it would.

Over the years I have seen great stuff become a common tool in tanks as well as using solid foam sheets / concrete / grout in building back walls, but both ways are a great deal of work and both methods have many problems. I use great stuff in my work quite regularly, so I am familiar with what it can and can’t do.

I have also used the two part expanding polyurethane foam in working with model railroading and I knew that polyurethane casting resins could be colored, so it got me to thinking about whether colorizing the two part expanding foam was possible.

In my experimenting, with these products, I have found that this method is so much easier to create beautiful, realistic rocks and walls than either one of the other methods presently being used. It is so much easier than cutting foam and covering it with a concrete / grout mixture / having to cure it etc. No more great stuff tan, and then having to coati it with black silicone, and then applying bark dust, just to get it to look natural. It foams up like great stuff, can be shaped, cut, etc. After colorizing, the color is permanent and it runs completely through the foam. The foam is waterproof and is completely inert after it sets.

I have experimented with making a bunch of different textures, and have easily added a ton of hiding holes, planting bays, a set of waterfalls and will be doing stream bed.

I didn't like all of the work involved with making something like this look good.
Bee Display case Wood Membrane-winged insect Furniture

Samples of Rock Walls.

Foam Colored Rock Walls Using Masking Film / Grocery Bags

Geological phenomenon Rock Brown Geology Soil

This rock wall was the first rock wall I made. I did it by mixed two colors together, letting it expand and using Painters Masking Film to push, pinch, prod, pull and stretch the foam as it was expanding, into a rock like shape.

Foam Colored Rock Walls Using Model Railroad Casting Molds
Rock Formation Soil Geological phenomenon Geology

This rock was made by mixing three different colors together into a model railroad rock mold. The colors are just as they came out of the model. I have not modified their colors in any way, ie. I haven’t painted them.

I have experimented with making a ton of different colors. So far I have made very dark brown muds, light browns, light tree brown, rock wall gray & pink & brownish purple, (The last two were mixed to match the quartz gravel I will use for the gravel in the bottom of the pond.) The foam can also be painted for highlights just like the concrete mixtures used. I'm planning on using the technique to make an artificial stump. The whole thing sticks directly to the glass, but unlike silicone it comes off easily. If you don't want it in a spot, a razor blade scraper wisps it right off. The foam itself is inert when cured and I used tempera paints as the pigments for the foam (schools use tempera paints because it is safe for kids even if they eat it. The foam is color fast, I have had it in water, have had a fish in it, etc.

I have to go and pick up my daughter, but I'll be back to continue.


I'm Back.

Two Part Expanding Foam
Product Drink Bottle Metal Solvent

This is the two part expanding foam. It is a closed cell, 2 pound density, polyurethane
foam. Tap is a local company to me, so no shipping charges. There are a bunch of other sources for the foam.

TAP X-30 Polyurethane Foam: TAP Plastics

I think that these guys may have by far the best prices of all of the internet or mail order places for the size that I would recommend getting, the 1/2 gallon size (2 - 1 quart cans).

AeroMarine Products- Pour Foam

I bought the 1 quart size (2 - 1 pint cans), but if I were going to buy again, I would have been better off purchasing the 1/2 gallon size (2 - 1 quart cans). Tap's 1/2 gallon prices were about the same as the mail order guy's 1/2 gallon. The reason I would get the larger size is I have been experimenting with the generating colors and textures. I have used more foam than I though I would because throughout the process of testing things out, figuring out what works and what doesn't and whether the process is safe for our frogs, I found other uses for the foam. I have used it to glue elements together, etc. I now don't think that I am going to have enough foam to complete my tank. The quart size was $28.00, but for only about $10.00 more I could have doubled the amount of material that I had to work with. Now, I will likely have to spend $28. more in order to finish the project. Yes I might have tons left over, with the 1/2 gallon, but while I have been going through the learning curve, I have been using more material. In the long run when comparing it to the other processes, I still think that this way comes out cheaper.

In researching, I did a bunch of reading about the products involved. The pour in expanding foam is the same product that is used in the marine industry (used to fill the hulls of boats so if the capsize they won’t sink), but most of the foams sold to the marine market are 3 to 5 times the amount (specialized market with more expendable income). Most of the marine places including all of the local marinas were around $100 for the 1/2 gallon size.

These are some of the sites I researched when I started this process:

Urethane Foam , Expanding Marine Polyurethane Foam

Rigid and Flexible Castable Foams | Smooth-On, Inc.

Polytech Foam Products Inc.

These sites had quite a bit of good information on expanding foam / rock wall casting etc.

Rigid Polyurethane Mother Molds [Archive] - Sculpture Community -

Sculpture Community, Russ RuBert

Taxidermy.Net Forum - Taxidermy.Net Forum - Index

Sorry, I've got to go, kids are hungry.
Will continue.


Looks great! One of the benefits of using pourable foam over the Great Stuff is the consistency. And you can order different densities, including very hard sculpting foams. What’s the chemical composition of the dyes? That’s the only thing I'd worry about, at least the concrete tinting powders are mineral oxide based.........
That is the neat thing about this procedure. You can use almost any dry pigment or tint to colorize the foam. The tints or paints do have to be in a dry or powdered form in order to allow the reaction to take place normally. It is my understanding that if you add any type of liquid, whether water based or oil based, it will screw up the foam's ability to expand and cure properly.

Powdered Tempera Paints
Product Dairy Drink Milk Food

I initially chose to try the tempera dry paints for a couple of reasons.
1. I felt that tempera paints had the best chance of being frog safe. They are non-toxic and grade schools use them all the time because a kid can eat tempera all day long and it won’t cause a problem.
2. They are pretty cheap .(See Below)​

When I started looking for the powdered tempera paints, I ran into a little trouble. I couldn’t find a local source for them. I called all of the local craft stores / school supply stores, and only found the liquid ready to use tempera paints, I ended up having to order them from an online source. Lots of places had 1 lb. container for $4 - $6, but I was able to locate a much cheaper source at Kaplan Kolors Powder Tempera.They had the 1 lb. containers for $2.45. I purchased Black, Brown, White, Blue, Red, & Yellow to get me started.

While waiting for the tempera to arrive, I began experimenting with a couple of mineral oxide cement tints that I had lying around. I also I tried tinting the foam with some carpenter’s chalk box chalk that I keep in my truck. I don't know the toxicity of the chalk, but each of the foams seemed to color up just as well as the tempera paints did.

A Simple Overview of the Process for Making Colored Foam
The foam is mixed on a 1 :1 basis, one equal of part A is mixed with one equal part B. This generates a catalytic reaction where CO2 is generated; causing the foam to expand, up to 30 times its original volume.

To add color, you just add your pigments / tints to one part, either part A or part B. I chose to add the tints to part B, This is then mixed thoroughly to disperse the pigments throughout the entire mixture. Then when you mix the A with the tinted B you generate will now generate colored foam, I tested mixing the colored powders into the foam in several different ways, but found that it didn't make one bit of difference in the final outcome of the foam.

By mixing together several different colors in varying amounts, I found I could generate any color I wanted.

Important Times: Mixing / Expansion / Cure Time
You have 20 – 30 seconds of mixing time before the foam begins to expand.
The expanding reaction starts within 45 seconds of the initial mixing.
The Rise Time lasts for 2-3 minutes.
The Foam is starts off super sticky.
It gradually looses its Tack or stickiness within 3 – 10 minutes.
The Foam is fully cured, ie is stable, inert, has no more reaction within 24 hours.

Cleaning Equipment
Immediately clean all tools used in preparation of the foam with a suitable solvent, such as Isopropyl Alcohol or Acetone.
Once cured the foam is resistant to solvents.

I learned the following techniques for building this panel from the model railroading community at Bragdon Enterprises - Geo Foam Instructions.

Light Weight, Strong, Foam Support Panels

The First Experiment with creating a Colored Foam Structure


We start with a small piece of packing bubble wrap, (purchased at Kinkos or any Office Supply Store). The bubble wrap is laid flat, bubble side up, foam is mixed (steps described later) then installed and spread out in a thin layer, fiberglass window screen is then laid into the newly poured foam, plastic saran wrap is then placed on top of all of this, and the foam is compressed to flattens the foam, making it thinner, stronger, denser and harder. After the foam sets up, the saran wrap can be pulled off. If you attempt to take it off and the foam does not want to let go of the plastic, then you attempting to remove the film too soon, the foam needs to set up a bit more.

Second Color Added to Panel
Food Cuisine Dish

Here I added a second color to test the bonding ability of one pour to the next. The Foam is supposed to cure for 15 minutes or so before attempting to pour the next color. This helps with adhesion.

562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Geodesic Foam Panel Backside

This shows the backside of the panel. The expanding foam compresses the bubbles which adds strength to the panel.

I am planning on using this panel hold up the floor and to shape the flow of water under the false bottom to add more bio-filtration.


This panel while being thin, light, and strong can be easily cut with a scissors. Try doing that with a concrete / foam wall. :)


Using Foam to Install Support Structures

Here I used the foam to glue the first structural elements, made of cpvc pipe, to the floor.

This next section will deal with the rear opening, installing the plumbing, & then it’s lots of experimenting with the expanding colored foam.

Closing The Rear Door

First off I purchased several ceramic magnets, during Harbor Freight’s Dollar Days. I cut the magnets in half with my tile wet saw, and then installed them (square black spots in the four corners) with two part epoxy. The magnets will be used to hold the glass door in place.

Door / Plumbing Valves For Drip Wall & WaterFall

To remove the glass door I will just slide the glass panel to the left away from the magnets. Then the glass door should then be easily tipped and removed from the tank. The glass door will need to be notched in two places, one where the foamed in power cord / air tubes for the fogger / tubes for the mister / tubes for the rain sprinkler / DC power for the computer fan / etc. all come out the back; and the other notch will be at the drain bulkhead. I’m planning on making a silicone gasket around the door by putting thin layer of Vaseline on the outer side of the tank so silicone wont stick to the tank, next by running a bead of silicone around the perimeter of glass door, and finally setting the door in place over the opening. The weight of the glass will compress the silicone some and when the silicone cures it will form a nice gasket to keep water / humidity / bugs in the tank.

In the photo, you can see the beginning of the plumbing.

1. The valves I found at a local salvage store for a couple of bucks. The valve on the right controls the drip wall and the valve on the left controls the flow to the waterfall. The valves are horizontally hard installed with cpvc, but vertical legs use vinyl flex tubing. This allows for some wiggle room when installing or taking things apart.
2. On the left, above the pump, I foamed in a 3/4 inch PVC pipe chase which has a 45 degree fitting at the top and bottom. This forms a transport tube or chase that runs from the open area in the back of the tank to the interior living area at top of the tank. This will allow me to run the misting line, the rain line, and an electrical power line for 12-volt movable computer fan, etc. into the tank without being seen. When everything is finished I will seal the tube with a foam plug that will keep frogs from getting into the back section. The chase will also allow me to add or change things in the future without having to tear down the tank.

Pump / DIY Bulkhead

The pump, which I found a year or so ago at a small liquidation outlet, is a Regent Aqua-Tech Powerhead (manufactured by Penguin for Walmart). If it ever needs maintenance, it can be installed or removed from the rear of the tank by unscrewing a male to female hose bib fitting (exterior water faucet hose fitting), which I purchased at Home Depot.

I made my bulkhead from a couple of plumbing fittings (3/4 “ to 1/2” threaded male fitting inside of tank that is attached to a 3/4” - 90 degree barbed fitting on the outside of the tank, with silicone installed on both sides of glass before the bulkhead is installed). To this I added a cheap plastic valve that I found at a local salvage store. I got all parts for less than the cost of a real bulkhead, and that’s before the shipping costs would be added.

The plastic valve is installed onto the threaded bulkhead with Teflon tape. The height of the water in the tank is easily adjusted simply by spinning the valve on the bulkhead, the higher the lip of the valve is, the higher the water level is.

I installed the valve inside of the tank so that I can have a very tight profile at the rear of the tank.

If I ever have the remove the pump for maintenance, the drain valve does need to be unscrewed from the bulkhead. To facilitate this removal, I shortened the height of the valves neck in order so that the valve can more easily spin past the pump’s outgoing line (the line that supplies water to the water feature / drip wall.) That was one of the advantages of using a plastic bodied valve; it’s a lot easier to cut than a metal valve. I also used a pvc pipe cutter to shorten the valve because it chops the pipe in two like a guillotine, rather than using a saw which could produce dust that could get down into the guts of the valve which could potentially damage its the seals. Not really a big issue considering the number of times I will actually need to turn off the valve.

Notice the black sharpie pen line on the bottom of the tank. This is the planned location of the separation wall that is to enclose the plumbing. From the front, the wall will be the visible back of the bottom of the tank. I tested the ability to easily remove the drain valve and pump with my big hands before committing to the wall location.

Items Used In Making Colored Foam

These are some of the supplies that I have used in the making of the structural elements, (waterfalls, drip walls, leaf litter trough below the drip wall, etc.) and will help me as I mix and applying of the two-part expanding foam.

1. Measuring spoons, 1/4 Tsp., 1/8 Tsp (Dash), 1/16 Tsp. (Pinch), 1/32 Tsp. (smidgen) – yes these are actual spoon sizes were got at a kitchen store. It is not critical to have the small sizes, but it was nice to be able to reproduce the colors accurately.
2. Disposable Dixie cups
3. Disposable Plastic Communion Cups. Yes, I actually raided the garbage cans after communion at church and took home as many of them as I could find. Once washed out. These worked really well, and I have done most of my batches with the smaller cups.
4. Various Plumbing Fittings.
5. Tooth Picks
6. Mixing sticks.
7. Green Vis-à-vis Wet Erase Fine Point Pen – Teachers use the for writing on overheads at school. I used this primarily to mark the level of Part A / B that were to be mixed.
8. Plastic food Wrap / Saran Wrap / Plastic Grocery Bags /. Painter’s Masking Film. (seen in front of the zip-loc snack bags) All of these were experimented in shaping rocks / keeping the foam from sticking to other things, etc.
9. Latex Rubber Gloves (I would flip the gloves inside out and reuse the gloves many times. The foam would be hard by the time I stuck my hand inside them again.
10. Bubble Wrap – Packing / Shipping Material - purchased at Kinkos (Printing / Package Shipping type store.
11. Fiberglass Window Screen
12. Hot Melt Glue Gun (temp. bonding of parts)
13. Card Board Strips (For spreading the foam around.)
14. Zip-loc snack bags ( For squeezing out expanding foam like one does Great Stuff from the can.

Here is a sample of just a few of the colors and textures I have produced using this two part foam.

Color Prep – Mixing Part B with Pigments

Getting ready for next batch. Mixed in plastic disposable Dixie cups. Tempera added to about 1/2 oz. of part B.

Do you guys prefer the larger image as I have them here or the smaller image that you can click on to view an enlarged image (like I did in the previous post? :confused:


2,831 Posts
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Nice work Dave! I prefer the thumbnails. I read that you used Crystal Clear Epoxy to bond the glass reinforcement strips. Is this the 30min, 2 part stuff you find at auto supply stores? I think it's called Permapoxy. I used that for a few years to bond a thin glass strip to the inside of a vert door. I even added a fillet of epoxy and the joint still failed after a year or so. Moisture slowly creeped in and broke the bond. I think it would fine on the outside of a viv.

562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

After Mixing

Part B mixed with pigment, but before adding to 1/2 oz. part A.

Brown Mud Foam

Tank is sitting on its side. Brown Foam is mixed: When mixing, make sure that you scrape the sides with the flat part of the stirring stick, this ensures that you are getting all of the material well mixed. Now pour and spread with cardboard spreader. In this shot, the foam is still expanding. I did not cover foam with Film, just allowed it expand normally.

Notice experimenting with texture at edge the outer edge. Used the mixing stick to dab and poke at the foam. This disturbs and pops the CO2 bubbles within the foam allowing it to collapse in areas.

The white tube is for the drip wall, which runs along the top rear and top left hand side of the tank.

Brown Mud Foam / Hide Holes

You can see the two different colors & expansion tests. Bottom color is a dark coffee brown, Upper color is a lighter muddy brown. CPVC pipe lengths were cut before mixing the foam and pushed into the foam while it was near the end of it’s expanding. The pipes were installed in two ways, some were angled slightly downward, (won’t hold water, for frog hiding spots; others were installed with a slight upward angle, to hold some water for egg laying spots.

Foaming behind the pump

Foam poured / spread with cardboard / plastic covered foam to prevent bonding to pump / pump now installed. Hold pump in place while foam expands around pump.

Foam / Rock Like Texture

Pump removed / plastic removed. Notice how the foam has taken the shape of the pump. I did this to cradle the pump and keep it from possibly vibrating against the glass and which could act as a sounding board. While this will never be seen, also notice how the foam has taken the wrinkles from the plastic and now looks very much like a rock surface. Cool.

Imbedding Gravel in Foam / Removing Foam From Glass

On With The Next Experiment.
1. On the left, I dropped gravel onto the surface of the some foam as it was still expanding and therefore was still sticky. The stones now are tightly bonded to the foam. This, I think would make a great riverbed surface because unlike loose gravel which allows most of the water to flow under the surface, gravel that is bonded to the a foam stream bed will keep all of the water at the surface. This allows you to use a smaller pump, less electricity and less noise, and still have the visual effect of a good waterfall / stream.
2. Coco fiber could also be bonded to the surface of the foam in the same manner, without the use of silicone, and with a more natural colored background.
3. On the right, I am scraping off a blob of foam with ease with no residuals, unlike what you have to do to remove silicone​

Building Shelf with Screen / Foam as Glue

Next I created a shelf using foam as a glue to attach the screen to the PVC support structure. I spot hot glued the screen to the rear wall glass first, then foam it to the glass. The I repeated the procedure to the side wall and the PVC support pipe. Notice the experimental pink color. Am trying different color combinations in hidden areas working to develop the proper formulas for my final colors.

Side note: At the attachment at the rear glass, I kept the floor about 1/4 bellow the lip of the door so that water may drain way without going over the lip. In the future I might make that gap a bit larger, 1/2 inch or so.

Now I’m laying out the rear wall where the water drains back to the pump. Remember the black sharpie line. The screen will go from the tank bottom to the floor of the shelf. This will keep any debris, and any tadpoles from getting back to the pump area.

Had to figure out how to attach the bottom wall to the shelf for gluing. Folded the screen so that it has a 1” inch surface contact with the glass, a 1” inch surface contact with the shelf and the same with the sidewall.

Started with the top connection first. Used nails to pin the wall and shelf together, held the nails to pull the wall into contact with the shelf while spot welding the two together with hot glue. Then foamed it. Repeated for the side wall and the bottom wall. Most of these foam mixed were mix using the small communion cups.

Finished bonding the bottom screen wall to the shelf. Pressed the foam down with saran wrap to keep the bottom as flat as possible so that water doesn’t build up in pockets.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Nice work Dave! I prefer the thumbnails. I read that you used Crystal Clear Epoxy to bond the glass reinforcement strips. Is this the 30min, 2 part stuff you find at auto supply stores? I think it's called Permapoxy. I used that for a few years to bond a thin glass strip to the inside of a vert door. I even added a fillet of epoxy and the joint still failed after a year or so. Moisture slowly creeped in and broke the bond. I think it would fine on the outside of a viv.
Hi Eric,


Yes, This is a two part / two ton Epoxy.

Supposedly, the crystal clear is more transparent then the traditional stuff. I did glue on the support glass and the magnets with this. It is good to hear that I may have to watch out if I use this in an area that isn't covered with foam. These items are underneath the foam and the foam is supposed to be waterproof as well, so hopefully I won't have a problem.

562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Zip-Lock Squirter - A Slow Flow Great Stuff Can
Next experiment: Building Up Texture

I placed the tank on its side to do this. Before I started mixing my next batch, I wadded up a small ball of saran wrap over an opening in the glass. I then placed newly mixed foam into a zip-lock snack bag and cut one corner of the bag. The opening in the bag was about a quarter inch in length. Then I let the foam start to expand in the bag. As it expands, I would squeeze the foam out of the bag like a slow flow Great Stuff can. Because the foam is expanding and is getting stiffer; it can now hold its own shape. Using this I layered up around the ball of plastic. After the foam set, I then carefully pulled the wadded up ball of plastic out of the middle of the ball of mud. Again, twisting the plastic as i pulled made it easier to remove. I just created a perch where frogs can hide from each other, where they can get frisky, but with the window at the backside, I can casually observe them from out side of the tank.

I really like the texture on the interior and the exterior of this pocket. It could also be used as a tadpole depositing site. He really does look happy sitting up there doesn't he. I can hear him calling now.

A pouch like that would also look real nice being a planter for some hanging vine.

Pump Input Modification


Finished hot gluing the screen to the glass and the frame and got to thinking about the water flow issues at the end of the pump, so I modified it with a 3/4 inch threaded 90. I cut it and then threaded the 90 onto the end of the intake. This changes the flow to a more straight flow into the pump. I thought it might be a more efficient and quieter water flow into the pump.

Hide Holes / Tadpole Sites
Next experiment.
My goal is to incorporate a bunch of hiding places and tadpole depositing sites, Therefore I have intentionally left gaps and pockets all over.

Protecting the Hole So Foam Doesn't Fill The Cavity
Sensitive content, not recommended for those under 18 Show Content

Next I packed into the hole a plastic grocery bag. Then I used the Zip-Lock Squirter to cover the hole with foam. Due to how fast the foam expands, I don't have pictures of the process.

After it sets up. I would remove the bag. Rather than just pulling the bag straight out, I found that it was a lot easier to remove the bag by twisting the it into a tighter wad while pulling the bag slowly out.

Here is the finished hide hole / tad site. I need to spay a little more foam over the PVC pipe, but with all of the bumps and depressions, I think it looks extremely natural.

Drip Wall Water Management

Next design element.
I am planning on have a drip element installed over that rear access panel. Also with all of the humidity within the tank, even if I get everything tightly sealed for the drip walls water to be channeled off to the front, I will still get condensation dripping down at the door. To deal with this I created a drip edge that juts out from the glass about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

To make the drip edge, I cut a piece of PVC pipe down the middle (used a utility knife rather than a saw, to lazy to go out to the truck to get a saw and the pipe was thin.) Next I placed it on a piece of aluminum foil on top of a cookie sheet. Everything went into the oven, which was set at about 200. Let soften for about 10 minutes or so.

Frog Projects and Kitchen Etiquette
or How to save your Butt in one easy lesson
While heating some PVC, I once ruined a cookie sheet and caught a lot of grief when I melted a piece of PVC onto the cookie sheet. Unfortunately I didn't have a piece of aluminum foil covering the pan and I wasn't paying attention to the time. Save yourself, do it with foil. Also, it's a good idea to use the exhaust fan while heating PVC; PVC vents some nasty smelling fumes when it is hot. Also to keep the lawyers off my Butt, use leather gloves when you handle hot PVC. (Well Duh!!!) Can anyone say McDonald's Hot Coffee and a stupid jury?

Anyway, I back to reality, I took the PVC out and held it flat until it cooled. This was then foamed to the inside lip of glass over the door.

Grey Rock Base Color / Bark Texture Experiment.
I created a decent grey base color for my rock with this mix. I foamed above the door and played with the texture.

Before I go on, I’ll give a few brief observations about what happens to the foam as it is disturbed during the expanding process. Different textures are created when you distress the foam at different times during the expansion process. Different distressing techniques also alter the look. You will have to play with it a bit to get a feel for it.

Staged this shot afterwards because the expanding goes fast.

This was my first attempt at this technique. I mixed more foam in this batch. Don’t remember if it was 1/2 oz.of A/B or 1 oz of A/B. After the foam has expanded for a bit, but before it is done expanding, I dragged a stick across the surface of the foam. This breaks up the CO2 production from the foam. CO2 is what causes the foam to expand. As you distress / drag the surface, the surface collapses a bit thereby creating the texture.

By dragging in a random but consistent pattern, I created a halfway decent bark pattern on my first try. Imagine this pattern in a light stippled brown with deep dark shadowed colors flooded into the crevices.

First Experiment at a multi-colored rock texture.

Preparation / Mixing Notes:
Mixed base grey rock color into part B and mixed the rose rock color into part B. These colored parts can sit for quite some time with no resulting problems. The time issues only start when you start mixing the A parts together with the B parts. Take all of the parts and set them together at the tank. Then, when you are all ready to go, only then do you mix the A parts into the colored B parts. You have to mix the two colors very quickly so that they can be expanding at approximately the same time. It would be best if you had several people all mixing the A & colored B parts together at the same time, but even doing it by myself, I could mix the parts together just fine and still had time to pour them onto the glass surface.

I found that I got the best color mixes when I added the different colors together during the initial non-expanding time. (That is within 45 to 60 seconds of starting to mix the A / B parts together.

I would pour the two different colors onto many different areas, sometimes pouring them over and around each other. Then I took one of the mixing sticks and swirled the colors around and into each other without over stirring (you want the individual colors to be displayed, you are not trying to blend them into a completely homogenized color. I over mixed once and was not as happy with the color and look of the rock.

Now let the foam expand for a bit. Then place the plastic film onto the surface of the expansion. Then you will squeeze, push, compress the plastic into rock type shapes. After the foam stiffens up and loses it tacky sticky grip on the film, it is time to carefully remove the film. Don't be in too much of a hurry to pull the plastic, if it has not set up enough you can pull the surface off of the foam at best, at worst, the plastic film breaks and then it becomes real hard to remove and expose your nice colored rock underneath the film. Did this a couple of times when in excitement I rushed.

When I removed the film, I was shocked and amazed at how good the rock wall looked with only two colors.

I found that the colors had mixed really well and the rock looked pretty natural. I know that making a cast using a mold can look even better, but this was super easy. Not a bad result for my first attempt.:D


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Two Color / Two Part Foam
A Real Nice Look: No Paint Added

It is getting late. I’m heading up to NWFF later today to see a number of you all. Haven't seen some of you for several years.

Hope you are enjoying this.
More to come.

Break to next post

Side Bar.
Back from NWFF. Man it sure was great seeing Brent, Tor, Dave, Erin, Todd & Christina again. It's been way too long.

Rear separation Wall Prep / Foam

Next I foamed in the separating wall between the plumbing vault and the front of the tank.

Base Coat Foaming of Wall

Set the tank on its back. Covered the plumbing side of the screen with plastic film to form a backer to keep the foam imbedded with the screen.

I stuffed newspaper between the film and plumbing in order to apply pressure to hold the film tightly to the screen.

This foaming step is done to imbed the screen with foam in order provide a good strong solid non-flexible base for the final three-color foam face to be poured.

The initial pour or two of the screen coat I ran into problems. I found that I needed to put more pressure on the newspaper / backing film in order to push the foam back up into the screen (it would drain through the screen into pockets between the screen and film and then drain down into the plumbing bay. I should have started with more newspaper to create more pressure against the screen. As it was, I used one hand to push the film / foam up into the screen. It ended up taking a couple of pours in order fill most of the holes and gaps in the screen. This did form a decent base coat for the surface coat of rock. As the foam would expand and get thicker I could squeegee it around with cardboard to fill gaps and form a solid base.

First Attempt at Mixing / Pouring a Three Color Rock Surface

Next Experiment:
Setup & Pour Info for 3 Color Pour.

Marked and filled 6 deli cups (3 cups A / 3 cups B) per the mixing instructions on the color sheet shown earlier. Then added the pigments into the various part B cups, (Not in order: base grey cup, darker brown / purple accent color cup, rose accent color. There is no time sensitivity to adding and mixing the colors to part B.

Place the part A together with the part B counterpart so you get the coorect percentages of part A/B mixed together.

Move all cups to the top of the tank for faster / easier mixing of parts A / B, and quickest pouring onto wall.

In this first attempt, I actually think I over stirred the final batch. Too much adrenalin from the excitement of the process and from trying to pour and mix the three colors together knowing that I only had a small window of working time. I feel this rock sample came out way too homogenized in its color. It still looks good, but not by my new standards.

Second Note:
With practice, I have been able to do three part color by myself and make it look great using just a wooden stirring stick and toothpicks. Using dabs, pokes, jabs, strokes and swirls in a random order I have make faux rock that would rival real rock in its natural coloration and appearance. On the other hand, it would be vastly easier to have several people mixing the different colored A/B parts together all at the same time. This would allow you a little more time to get the colors poured and interspersed in and around each other for best effect.

Push / Pull / Pinch / Squish Technique

As the foam expands, I placed Painters Film over it. I then experimented with different tightness patters of Push, Pull, Pinch, & Squish. Everything I have shown to date was done only with my bare fingers, but I am planning on adding higher definition by also shaping the plastic using Pencils or Dental Tools.

Tight Creases / Film Problems

Some of this looks pretty good, but I discovered some problems during this cast.

When I tried to remove the Painter’s Film this time and found that the Film liked its new home a little too much. I couldn’t get that stupid stuff to peel away from the surface of the rock for love nor money. As I pulled, the foam would stick in crevices and not let go. As I continued, it ripped and shredded in various spots as I tried to remove it. You can see some of the white tags in the lower left corner and the square whitish section in the center to upper right is completely covered in film. Before I speculate about the causes, I think that I should define how I am using a couple of terms so people don’t get confused.

Definitions of Terms
Film – Whatever plastic sheet material that you are using to create a rock shape. (Plastic Grocery Bags, Painters Masking Film, Saran Wrap are the three that I have used)

Rock Shape – The gross or overall shape of the rock, ie. the bumps / ledges / ridges / holes / divots, etc. that are created by Pushing, Pulling, Pinching, Squishing the Film or squirting foam out of a zip-lock snack bag. Here is an example.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

• Rock Texture – This is the basic surface texture of the rock (not what is created by Pushing / Pulling / etc). Rock Texture is the wrinkles, creases and small pits, which are created in the plastic film itself by wadding & crumpling. After unrolling the sheet, the lines end up being transferred to the foam as it expanding into the sheet. Example

I’m now looking back over many pours and am speculating as to why I had trouble removing the film from the foam on a few of different occasions. These are my thoughts…

• I have found that there seemed to be advantages and disadvantages to each of the three different types of Plastic Film that I have used during this process.

a. Saran Wrap / Plastic Food Wrap - This material is the strongest (it tends to stretch rather than break) and seems to have the ability to resist the sticky bonds of the foam the best of the three. On the other hand, it creases or wrinkles the least of the three; this then produces the least amount of surface texture to give the foam its rocky look. I typically use the Saran Wrap to keep one thing from sticking to another.

b. Grocery Store Plastic Bags - This material is the next strongest of the three. It is designed after all to be strong and tear resistant. People for some strange reason tend to get a bit grumpy every time their eggs hit the ground due to a bag being ripped open. Grocery Bags also tend to wrinkle and take surface texture very well, which means that it does a good job in making a mimicking a rocky textured surface. On the other hand using oil to make plastic bags that don’t decompose is also another negative for this product, but that’s for another forum. In my limited time doing this, I haven’t lost a pour to a Grocery bag.

c. Painters Masking Film - I have done most of the Push / Pinch Rock using 99 inch Masking Film (99 “ long / light weight / slight clinginess to it so that it sticks to walls and ceilings: primarily used to cover walls and keep paint / texture from getting on to another surface). It is the thinnest of the three. Due to its ability to wrinkle, I speculated that it would produce the nicest rock texture. (I haven’t actually done a side-by-side comparison of the Grocery Store bags vs. the Masking Film, so I can’t say for sure whether one actually does produce a better texture than the other.)

1. Too much Compression: I found it is possible to pinch and squeeze the Film / Foam too much. I’m guessing that if you pinch and squeeze the foam together and create a very tight seam, the Painters Film is much more likely to rip and tear at the seam. I’m guessing that this is because as the foam continues to expand towards each other, the film gets compressed and pinched so tightly that when I tried to remove the film, it rips and breaks rather than pulling loose as it has on many other pours.

Moral of the Story. More pinching is not always better Grasshopper. You could get slapped.

2. Removed Film Too Soon: As the foam cures it becomes less tacky or sticky and it also becomes stronger and less pliable. In my excitement to see what the new rock would look like, I started pulling the Painters Film away before the foam had truly setup. One of two things usually happened when I tried to peel it off too soon.

a. Masking Film Breaks: Most often the 99” film would just break and shred into tiny little to pieces. When this happens, I’ve found that it was practically impossible to ever get one of the tattered ends started again and I never did get the sheet completely pulled off the foam.

b. Foam Separates: If I started pulling the Film off way too early, the foam itself would just rip apart, leaving one half sticking to the screen and while the other half sticking to the sheet. This can look decent because it creates a rougher texture that still looks natural, but what I really needed to do was stop and not progress with the peel. I found that the window at this stage is very small indeed. If I kept going, 9 times out of 10 I ended up at the shredding / breaking stage before I could completely remove the film. Then it was all over.

Moral: Have patience Weedhopper. If you see bits of foam stuck to the plastic, go back and re-count the lint in your belly button. Remember how entertaining it was to count the first time?

3. Covered Foam Takes Longer to Cure: I have also noticed that foam, which is covered in plastic tends to take longer to set than does foam that is out, exposed, and is not encapsulated within a plastic film. This also led me to trying to remove the film before the foam is set.

Moral: Be Patient, Test areas, If it doesn’t peel off fairly easily, wait, go do something else, pick your nose, go play the tuba, go make your spouse dinner, pick her up off the floor when she faints, hey its only Macaroni and cheese right?) When you are done come back to it. If you fail, scrape it off and try again.

Quote “We don't grow unless we take risks. Any successful company is riddled with failures.”
James E. Burke

Quote“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”
Ronald. E. Osborn:

4. Masking Film Thinner / Weaker: I think that the 99 inch Painter’s Film is quite a bit thinner then the plastic grocery store bags or the plastic food wrap and doesn’t seem to be nearly as strong as the other two. It definitely seems to rip / puncture more easily, so I think this is primarily why I had the problem.

Yoda: "You are growing strong in the ways of the film my young padawan learner. Patience you must have. Do not let fear lead you to the dark side of the Concrete. And above all, use the film Luke, (the grocery bag film.) Yes, hmmm."

5. Speculations: The following are statements I am making are complete speculation on my part, so don’t take them as gospel truth. They may or may not have any impact on how easily the film is removed.

a. Time installed: I can’t tell if there is any impact as to how far along in the expansion process before placing the film and starting to squish, poke, and prod dance and finding the film wanting to permanently mate with the rock surface.

b. Surface area: I also speculated that crinkling the film to get more folds, creases, and wrinkles could also create more surface area and surface tension ie. More tooth or grip to the foam (not as likely), or crunching the film might weaken the film enough that it would break easier (more likely).

Moral: Never, under any circumstance, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. If you solve the problem with using the Bag, don’t go looking for more trouble.

Actually, I don’t think that I have enough foam left to play with it and sort it all out. With all of the experimenting I have done so far, I may not have enough foam to finish everything that I want to and need to do with foam in the tank as it is. Money being kind of tight right now as well, I don’t think I’m going to be able to run right out get more foam to test my theories. Bummer.

At this point, I am inclined to just use the grocery bags for doing the Push / Pinch rock construction. Most folks already have grocery bags at home, which hopefully you are recycling, so you don’t have to go out and buy anything. I started off experimenting with the Painter’s Film first off because I speculated that it would provide the best Rock Texture. Most of my pours were very successful, (film pulled off / Rock looked good.) I think that if I had let things it cure longer, and didn’t over pinch it in a few spots, I don’t think I would not have run into the problem, even with using the weaker product (ahhhhh, hind sight & the scientific method, what a combination.) Using the stronger grocery bags also might have kept me from having the problem in the first place.

Are you board with all of this reading? Want to go back to looking at pretty pictures. Yah, me too.

I've spent too much time on this. I've got a few other things that I need to get done. I have wanted to share this, because i think it has the potential to completely change how we do our tanks. I know I won't go back.

More to Come...


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Question: For those of you that have ever used Foam and Concrete, Grout, or Thinset in your Tanks, how much work would be involved in modifying / changing / removing sections? I work with Concrete, Grout, and Thinset as part of my job and I know it would take me using at least take a hammer & cold chisel, a lot of elbow grease, and maybe a replacement piece of glass before I was done.

Next Experiment
Modifying the rock wall – Adding a Hiding Space

After my plumbing was all in, I realized I had extra dead space behind this wall. Given that I am trying to see how well the colored foam does in various ways, I decided to see how easy it is to modify. Used a kitchen knife to cut out where I want the wall penetration to be. The section was about 3/4 inch thick and I was able to cut through the foam / screen without a great deal of difficulty. It wasn’t “easy” cutting, I had to work at it a little, but if this were a foam / grout wall, I would not have been able to do it without powertools. The wall did not move at all while I was cutting through it.

Opening Carved Out

Because I will be putting a foam rock surface over this, I carved the sides back too to make it smoother.

Rock Cubby Hole

Cut Screen to make scaffolding for shape & support / Cut wider than opening so I could make cuts and fold it into a box shape that will fit the opening / Spot hot glued into opening / Installed foam behind which was backed by film & newspaper / Single color foam.
Notice: 99” film bonded to foam. Think I tried to pull it too soon, but I don’t really know cause for sure.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

The Floor Buffing / Stripping Wheels

The Perfect Material: Drip Walls / Back Walls / Springtail Habitat?

For years I have wondered if there was a replacement for the natural back walls / drip walls products that are not endangered, and which will not rot away on you within a year or two. In my dream world, the product should be a natural looking background material that could be used as a planting wall and / or a drip wall; it should be unaffected by water or biological growth; and ideally it would make a good home for micro-flora and micro-fauna.

Back in my college days, I worked at the University of Wisconsin doing janitorial work. While cleaning floors I worked with a product that I now believe fits this bill. I think that the buffing & stripping pads that are used to clean and buff floors can do all these things. They are 3/4 inch thick, they are formed into a wonderful lattice that would be a great substrate for biological filtration, and by their texture I think would make a wonderful springtail habitat. They also come in naturalistic colors from black, forest green, and brown. Looks ideal, but are they safe for frogs?

I started doing some research, trying to figure out whether they would be safe in our tanks. I read through tons of MSDS sheets and manufacturers spec sheets.

This is from 3M’s manufacturing spec sheet:
This product shall be made of nylon and polyester fibers and synthetic adhesives and shall not be significantly affected by water, detergents and cleaners normally used for floor maintenance. The abrasive cleaning particles shall be of synthetic material.
From my reading, I found that the nylon and polyester fiber are food safe products that are bonded with the synthetic abrasive "Silicon carbide" (a non-toxic abrasive). The biggest potential problem from a frog’s perspective is that one might get scratched during a fight if they get dragged across the surface of the back wall. Not all that big of a risk in my book. Many natural rocks pose as much or more of a threat. And many plants that are used successfully in frog tanks (they have spikes and things) pose a greater risk. I went to a janitorial supply store to judge for myself just how abrasive they are and ended up bringing home a 20 inch black stripping pad for $5.00, the most abrasive pad they had available. Its not that rough.

I used a scraper and carved the surface of my back wall of experiments flat. I cut and fit the pad to the two drip walls, removed them from the tank in order to drill them with a paddle bit so that I could mount hide holes / egg laying sites in the drip wall. Reinstalled them, mixed a little foam to glue the panels into place.

Presto: A drip wall that will not rot away.

These panels cut to fit shoe boxes might make an excellent springtail culturing habitat. It might make feeding even easier. Take out a pad, bang it around in the tank to displace the food and replace. I’m going to try this too.

This site shows you what the pads look like, but I found visiting a janitorial supply store to be more informative.

For those of you that want to stay natural, they also make Natural Fiber Floor Pads that might do the trick for you.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

In the previous photo you may have seen a weird looking item in the corner. It will be the topic of the next section.

Controlling Front Glass Condensation

Originally my designs and plans for dealing with condensation involved using an air pump sitting on the shelf in the False Wall Cavity. The pump could be accessed from the rear if the diaphragm ever needed to be replaced.

I was planning on creating an artificial vine made out of tubing that would snake along the front of the tank like a real vine might. The vine was to be foamed to provide a bark like covering to hide its true nature. Holes were to be drilled in various spots along the vine allowing air to blow on the glass to keep it clear of condensation. Nice Plan Right? Then I read in one of the DB archives that someone else had already tried it and it didn’t work so well. They couldn’t get the air volume needed to keep the glass clear. There were just holes of dry spots in a sea of condensation. The archives saved me a lot of work doing something that probably would not work.

Plan B
Hidden Internal Computer Fan Ventilation

Several folks have used computer fans to successfully deal with condensation. All fans systems that I have seen have either had the fan external to the tank (tends to dry the tank). One guy had a cool way of doing it using an external fan and bulkheads to create a cross wind (large and bulky on the exterior (not so nice) but it did used internal tank air so the tank didn’t dry out (ideal, internal winds would also help with plant rot, plus the tank looked natural too). The other way I’ve seen it done was to have the fan visible inside of the tank.(doesn’t dry the tank, but looks less natural.) Me, I want the best of both worlds. Therefore I will be hiding the fan in the false back wall and concealing the plenum with foam. Oh yeh, plenum is just a fancy word for the pipes that move air round in an HVAC system. I haven’t decided whether to make this look like a tree or whether I'll hide it in the background.

How to Enclose the Fan

Dollar Tree Funnels
Went to Dollar Tree (everything in the store is a buck) and got three funnels for a $1.00.

Shaping Plastic With A Heat Gun
Used a heat gun to soften the plastic of the funnel This would allow me to push the Computer fan into the plastic so that it would mold to the size and shape of the fan. Then cut at corners & heat gun to fold plastic along side of fan. Cut off the excess of plastic so funnel edges stop at fan edges (use scissors or tin snips)

Used the heat gun to soften the bottom end of the funnel. Then from the inside of the funnel push a 1 inch PVC pipe into the hot plastic. This sets the size of the opening that needs to be cut away for pipe installation. After this, cut the enclosure to the size of the pipe with a utility knife. Now the pipe should fit fairly snuggly into the enclosure. See the enclosure sitting next to the heat gun.

Note: I'm glad that I had three funnels. I over heated one and totally screwed it up by melting it into a shriveled mass (they are cheap plastic after all). Had to go with my last choice one (size was better with the other two.) Plus, it took a little more effort to make things work out correctly.

Heat Gun Side Bar:
I Use a heat gun for a lot the shaping and molding of plastic for my vivarium setups. They are indispensable for spot heating to bend PVC pipe, CPVC pipe (coming up in posts soon) as well as for shaping funnels. 20 years ago I bought a real good heat gun for work, for almost $100. Now you can get a halfway decent one for $13 – $15 at harbor freight. The HF Heat Gun in the above photo replaced the $90 one that died a while ago. The HF tool it has done a fine job so far. Sounds like I buy a lot at Harbor Freight (I only buy tools there that I will not be using heavily, ie everyday. If you go in with that mindset you will likely be fine most of the time, but not always. I’ve had a few from them that died the same day of purchase.

Computer Fan Enclosure
Made the second half of the enclosure (from the third funnel) exactly like I made the first accept that this one needs to fit around the first enclosure as a water shield.

Before you seal the fan up with silicone, plug it in to a 6 - 12 volt DC power supply. You want to make sure that the fan is pushing in the right direction. I wanted the fan to blow in the upward direction while having water shed off the outside of the enclosure, (in the wrong direction water would sit in a trough of silicone, looking for a way to get inside to the computer fan.

Side Note:
Computer fans can run on varying voltage levels. A 12 volt fan will move the most air at 12 volts, but it will also be the noisiest at that level. They easily run on less voltage and the slower that it can run while getting eliminating the condensation the quieter the fan will be.

Fitting the 1 inch Tubing

Preparing the Couplings For Tank Life

Shown are two 45 degree 1 inch couplings.

1. I prepped one of the fittings for paint by sanding the interior of the visually exposed fitting so that it will hold the paint better. Blew and wiped out the sanding dust. I then spray painted the interior of that fitting black. This makes the fitting, less visible, more muted and much more natural.

2. After the paint is dry, both fittings have a ring of silicone and a piece of screen installed and pressed down onto the fitting’s head. This keeps frogs from exposure to the fan blades.

3. When the silicone is dry, trim the screen to fit tight to the fitting.

4. The fan housing is siliconed in to prevent moisture infiltration.

Entire Fan Assembly

1. Installed and siliconed in the 1 inch legs to the housing.

2. The 90 degree fitting will not be glued. This will allow adjustments to the blowing direction.

3. The upper half will be foamed to allow it to blend and look natural.

Fan Unit is Foamed Into Place.
Upper View

Lower View


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Better Photo of Chase / Gravel Imbedded Into Colored Foam

I found a better shot of the plumbing / electrical chase. This will be a permanent link from the back of the Appliance Chamber (I just came up with the name) to the tanks living area. Down the road when I install the water lines for the mister and rain heads I just feed them up the chase. If I ever have to repair anything or add anything, (a 2nd computer fan to blow on the plants for for orchids for example) its easy to do without having to tear anything apart. A soft foam plug from an old fruit fly bottle will keep the frogs out.

This is also a better photo of how well the gravel bonds to the surface of the colored foam. Bark dust sprinkled onto vines covered with foam would be another experiment I would like to try.

Dave Calkins


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Sorry guys, but I need a little feedback.

Since I shifted the post to a new threads which would allow me to repost the missing photos in order, I haven't heard hardly anything from anyone. Is any of this information valuable to you? This has been a bit of work to document, a labor of love yes, but if people aren't interested, I could just finish my tank and get on with it.

I thought that the ability to make foam any color that you want was something that most folks would want to know about.

Maybe I'm putting too much detail into it and it is ends up being a little to overwhelming to wade through. I don't know.

I have looked at a lot of the "tutorials" on the board and else-where, and while some of them are really good, I find that most don't document how they did things very well.

Maybe I'm getting a little burned out trying to document the whole tank, from design to completion. I'll be happy to continue if you think that it is worth the effort.

So, please, if you want me to continue, please let me know.


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Using Colored Foam To Install A Waterfall On Glass

Layout / Prep

Laid out where I wanted the waterfalls to fit
The orientation of water flow

1. Had to remove a blob of foam from where a support grid will be installed.

2. Position the tank on its back / side / top (another advantage of cutting a hole in the back you can pour onto a upside down surface), That you can pour / squeegee the foam into place.

3. To get the correct foam Expansion / Strength / Consistency / etc. we need to mix equal part of A & B. Therefore, using an erasable overhead marker, I made fill marks on the table. That way I can quickly by eye mark the fill lines on the outside of the mixing containers. I use the same marker on the sides of the cup to give my proper fill lines.

4. I mark out a bunch of cups at a time to save time.

Shaped and Installing The Support Structure

1. Used a heat gun to bend the CPVC so that it fit tight to the wall / glass. After heating the ends of the pipe, squeezed the ends flat with a pliers. creates more surface area to bond / fits flatter against glass / wall.

2. Covered pump with plastic.

Foamed In screen to glass

1. I didn’t spot glue the screen to the glass because the hot glue would show on the exterior of the tank. The colored foam showing through to the outside of the tank looks like fine.

2. Spot hot glued screen to pipe and back wall

3. Pushed plastic bags up to the screen with a layer of saran wrap between the bags and the screen.

4. Then started to foam the screen in. Took a couple of pours.

5. I did find that letting the foam start to expand before pouring it into the screen seems to help keep the foam from pouring though the screen as much.



562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

Several People have sent me a note saying that they couldn't get any of the the photos. Turns out the some folks were not logged in, but where browsing in "guest mode". The only way to view all of the photos is to be registered and logged in.

Hope that helps

841 Posts
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

This is a great guide! I love all of the new and interesting devices you're using, it's always beneficial to the hobby when someone takes a chance and tries something new, and succeeds. I appreciate you taking the time to make this to help us out and share this information with us.

Can you post a pic of a finished tank using that foam? Thanks again.

562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

This is a great guide! I love all of the new and interesting devices you're using, it's always beneficial to the hobby when someone takes a chance and tries something new, and succeeds. I appreciate you taking the time to make this to help us out and share this information with us.

Can you post a pic of a finished tank using that foam? Thanks again.
As I shared at the beginning this is the first tank that I have done and it is a work in process. I showed the foam to a number of friends at Northwest Frog Fest and was encouraged to post about the entire process here as quickly as I could. I have taken a hiatus on working on the tank while I journal about the process.

Waterfalls are totally foam rock. Not Complete Yet


562 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

The Mixing Process Of Making Colored Foam

Mixing Tempera Paint To Get Rock Colors

Measuring and adding colors to the cup.

Preping For The Pour

Tints Mixed
Part B ready
Part A ready
I don’t mix the tints into a separate cup anymore. I found that it was just an extra step that didn’t make a difference in the final product. Now I just add the tints directly to part B.

Mixing The Tints Into Part B

1. After all of the tints are added to part B,
2. Tints are completely mixed into part B.
3. Part A stands ready for final Mix.

Chemically, there is no difference between whether you mix the tints into part A or into part B. After parts A and B are completely mixed together the foam will turn out just about the same either way.

There are two reasons that I chose to mix the tints into part B rather than into part A.
1. Part B is a lighter colored substance than is part A. Therefore, the tints are easier to see within the mix. It allows me to make sure that the pigments are completely distributed throughout the mixture. (If you look carefully at some of the samples that I posted earlier, you can see bits of blue that didn't get completely blended.)

2. When you are mixing part A into part B, the fact that part A is darker, means that it it is easier to see any left over part A that is still needs to be pushed into cup B.​

In essence, I do this to try and help with quality control.

Secondary Note:
These products can sit like this, separate / tinted / ready to go, for some time. There is no detriment to the pour even if you need to wait for a half and hour while you finish any site prep such as spot gluing the screening into place, or you need to make more cardboard spreaders, or you get called down for dinner (Yes, go on, eat dinner with them. They do like to see more of you than the back of your head as you stare incessantly at the tank muttering under your breath, "Wow, that colored foam sure makes a great looking rock". See, I do know you pretty well, don't I) :p Anyway, you have plenty of time so there is really no need for urgency or speed, that is until the point where you start mixing part A together with part B. Only then does the clock start ticking. Only at that point will you need to start to hustle. But on the other hand, if you don’t get all of the foam used by the time that the foam has fully kicked, so what. You are mixing small batches at a time for a lot of this stuff anyways, so it doesn’t really matter if you throw away a small cup of full of expanded foam now and then. Oh yah, I forgot, you're as cheap as I am and you want to get every last drop of foam put into place. So get over it already....

Starting The Final Mix
Staged shot

1. Pouring part A into part B.

2. Scrape as much tint off of the mixing stick as you can before you start pouring and scraping cup A into cup B.

3. Pour and scrape A into B as quickly as you can, before you start mixing the two. This gives you a little more working time.

4. After mixing, Pour the foam into the areas to be foamed ASAP, unless you are pouring onto an open screen. If that is the case I have found that it is best to let the foam begin expanding a little before you begin the pour. That way it doesn't drain right through the screen.

5. Use a piece of cardboard to squeegee the foam into place, covering / filling the screen. By squeegeeing over the screen, you are forcing a bit of the foam down through the screen creating a keyway which locks the foam to the screen as well as it locks the screen into a set position.

Check To Make Sure Waterfall Layout Still Works

I am checking to make sure that expanding foam did not change the shape / layout needed for the plumbing.

Yup, it fits good.

(Next Section will deal with waterfall plumbing design.)

Pour Underneath Waterfall

  • Turn the tank either on its side or upside down in order to make it easier to foam the bottom of the waterfall shelf.
  • No tint added to this foam because this will be cover, can I have go my formulas for the rock of this tank, these areas will be covered.
  • I have noticed that I have not had an issue with film sticking to the foam in quite a while.

Pour Of Waterfall Shelf From Above



536 Posts
Re: Detailed Journal / Colored Foam / Tank Rear Access / Artificial Vines & Stumps

I have been diligently following along. Its great detail and good reading. I think a full tank shot could help too, kinda give us an idea of where things are taking place ?
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