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Discussion Starter #1
Since I finally got to work on my 24 x 18 x 18 ExoTerra I picked up off Craigslist, I decided it would be appropriate to start a build log, mainly for my own documentation. I plan to update this periodically as I get components finished, so fair warning it might be a couple months before everything comes together.

To start, here is the tank with some assorted supplies laid out. The first step I wanted to complete was drilling my bulkhead hole for my drainage layer. I purchase the bulkhead kit from NEHERP (along with their background kit and substrate kit) and drilled with a Milwaukee Diamond MAX 1-1/4".
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I first measured out roughly where I wanted to bulkhead—I wanted to keep a little under an inch of standing water in the drainage layer, given that the entire depth would be ~2.5 inches.
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Next, I brought my tank out to the balcony to drill, but I wanted to test my water holding method. I cut a red solo cup and used some plumber's putty to create a water-tight seal around the drill site. You can see here it worked perfect, with no leaks coming out from the cup.
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The drilling itself probably took close to 10 minutes because I wanted to go super slowly. It was also tough to not have the bit walk all over the glass, and I often needed to replace the water in the cup since the suspended glass could make the water quite cloudy. In the end, I was pretty satisfied with the result, as I was only a tad below my target circle.
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My most recent step came Friday night, when I spent a couple hours siliconing the sides of my ExoTerra. Like I mentioned previously, I had purchased the NEHERP background kit, and so I was using ASI Black Silicone. I also opted to add in some egg crate to the background for my Great Stuff to grab into.
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Now the next step is probably the most fun: designing the background! I purchased a bunch of cork bark pieces from a local reptile store, and I got a steal on a ~22" piece of ghostwood (only $10!). I plan to complete that some time this week and will post an update when it's foamed out.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Well you are off to a good start. Sounds like you are having fun. That may be the most important part.
Thank you! I'm definitely enjoying this, and I'm not quite sure why I hadn't set one up earlier in my life. I have always kept fish and grew tropical plants, but never ventured into vivs before.
 

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Very excited to post my first update because I actually foamed up my background. To start, here was the box (and bag) of wood I was working with:
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A little bonus soil as well lol. I won't bore everyone with the progression pictures of the sides, but here is the finished background.
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Honestly the ghostwood piece came out better than I expected—I plan on having the soil to cover the bottom tips so it looks like roots going into the ground. I really love the cork round I have on the left side. I'll be stuffing the end with sphagnum moss so no darts can get inside there, and I will also add some sphagnum to the hole in the middle to get a beautiful bromeliad growing out of there. I'm pretty sure I slanted it enough so water won't collect in there, but will probably drill some tiny holes in the bottom to play it safe. Obviously the foam is extremely thick, so tomorrow's project is sanding/cutting this down a bit and getting the shape I want.

Thanks for reading, and more pics to come!
 

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Some great planning and forethought here, alus. Nice work. I think you will really see it come together when you get the Great Stuff whittled down a bit. I would cut it back as far as you can so that the wood protrudes. The best tool I have found for the job is one of the super crappy plastic knives with the break-away blades - the ones that when the end gets dull, you snap off a section of blade and it's new again. The crappier, the better. I am talking Big Lots or Dollar Store crappy. You can extend the blade completely and just cut big hunks out of Great Stuff. Remember that little imperfections are going to be covered over with silicone or whatever you plan on covering the GS with, so don't sweat the detail on this phase. Good thinking about filling in any holes, too. I like to avoid having places in my tanks that the frogs can get to where I can't get them out. Cork rounds are classics for this problem.

Mark
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Some great planning and forethought here, alus. Nice work. I think you will really see it come together when you get the Great Stuff whittled down a bit. I would cut it back as far as you can so that the wood protrudes. The best tool I have found for the job is one of the super crappy plastic knives with the break-away blades - the ones that when the end gets dull, you snap off a section of blade and it's new again. The crappier, the better. I am talking Big Lots or Dollar Store crappy. You can extend the blade completely and just cut big hunks out of Great Stuff. Remember that little imperfections are going to be covered over with silicone or whatever you plan on covering the GS with, so don't sweat the detail on this phase. Good thinking about filling in any holes, too. I like to avoid having places in my tanks that the frogs can get to where I can't get them out. Cork rounds are classics for this problem.

Mark
Thanks Mark, I appreciate the kind words. After work today I think I'll head to the hobby store and pick up some cheap box cutters. I was testing my regular blade last night but it's painfully slow since it's so short. I did buy a metal brush drill bit at least to give a nice texture once I cut away the excess foam.

Alex
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Alright, tonight's update is pretty cool I think. I took Mark's advice and bought some cheap snap blades, which really made this process much easier. I already had a wire brush bit as well as a hobby knife, both of which I put to good use. Here's the latest on the viv:
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Figured I'd throw my tools in the picture as well. It's a hell of a mess to clean, but I think I carved pretty well; it certainly looks way better than before. Siliconing all of this is going to be a doozy—at least it's the final step before I can add in my bulkhead and substrate, so I'm looking forward to being done with hardscaping.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Spent almost three hours siliconing my background last night. Took me exactly three tubes to get it done, and man was my arm aching, but I'm happy to say I got it finished. Here's the final result:
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Cork round close-up:
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Right side close-up:
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Still vacuuming, but hopefully I can get my bulkhead threaded in and some substrate in the bottom to have the hardscape completely done.
 

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That looks amazing! I’m going for a very similar build when I get my 18x18x24 shortly here. I’ll definitely be looking to you for some tips. Nice work!!!
 

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Spent almost three hours siliconing my background last night. Took me exactly three tubes to get it done, and man was my arm aching, but I'm happy to say I got it finished. Here's the final result:
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Cork round close-up:
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Right side close-up:
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Still vacuuming, but hopefully I can get my bulkhead threaded in and some substrate in the bottom to have the hardscape completely done.
What kind of mix did you use for the background?
 

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Discussion Starter #13
What kind of mix did you use for the background?
Hey thanks for the kind words I appreciate it! As far as the background goes, I purchased this kit from NEHERP, so they took care of all of that. It's a nice mix, just make sure to really press it into the silicone. I actually found it easier to apply the mix on the sides rather than the part that was laying flat. I also purchased their substrate kit and a few other odds and ends. I will say that I used one extra tube of silicone and one extra can of Great Stuff than they provided.
 

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Hey thanks for the kind words I appreciate it! As far as the background goes, I purchased this kit from NEHERP, so they took care of all of that. It's a nice mix, just make sure to really press it into the silicone. I actually found it easier to apply the mix on the sides rather than the part that was laying flat. I also purchased their substrate kit and a few other odds and ends. I will say that I used one extra tube of silicone and one extra can of Great Stuff than they provided.
Awesome! That’s super helpful.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Any recent updates? Curious to see how this build has been going!
Thank you for being invested, I really do appreciate it a lot! I actually left my apartment and spent the past few weeks with family; however, I am headed back to my place this weekend. I will have the soil done after I get back as well as my light hooked up, so in the next few days I should have some more exciting updates to come! I do also need to get my plant order placed, which I will likely post an update about as soon as that's done.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
It's been a couple weeks since I've posted an update, but I can happily say I have finished hardscaping! After getting back to my apartment yesterday, I decided to just finish the whole thing. Just for sense of completeness, here is a pic of my bulkhead threaded in.
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The first (and lengthiest) step was rinsing out my drainage layer. I certainly made a mess in my bath tub... oh well.... but here's how the vivarium looked with some clay aggregate:
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Pretty thick layer! Should have no issues of water sitting in my substrate, considering I also have the bulkhead. After this, I put down my drainage barrier. I made sure to pull up on the sides a bit so it wouldn't sink into the clay and allow soil to get into there.
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One of the most rewarding steps of my build thus far was actually getting the soil into it. I used ABG mix, again from NEHERP, and I went through about 4.5 bags of it. I was at the point where anymore would really start to cover up some of the features in my background. Perhaps my substrate layer was too thick, but live and learn. Anyway, here is the tank with some soil finally:
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The last pic for this update: here is my tank dressed with some leaf litter.
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I really felt like my little forest was almost there after this one. Some more updates to come after I finish up work today. Thanks for keeping up!
 

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I'm excited about my second update today because my viv finally has some inhabitants! I picked up some springtails
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and dwarf whites
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at my local reptile store. Added them to the tank after some religious misting, and they quickly disappeared into the substrate. I will check periodically to make sure the colonies are taking hold.

My other exciting update is that I set up my light. I decided to go with the Finnex Planted+ HLC—a bit of a splurge but I think it's worthwhile. Here are some of the last shots I'll be providing before I post a plant update:
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I'm thinking about doing some vines across the top towards the front just to have something occupy that space, but that can wait for now. As always, thanks for reading. Looking forward to hearing comments as well as providing a plant update hopefully in the next couple weeks.
 

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That’s looking better and better!!! Question about how you mounted the ghost wood - did you wait until the foam was dry and then just stick it in and foam more? Or how did you get it to stay so well while sticking out like that too? Also interested to know your ideas for the lid!
 

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Discussion Starter #20
That’s looking better and better!!! Question about how you mounted the ghost wood - did you wait until the foam was dry and then just stick it in and foam more? Or how did you get it to stay so well while sticking out like that too? Also interested to know your ideas for the lid!
Thanks, Jennifer! I actually took a couple pics of that process but didn't include in this album so far. What I did was crumple some brown paper and stuffed it underneath the ghost wood. I also used a small piece of cork I had laying around to wedge as well. Once I had it at the angle I wanted, I foamed all around the upper part of the wood and the branch to the side. I let that cure for about 15 minutes, then removed the paper and foamed there. After a little while longer I removed the cork I had wedged and finished foaming. I was shocked how quickly and well it held. Here are a couple pics to show what that looked like:
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For my lid, I am using the ExoTerra top, but I purchased the glass inserts from NEHERP to help increase humidity. I am pretty amazed how humid I can get my tank to stay with relatively little hand misting. I do need to poke holes in the mesh screen for my Mist King, which is for another day.
 
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