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post #1 of (permalink) Old 04-20-2009, 07:18 PM Thread Starter
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75G FISH TANK STAND- My first ever cabinet built (thread is a 56K killer)

75g Fish tank stand

What I have typed below is kind of a journal&manual of a fish tank stand I recently built. Design and technical side of this project are mix of my own thoughts and great projects of other people on this forum. However, I am not a professional cabinet-maker so my advices and comments may be..., well, let's say I could be wrong on couple of things and methods I used. If someone has more experience in cabinet-making and would like to correct me or add his/her $0.02, you're very welcome to do so. I would like to thank one person especially- Butasca and his great journal [] on which I've got inspiration to build mine.
Note: I apologize for my English, it is my second language and I am still not very good at it. And I hope you get along my crappy sense of humor.

ANY CORRECTIONS ARE VERY WELCOMED! Just PM or post a reply. Thank you in advance.


The idea of making a DIY stand came to me after I saw some commercially built stands at local LFS- I didn't like the craftsmanship nor the quality of finish on any of them. Since I didn't have a garage or a shop to work in, it was a hard decision to make. I ended up making it in living room of our rented apartment
This aquarium stand was my first-ever woodworking project, but let's say I know basic things about wood from my work and I know my tools. Anyway, now that I have it standing in my living room, I am quite proud of what I made, but I wish it was my second-ever project, as that would save me some nerves and time.
Price-wise, I didn't save much, but when you exclude price of tools I've been missing and I had to buy, that kind of furniture would cost me an arm and leg if I got it custom-made.
And one more thing- the stand I built is over-engineered of course, but find one damn DIY 'fish cabinet' that isn't!
OK, I know this story is too long and probably you're bored to death, so let's start from the beginning.

Chapter I- Stand frame

Stand base is based greatly on what Butasca invented, so now he can sue me for stealing his ideas I made some changes and improvements here and there, but the basic construction is nothing more than what many people on this forum made before me.
Before you start the frame, draw a 'blueprint' of it and calculate necessary measurements, so you won't end up with not enough/too much 2x4's

Materials needed:
- 2x4 studs- don't rush here, choose the most expensive ones (which will be cheap anyway, I paid a little over $2/piece for mine) and take only those that are straight as hell I used six 8' pieces, but it all depends on footprint of your tank (man, I want to go to Florida- I'm sorry, but I had to type this cause I was thinking of the blue water of the coral reefs- I NEED vacation)- this frame will work for smaller and larger tanks as well IMO
- 3 inch wood screws
- wood glue- don't be cheap here, buy the strongest one and read the label- it has to be water-proof; and buy that larger bottle, so you won't end up going to home despot in most inappropriate moment as I did
- dowels and doweling kit for the drill- that's what I was missing here so I used bolts instead, but that's later; if you can get a biscuit joiner, that would be your best bet
- cedar wood shims- if you mess-up somewhere as I did, they're there to help
Tools needed:

- measuring tape, square, pencil... come on, you know it
- 2- and 4- feet level or at least the 2 foot one
- clamps- they are a-must- don't even try to build any piece of furniture without them, cause you're gonna fail- OK, you've been warned (no, you really need them); and worst- you need a lot of them, I used 2x36”, 6x12” and 4x6” ones and that felt like not enough for me
- drill/driver (preferably cordless)
- miter saw- that is the second thing you must have- I borrowed it from a friend of mine
- jigsaw- to cut those notches in legs

OK, so basically it is all about making all equal and straight. If you calculated height of your stand, be prepared to make some adjustments- cutting wood with miter saw is an easy task, but to make all legs equal, you'll probably have to cut those -sixteen of an inch here and there

Next, glue leg’s parts together and clamp for at least 30 minute or according to the label on your wood glue. I left them for an hour just to be sure they're holding well. I was amazed of wood glue strength- I experimentally glued two leftover pieces of 2x4 together and when I tried to separate them I ripped a piece of one 2x4 rather than separate them on the seams. Tough stuff, I'm telling you.

Then it's time to build the bottom and top of the frame, screw everything together and attach legs to it (see pictures). When you screw your frame, DO DRILL PILOT HOLES- when screw is going deeper into wood it pushes wood chips sideways making the beam crack.

And that's what I used instead of dowels- I know I probably didn't need them at all, but what the hell, I'm going to sleep better after I finally fill my tank with water

I've had some 2x4 pieces left so I screwed&glued them to the sides making this heavy bastard even heavier.
And so you have it- after a couple of bee... orange juices and some hammer and drill throws I had a skeleton of what would be my stand.
Tools look-up:

Chapter II-Trim work

Materials needed
- 1/2” or 3/4” cabinet quality plywood of your choice (keep reading)
- wood glue (the same one you used for frame-you don't have any left? I told you to buy the large one)
- finish nails

Tools needed:

-again, clamps, even more of them than before
-table saw or place where you can cut your plywood
-miter saw (sometimes called chopsaw as it is easy to chop your hand off with it-man, my jokes are so lame that I have to type them to laugh at myself later)
-jigsaw for shelves
-hammer and nail punch
-if you have one, compressor and nail gun easily replaces hammer (and you won't end like Homer did when he tried to repair his roof in the simpsons movie; speaking of, one thing just came into my mind- when you finish your project do yourself a favor and order this t-shirt)

Of course I have one already.
To start your trim work, you have to get the plywood cut. I knew that my local Loze's cutting center's guy doesn't care and he's gonna suck at cutting it (and I was right) so I let him cut only sides, top and bottom pieces and left the rest to myself (I had cut the front pieces at work with a skillsaw and edge guide). As you’ll see in pictures he even messed up the top piece size so now it doesn’t cover the side ones. However, a fish tank will be on top so no worries
I bought 3/4” plywood only because 1/2” sheets were scratched and twisted , but 1/2” is all you need IMO.
Wood choice is your decision- I've chosen oak because I've planned to stain it dark color and I knew oak is among the easiest wood to stain. I like the grain pattern, too.
Other choices could be for example maple, which is a little bit harder to stain, birch or cherry, which is the most expensive of those three (don't you stain cherrywood, you're killing the natural beauty of it)
Funny thing happened when I was buying plywood- since my lobze's don't charge for cuts, the guy that cut it didn't give me any receipt. So I took an additional smaller piece for the back (which I never used, cause I left the back open for easiest access to hoses and cords, and to let me clean behind the stand ) and went to the cashier. The stupid saleperson scanned only the small one (even that I told him I cut the plywood and the barcode has to be on one of the pieces, but he responded rudely 'I know!') So I ended up with free 8x4' sheet of plywood worth over $50. Good, goood

Anyway, when you have the plywood cut to size you can start gluing/nailing it to the frame using all the clamps you borrowed from your neighbors. That's how it looks like

Only moldings and trim accents left. For 'crown' molding and baseboard, I used oak boards to match the plywood. I think they look good and are cheaper than those fancy-looking moldings made of cheap wood. To cover plywood edges at corners, I used thin oak boards (see pictures)

When it came to install moldings and accents I relied only on glue 'cause I didn't want to fill all those holes with wood filler. To cut angles in those boards, miter saw comes handy (I can’t imagine cutting them without it). All plywood pieces were nailed of course. Again, drill pilot holes before nailing (this doesn't apply if you have a nail gun). I used those corner covers so I nailed the thing at the edges and I ended up with less visible holes.
What? You used nailgun and cut the time of nailing by 99%. You bastard
Finally, I cut and glued those two square accents and that zig-zag molding.
The not-so final product shouldn't look anything like this

Another bottle of orange juice opened, and that pleasant “psssst” sound...

CHAPTER III Sanding&staining

This is the part when you can't screw things up. Staining is permanent and it is extremely hard to undo this procedure. So think about the color you want twice before staining. It is hard to even darken the stain (I had this problem, I explain later) as the first coat is the only one that will penetrate the wood.

Materials needed:
-wood stain (oil-based or water-based, please read on)
-sandpaper, grain 120 or 150 and 220, 320 optional but not necessary
-mineral spirits
-wood filler

Tools needed:
-vacuum (shop vacuum works best here)
-staining sponge or cloth
-tack cloth
-putty knives
-wire brush made especially for sanding

OK, first we need to fill all those holes we've made.

If you're planning to stain your stand, here's a little trick- mix stain with wood filler (I think it works only on oil-based stains, but I can't be wrong), that way nail holes become almost invinsible after you stain the whole thing.

Wait about an hour or so after filling the holes and seams and sand the whole thing with either 120 or 150 grit sandpaper. Sanding is a crucial thing to do, as it allows the stain or sealer to penetrate deeper yet evenly. Always sand with grains to avoid scratches. And believe it or not, you own hand is the best tool to do that. You don't have to use a lot of pressure when sanding, just enough to smooth out the surface and get rid of any imperfections in the wood.

For those tight places I recommend this brush I mentioned before (also, a staining pad in the picture, for reference)

It makes things easier and surprisingly, I doesn't leave scratches.
Sanding is painful process, but rush is your enemy here.
After sanding the whole thing with 150 sandpaper, vacuum the stand. You can wipe it too, but that's not absolutely necessary, as it has to be sanded at least one more time.
The next step is 220 grit sandpaper. The point is to sand gradually, increasing the grit of sandpaper. I did it like that

sanding sponge 120 grit-->sandpaper 150-->sandpaper 220

Vacuum before each approach. After final sanding, time has come to prepare your stand for staining. Again, vacuum the whole thing precisely, wipe it with clean cloth and I suggest wiping it again with either a cloth soaked in mineral spirits or with tack-cloth (a sticky, treated cheese cloth made especially to wipe-off dust from furniture before applying finishes- if you want to read more about history and process of making a tack cloth, google it god damn it)OK, here’s a picture of it.

It's the yellow one
A little bit about the stain- your choice is limited here to oil-based, water based and gel stains. Oil-based ones are easiest to apply and that should be your choice in most situations IMO. I cannot comment on water-based stains as I've never used one, but from what I heard and read they penetrate wood deeper and of course they don't stink as oil-based do. However, I also read that it is harder to stain with them. Gel stains can be applied over a protective finish such as polyurethane and that's what they are mainly used for. There are also 'stain-polyurethane in one step' mixes, I think I could have used them to darken the color of my stand.
Anyway, I used oil-based stain and I am happy with my choice so far.

OK, furniture ready to stain. It can be applied with clean cloth, brush or staining sponge. I tried all those methods and using sponge gave me best results. Basically, staining sponge is a regular sponge wrapped in cheese cloth. One little advice, don't buy the ones HD sells, they're rubbish. I bought mine at aLone's (their own brand I think) and I have to say they are great. (see picture).
Test stain on leftover piece, see if you like it

and well,, start applying stain to your stand. Wipe or brush-on along the grain, just like with sanding.
That's me staining.

After a couple of minutes (according to the label you didn't read) wipe-off excess and wait at least a day before applying finish. One coat of stain is enough cause another one would not soak into wood at all.

I used a risky method of leaving the stain and not wiping it off, because I liked the way it looked. If you do that (but again, it is not a recommended by professionals) allow extra dry-time. Mine took about 24h to dry.


There are so many finishes available it is easy to get confused. The ones I know of are Danish oil, boiled linseed oil (or the classic one), tungoil, laquer, shellac and polyurethane.

Satin Poly was a choice of mine, even that I don't like the plastic look of it. Simply, it is the strongest, most scratch and waterproof finish available. And it's going to be a freakin' fish tank stand, no? Aquarium+ me messing with it= a lot of water on the furniture. The equation is simple.
As there are many finish choices, there are many ways to apply them and I experimented with some of them- brush and foam roller painting, spraypainting and wiping it on.
I read that if stain wasn't wiped off it's a good idea to spraypaint the first coat to avoid mixing stain with poly. Oh my, DON'T do that! Fumes will kill you. I started spraying the top part and after 15 seconds I wasn't sure if I am targeting the stand or the wall. I've never seen such a fog from spray.
So I bought regular polyurethane (poly is available in gloss, semi-gloss and satin BTW), painted first two coats with a premium quality brush (I used foam roller at beginning, but it leaves too many air bubbles and I was afraid some of them won't disappear) Remember to lightly sand your stand after stain and before each coat with 220 or 320 grit sandpaper or steel wool (not recommended if you used water based stain and poly, because steel particles stuck in the wood pores will rust)

Also, vacuum and wipe-off dust before each coat. That's how I did it:

320 grit sandpaper-->vacuum-->wipe off dust with clean rag soaked in mineral spirits-->wipe with tack cloth

After two coats I wasn't fully satisfied with results- finish appeared uneven and too much dust dried in poly. So, I bought a small can of wipe-on poly for $8, came home and read on one woodworking forum that wipe-on poly can by made by simply thin regular poly with mineral spirits at 50/50 proportions. Stupid me, I didn't read before I rushed to the store.
Wiping on poly gave amazing results. Surface looked very good and all the dust were gone. Remember that one coat of regular poly equals about 3 of wipe-on one. So I did 2 coats of regular poly qnd 4 coats of wipe-on letting it dry for 24h between coats. I could do 2 more coats but I was already exhausted of the whole project.
So you have it. DIY fish tank stand. But you ask- where the heck are the doors? Don't worry, I covered that tooMeanwhile, picture of my RAMs guarding eggs to confuse you.

Chapter IV -Doors

I have to admit, I cheated when it came to doors.
I already ran out of steam so I was glad I didn’t have to make them.
Well, you see, I found doors to my cabinet in the garbage. They are taken from a very old kitchen cabinet. They are all oak and that’s why I took them home.
I was skeptical at that time, but I took the risk and calculated openings especially for them. I thought 'If they're not good, I'll build new ones myself.
A lot of work awaited me. First, I needed to buy paint stripper and I stripped as much paint as I could (using a scraper and steel wool)
and then sanded and sanded and sanded 'till my arm hurt me so much I couldn't hold a bottle of bee...sooooda. Anyway, I finally took off that old paint and had bare wood.

I used the same staining and finishing techniques as before, so not much to write here. I liked the final effect a lot, so it was a good idea to take them from trash.
I installed this pair of doors using new hinges and I've put new handles as well. Oh, and that rubber doorstops.

That's about it. Not so bad, huh?

It took me two weeks to build this stand (I worked 2-3 hours/day after work). The total cost is hard to calculate for me right now, but if you insist, I'll try to sum it up.
As you see in pictures, I put no shelves inside my stand. You know, two filters, 20# CO2 cylinder and other equipment will go inside, so I don't know if any shelf will fit. We'll see...
I recently installed LED lights inside the stand, I'll maybe make an update in the future.
Those of you who hanged on to the end of this post, congratulations! Now all I want to read are your positive comments such as: 'What the $%^(*& is this?', 'What a miserable approach of building a stand you made there' or 'Thanks god you didn't build canopy too, at least few trees are safe'
I think you get it... Thanks for all your comments, fell free to ask and correct my English and my mistakes.
Oh, one more thing I know your going to ask sooner or later (of course if this thread will gain any interest:P), no, I am not planning to make canopy to match the stand. I'd like the idea of open top aquarium and it feels like it's harder to work on covered tanks, isn't it?

Now all that's left for me is to grab some RAOKS from you guys, and fill my aquarium with water.
I am thinking of starting a journal of my 75g when I fill it, we'll see.


Enjoy. Drive safely. Drink responsibly. Stay cool

OK, I'm done. Sort of.... I need a dri... a glass of milk- it's good for my bones, you know...


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