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the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:26 PM

My 300g paludarium journal (56k warning!)
I've been working on this project for several months now and have finally gotten to the planting stage, so I thought it was appropriate to start a journal and solicit some feedback and advice from the plant gurus.

The overall tank is around 60'L X 28'W X 40'T with about 14" of water in the bottom (about 100g) and sliding glass doors that allow access to the upper, emersed section.

The entire setup was a DIY build. There were a bunch of hiccups along the way and it was definitely a learning experience. I'll post an abbreviated build thread to get everyone up to speed.

Let me start off by summarizing the stand build. I was going for a sleek, ADA-ish look, but I like the appearance of wood grain so I built it out of birch plywood, since it was easily available.

I reinforced the sides with 1X4s

and used doubled-up 1X4s for legs

Here's the initial assembly

I finished the outside with a coat of "golden pecan" stain followed by 3 coats of polyurethane and painted the inside with 2 coats of kilz and a topcoat of white latex paint.

I mounted the doors with no-bore concealed hinges. Here's a shot of the final assembly (the doors weren't actually mounted in this pic). I ultimately added some spring latches and some small whistle pulls.

OoglyBoogly 11-03-2010 05:33 PM

Oo I look forward to seeing the progress and more pics! Any idea on what you plan on stocking it with or what you would like it to look like? I've seen a lot of people sketch out a picture of what they would like to look at and then basically fill in the blanks that are not only what would grow to fullfill their vision but also what kind of equipment is needed to facilitate the growth.

the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:34 PM

Now for the tank itself. I 3/4" birch plywood with a mitered corner design. It provided a sleek look, but I do not recommend using a mitered corner design like this. The joint lacks structural strength and it's very hard to get everything to line up. That being said, I decided to make the best of what I had and modified the edges to create sort of a haunched miter. This would offer a better supported joint with a much larger gluing surface. Here's the plan for how I hoped the edges would fit together.

I began by epoxying and screwing some 3/4" strips of plywood to the edges of all the pieces. When I first started out I was using just regular West System 105/206 (one coat to saturate the wood and a second coat for excess glue). As the build progressed I started to thicken the second coat with Cabosil and I highly recommend doing this. The thickened epoxy doesn't squeeze out as much and lets you load the joint with more glue.

Next I applied a coating of epoxy to all the joints (first a regular coat to saturate the wood, followed by a second layer of epoxy thickened with Cabosil) and screwed them together with 1.25" and 2" wood screws as shown in the diagram above.

Here's a closeup of the joints to show how they fit together. There's a screw every 2" but they're spaced in an alternating pattern. I used clamps to hold the sides together while driving in the screws. As expected, the mitered part of the joints didn't fit together quite as perfectly as I'd hoped leaving a bit of a gap on the back edges where I couldn't produce much clamping pressure. I solved this by injecting epoxy resin into all the gaps to produce a solid, epoxy-filled joint.

For bracing around the top edge I installed some strips of 3/4" plywood. The back and left side are just 3". The front and right side are 4" wide and I used a coping saw to make cutouts for future fan access. I attached the strips with Titebond III and pocket hole screws. This is really strong - I did a set of dips supporting myself just on the bracing and it didn't budge (though I admittedly don't weight very much)! I ultimately also added an additional 3" center brace across the middle.

Here's the tank flipped over and the bottom bracing installed. Here I used 1X3 poplar strips, epoxied and pocket hole screwed like the top. The difference here is that the strips were attached 3/4" away from the edge, so that once the 3/4" plywood bottom panel is installed it will be flush with the bottom edge of the sides. You can see the bottom panel leaning against the wall in the background, pocket holes drilled and ready to be installed.

Here's the bottom installed

The bottom is glued to the sides and to the lower bracing with thickened epoxy. It is also screwed into the bottom bracing with screws every 2" and also screwed to the sides with pocket holes (staggered relative to the pocket holes in the bottom bracing). I filled all remaining screw holes and gaps in the bottom with wood putty, sanded and them painted with 3 coats of Drylok. Here's how it looks:

the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:40 PM

I installed a fan box around the top front and side of the tank. I'm ultimately installing 50-60mm case fans into the box behind the square openings, which will circulate air up the glass and blow it out into the tank. The air circulation will be healthier for the plants and will hopefully help to keep the viewing planes free from condensation.

the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:47 PM

On to the waterproofing:

Because the tank has minimal bracing I decided to use fiberglass to reinforce the structure of the submerged section. I'd never worked with fiberglass before so, as with everything else about this build, it was a learning experience and I got better as a I went along. Here's how I went about it once I had the whole process figured out.

First I tilted the tank at an angle so that all residual epoxy resin would pool into the seams, deeply penetrating them and effectively creating a fillet. This was a little cumbersome because I had to reposition the tank for every seam, but it worked out very well.

I coated the seams with an initial layer of epoxy to saturate the wood and provide an initial barrier coating. I also dripped a little extra epoxy into the seams to make a slightly thicker fillet.

After this first layer had dried and was no longer tacky, but not completely cured, I layed out a strip of fiberglass cloth into the corner. I just used the cheap, lightweight Elmer's brand cloth from Lowes since I figured it would be adequate for my purposes. The lighweight cloth is pretty easy to work with. I found it made things easier if I took my time to make sure it was cut straight before starting.

Here's the strip wetted out with epoxy. After brushing it on I used the flat end of a stir stick and a gloved finger to really push it into the seams and force out any air bubbles. Make sure to work out the air bubbles while it's wet and you still can. Then I dripped a little extra epoxy on to really get a nice thick layer in the seams.

After waiting a few hours for the epoxy to gel (but not harden) I used my trusty paring knife to trim off the excess cloth to get a nice clean edges. I found that you shouldn't try to trim the cloth before it sets up or you'll pull it out of place and introduce air bubbles. Similarly, if you wait until it's completely cured it becomes too hard and sharp, making it difficult and potentially dangerous to cut. Leave an adequate strip of dry cloth to grip on to and do it when it's tacky and rubbery.

And there you have the reinforced seam which is hopefully completely sealed and will resist the formation of stress fractures.

I had initially planned to just fiberglass the seams and then seal the rest of the tank using Pond Shield epoxy. However, after reading some accounts of people running into some leak issues using Pond Shield I decided to first fiberglass the entire water portion of the tank using West System 105/206 and lightweight Bondo brand fiberglass cloth. I felt that this would provide structural strength and an additional layer of waterproofing. Plus, now that I'd gotten the hang of it, fiberglassing was actually quite enjoyable... almost addictive as observed by my wife If I had more epoxy and fiberglass I'd probably glass the entire interior but I don't want to spend the extra money and I certainly don't think it's necessary.

Anyways, here's a piece of cloth trimmed and layed out

Wetted out with an initial layer of resin. I used a bondo spreader to wet out the cloth and a small brush to do the edges

After it gelled I trimmed of the excess and then applied 2 more coatings with a roller to fill the weave. Here's the tank with the lower half all glassed up. It's almost hard to tell because of how clear it gets!

After the epoxy and fully cured I spent several hours carefully sanding the tank with 60 grit sandpaper. I used a sanding sponge and wet sanded by hand to keep down the dust. This should also help to completely get rid of any amine blush, which can prevent the next layer from adhering. I carefully inspected all the surfaces to make sure there were no glossy areas. I've read the main thing that causes issues with adherence is inadequate surface preparation so I really took my time at this stage to make sure everything was well scuffed up.

Then I applied my Pond Shield. This stuff was a little tricky to work with. It's thick - kind of like honey. As per the instructions, I thinned it out by adding about 8% ethanol which made it a little easier to deal with. I calculated how much I would need to cover each side and then did one side at a time, mixing up only enough epoxy to cover that side. I rotated the tank as I went so that the side I was working on was on the bottom. I think this made it easier to work with. I followed the instructions and first used a bondo spreader to spread it out and cover the entire surface. I then used a roller to evenly cover the surface. I used a cheap polyurethane roller, which I regret now, because some little bits of the roller pulled out and got stuck in the epoxy, leaving some bumps. So lesson learned - use a high quality short nap roller.

Here's the tank with the initial coating.

After I was done there was a bunch of "fish-eyeing" and pinholes in the coating so I had to go back over and patch them with more Pond Shield. At that point the coating looked pretty good under regular room light but when shining a really bright lamp on it I could make out some areas had sagged a bit and the coating was a little thin (I could faintly make out the wood color under the bright light). This probably means I didn't quite get to the recommended 10mil thickness in those areas. I guess this happened because I was thinning it a little with alcohol but I think it would have been really hard to work with unthinned. I scuffed up the areas with 60grit sandpaper and recoated but I was running low on Pond Shield so are probably still some thin areas.

If this was over bare wood I would be a little worried but since I applied the layer of epoxy and fiberglass underneath (which I'm glad I did!) I think it should be ok. There are some thin areas over bare wood in the upper part of the tank but since they're not going to be submerged I don't think it should matter as much since all I really need is a moisture/humidity barrier, not a true watertight coating.

the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:54 PM

I then drilled some 1.5" holes on the back of the tank for 3/4" bulkheads for my closed-loop filtration system. I drilled them a little oversized and then gave them 4-5 coatings of epoxy. They are still a little bit bigger than the bulkheads need so I ended up back-filling them with silicone when I installed the bulkheads to make absolutely sure I get no leaks.

The bottom of the green tape on the back is approximately where the water level will be. The two holes on the right hand side of the pic are for drainage and the one on the left is for the submerged return. There are two more at the top left corner which will feed the dripwall returns but they aren't visible in the pic. The other hole that's slightly higher up on the right hand side will ultimately be connected to a fogger/humidifier.

I then went ahead and put in the glass! I'm using a 3/8" piece for the side window and a 1/2" piece for the front (both of which I ordered from Glass Cages). I installed each pane by pressing it in horizontally and then tipping the tank so the glass was facing down. I stacked a big pile books on top for weight. I only kept the weight on the glass for about 24hrs and then turned the tank back upright - I hope that was enough time. I used a lot of silicone (about 2 full tubes of GE-I per pane) which resulted in a bunch that was squeezed out and had to be cleaned up later. The seal looks pretty good.

the_deeb 11-03-2010 05:55 PM

Ok, I need to get back to work so that's it for now - I'll post some more updates soon.

OoglyBoogly 11-03-2010 06:38 PM


Originally Posted by the_deeb (Post 1194539)
Ok, I need to get back to work so that's it for now - I'll post some more updates soon.

Whoa @ using pond shield the way you did. What a novel and interesting idea. I like it! Are you just posting the process of a finished product and are taking a break or is your last post of pics where you are currently at with the build? I can't wait to see the finished product! This is something I've always wanted. It's like the literal next step from a mini ecosystem. I built a goldfish pond outdoors with glass blocks in the rock for viewing the fish that I use in conjunction with aquaponics which is the closest that I've come to using water for fish and growing plants (for looks and eating). I covered the rocks with terrestial mosses and tweaked the flow of water all over the slate rocks used in the waterfall so that there is a very slow flow of water that keeps the moss moist. I see all sorts of fauna landing on the moss for a drink of water from birds, bees, wasps, dragonflies etc... Anyways it's my cosntant ongoing project in a temperate climate where winter corrects any overzealous effort that I have for growing something where it shouldn't be.

ylot77 11-03-2010 06:50 PM

Wow, you've included some incredible detail. I've been thinking for years that I wanted to do this. You just may push me in that direction. I hope you talk about your plumbing stuff in as much detail.

jwm5 11-03-2010 07:44 PM

very nice should be a fun build to watch, I love to see the home made tanks builds.

and a big palladium would be awesome to have,

shane3fan 11-03-2010 08:07 PM

Cool,I have a similar build in mind-just on a smaller scale-what kind of critters do you plan to have?

the_deeb 11-04-2010 12:31 AM

Thanks guys.

@ OoglyBoogly: The tank is already up and running (but not completely stocked or planted). It's just taking me a while to get everything uploaded. Your idea of a complete ecosystem was exactly what I'm going for with this build.

@ ylot77: I'm glad you appreciate the details. I've definitely learned a lot from this build and hope that some of this may be useful to others. I think the plumbing is reasonably straightforward in comparison to some of the other builds that I've seen on this site, but I'll certainly post about it in detail.

@ shane3fan: I'm still not entirely sure of inhabitants yet. I'm thinking of leaving the emersed part empty for now until the plants really establish. I was hoping to ultimately get some dart frogs, but I don't want to deal with breeding fruit flies in my current apartment. For the water portion, I've got a bunch of clown loaches that I'm in the process of moving in and I may get some other smaller loach species (eg. kubotai). Not yet sure of other inhabitants.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Green Leaf Aquariums 11-04-2010 12:55 AM

Another DIY jedi:) Well done sir...

macclellan 11-04-2010 01:28 AM


kwheeler91 11-04-2010 02:07 AM

Two thumbs way way up :)

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