Thoughts on DIY tank bottom with terra-cotta/natural clay?
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Old 07-31-2013, 02:48 AM   #1
AquaAurora
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Thoughts on DIY tank bottom with terra-cotta/natural clay?


So I have a growing leopard sailfin pleco that me and my husband are planning a large DIY tank for. Our first DIY to tackle is making the bottom look like a nice natural stone or claw bottom. Current experience shows soil and gravel substrate to be a pain to get poop out of (my husband has a brilliant plan for a fully DIY suction/filter that I won't get into ATM). Originally we were going to purchase a custom cut piece of stone (possibly slate or river stone) to cover the entire bottom of the tank, but that would be a bit expensive and after reading about making caves from clay for aquariums I wondered:

Can we hand make a unglazed (kiln fried/oven baked) clay bottom for the tank?

I read that as long as you use natural clay that's not loaded with bad minerals it can be aquarium safe. I want to go with unglazed because its ultimately for a pleco and I don't want him rasping a glaze off (even if fish safe).

This would be for a 48x24 tank bottom.. Though if it can be successfully made we might make the tank even larger (can't get larger if we went with a solid stone bottom). If reading didn't make it clear, this is for a freshwater tank.

Can/have people done LARGE DIY aquarium projects in clay?

How long does terra cotta/clay made aquarium decor usually last (in freshwater)?

Am I just being stupid trying to use clay, even if its cooked and hardened, and will end up with a pleco ripping it up and turning the tank into floating clay mess?


Thoughts, personal experience, or pointers to other sites for helpful info would be great.

We'd love to make the bottom of clay to allow us to completely customize integrating other things like a cave, away to hold driftwood in place with ridges and grooved, and even make planters for some plants that'd blend into the bottom.
Thanks for reading.
EDIT: to clarify there would be a glass bottom the clay bottom would be an insert/built and sealed against the bottom glass.

Last edited by AquaAurora; 07-31-2013 at 02:52 AM.. Reason: Clarification
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Old 07-31-2013, 11:56 PM   #2
lochaber
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I don't really see why you couldn't do it. Main issue I can think of is getting a piece that big (need a really big kiln), and getting it fired without cracking/warping. About the glaze, I'm doubtful it would get rasped off, it's basically a thin layer of glass on the clay, if the rasping doesn't visibly scratch glass aqurium sides, I don't think it would have any affect on pottery glaze. But I think unglazed would probably look better, and be better for growing algae/moss.

You might have more luck going with making a bottom out of concrete and sealing it, or using the same method people use for backgrounds, and just stick it on the bottom of the tank.

I'm really fond of the stryofoam coated with an epoxy/sand mix, but I have no clue how that would hold up long term if something was constantly rasping on it. You may be able to even skip the styrofoam, and just go with a layer of epoxy/sand.

Do you want the entire bottom one piece, or are you willing do do tiles or a mosaic type approach (if you combine it with rocks/driftwood that stick up out of the tank, you could mask the seams fairly easily), and are you looking for a textured/scaped bottom, or just something plain that doesn't look like glass?

If you are willing to do tiles, I'd check out what's available in the local bigbox hardware store, I think they typically carry 18" square tiles, I've seen ceramic, slate, and terracotta (I use the slate to mount driftwood for my tanks).
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Old 08-01-2013, 04:03 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lochaber View Post
I don't really see why you couldn't do it. Main issue I can think of is getting a piece that big (need a really big kiln), and getting it fired without cracking/warping. About the glaze, I'm doubtful it would get rasped off, it's basically a thin layer of glass on the clay, if the rasping doesn't visibly scratch glass aqurium sides, I don't think it would have any affect on pottery glaze. But I think unglazed would probably look better, and be better for growing algae/moss.

You might have more luck going with making a bottom out of concrete and sealing it, or using the same method people use for backgrounds, and just stick it on the bottom of the tank.

I'm really fond of the stryofoam coated with an epoxy/sand mix, but I have no clue how that would hold up long term if something was constantly rasping on it. You may be able to even skip the styrofoam, and just go with a layer of epoxy/sand.

Do you want the entire bottom one piece, or are you willing do do tiles or a mosaic type approach (if you combine it with rocks/driftwood that stick up out of the tank, you could mask the seams fairly easily), and are you looking for a textured/scaped bottom, or just something plain that doesn't look like glass?

If you are willing to do tiles, I'd check out what's available in the local bigbox hardware store, I think they typically carry 18" square tiles, I've seen ceramic, slate, and terracotta (I use the slate to mount driftwood for my tanks).

Thank you for the response and mentioned alternatives. We are very wary of using concrete or epoxy. With the concrete I wouldn't trust it not to eventually leech stuff into the water (either from the seal breaking down over time or the pleco rasping it off) our water is already very mineral-ly and has a high Ph, don't need those numbers going up any more. As for epoxy.. I read somethign about a koy breeder loosing $millions in fish from a bad epoxy so that's just got me not wanting to try it. The clay tiles is a nice idea, though not quite the look we're going for.

We wanted to go with clay since its all natural and plecos (at least some species) live in waterways heavy in clay (many burrow into the soft clay banks). As for the finer details, my husband suggested doing the bottom in sections.. mainly make one large piece then cut it into several pieces before it hardens so its got an angled cut and can slide together after firing. We'd like to make somethign that's pretty heavily customized and as natural as possible (aside from the needed aquarium safe sealant). I'd originally started off looking at sculpey polymer clay, but its much more expensive than natural clay (from googling the largest box of sculpey I could find was 24 lbs for nearly $150, natural clay I can get 50 lbs for $24).
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Old 08-01-2013, 08:50 PM   #4
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If you're talking about fired terra cotta that's no problem, I 've done it a lot and have had really good luck with it. Almost any clay will work (assuming it doesn't have any toxic metals in it). Fired to a low temp (kiln-wise). If you make a piece bigger than your kiln, wait for it to dry leather hard, cut into sections and then fire and piece or super glue back together.
If your talking wet unfired clay, that could work if you let it get some what hard and then fill very slowly. Biggest problem is that if you stir up clay particles, they are so tiny it can take a really long time to settle out.
Check out some of my posts as to what I've done.
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Old 08-01-2013, 10:43 PM   #5
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People fish clay wine jugs out of the Mediterranean that's 1000 or so years old. It's pretty much waterproof when fired. We're talking 1000+F, not your oven

Because of the size of the clay you're working with, you might just want to make a shell of clay that's maybe .5 inch thick rather than a slab of clay which takes a long time to dry and fire. Think pottery.
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