75g Native Stream Tank w/DIY Foam Rock Wall and Faux Roots - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 01:21 PM Thread Starter
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75g Native Stream Tank w/DIY Foam Rock Wall and Faux Roots

I've posted a few times about my tank piggy backing on someone else's thread, and thought that maybe it would be better to post a journal of this tank.

Concept: This tank represents a simulated river undercut bank using faux roots against a faux DIY rock wall made of styrofoam hobby boards, spray foam, and other inert supplies. The fish and plants will be native U.S. species local to where I live, and will consist of smaller fish, not larger predatory fish. I'll discuss my plan for stocking later. The main plant species will be water stargrass (Heteranthera dubia). The purpose of the faux roots is to hide the large powerhead that will drive most of the tank current, that flows at the front of the tank from left to right, and forms and eddy. The rock wall is for decor, but also to hide my canister filter intake. The canister filter spray bar will also be a the right side of the tank, shooting water over the top of the roots to better simulate (sort of) unidirectional flow.

I've kept native fish before, and loved that tank. But, this is one of my dream tanks, to go all out and make it a nice feature in my home, not just a tank.

Tank, Stand and Equipment: I was given a 75g tank from a family member a few years ago, and bought a cheap iron stand off of Craigslist. He also gave me a Fluval 405 canister filter. Another buddy of mine welded additional support and feet to the stand. I purchased a Hydor Koralia 3G circulation and wave pump to generate current the tank to simulate stream flow. I recently purchased a Fluval Plant 3.0 full spectrum light.

Decor:
I created a faux rock wall using foam boards by cutting the board into to be rock layers, and carved each board separately, and then glued them into place, until I finally had my overall structure. Each foam board was glued into place using Gorilla Glue and secured to the boards underneath using plastic popsicle sticks. After that, I painted the rock wall with Drylok mixed with cement dye. I didn't want to just stack the foam horizontally to get the fireplace look, rather, I wanted the rock layers at an unusual angle, something different. The overall structure is made up of three sections. Each of the sections had gaps behind the foam board, so I fill the gaps with river rock and used spray foam to hold everything into place. Once the structure was completed, I used a ton of silicone to install the three sections, each of which fit tightly to the back wall and aquarium frame. As you all may know, foam floats and can tear away, so the extra silicone may seem like overkill, but, I wanted this to stay in the tank permanently. Once installed, I covered the wall with Polygem 1319 clear coat to protect the foam and make it easier to clean without ruining the finish.

I also created faux roots, using PVC and CPVC pipe, zip ties, plaster wrap for bulk, spray foam, a small piece of foam board, grout and acrylic additive, painted with Drylok mixed with cement dye, and sealed with Polygem 1319 clear coat to seal everything in. Again, the purpose of the roots, other than decor, is to hide equipment as much as possible.

Here is the tank after installing the foam wall and prior to applying the clear coat, and prior to filling.


Where I am today with the build, 3 years in the making: I collected rocks and gravel from local rivers and streams, washed and sifted them, and scaped the tank, then filled the tank with water. This was really a test to see of the rock wall would hold underwater, and if the roots would float or not. After three days, the rock wall is holding up fine so far. I'm going to leave it alone until this weekend. The roots, however, floated just enough that they would block my DIY spray bar flow. So, I'll have to drain the tank half way this weekend, and secure the roots to the structure. I want them removable for tank maintenance and cleaning. By securing them, I can't just lift them out, but, I've figured out a way to secure them temporarily, and easily secured again. More on that later.

I hope you enjoy the tank build thread. Future posts will detail the steps that I took to get here.
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post #2 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 01:39 PM Thread Starter
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Creating the DIY Foam Rock Wall

I started out by creating a frame to which I would glue in small sections of pink styrofoam hobby board that I'd carve and glue in one at a time. At first, I started creating one section, but as I went along, I worked on the other two sections as well. Three sections wall were ultimately needed in order to be able to install the final product.

Frame of the right side section (ultimately, I removed the right panel):


Initially, the frame was held in place using Gorilla Tape and wooden cooking skewers. The skewers worked out great for temporarily holding the carved foam rock layers in place is I worked on subsequent layers.


This pic shows a few layers carved and glued, for the right and middle sections. Each board was attached to the board underneath using Gorilla Glue and secured using plastic popsicle sticks that were glued into place, connecting the upper layer to the ones below it. I had to trim the popsicle sticks, usually, half of one was about the right size. They were easy to cut. You can see the picture of a rock wall that I used for inspiration and as a reference to guide me.


Here's how I worked, from the bottom layers building up, and one section carved next to the other to get a good fit and a look that I wanted. The idea for the joints between the sections was to not make them straight lines, but to simulate fissures as you'd see in a real cliff.


I used a cement block (created as DIY rock and not used in a tank that I had laying around), as a weight to hold glued layers together. This was a pretty heavy cement rock, and it left a texture that I found really cool. So, I used this cement rock to duplicate that texture on each layer. I found other ways to add detail and will show you in future pics:


Here you can see the popsicle sticks that I used. They easily fit into the holds that I punched with the wood skewers. I also used a drill bit sometimes. The Gorilla Glue really bonded to the foam boards and popsicle sticks nicely, making them impossible to separate:


Bump: As I worked up each layer, you can see how I had to angle the popsicle sticks to achieve maximum contact for bonding. I used loose foam boards to support the structure as I carved and glued each layer:


I used a generous amount of glue spread on each layer, using foam scraps to spread it around. I needed weight to add on top of the glued layer to keep the foam from expanding. Gorilla glue does that. A thin layer is all you need:


Obviously, I didn't want can impressions in the top layers of the foam as I went, so, I stacked the cans on rocks, which kept up a natural looking texture on each foam board:


Pushing the concrete and rocks into the foam for texture gave me an idea. I'm an avid fossil collector, so, I thought that perhaps I could simulate fossil rock layers by pressing in shells and other objects into the foam. This shell simulates a bivalve or brachiopod fossil:


I also used coral, springs, and threaded nuts to simulate other fossils by pressing them into the foam boards after I finished carving them:


Here, you can see the resulting detail of some of the faux fossils. Springs bent and pressed into the foam created faux crinoid stem fossils. If you look closely, you can see the effect of the coral and shells pressed into the board as well, creating a faux fossil hash plate:
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post #3 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
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I kept up the process as the work completed from right to left, and bottom to top. Every now and then, I'd fit all three structures into the tank to make sure that they were a good, tight fit:


Comparing my work to my inspiration picture, not perfect, but, similar:


Then, it occurred to me that all this would float, and if not a solid structure throughout, could break up. So, I stuffed the gaps with river rock that I bought at a local chain hardware, and used spray foam to secure them in place. This also helped to secure the carved rock layers to the foam frame that would be later glued to the tank:


Spray foam is messy, so it's wise to use latex or rubber gloves when working with it. After a while, it expands, so I carved the excess away as much as possible. I also punched holes in it to allow the insides to cure properly:


The right and middle sections are shown here carved to make a nice fit and look:


Here, the right and middle sections are mostly done and carved, loosely fitted into the tank:


Here are all three sections fitted into the tank. The third section wasn't complete yet, as I had to build my filter intake:


Bump: At this point, I was curious about gluing it all to the glass. What product would work best to keep this monster wall from tearing away and floating to the top? My concerns with silicone were that, when I tried using it to glue foam boards together, it easily separated. So, I wondered about using Gorilla Glue against the glass vs. silicone. Here, I tested foam boards with silicone vs. Gorilla Glue glued to the glass. Gorilla Glue separated, and the silicone held firmly in place. I had my answer:


I thought this was cool, as I experimented with using a wire brush on the foam. I scraped and hammered the brush to the foam, and produced this test piece. I later incorporated these techniques into the final structure:


Here are a few pictures showing the stand pipe and intake designed to hide my canister filter intake tube. I wanted it accessible and easy to clean. I drilled holes into the large PVC cap, that is not glued in place and is removable. You can also see my initial spray bar design. I will be using a different design, to be constructed soon and shown to you later:




The last carving part of the project was to hide the stand pipe. I painted the piping black, and started building the foam structure around it:
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post #4 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 02:11 PM Thread Starter
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I created a carved foam layer that is removable, so I can access the PVC intake pipe for cleaning and maintenance. I wanted to completely hide the pipe and still be able to get to it, and have it functional:




The third left section is almost done here, hiding the stand pipe:


I had to find a way to secure this piece so it didn't float away and also didn't wiggle in the current. So, I inserted two nylon bushings into a piece of foam, and glued it to the base below the removable section:


On the bottom of the removable carved rock section, I also glued a couple more bushings in place, then carved out the inside to create room for the base in the above pic to fit:


Then, all I do to secure it all in place is to insert one of those plastic popsicle sticks through all four bushings!
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post #5 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 02:25 PM Thread Starter
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When gluing and carving, sometimes things didn't fit flush to the glass, so I had to make some adjustments, to give a nice connection from foam to glass with silicone. Here, on one section, I used Gorilla Glue to add a piece of egg crate, and then carved away the excess:


I also used Gorilla Glue to fill in gaps at the bottom so each structure was flush to the bottom of the tank:


This pic shows all three sections fitted into place into the tank. You can see the joints between the three sections and my attempt to make them look like real cracks in a rock wall. I was pretty happy with it:
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Once I was done carving and fitting each section, it was time to paint. I painted the entire structure with Drylok to cover all surfaces to hide the pink foam. I used Drylok because it's a water tight sealer, and many in the hobby have used it successfully on their DIY foam backgrounds:



I really slapped it on good to get it to seep into every nook, crannie, and hole. Surface tension will prevent the paint from getting into tiny holes, so I had to use the brush to really dab the paint into every nook and cranny:


After that, I mixed Drylok with charcoal color cement dye and applied with a brush a very dark coat. I did this to give the structure depth:



Then, I used sponges to dab on various shades of color to bring out details and highlighting. This is the first light color applied to the entire thing:


one thing that is great about using Drylok vs. cement mix to cover foam is that it really allows carved details (like my fossil simulations) to show through. They really showed up well as light shades of paint were dabbed with the sponge over the structure. You can see this throughout the painting.

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post #7 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 02:42 PM
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It reminds me a bit of a Red Rocks on Lake Champlain:

http://www.southburlingtonvt.gov/doc...ementStudy.pdf
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post #8 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 02:48 PM Thread Starter
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After that, I sponged on different colors to create a layered effect:



The painted wall fitted into the tank:


After painting, it was time for installation. I began by tracing with a sharpie where to apply the silicone to the tank wall. The idea was to apply the silicone, and then push each section into place:



I also applied silicone to each section:


All three sections installed. You can see the thick beads of silicone on this left side view:


Because the structure fit so tightly, I had to push the middle and right structure in at the same time. In doing so, I smeared some silicone on the side and bottom glass. I eventually cleaned off the right side glass using a razor blade:


Next was the roots to simulate the overhang. I started out bending PVC and CPVC pipe with a heat gun, then zip tying them together:


I zip tied rope to the pipes to add bulk and a softer form to the structure:


I also used wire inside air tubing for the smaller branches of the root:


After that, I zip tied some rope to form a knot in the root, and then attached a piece of foam board that I used the wire brush on to simulate a split in the root:


The next steps in the root creation were to add black spray foam to add more bulk and form:
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Last edited by Chasmodes; 09-04-2019 at 03:30 PM. Reason: Correct some material
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Next was to carve the spray foam to improve the root like form:


Then, to complete the form, I applied plaster strips to give more bulk and form:


I wasn't happy with how the knot turned out, so I attached more rope and a bit more spray foam, carved and sanded the foam, then applied more plaster cloth:


The fake roots fitted into the tank:


The next step was to apply the grout mixed with acrylic additive:


The roots were almost done. The next step was to paint them with Drylok mixed with cement dye to get them to a realistic color:



Another layer of Drylok and dye sponged on:


After several layers and colors of Drylok sponged onto the roots, I finally achieved the color that I wanted:


Fitted into the tank:




Bump: The final steps on the roots and wall were to apply the Polygem 1319 clear coat epoxy to seal everything in and protect the structures. I was worried about doing tank maintance or moving rocks around and potentially damaging the rock wall or roots. I was worried that the extra shiny look would show up in the tank.



As you can see in the pics above, the reflections cause the structures to look unrealistic out of the water. However, I read that when water is added, the shiny appearance disappears. The clear coat really does firm things up though. And, many museums and public aquariums use this product, so, it's effective and safe. I really wanted to protect my work.

This past weekend, I collected a five gallon bucket full of gravel for the tank from a local creek near my house. I'm pleased with the overall color of the gravel. It took me hours to sift and wash the gravel to get most of the silt out of it. Here's a tip though, before carrying it very far, it's better to divide it up into to half filled buckets...much easier to carry:


A month ago, while on a fishing trip, I collected a five gallon bucket full of river rocks from my local river. I wanted rocks to look a certain color and have shapes that relate to the wall as much as possible, and still be river worn. This past weekend, I laid them out on a table:


I was ready to aquascape and fill the tank at this point.
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On Monday, I added gravel and set the rocks into place, and then filled the tank with water. I set up the circulation pump and it ran fine. The water was really cloudy, as the canister filter wasn't ready. I set up my Fluval Plant 3.0 light and downloaded the app, and set it up, and previewed it. I'm really happy with the light fixture.

This really was the first major test though, to see if the rock wall would stay put and not float, and also to test the roots to see if they floated or not. The rock wall, after three days, is still looking good. However, the roots float just enough to block my spray bar output. So, my next step is to secure the top of the roots in a way so I can still remove them and reinstall them easily. The solution is to attach the top back corner of the roots to the stand pipe via drilling holes in each, and using zip ties that can be easily replaced when do maintenance. They will be out of sight too. The bottom of the roots was fine, as it stayed down, it was just the top of the roots that floated a little bit away from the wall.

So, this weekend, I'll drain the tank, remove the sand and rocks, affix the roots, add the sand and rocks, scape it, fill the tank, set up the equipment and canister filter, and hopefully, I'll have a nice picture to share. After that, it's on to tank cycling, and then collecting fish and the stargrass for the tank. Yay!

Oh, and the clear coat shiny finish? When I added water, you couldn't see the clear coat at all. It worked perfectly.

Before I go, here's the stocking list:

Fish: darters, minnows, dace, and shiners, maybe a sculpin. My feature fish will be the rainbow darter (Etheostoma caeruleum) and either satinfin shiners (Cyprinella analostana) or spotfin shiners (Cyprinella spiloptera). I also hope to add fantail darters, greenside darters, silverjaw minnows, rosyface shiners, rosy side dace, and some other species that I may catch.

I also will collect snails often as the darters like to eat them.

Thanks for reading. I'll post updates soon. I can't wait to collect fish for this tank.

Bump:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Streetwise View Post
It reminds me a bit of a Red Rocks on Lake Champlain:

http://www.southburlingtonvt.gov/doc...ementStudy.pdf
Thank you Streetwise. That's a really cool rock formation!

Also, I forgot to include this in my previous posts. If y'all are wondering how I actually carved each foam board, here's a video that shows my techniques:
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Last edited by Chasmodes; 09-04-2019 at 04:21 PM. Reason: Include a video
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post #11 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 03:58 PM
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Great fun! You have already put a ton of work into this tank and the fish still haven't made an appearance.

I am planning a very similar tank in the near future, though not based on a stream technically. I am going to be going a bit industrial and planning my tank around a drainage ditch. The back wall will look like a cement wall with sewer pipes in it that will actually be my return and intakes. I am also planning my tank to be a full native tank with everything in it from North America though not necessarily from my local area.

It sounds like you plan to catch most/all of your fish yourself. I have already caught (and released, not ready to keep them yet) blacknose dace and rosyside dace but I haven't found out how / good location to catch darters. Any tips for darter catching / good locations?

I have been using inaturalist app to find places where fish might be found and also just looking generally when I go to parks.

I am in Ellicott City, where at in Maryland are you?
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post #12 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 04:18 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you minorhero! I live between Hyattstown, Clarksburg and Boyds. Your tank plan sounds really cool!

For catching darters and minnows, I'd love to use hand held dip nets, but, unfortunately, you aren't allowed to use them for the species that I'm after, including darters. Maryland has some funny laws regarding that, but it's to protect species that are endangered and/or gamefish, so, I understand. The best way to catch them legally is to use a seine and kick them into the net. Two people working it makes it much easier, but, here's a video showing how to collect fish using a small seine with one person:

Here is the law for using seines in nontidal waters:
(5) Seines in nontidal waters:

(a) Shall have mesh no greater than 1/4 inch;

(b) May not exceed 6 feet in width and 4 feet in height;

(c) Shall only be used to catch minnows and other bait fish;

(d) May not be used within 50 yards of the base of any dam or the mouth of any river or tributary; and

(e) Shall only be emptied from shore.

Let me know if you are interested in getting a seine like this and I can find the manufacturer that I got mine from. I can't remember off the top of my head.

As far as locations to catch any species in Maryland, this is a great site: https://geodata.md.gov/streamhealth/
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Originally Posted by Chasmodes View Post
Thank you minorhero! I live between Hyattstown, Clarksburg and Boyds. Your tank plan sounds really cool!

For catching darters and minnows, I'd love to use hand held dip nets, but, unfortunately, you aren't allowed to use them for the species that I'm after, including darters. Maryland has some funny laws regarding that, but it's to protect species that are endangered and/or gamefish, so, I understand. The best way to catch them legally is to use a seine and kick them into the net. Two people working it makes it much easier, but, here's a video showing how to collect fish using a small seine with one person: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCVaXSXWNlY

Here is the law for using seines in nontidal waters:
(5) Seines in nontidal waters:

(a) Shall have mesh no greater than 1/4 inch;

(b) May not exceed 6 feet in width and 4 feet in height;

(c) Shall only be used to catch minnows and other bait fish;

(d) May not be used within 50 yards of the base of any dam or the mouth of any river or tributary; and

(e) Shall only be emptied from shore.

Let me know if you are interested in getting a seine like this and I can find the manufacturer that I got mine from. I can't remember off the top of my head.

As far as locations to catch any species in Maryland, this is a great site: https://geodata.md.gov/streamhealth/
That is a great site! Like all government websites its horrible to navigate but the information in it seems really well put together. I have been jealous of other state's having better information on their local fish species but this is actually pretty good!

I am definitely interested in getting a seine. I was under the impression dip nets were legal but I see from looking into the comar a bit more thoroughly that I was just confusing other sections of the code.

I have had success using minnow traps for well minnows. This is allowed so long as you keep it within 100 feet of you when on public land. The trick I found was to bait them with chunks of hot dog. When I used bread the darn bread floated which allowed the fish to eat it from outside the trap. Hot dog sinks so they have to poke around till they find the hole.
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post #14 of 39 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 06:39 PM Thread Starter
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There is some ambiguity on the code though. Does it include hand held aquarium type nets? What does "a long handle" mean? That's in the Comar definition of a dip net. My thought though, is better to be safe than sorry.

Good info on the traps. I never tried hot dogs. I guess I probably thought that I'd eat them on the way to the creek and all that would be left would be bread!

By the way, regarding the streamhealth link of the map. If you click on any of the dots on the colored coded stream, you'll see a link titled, "more". If you click on that, you will get the species that they collected during their electroshock sampling sessions. They usually mention the year. Some of the dots don't have fish collections, same with the triangles, but most of the dots do have them. Also, if you click on any of the fish links in the results, it takes you to that species page, where you can see a range map in the state.
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Originally Posted by Chasmodes View Post
By the way, regarding the streamhealth link of the map. If you click on any of the dots on the colored coded stream, you'll see a link titled, "more". If you click on that, you will get the species that they collected during their electroshock sampling sessions. They usually mention the year. Some of the dots don't have fish collections, same with the triangles, but most of the dots do have them. Also, if you click on any of the fish links in the results, it takes you to that species page, where you can see a range map in the state.
I noticed that as well. Took a bit to figure out because if you click on the dot... but not 'enough' on the dot. It just highlights a section of the stream the dot is on and tells you essentially nothing. Le sigh, government websites....

Anyway it tells me a LOT about species spread. I for instance had no idea that american eels are basically everywhere. I would be tempted to try and find one and keep one but I have read too much about how terrible they are in the aquarium ;P
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