The Planted Tank Forum banner
1 - 11 of 11 Posts

3,894 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Golly this one is going to be a long one folks, I hope you like pictures and lots of words ;P

I got into planted aquariums about 2 years ago after watching a lot of youtube videos. I had aquariums most of my life but not with live plants. At the start I spent a lot of time messing around with a little ol' Spec V when I was renting a townhouse. Back then I managed to secure an understanding with The Wife that when we bought our new house I could get a 120 gallon aquarium.

Somewhat hilariously I later found out she had no idea how big a 120 gallon tank actually is, she was thinking of something about the size of a 40 breeder.

Anyway while still in the townhouse I began prep work for the 120 gallon tank to be. I even had a journal for this tank. I started trying to source a 120 gallon rimless tank first off. It was not easy because most people build them out of 1/2" thick glass and the general discussion online is that after 7 years or so they need to be replaced. That simply would not fly with me, so I needed thicker glass which is hard to find and expensive when you do find it. I settled on glasscages because they were one of the few people that would sell a 3/4" thick glass tank. To save money I also decided to build my stand. This started in the single car garage of the townhouse. My only tools were a circular saw and a drill. Not exactly high level stuff. The stand was made from cheap plywood and 2x4s.

This was the first stand. When we moved to our new house it came with us. It also never made it into the house proper and instead got moved into the garage. This is because by the time the move happened I knew I wouldn't be using this stand. As a hobbyist woodworker this stand did not meet my quality standards, especially as a piece of furniture that was going to be in our living room.

This brings me to the second stand. This time I used poplar and birch plywood to make the stand. The top is a poured concrete slab I made myself.

The Wife took one look at it and indicated that she did not like it. Mind you, I had been puttering away making this thing for about a month in our garage. She had seen me working on it, seen the 3d model I made of it:

She had of course seen the original which was still in the garage... but when she saw the stand in person in our house for the first time.. she was less then thrilled. Now it wasn't that she was mean about it. But I know my wife and I can tell when she is unhappy even if she doesn't say anything.

It took a bit, but eventually I got out that she was not happy about the height of the stand and not happy about how much it stuck out into the room.

This lead to a redesign of the stand and of the purpose for the build.

At this point I had started keeping dart frogs in our basement in another tank. The Wife frankly likes the frogs a lot more then she likes fish. I was also loving the lack of maintenance associated with having a vivarium over an aquarium. So I decided it was time to reconsider the aquarium angle and instead have a vivarium. The Wife was thrilled with this change. Additionally I decided that instead of having a 120 gallon tank sized foot print, I would have a 75 gallon sized footprint. Meaning the stand would be narrower.

Thus I created a model for the third stand.

I also decided this would be made out of a much nicer hardwood instead of paint. I ended up using black Walnut. Here is the finished product:

Now The Wife was properly pleased. The vivarium that would go on top? 4 feet long, 3 feet tall, and 20 inches wide. Or about 150 gallons of space. No one makes something like this, I was definitely going to need to make it myself. Given the dimensions and uses I decided to go with plywood.

This is long enough though, so I will break it up into multiple posts. Next I will talk about building the plywood vivarium itself.

Premium Member
75g, 40g, 20g
3,848 Posts
Black walnut stand looks killer!!
Wish I would have had access to that kind of wood when I did my stand. Look forward to the next step

3,894 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thank you guys for the compliments! It was fun building the stand and I'm pretty happy with how it came out.

the stand looks nice. Interesting idea of using a concrete top, are you putting something between the tank/concrete?
If I were going with a glass tank with no rim then I would put down a yoga mat cut to size like you would for any rimless tank that came without a pad. But my vivarium is built out of plywood and it doesn't even have a flat bottom so I won't be bothering with anything between the concrete and the plywood tank.

3,894 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The building of the vivarium itself took a few weeks. Everything is made out of 1/2" plywood. I used a sheet of marine fir plywood and a few pieces left over from a sheet of birch plywood. The marine plywood was not really necessary but it makes me feel better.

The design for the vivarium itself strongly apes the features in my Insitu Vivarium. This includes 2 ventilation locations on the top, and a slanted bottom. The vivarium will ultimately have 6 bulkheads for misters, 2 for drainage, and a final bulkhead for a dripping branch.

I originally planned for the vivarium to have 2 windows, one on either short side. The design evolution that lead to this is a bit tedious to go into and ultimately ended up being faulty.

After talking with someone who has built a plywood vivarium before I decided to copy theirs and went with a design that incorporates the glass on the short sides meeting the glass of the front doors.

Once the design was settled I began cutting out the wood for the various parts. Making the bottom slope was somewhat fiddly. Its important the bottom is sloped though as it will allow for water to collect in the front while keeping most of the tank's substrate dry.

My router table enabled me to cut the ventilation in the front piece with only a few minor booboos:

What I noticed is that the 1/2" plywood was a bit too flimsy by itself so I started adding reinforcements in the form of additional pieces of 1/2" plywood.

I also added reinforcement to the bottom as well:

Making the top ventilated was the trickiest part of the build. I needed to drill holes, use a jig saw to cut out the majority of material, and then follow-up with a router to get nice straight lines.

But the end result was worth it:

The small slats you see in the above picture are the vents that will be in the top and front portion of the tank. The large middle hole is for the light. The back vents are 2.5" wide and will be also allow for the use of a uvb bulb in one corner of the viv so I can hopefully create condition suitable not only for a micro gecko as well as dart frogs. Dart frogs require temperatures between 65-75 degrees while most micro geckos need a basking spot with uvb thats in the lower 90s. This vivarium is big enough that I hope to be able to have both temperatures.

Once the top was glued in place I started doing some of the fiddly finishing work. I used a round over bit on my router to well.. round over various corners:

Here is how the viv looked at this point:

Seeing as how I essentially had the space I would have on the finished product I couldn't resist putting the Malaysian driftwood I purchased into the viv. It will definitely not be this exact configuration but I think you can get an idea for what I will be going for.

I did a bunch more sanding at this point and then added wood putty to fill in screw holes and seams:

And that brings me up to current.

At this point the body of the vivarium is done, whats left is to drill for the bulkheads, and of course I need to add the epoxy and paint.

The inside will get 3 coats of pond armor with fiberglass reinforcement in the corners during the 2nd coat. The outside will be primed and painted. Once the inside and outside are complete I will silicone in the glass walls and add the track for the glass sliding doors.

All of that to come!

3,894 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·

A lot of progress has happened since the last update. Drilling for the bulkheads was top of the list with 1-1/4" holes to accept 1/2" bulkheads.

Two in the bottom (one for a drain, the other for a canister filter) and one return high up on the back left for a dripping branch. After that it was time to apply a coat of pond armor. Here is where the first of my mistakes happened. I ended up having a lot of epoxy spill outside the viv and basically ended up using the roller to spread it around. I ended up coating a lot of the front and top. This ultimately didn't negatively affect anything but it wasn't planned. I just kinda made it up as I went since at this point I was a little frantic to get good coverage with the limited working time I had with the pond armor (about 20 minutes).

Once this dried I applied the fiberglass and this is where I REALLY made a mistake. The directions call for 1.5 oz chopped strand fiberglass in the corners for strength. I decided to put it all over the bottom of the vivarium. This is how fiberglass on wood boats are built and I figured I would emulate this. It... didn't go well.

Here is how the fiberglass looked when I cut it to size and laid it out:

When I went to roll pond armor on the fiberglass a LOT of strands of fiberglass came up and basically made a giant mess.

Its hard to make it out in the pictures but trust me, it was a hot mess.

Anyway what I should have done is just put the fiberglass in the corners and frankly used regular woven fiberglass instead of the chopped strand. The chopped strand stuff is stronger then woven and would work great if I was building an aquarium or water tank, but I'm building a vivarium, I just don't need that extra strength and its much harder to work with. This step basically caused me problems for the rest of the build. I also messed it up because what I should have done is put down some pond armor, stick the fiberglass to that and then walk away letting it dry. Come back once the fiberglass was firmly attached and coated the outside. Instead my idea was to saturate the fiberglass so it went through and adhered to the underside. It sorta worked, but also sorta didn't.

The solution was essentially to be extra wasteful with the pond armor and just coat everything with the stuff at super thick levels. I needed to buy an extra kit when I should have been able to do the whole viv with just the one. After that was complete I water tested the tank:

By this point I had 3 to 6 coats of pond armor on though and could begin painting. I first primed the outside with 2 rattle cans of killz primer.

Ran out on the bottom but I think its good enough given the paint I'm using.

Then started rolling out the paint:

Once painted I could begin applying silicone to parts that needed it. I used silicone on the bulkheads since the bottom and sides was not perfectly smooth and then applied it to the sides for the glass and the door tracks. Ome of the trickier parts is applying mesh to the vents. The mesh must be small enough to keep in fruit flies but big enough to let in good air flow. Regular window screen is too large and fruit flies can walk right through the stuff. I tried using 20x20 mesh but it was too big when I tested it with a nearly spent fruit fly culture (older cultures produce smaller flies). 30x30 stainless steel mesh was perfect. I cut it so it was a little oversized for each vent hole and then applied a bead of silicone around the edge. I put the mesh on top of this and then clamped it in place using some wood that was wrapped in blue painters tape (the silicone doesn't stick to the tape). Here is how it looked all clamped up:

Once the silicone was dry I moved the entire thing into the house so The Wife could have a look at it and frankly grow accustom to its size and figure out the location.

Once she was happy I moved it back out to my shop for the final steps. The background!

One of the interesting oddities between aquariums and vivariums is that almost all vivariums have a background installed and these backgrounds are also almost always DIY. There are many different types of backgrounds each with their pros and cons. Last tank I made I did a titebond 3 method background. For this tank I have decided to do a "cracked cork mosaic" background. Basically I used pieces of cork bark to cover 95% of the back wall, then in the cracks between the cork I stuff in rehydrated sphagnum moss. The result is a background that tend to look pretty good and also have the advantage of growing plants pretty well since all surfaces are natural ones. Moss and epiphytes can grow on either the sphagnum or cork and stay hydrated if you have good access to misters.

The biggest problem I face with my previous tank is getting adequate water to the background. The misters in the front reach the back.. but only barely. I have resorted to hand misting lot of my background plants in that tank. In this tank I decided to solve that by having 3 misting holes in the front of the tank, AND 3 additional misting holes in the back of the tank. Hopefully this will result in a background that is far more hydrated.

Anyway this is how the tank looked with the cork siliconed in place:

For cork I called and placed an order with Maryland Cork and had them ship me 20 lbs of 'thin flats'. The whole thing cost me 110 dollars shipped and after it was done I still had a lot left over:

For silicone I used DAP General Purpose since GE Silicone 1 has gone and changed their formula adding mold inhibitors:

And that brings me up to current! Next step I will need to bring the vivarium back into the house, add strips of silicone to the doors to fill in gaps to keep flies out, and complete the background. Meanwhile I have in another thread been figuring out the light. I will post that here as well once I place my order and start to get things in.

3,894 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Whatever happened to this?
Well I got it to the point where all the hardscape was done and the only left was to integrate the waterfall. That's when I found out that the darn thing had a leak at the bulkhead. I had previously done tests to confirm the epoxy was watertight but I neglected to test the water level up to the point of the bulkheads. I tried over and over to get it to hold water but it always leaked. I eventually scrapped the whole thing.

It was extremely disheartening and I more or less abandoned the entire idea of a larger tank for months. Eventually I got over it and decided scrap the frog tank and instead reuse the stand for a 75 gallon rimless aquarium. That's when I started this thread. I actually got a shipping notice on that tank a few days ago and I'm currently expecting delivery on the 22nd. So huzzah for that. Unfortunately my dreams of a bigger dart frog tank have gone nowhere.
1 - 11 of 11 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.