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I've been a longtime lurker but haven't posted much myself here. Anyway, my boyfriend and I are looking to start up a 55 gallon low tech tank soon, but trying to keep to a low budget. As I've had a 10 and 20 gallon tank running for the last ~4 years, I know how quickly these things will add up. We thankfully inherited a canister filter with the tank, plus I plan on moving one of my aquaclear HOBs onto the tank as well.

My main question is if anyone knows where we can get less expensive driftwood around Chicago? Ideally we'd like to have a good centerpiece, but any LFS or big box store we've been to charges an arm and a leg.

For substrate, we're planning on trying PFS if we can find something in an off-white or tan color. Any particular recommendations on brand? Otherwise I plan on looking for something generic at Ace Hardware, Home Depot, etc.

Thanks for any suggestions! Plants and fish are TBD...
 

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Near rivers or lakes, or in old growth forests you may find a piece of wood that is dry enough and out of water long enough to be just what you want. But, the Chicago area may not be a place to find that. Other than that you could use the For Sale forum or the WTB/RAOK forum and perhaps find a good buy. Or, you could start a thread asking this in http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/47-illinois/
 

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Saving money is a whole lot like making it so , ---good thinking!
For pool filter sand, I find the best is at a pool supply store. Once there, you can look around the stack of bags and that is likely to give you some hint of what color is in the bags. Some dealers might even give you a peek? Ask about broken bags at a discount as they do get some. Another way to cut the cost very slightly but also works to change the overall color is to mix it. If it is just too stark white for your flavor, try adding a bit of cheap all purpose or play sand from big box or hardware. Warning- the pool sand is much cleaner and takes way less time to rinse but do rinse both good to avoid a week long dust storm in the tank.

A nice hike in the woods is the value way to find wood and rocks. Look for a place where it floods like along creeks and then look for stuff that is hanging up off the ground as it tends to dry without rotting. Get the stuff that has lost all bark and is totally dry as a way to avoid fighting tannins. Look for wood that is uniform color all the way through as a good indicator that it is dry enough. But do have a plan to hold it down. Dry wood will float for a long time.
 
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