Random Bits of Projects

August 13, 2008

Build a Strong, Inexpensive Aquarium Stand

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This is my most popular post. Thanks for visiting!



Most recent update: March 2011. An idea for hiding cords and a suggestion for leveling the tank has been added. The bulk of this was written a few years ago.

Fish keeping can get to be an expensive hobby. I recently, at the time of this posting, had to upgrade to a 55 gallon aquarium on a very limited budget so I needed an inexpensive stand. For my smaller tanks, I managed to use furniture on hand but this was not possible for a large, heavy tank.

I looked at stands for sale at pet shops and was horrified by the quality of the stands for the price that was asked. They did not look like they would last long. After checking out reviews online, it turns out many of them do not if they should get wet.  If you are like me, I tend to get sloppy during water changes no matter how hard I try to keep the water where I think it should be. Also, any doors and other accessories tended to come apart with regular use.

I decided to look into building my own.

Note: I do respond to comments on old posts. :)

NOTE: There has been some concern about how sturdy this tank stand is. There has been comment that if you bump the tank it will end up on the floor by those who have not built this. I have leaned and bumped against this stand a bit beyond than someone would do casually, unless they play football in the house. It is very sturdy. I have done the same test with a friend’s wooden one from the store and it rocked (and creaked) much more (granted it is just one test). His was also warping after a few years as well. Mine are near the wall on a level floor so I do not know if it would be different in the center of a room. The large tanks have the central column and the smaller just the outer. Adjustments can be made for equipment. The few stands shown are for ideas. I am sure people can come up with all kinds of wonderful designs. This stand may not be for everyone, but I have been extremely happy with this stand, and  not because I posted it. ha!

If anyone has built this stand (or a variation of it) and has been happy with it, I would love comments. I have had an incredible number of hits on it so hopefully by now there are a few out there. :)  Thanks for stopping by!

Enough people had some version of a stand that they built which worked as well as, or better than a store-bought stand. After reading around the internet I came across a site that inspired the stand my husband and I decided to build by using cinder blocks. We made a few changes to their design, but not much.

My husband and I did not want to deal with too much wood working. We wanted to feel secure that our work would result in something strong without too much fuss. We also needed to get this stand up soon for a fast growing fish. My husband did most of the work building this stand. Don’t look at me that way, this one is his tank! ;)

This cinder block stand works very well, was inexpensive (under $50 US), and did not look too bad (well we liked it).

Is it sturdy? Very. As long as your floor is level and you use flat boards. There is not any rocking with my tanks when I push on them (both 29 and 55 gallon, long tanks). Both of mine are on carpet even. I now feel safer with these than I do with store bought wood stands. And it is nice to be able customize.

Tank Stand

Tank Stand

This is the completed tank stand for a long 55 gallon tank. The paper under the blocks was put there to protect the carpet. It will be trimmed so it cannot be seen. The paper may not be needed but we wanted to be sure. The tank is still being decorated. :) There is also room to tuck the wires out of the way better (and form drip loops). We chose to put in only one shelf for plenty of space and to avoid too much clutter. Check out reader stands posted towards the bottom of the blog as well!

Below are instructions on how we did it for a 55 gallon stand. You can easily adjust this for other sizes as I plan to do for a 29 gallon tank later. (note: 29 gallon tank is now completed. Pictures near the end.)

Materials I used:

  • 9 cinder blocks
  • 1 sheet of plywood cut with about 3/4 inch wider and longer than the tank (or at least as wide as the cinder blocks.) Good for distributing weight. Important: get a sheet that is flat.
  • Four 2x4s the length of the plywood (this may be optional if you use layers of plywood but it looks nice and does not warp like plywood might). Sturdy and strong. Treated will not absorb water. Be sure the wood is flat, not warped.

Optional:

  • spray paint for the cinder blocks and plywood. Seven-Eight 10oz cans. Five cans for 6 blocks.
    • OR latex semi-gloss pain as suggested by a reader, Janis (Thanks!)
  • pre-stain to condition the 2x4s
  • stain and polyurethane (stains and seals 2x4s)
  • primer for plywood
  • another sheet of plywood to use as a shelf if you wish to have a shelf.
  • brush  or broom that you can use to brush off the blocks

Painting (spray)

We hosed the cinder blocks down and let them sit for a day to dry. This removed a lot of the dust and debris from the blocks. They tend to absorb water a bit so be sure they are fully dry before painting. And/or you can take a brush to the blocks to get the grit off. We are working on a second stand and found that brushing the blocks works very well.

To paint, you need to spray the blocks well from several angles to fill in the pits and crevices of the blocks. Otherwise you will still see gray cinder block peeking through. We sprayed the entire block but you can just spray the areas that will show if you wish to cut down on the paint used. (Getting a pistol grip thingy (?) for the spray cans makes spraying more comfortable for your hand.) We sprayed 5 blocks black and 4 blocks brown. The colors were alternated when the blocks were stacked for a different look. You do not have to paint the blocks but I found this to be worth it. The painted blocks do not distract from the tank (unless you paint them neon pink or some such) and they will be less of an eyesore. You will likely have to look at this for a long time so you might as well go that extra step. A cheap stand does not have to look like crap with your pride and joy.

Additional Painting Ideas: You can leave the cinder blocks bare or a solid color and stencil pictures over the surface. Or take a sponge and dab colors onto the blocks. Paint seaweed or try to color the blocks to match your gravel. Get creative! This is also handy if you do not have time to paint your blocks first. You can at least add some color later if you do not mind a gray background.

One reader chose to use latex pain with a paint brush and that worked well too! (picture near the end)

For the plywood, a primer was used after lightly sanding the wood but you do not have to do this. We had the materials and thought the extra bit may pay off in the long run. We then painted the wood black.

The 2x4s were stained and sealed against moisture. This step is also optional but it is a nice piece of mind and it looks nice. Plain, treated wood should be fine. Painting these black might have looked better to match the rest but I kind of like how it turned out.

Be sure everything is dry before assembling the tank.

The strongest areas of your house to support a large tank are often by outside walls. For 55 gallons and below this may not be too much of a concern. Mine has been by an inside wall without problems. Much depends on the build of your house or if you are on an upper floor of an apartment.

Assembly

1. Stack the cinder blocks in 3 evenly spaced rows, 3 high as shown in the picture. They support the most weight if the holes face vertical rather than horizontal where you will not see holes from the side. If you have filters hanging behind your tank or other equipment, be sure not to stack the cinder blocks too close to the wall.You need to be able to place the tank in such a way as to leave room for your filters and whatnot.  If you would like shelves in between the cinder blocks place another sheet of plywood horizontally between the blocks. Just be sure the blocks are lined up with each other well. The plywood is not strong enough to support the tank if the blocks are very crooked. You want the weight to be supported through the blocks.

Tank stand up close

Tank stand up close

You may be able to use just 6 blocks at the ends of the tank but cinder blocks do not cost much to be sure the tank is supported well. Another bonus for that middle column of blocks is that you can better hide your cords. (see caption for first picture explaining the paper you see in the picture here.)

2. Next space the 2x4s evenly across the cinder blocks. These help support and cushion the tank so you do not have all the pressure from the weight of the tank pressing only at a few points.

3. Now place the plywood on top of the 2x4s. Try to get everything to line up nice. (You can also use a wider piece of plywood to extend behind the tank, to support light-weight equipment. The main part of the plywood is supported by the blocks with just a lip sticking out a little further over the blocks. I did this for a smaller tank-pictures near the end of the blog.) 4. Now you can place the tank onto the plywood. Try to center the tank well on the blocks. Try not to have the edges of the tank sticking out over the blocks. This adds extra cushion and especially weight distribution.

One reader suggests foam as another layer of protection but I cannot be sure that it would not settle uneven over time. The tank is built to be on a solid surface and you do not see foam topped stands in stores. The plywood helps the tank settle more even across the bottom than if there were gaps between the wood under the tank. I have not had any trouble without foam and I cannot say how well it works since I have not tried to add foam under my tanks. Solid surfaces have worked for me for nearly 15 years. The tank by this reader is at the end of the post if you wish to see foam added as well. I am always open minded until I find it does not work. Keep up the suggestions! :D

Side View

Side View

Before adding water, place the filters, and other equipment that may stick out, onto the tank like you would if it was running. This makes sure you did leave enough room for them. If you have to adjust the placement of the tank you can do this easily without having to dismantle the tank. Check it over very well.

Also level the tank if it is noticeably tilty. You can place thin wooden wedges between the blocks or under the shelf (within reason) to adjust. One tank of mine tipped to the right a bit due to an uneven floor. Noticeable by the water level being uneven. The next water change allowed me to correct this. No wobble resulted and it turned out fine. This was for the 29 gallon tank. The big tank was level starting out. If you have wobble, consider another method of leveling. I have built 3 of these in my home and I only had one needing the correction.

Now you are ready to set up the tank. Our stand is very solid and has held up for several months years without any problems. This stand is not bulky, nor does it overpower the tank. We did not need to add floor support for this tank. The blocks were not that much extra weight.

Covering up: If you do not want the tank open, you can do a few simple things to cover the outside.  I do not suggest just going all cinder blocks because of the weight.

If you wish to be able to store items underneath you can put a “skirt” around the cinder blocks rather than paint.  I did not like the look of the skirt as well as a wood front (below),  but that is just personal preference. Pleating the skirt probably works best. You can even leave openings with a flap of fabric overlapping. This way you can get into the storage area without lifting the entire skirt. Just flip the flap. :)

I found another person who even built a wood frame around the blocks to make it look like a cabinet. Someone else (thank you Floridagirl!) mentioned using liquid nails to put a plywood front on it. Just glue directly to the blocks rather than building an entire frame (this makes it more permanent though- maybe glue just to the top blocks?). That would work well too. You can even cut out some squares in the front where the shelves on the inside are located. Then put some hinges on those squares and put them back over the holes. You may have to make the squares a little smaller to get them to fit right. Add a handle or a finger hole to be able to open them (depends how fancy you want it). To keep closed, put magnets along the edge or put a small lip sticking out from behind (and a magnet/Velcro) so the door does not swing inward. The lip will catch or stop the door.

You can even get little curtain rods that expand like the big shower curtain rods to fit a smaller space. Then put these between the cinder blocks with a little curtain threaded on them. Cut down shower curtains to size perhaps.

Hiding wires. Here is an idea that I thought of tuday. Place a board BEHIND the stand, flush to the blocks. Paint it the color of your blocks. So instead of covering the front, you are covering the back. Cords falling behind the stand will be hidden. Perhaps cut a hold or a door to thread anything through or to gain access…?? Play with this idea and see where it gets you if you like it. Part of the fun of making it yours!

Let me know if you have tried something else and I will put it here. Pictures are very welcome! :)

Stand for a 29 gallon tank completed:

I finally finished a stand for a 29 gallon tank using 6 cinder blocks.

There is enough room on the bottom shelf for a 2 gallon tank. I have an electric blue crayfish temporarily housed in this one. He is behind the rock. The bigger tank I had to set up for a problem cichlid.  He is hiding in the pot. You can just make out the tail. Heh.

I only had black paint left so I did not alternate colors this time. I also did not use the 2x4s since this is a smaller tank. The plywood was sanded then painted. This time I left the top shelf much wider so I could store supplies and cords behind the tank easily. I am still tidying the cords at this point. If I wait until I get any of this exactly the way I want it, I would never get the picture posted.

The picture to the right shows a bit of the wider top shelf. Room for a pump, cords, and some supplies. Nicely hidden. I will pull the cords together nice later. Sam, one of my cats is letting me know the cords are a mess. I need a longer extension for the multi-tap.

I left a little bit of a front lip on the bottom shelf to balance the top a little bit. I was also too lazy to cut the wood any more. ;) I also used plastic runner, cut to fit the bottom of the blocks to put between the blocks and the carpet. Note the black on the side of the blocks is not as dark. I could not go over the sides again. Ran out of paint and I was not too worried about it.

When you first walk in the room the whole thing looks really neat.  I would tank a picture a few paces back but there is still a mess around the area. The aftermath of building this.

If you build one let me know! I would love to see how it turns out and share with anyone else thinking of doing this. :) Hey! Someone did! Look below!

Have fun!

Here is a tank stand built one of our readers, Tess! It turned out great! Love the cat!

Posted Aug 16, 2008. 55 gallon. Thanks!

Tess’s Tank and Stand. All black to blend right in. Two shelves look very nice. The light houses are an especially nice touch. I see that she used card board to protect the carpet. She also used thicker plywood as well. See her comments in the comments sections for more details.

I will directly post the first handfull of people to show me their stand and their blog (non-spam) URL if they provide it. So leave those comments and links! Yay!

Here is stand by Janis (October 15, 2008) 55 gallon.

She used Laytex semi-gloss pain and applied it with a paint brush. It looks good!

She otherwise used the suggested set-up for this large tank except for adding a Styrofoam padding right under the tank for added cushion. She painted it black as well. This makes it look nice but also helps keep water causing mildew on it.

Under the blocks she put inexpensive rubber-backed carpet to protect her tile floor.

The picture to the right shows the foam that she placed between the tank and the plywood. She painted the edges only. Here you can see the carpeting she used under the blocks as well.

Thanks Janis!

For more stuff to learn to do go to my main site http://virtuallyamy.wordpress.com/. Notice there is more than one page to go through….and more coming! Yay (again)!

Here is another Reader’s (Ariel) stand. This one is unpainted and they like it as is. Her tank is still being set up in this picture so it is cloudy and no fish. She intends to keep a black ghost knife in it soon at this posting (september, 2009). This is with a 55 or so gallon tank. She did stain the wood for water protection and maybe looks.

Error: sorry, Facebook is not loading my pictures at this time for this one. Check back. I am working on it.

But….Thank you Ariel for your pics! They will show hopefully soon.

For more fish and tank related stuff, go to my Categories listed on the right and click on fish from the drop down menu. (Hopefully it will show all)

http://www.etsy.com/shop/DizzyWhiskers



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96 Comments »

  1. I would like to thank you so much for this idea. We went out and purchased 9 cinderblocks..only we used 14×48 boards and made 2 shelves along with the base for the tank to set on. It turned out great. Hopefully this picture will post with this comment if not the url will be here. Thanks again!! As you can see we painted it all black and I still need to clean up around it a little lol..I was so anxious to take a picture of it and share and thank you.

    Comment by Tess — August 17, 2008 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  2. well no link..so here is the url to copy and paste.

    http://i59.photobucket.com/albums/g289/wickylicious/Picture002-1.jpg

    Comment by Tess — August 17, 2008 @ 1:48 am | Reply

  3. In reponse to Tess above:

    Thank you for sharing!!! It very much made my day. :) My husband and I both LOVE how yours turned out!!! The shelves are perfect. Love the light houses (and the kitty! We have two cats/kids ourselves.). I may put the two shelves on my next stand. I will post your picture directly into the blog. What kind of fish do you have?

    Comment by virtuallyamy — August 17, 2008 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  4. Btw Amy it was 16 x 48 inch shelf boards we used I was wrong ;)

    Comment by Tess — August 17, 2008 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  5. Hey, Nice idea
    I think i will b making one for a 4ft tank i have.
    Its going in my room, how many blocks do u think i will need for it?
    Anyway ill post some pics of it if i make one. =]=]=]

    Comment by David — September 2, 2008 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  6. In response to David:

    Hi! Glad to hear you are giving it a try! I definately look forward to seeing how it turns out. I have been keeping the stands 3 blocks high to keep center of gravity low but I may be too careful. Smaller tanks probably could go a little higher. My 55 gallon is 4ft long in the first pictures and for Tess’s tank towards the end. We both used 9 blocks total. I probably would not go higher if that is the size of your tank. Let me know how it goes! :D

    – Amy

    Comment by virtuallyamy — September 2, 2008 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  7. hi. found your web page when i was looking for a sturdy aquarium stand. yours was quite nice when painted and set up and so was the one tess sent in. i followed your plan and made a few changes, as in the paint. i bought a gallon of latex semi gloss(which was so easy to apply with a brush) as the guy at walmart said it would cost me big bucks to use the spray paint when i told him what i was doing.kudos to him for his suggestions, also he suggested putting a styrofoam sheet (about 1/2″ thick) under the aquarium to help cushion it on the wood surface.i would send you pics but am not sure how to do it here.thanks

    Comment by janis — October 15, 2008 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  8. Thanks for the input! I will add in your suggestions. I used pretty cheap spray paint and did not think too hard on what to use. Good to know of more options. My set-up is a suggestion but not set in stone (cinder blocks?).
    The cushion is an excellent idea, especially for the bigger tanks. It may help to tape over the edge of the foam towards the front or otherwise water proof it so it does not mold…or not (?). Next big tank (far future) I will probably try the foam. Nice!
    To provide pictures, upload to Flickr or photobucket and provide the link to that. Or send to my email listed in my “About in Brief” page listed on the right. I will be happy to provide them in the posting if that is OK and I would LOVE to see the finished product!!
    And thanks again for the suggestions. Always room for improvement!
    - Amy

    Comment by virtuallyamy — October 15, 2008 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

  9. thanks for this article!!! this is awesome!

    Comment by amy — October 29, 2008 @ 1:16 am | Reply

  10. In response to comment #9:

    Aww shucks. I hope it helped! :)

    Comment by virtuallyamy — October 29, 2008 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  11. hello you guys are coming up with some good ideas i want to build one of those stands for a 55 gallon the dimentions are 48″x24″x12″ what size cinder blocks do i need thanks for the help.
    P.S.could i some how cover this or make a spot for salt and canister filter and other goodies?

    Comment by jason — December 6, 2008 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

    • Hi! Thank you!
      One way to increase the space under your tank is to get narrower cinder blocks for the middle portion. You would still have support in the center. Narrow blocks are less stable but if placed in the center (rather than as end support), this is less of a concern as long as the sides are the standard size blocks as shown in the pictures. Another idea would be to cut the plywood top wider so a lip extends out the back of the tank. This would allow you to place your equipment behind the stand and still cover it up. But it means your tank has to be away from the wall more. Just be sure you tank is directly over the blocks and not on the lip.
      As for covering the stand, you can drape cloth around it, cut plywood sides/doors and paint them or use whatever material is handy. It depends on your taste and whether you need to get inside or not. If you do this, send a picture. I would love to see what people do. :)

      Comment by virtuallyamy — December 11, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  12. I love this idea! I’m going to be upgradeing to 75 gallon tank and was wondering if you had any suggestions. Thank you for sharing your DIY idea, Ed

    Comment by Ed — December 24, 2008 @ 11:43 am | Reply

    • I am glad I could help!! This design should work for a 75 gallon as well. Just cut the board(s) to the correct dimensions. Give me a few days to get past the holidays (sorry it is taking so long!-lots of visitors) and I will look more into your dimensions you gave. If this is a long tank then I doubt you will need to change the cinder block layout. You may want to consider putting a plywood board (maybe two layers?-flat) on the very bottom to distribute the weight on the floor but should be fine. :) Send pictures! ;)

      Comment by virtuallyamy — December 29, 2008 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  13. Opps forgot to give you dimentions. (48x18x20) aprrox:750lbs filled
    Again thank you for sharing your ideas. This will move my new tank purchase up 2 months.

    Comment by Ed — December 24, 2008 @ 11:54 am | Reply

  14. best idea

    Comment by Anonymous — January 15, 2009 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

    • Thank you! :)

      Comment by virtuallyamy — January 18, 2009 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  15. Hello,
    I really enjoyed reading this post and will be making a stand like these for my 110 gallon tank. I have one question though if you dont mind ie: Would stacking four cinder blocks upward (32in) be a unsafe idea compared to the rest of these whihc are only 3 cinder blocks high. I am asking because the 28in that the 3 cinder blocks make is a little short for my taste and I think going up to 4 would look nicer in my room. Any help would be greatly appreciated and again, thanks for the great post.
    (P.S.: my dimensions are 61x19x24tall)
    Sincerely,
    John

    Comment by John — January 17, 2009 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

    • HI! I am just guessing, but I think it should be OK as long as the tank is near a wall. Even better if it is not on padded carpeting. Mine are but each tank is on the 3 blocks, partially for that reason. You may want to stack the blocks on another plywood board on the floor to distribute the weight more evenly across the floor. Perhaps adding another shelf to add more stability as well. You could possibly make either the ends, or the center, wider by doubling the blocks side by side, or by purchasing narrow cinder block to stack beside the ones suggested. This as just a safe guard. But I do think it will probably be ok without that. Just eyeball it well before you add water and also be sure the bottom of the tank does not hang over.
      If you would not mind, would you update me on how it turns out? I get asked about 4 blocks sometimes and I would like to say for sure whether it works. I am always looking for ways to improve on whatever crazy ideas I have going. That and I would love to see your set up in general if you can send pictures. :)
      Good luck! :D

      Comment by virtuallyamy — January 18, 2009 @ 4:57 pm | Reply


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