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Guide to DIY with T-Slot Aluminum
By Zach Friedrichs (@polyppal)

T-Slot aluminum extrusion is an ideal material for building modern, strong tank stands and canopies. And it isn’t as difficult as you might think, essentially you are playing with a supersize Erector kit! Using simple fastening methods and careful planning, even an individual with no experience can build a high tech stand quickly and easily!

Standard DIY disclaimers applies - The author is not responsible for anything you build based on information in this article.


Why use T-Slot extrusion over wood?

Building with T-Slot has a number of advantages over building with wood. Aluminum extrusion is stronger and lighter than wood. Once the cuts are made, it can also be put together and taken down easily. And while it isn’t exactly cheap, designing and building your own stand need not be overly expensive either.

One of the keys to successfully building your T-Slot stand is careful planning and design. I order my T-Slot and brackets from Zyltech (zyltech.com), where you can have bars precision cut to specific sizes for a small fee. Other T-Slot suppliers also offer custom cutting services, and I highly recommend this since extrusion can be a challenge to cut precisely on a home miter saw. If you choose to cut the bar yourself, it is recommend to use a blade designed for cutting aluminum extrusion, like a 60-72 tooth carbide tipped triple chip blade. Always use proper eye and safety protection when cutting T-Slot, cutting has a tendency to produce tiny/sharp/hot aluminum shavings!

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3030 profile bar. 30mm x 30mm

What profile (size) do I need?

Profile refers to the size/thickness of the T-Slot bar used. Common profiles are 2020 (20mmx20mm) , 3030 (30mmx30mm), 4040 (40mmx40mm) etc. Aluminum extrusion is very strong, and in most cases you will not need to build with anything over 3030. For example, a 36” 3030 bar supported on 2 ends can support 3,573 lbs! For very large systems, you might choose a larger profile.

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(From left to right) reinforced corner bracket, tee plate, 90 corner plate

How do I attach it?

The simplest way to attach T-Slot is by using external plates or supported corner brackets. These brackets attach to the exterior of the bar, and are anchored in place by T-Bolts and Nuts. I prefer the look and strength of external plates in most situations. They also make it much easier to add slide-in panels between the bars for aesthetic purposes.

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So, let's build a stand!

For the purposes of this sample build, we will use the simplest types of external fasteners, plates and corner brackets

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In the example build for this article, we will build my custom 68g acrylic tank stand seen here.
(The basic aspects of the tank can easily be duplicated to your specific tank needs).


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My custom AIO is 32”w x 26”d x 20”h, holding approx. 68-72 gallons max. Figuring 10 lbs/gal with water/rock/etc, the stand should hold a minimum of 720 lbs. With 3030 bar, this could easily be accomplished even without the additional front center braces, but I like to include at least one center brace on med/larger tanks.

The stand height is 32”, converting to mm is 813mm, so the stand has 4 bars cut to 813mm.
  • The 4 front width top/bottom bars are 753mm (front of tank is 813mm, minus the 30mm bars on the left and right)
  • The 4 side top/bottom bars are 600mm (side of tank is 660mm, minus the 30mm bars on the left and right)
  • X’s denote where corner or center plates are attached. There are a total of 16 90deg plates used on the corners, and 8 Tee Plates used for the inside and outside of the center braces.

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Using a Hex wrench and M5 nuts/bolts (M5 for 3030 bar, the nut/bolt size will change depending on profile) - loosely thread a bolt on the back of each bolt to attach the plate. Then place the plate over the rail and tighten/hand torque it into position. Tighten the bolts well, but don’t over tighten them, it can make them extremely hard to remove if you need to make adjustments or disassemble it!

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I had 2 pieces of white acrylic cut that easily slide into place when using exterior plates. These can make nice decorative or mounting features. I also attach a padded neoprene tape to the top of the stand where it meets the tank.

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Additional images from the construction of this stand

These are just the basics, once you are comfortable working with it, any number of other features can be included on your T-Slot stands - like lighting canopies, shelving, doors, caster brackets, etc!

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I hope this information is helpful to your future T-Slot project endeavors!
- Zach (polyppal)



Some T-Slot suppliers you might consider:

8020
http://8020.net
Amazon http://amazon.com
Grainger http://grainger.com
Openbuilds http://openbuildspartstore.com
Orange Aluminum http://orangealuminum.com
Parco http://parco-inc.com
Zyltech http://zyltech.com

R2R Members selling T-Slot Accessories:

@neon_reefer (custom 3d print rail mounts)