Jury rigged trash reef; building on the cheap

Bett

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Figured I'd make a build thread for this project, since it's the first major tank I'm starting from scratch in a long time. It'll be the biggest tank I've had so far, so I'm excited to play around with all the space. My previous tanks have been anywhere from 3 to 50 gallon freshwater tanks, and a 20 gallon reef tank I had set up in a biocube with a refugium made from a 5 gallon jar. I really enjoyed my old reef setup. I had a bunch of sps that did well in there for years with a bunch of growth, but unfortunately the tank crashed after a move to a different house and I lost all of my livestock. That was over 6 years ago, and I haven't had a reef tank set up since then.

A few years ago I bought my own home and started planning out a new reef. I'd been wanting to have my next reef tank be on the larger size, and decided on a 120 gallon. I've got a perfect corner of the basement that will fit a 5 foot tank with some space to get behind it. I finally started collecting supplies last year but have been procrastinating on the actual setup. A lot of this project is going to be jury rigged in my usual style and built from old leftovers. The spouse is convinced I'm building this out of trash, but I promise I've put at least a little money into this. I try to buy used and build things myself when I can though, so we'll see how it goes!
 
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congrats on the build.
if you have a 5 foot space consider the 150 from SCA or joe and glass cages. they will be a bit more the a box store 120 but IMHO look really nice. either way it will be a fun build :)
 

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This sounds very similar to how my tank is built by diying everything that I can.
Can't wait to see what you end up with.
 
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Bett

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I already bought a used 120 gallon tank off of someone local last summer for $100. The person had bought it used and never set it up, so they just wanted it out of their garage. The top brace is broken off, so I'm going to try and make a new one at some point. I didn't want to spend a lot on a new tank because I had planned on drilling the glass myself for a bean animal setup for the overflow. I'd never drilled glass before, so I honestly expected to shatter the rear glass. The holes ended up coming out perfectly fine despite my worry. Took about an hour of messing around to freehand drill it with the hole saw that came with the fijicube overflow I ordered.

I decided to reseal the tank just in case. The original silicone wasn't terrible, but the exposed bead was a bit ragged in spots. I've heard bad things about resealing large tanks, but I was careful to not nick the silicone between the glass. I spent 2 weeks scraping and cleaning the glass and about an hour applying ASI aquarium sealant. The bead looks kind of ugly on the inside now because it skinned more quickly than I expected, but it appears to be firmly attached. I ran some test beads on the bottom of the tank and I cannot pull them off the glass by hand. I've leak tested with a small amount of water so far, but need to finish the stand before doing a full leak test.

At any point if this tank ends up bursting a seam, I'm thinking about salvaging the glass and making a plywood tank. My original half-serious plan had been a plywood build, but I ended up getting this tank for a good price so I'm going to be working with the glass tank for now.

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Bett

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I've been working on the stand for the past two weeks. I originally bought this cheapo 6 foot metal stand from someone, but I didn't trust how it was sagging in the middle. The whole thing just seemed too flimsy for such a huge tank, though I'm sure it works in most cases since they're sold this way. My tank is only 5 feet long, so it's going to be sitting slightly inside of where the stand's legs are.

I decided to build a 2x4 frame inside of the metal stand to brace it and give it more stiffness. The inner frame supports the edges of the metal stand, and I added legs in the center to keep the middle from flexing. The wooden legs sit flush with the top of the stand and the underside of the new plywood top. Some diagonal bracing on the back and sides helped tie everything together and stopped the tiny amount of wiggle when I tried shaking the whole assembly. We might be cheap but we don't do flimsy! I had to cut out the original bottom shelf of the metal stand because I realized I wouldn't have enough space to get to the sump with the 2x4 top rail in the way now. The sumps are going to have to sit on the floor. The shelf had been made of a few welded rods, so it wasn't much of a shelf anyway.

I never like having the bottom of the tank exposed under the stand. However unlikely it may be, I can just imagine working on something in the sump, hitting the bottom of the tank by mistake, and having everything dump out in a mix of shattered glass. I used a sheet of presanded plywood to make a nice level surface. The top is attached just with some angle brackets from underneath on the ends. The top will give me a mini work surface on both ends, since the tank is going to be sitting 6 inches in on both sides.

At first I was going to leave the metal stand black and just paint the wood white, but I got fed up with looking at paints and just went with one color. I painted the wood with an exterior acrylic paint/primer that's supposed to be durable and scrubable when cured, and the metal with flat rustoleum. The acrylic paint was much flatter than I expected, almost chalky, so some areas might get a clear coat later in areas that might get splashed. The plywood top has 2 coats of Bush oil finish, and I'm waiting a few days for it to cure before adding a wipe on poly. Hopefully it should stand up to water dribbles.

Here's some photos of the process as well as the stand it it's final spot. After I put the last clear coat on I'll throw the tank on top and level everything out.

image-20210212_192015.jpg IMG_20210216_171012.jpg IMG_20210219_175608.jpg IMG_20210222_200026.jpg
 
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Bett

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Picked up an old wet/dry filter in really nice shape for $50 yesterday along with a $20 Danner 1200gph magdrive to keep around as an emergency pump. The guy was nice and threw in some big heaters for free that I can use for now. The wet/dry filter box is going to end up being a refugium. I got the other sump for around $30 last year, with the two reactors included. It's a bit scuffed up, but it's just a sump so it doesn't matter. The wet/dry filter is nice and clear though so it'll be nice to look at all the refugium critters in it. I still have to plan out the plumbing for it and the sump so I'm just test fitting them both under the stand to see how they look.

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Bett

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Been waiting for some parts I've ordered to come in, no nothing too interesting this week. Some bulkheads and plumbing I've ordered on ebay haven't moved for over a week. I ordered some weldon #4 to do some acrylic work with some plexiglass scraps I had. I installed some baffles in the refugium and made a little acrylic box that I can use to separate macroalgae or plants in. I've never welded acrylic before, but I was surprised how nicely the weldon worked even though my pieces weren't perfect.

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I wanted to set the tank up this week and leak test it, but I decided to do the plumbing for my utility sink first. I'm planning on having multiple tanks set up in the basement eventually so I wanted a sink down there to have a convenient water source. Part of the plumbing is right above where this tank is going, so I didn't want to drop anything on the glass while soldering on the basement ceiling. The cat decided to remind me that the sink needed some legs, so I made a sink stand out of a broken table's legs that was going to get thrown out. The sink is going to have a mini countertop shelf on the sides.
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Bett

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Also had a fun adventure last week when the shower on the floor above where the tank is going decided to start leaking from around the floor drain. It had probably been slowly dripping for a while, but I only noticed after I had removed the insulation from the basement ceiling and noticed water on the floor. Had to spend an afternoon fighting with the previous owner's handiwork, but luckily it's fixed now. Good thing that the tank wasn't full of livestock underneath the leak with soapy shower water dripping into it.
 
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Bett

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The bulkheads finally arrived in the mail, so I drilled the refugium drain the other night. I wasn't so sure about using a regular wood hole saw on acrylic, so I drilled through the acrylic very slowly. I was afraid the aggressive teeth on the saw were going to grab towards the end when it broke through and cause a crack. When there was about a millimeter left to cut through, I folded and wrapped a piece of sand paper around the hole saw to create a sort of makeshift glass hole cutter. It smoothly cut through the remainder and left a clean edge.
IMG_20210309_195635.jpg
 

Gtinnel

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The bulkheads finally arrived in the mail, so I drilled the refugium drain the other night. I wasn't so sure about using a regular wood hole saw on acrylic, so I drilled through the acrylic very slowly. I was afraid the aggressive teeth on the saw were going to grab towards the end when it broke through and cause a crack. When there was about a millimeter left to cut through, I folded and wrapped a piece of sand paper around the hole saw to create a sort of makeshift glass hole cutter. It smoothly cut through the remainder and left a clean edge.
IMG_20210309_195635.jpg


That is a great idea. I'm a little surprised the hole saw didn't just rip through the sand paper though.

I've only drilled flat pieces of plastic so this may not matter in your case, but I've had good luck using regular drill bits and hole saws by putting a piece of wood against the back of the plastic.
 
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Bett

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Yeah I was considering backing it with something, but I didn't have a good way of clamping anything to the inside of the sump since the hole is further towards the bottom. I think the sandpaper was tight enough on the holesaw that the teeth didn't slide all the way down, and I used barely any pressure to get through the last bit.
 
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Bett

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The tank is now in it's final home, half full of water for a leak check. I spent some time leveling the stand up and making sure the tank was sitting flat. The utility sink is all plumbed up now too, besides the drain, so it came in handy to fill up the tank. We got the soldering done a couple days ago so the tank area was finally ready. I'll let the tank sit for a week or so to make sure there's no slow drips. I can see we're already going to have problems with the little nuisances, so this tank is going to need some cat-proof lids. This one isn't afraid of getting wet and decided to go jump inside the tank when I had an inch of water in.
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Last week I got the center brace put together out of some scrap aluminum. I attached the pieces with some aluminum pop rivets since I didn't want any galvanic corrosion problems. I put a bit of epoxy between the pieces too just to try and seal the seam. I figure the pop rivets aren't super strong in shear, so I stuffed part of the mandrel with some epoxy back into the rivet body so there's more material to hold in the event of a failure. The rivets I used should have an over 200 pound shear strength each if installed correctly, and each side has 3 rivets so it will hopefully be enough. I primed the aluminum with rustoleum metal primer, and then put black enamel on top. I'm going to wait until after the leak test to give the enamel more time to cure fully, and then I'm planning on coating the areas that will be exposed to water in the tank with plastidip. That way there will be multiple layers to hopefully keep the salt water from getting to the aluminum for at least a few years.
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Bett

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Tank hasn't shown any leaks, so I started assembling the rockwork today. I had all of this laid out last summer, but I can't find the pictures I had taken at the time so I had to assemble everything from scratch again. I got all this rock for free almost a year ago from some people who had bought a house with an aquarium from the previous owner. They had sold everything else and only had the totes full of rock left. The rock had some dry algae an debris on it, so I soaked it all in a bleach solution for a week over the summer, and then let it sit for a month or so in fresh water and dechlorinator with weekly water changes. It cleaned up pretty well, and I let the majority of it dry afterwards. I was considering doing a muriatic acid soak, but I didn't want to mess around with the acid and ended up just doing the bleach treatment. From what I found online, people had generally had good luck using the bleach to remove old organic buildup on dead rock.

I didn't want the base rocks sitting directly on the glass or floating loose on the sandbed, so I made feet out of some scrap 2 inch pvc pipe. The feet are epoxied onto the rock and camouflaged with some siliconed on rubble and crushed coral. The feet sit flat on the glass below the sand bed and should help keep critters from burrowing under the foundation.
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I used fiberglass driveway stakes as skewers to hold the main columns of rock together. The rocks are drilled through with a masonry bit. I wanted to keep everything stable and tied together.
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This is the preliminary assembly now. I still need to use some rubble to hide the rest of the stakes, and maybe adjust the positioning of everything. I need to leave some space for 10 pounds or so of live rock I'm planning on adding later.
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I've been working on the stand for the past two weeks. I originally bought this cheapo 6 foot metal stand from someone, but I didn't trust how it was sagging in the middle. The whole thing just seemed too flimsy for such a huge tank, though I'm sure it works in most cases since they're sold this way. My tank is only 5 feet long, so it's going to be sitting slightly inside of where the stand's legs are.

I decided to build a 2x4 frame inside of the metal stand to brace it and give it more stiffness. The inner frame supports the edges of the metal stand, and I added legs in the center to keep the middle from flexing. The wooden legs sit flush with the top of the stand and the underside of the new plywood top. Some diagonal bracing on the back and sides helped tie everything together and stopped the tiny amount of wiggle when I tried shaking the whole assembly. We might be cheap but we don't do flimsy! I had to cut out the original bottom shelf of the metal stand because I realized I wouldn't have enough space to get to the sump with the 2x4 top rail in the way now. The sumps are going to have to sit on the floor. The shelf had been made of a few welded rods, so it wasn't much of a shelf anyway.

I never like having the bottom of the tank exposed under the stand. However unlikely it may be, I can just imagine working on something in the sump, hitting the bottom of the tank by mistake, and having everything dump out in a mix of shattered glass. I used a sheet of presanded plywood to make a nice level surface. The top is attached just with some angle brackets from underneath on the ends. The top will give me a mini work surface on both ends, since the tank is going to be sitting 6 inches in on both sides.

At first I was going to leave the metal stand black and just paint the wood white, but I got fed up with looking at paints and just went with one color. I painted the wood with an exterior acrylic paint/primer that's supposed to be durable and scrubable when cured, and the metal with flat rustoleum. The acrylic paint was much flatter than I expected, almost chalky, so some areas might get a clear coat later in areas that might get splashed. The plywood top has 2 coats of Bush oil finish, and I'm waiting a few days for it to cure before adding a wipe on poly. Hopefully it should stand up to water dribbles.

Here's some photos of the process as well as the stand it it's final spot. After I put the last clear coat on I'll throw the tank on top and level everything out.

image-20210212_192015.jpg IMG_20210216_171012.jpg IMG_20210219_175608.jpg IMG_20210222_200026.jpg
Good call on the metal stand. Without the 2x4 supporting it, it would have been ready for disaster.
I like your DIY skills. All is pretty neat and to the point.

I am not sure about stocking plans, but try to keep the 2/3 rule in mind when scaping. Of course it is only rock and the corals will fill in for more volume, but with the 2 higher structures next to each other, you loose a sense of depth.
Still, the way they are build is great.
 
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Bett

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I'll take some more photos later today, but I messed around with the rockwork for the past week trying to get everything stable and cemented together. I still need to cover up the tops of the stakes, but I have the staking hidden now in the bases. The main rockwork in the final spots and the sand in place now, but I did try and balance it out a bit. I had to leave some space for whatever live rock I add in later too.

I tried to leave plenty of open space in the substrate because I'm excited to actually have open space for once. My old biocube had a big rock pile in the middle and I never had any open area on the sandbed. I hope the overhang on the taller rock structures isn't too wonky, but I wanted to incorporate some rock shelves higher up in the tank. I don't have anything particular in mind for stocking, mostly invertebrates and smaller fish.
 
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Bett

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This doesn't show it great since the tank is partially full of water, but I left some space both in front and behind the rockwork to be able to clean the glass. The largest shelf sticks out a bit more towards the front, and there's a few pieces within 2 inches of the back glass but it should be enough to get a scraper in there. Also I left plenty of space between the tank itself and the basement wall. I can walk behind the tank no problem, so plumbing shouldn't be too much of a pain. I always hate not having good access, especially when you find a puddle on the floor and realize some pipe joint is leaking. Also I'll be able to look in from the back of the tank to see what's hidden in the rockwork. I'm going to make a removable background later on.
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Bett

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Thank you! I do enjoy working on projects like this.

That sink has been 100% worth it so far. Super convenient to have a hot and cold water tap 5 feet from the aquarium. Otherwise I would have had to run a hose in through the window from the outdoor spigot or run upstairs with cement covered hands, lol.
 
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