How To Build A Fish Tank

how to build a fish tank

Getting a new fish is exciting, but like any other pet you need to properly house it.

While you can buy fish tanks online or from pet stores, you can save a lot of money simply by building your own.

Building your own fish tank might seem daunting at first, but this handy guide will take you through every step. So let’s get started!

What You’ll Need

Before you can start making your fish tank, you’ll need to gather up some supplies first.

Here’s what you need to get.

  • Sheets of plexiglass or aquarium glass
  • A circular saw/glass cutter (if your sheets haven’t already been cut to size)
  • A water filter
  • Aquarium lights
  • A heater (for certain varieties of fish)
  • Silicone sealant 
  • Duct tape
  • Aquarium gravel/sand
  • Whatever decorations you want for your tank!

How To Make The Tank?

Once you’ve got everything you need, you can begin to assemble your fish tank.

Prepare The Pieces

First of all, you need to cut your pieces.

Getting pre-cut materials or getting them cut at a professional glazier is a convenient option, but if you want to save on money and do it yourself, here’s how.

Measure out the dimensions of the walls and floor of your tank on your sheets of plexiglass/aquarium glass.

Make sure that the measurements are precise, as any gaps or ill-fitting pieces will lead to leaks.

The front, back, and bottom panes should typically be the same length, although your base pane can have a different width.

The side panes should also match each other; when measuring out your sidewalls, leave an extra bit of space to account for the thickness of the front and back panes.

From here, it’s time to cut your pieces out.

For plexiglass, a short-bladed saw such as a circular saw or jigsaw works best.

Longer blades can leave your edges uneven and splintered, which leads to an uneven fit and a damaged tank.

Aquarium glass, on the other hand, is a bit more delicate to work with.

Using a ruler to keep your lines steady, make a firm, smooth line with a glass cutter.

When you reach the end of the piece, push down firmly to break away the rest of the glass.

Sand down all the edges and clean the panes with sanitizing wipes or paper towels soaked in alcohol.

You might be better off getting a pre-made lid.

However, depending on the dimensions of your tank it can be difficult to find one that fits.

You can make your own lid by assembling one with the right dimensions out of plastic.

Hold it in place with metal or plastic clips, and avoid completely sealing the tank as this will affect the oxygen-CO2 concentration within the tank.

Assemble The Tank

Now that the frame is ready, you can start to put the pieces together.

It’s best to do this one piece at a time so each pane has a chance to set and cure properly.

First, try to put the pieces together without sealant to make sure that they fit.

Even slight bumps and irregularities on the edges can lead to a leak, so you need to ensure that all the edges line up snugly with each other.

Attach strips of duct tape to the bottom pane, as these will help keep the walls in place while you assemble the tank.

Start with the front pane.

Apply a thin layer of silicone (double-check that the silicone is aquarium-safe) to all of the edges that will be connected.

Align the edge of the front pane with the bottom pane, and push the two pieces together firmly but without pressing too hard,

Fold up the pieces of duct tape to attach them to the wall.

Leave the silicone to set for at least an hour before moving onto the next pane.

Repeat this step with the other walls, adding more silicone onto the edges that connect with the other walls.

Don’t worry about wiping up any excess silicone, as this can be cleaned later. 

When all the pieces have been assembled, add another layer of silicone to the inside seams of the tank where the walls and base connect with each other.

Use a finger to smooth the silicone down and make sure it reaches any gaps.

Use a scraper to remove any excess silicone, remove the duct tape, and let the tank sit for at least 24 hours so the silicone can cure.

After this period you might want to fill the tank with water to test how well it is sealed.

Add The Filter, Light, And Heater

To finish off your tank, fit the filter, lights, and heater (if one is needed) inside.

Keep the lights at the top of your tank, clipping them onto the underside of the lid if possible.

Avoid lights that are too harsh as these can cause your fish distress.

There are various types of filter that need different forms of installation.

If you need to run a cable out of your tank, cut a small hole or slit in the lid so you can feed the cable through without affecting how the lid sits on the tank.

How To Fill Your Fish Tank

how to build a fish tank (1)

With your tank built, now it’s time to fill it. 

Start off with the substrate.

This is the layer of gravel or salt that goes on the bottom of your tank.

Depending on the type of fish you are getting, you might need a specific type of substrate. 

If you’re using gravel, make sure you’re using aquarium-appropriate gravel; if your gravel is the wrong size, you risk your fish swallowing it and being weighed down to the bottom of your tank.

For gravel, fill your tank with a layer around 2-3 inches thick.

If you have a larger aquarium, up this to around 4 inches.

If you’re using sand as your substrate, you only need around 1 inch for a medium-sized tank. For larger tanks, use 2 inches of sand.

Rinse your substrate before putting it in the tank to make sure there is no dirt or dust left in it.

Now that your substrate is in place, you can get to filling your tank with water. 

Fill the tank with the right type of water for your fish; make sure you check whether your fish need salt or fresh water beforehand.

Now, you need to let your water sit for a minimum of 24 hours to produce a good test period.

Check the pH and cleanliness of your water after this with an aquarium testing kit to see if it’s suitable for your fish.

Next, you can start filling the tank with your decorations!

Pieces of driftwood, plants, and stones are all great choices for a more natural-looking fish tank, but feel free to use other tank decorations that are a suitable size for your tank. 

Rinse off any non-porous decorations (such as fake plants or plastic sculptures) to remove any dirt or bacteria.

For porous decorations (like driftwood or some types of stone) you should let them soak in a sink or bucket of water to ensure that there is no leftover dirt and that any bacteria or parasites inside are removed.

Before you can add your fish, you first need to cycle the tank.

This is a process that involves letting helpful bacteria build up that convert harmful ammonia in the water into less-harmful nitrites, and from there into harmless nitrates. 

Different types of fish and water need different types and lengths of cycling, so find out which cycling method you should use beforehand.

If you don’t cycle your tank properly, you put your fish at risk of sickness or even death. 

When everything is prepared and your tank has finished cycling, you can finally add your fish!

Maintaining Your Tank

While the water filter in your tank will help maintain the water quality for your fish, there are still several things you need to do to make sure your tank remains suitable for your fish.

Like any other pet, your fish will produce waste.

If left uncleaned, this can build up and affect the water quality.

There’s also the risk that your fish will end up eating it, which can lead to illness.

Make sure you remove any build-up of waste on a regular basis, and if you notice the water becoming cloudy you should replace it as soon as possible.

You should also check the pH and temperature of the water regularly to ensure that your tank remains at the optimum conditions for your fish. 

You can check the temperature easily with a thermometer, and aquarium testing kits typically contain pH test strips that will let you know the conditions of the water.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! While building your own fish tank might seem intimidating at first, by following these simple steps you’ll be able to have a fully functioning and kitted-out fish tank that is perfect for housing your new pets.

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