Building your own tank – from scratch!

So I thought I’d experiment with building my own tank.  See what all the fuss is about and how hard it is.  I went around the interwebs reading different articles and  talking to others on ukaps who had built their own tanks from scratch and after a few weeks I finally thought I was ready to attempt it.

I made plans for a 2 foot x 1 foot x 1 foot tank (or 60x30x30cm)  Nice and common size and easy to pick up condensation trays for it as one of the things I wanted to achieve was a rimless + braceless tank which would be ideally suited for a planted aquarium not just as a fish tank etc.

Glass Cut plan

Using 4mm thick float glass I planned the glass cuts I’d need from my local glass place.  The first 3 pieces are simple, 3 identical pieces at 60cm x 30cm for the front, back and base. Now at this point I should note that some places on the interwebs say to cut the base shorter and have the end plates biger so the end plates overlap the base.  While this works its not pretty and I suspect not as strong as having a full length base and the end plates mounted ontop of the base.  Basically everything fits ontop of the base.

So if you have a 30cm deep sheet of glass and you stand 2x 4mm sheets of glass ontop of it the new depth of the glass is 29.2cm.  Because the end plates sit ontop of the base the overall height of the end plates is 30cm – 4mm so 29.6cm.

This means that the 2 end pieces needed to be 29.2cm x 29.6cm.  It was at this point my glass cutters screwed up and did my 2 end pieces at 29.2 square 🙁  Thankfully this isn’t a total loss as its simply resulted in an end plate based lip now that fits a piece of perspex as a condensation tray perfectly still without needing any rims or braces!

Anyway so with my freshly cut glass in had I had a little prep work to do before I could stick the thing together.  The glass needed the edges smoothing so as not to slice myself or the silicone open and it all needed a good clean to get greasy finger prints off it to allow the silicone to get a good seal.  Its worth pointing out at this stage that using 100% pure silicone with no anti fungal or stain chemicals etc in it is a good idea if you intend to use the tank for livestock.  If you’re buiding something like a shallow tank for a wabi kusa or something then this doesn’t matter as the chemicals shouldn’t effect the plants but for fish and shrimp etc its important. I used Everbuild Aquamate Transparent though the choice is upto you.

Edge smoothing was done using a medium wet and dry (wet obviously) wraped around a block of wood to achieve nice smooth edges without loosing the level as the edges needed to meet up smoothly against other straight edges so its important not to over sand or break the straight edge.

Cleaning up grease and glass dust was done using kitchen roll and methalated spirits its great stuff removes all crap and evaporates off quickly to leave the surface clean and clear ready for bonding.

The next step is the actual build and this bit is very much a start and don’t stop until you’re done thing its fast and you have about 3 minutes before the silicone starts to cure so you have to get the entire thing assembled in that time.

Prepare your build by laying out all your pieces and getting some duck tape lined up because my tank is fairly small I had 2 strips along the from and back of the bottom and one at each end. Half under the base and half hanging free as this will be wrapped around onto the front and back and end panels to keep them in place.  I also had 4 other spare strips at hand to hold the front to end panel corners in place too.  This picture may help this part make more sense.

Sticky Planning

With the tape ready and in place its time to silicone.  Now the everbuild stuff I used comes with quite a fine tip on the tube so didn’t need cutting back.  Just remember depending on the thickness of the glass you use the larger the tip you’ll need.

The  trick here is to apply the silicone without stopping on each pane.  If you stop and restart you run the risk of having blobs of too much silicone or even worse thin parts with air bubbles in the seal!  When I did this I applied silicone to the entire base all in one and 2 vertical short edges on the front and back panels.  These were quickly lifted into place and pushed firmly but lightly down into the silicone on the base.  Too hard and you risk cracking your base or having too thin a seal.  Don’t worry about any silicone that squirts out of the cracks you’ll be cleaning that up later with a stanley or razor blade.

With the backpanel in place quickly apply the 2 end pieces and then finally push the front panel into place carefully ensuring that the front and back panels are aligned with the edges of the base will ensure that the end panels fit squarely and accurately into the end.  Quickly wrap the duck tape around your corners to hold the thing all together and walk away for at least 24 hours for the silicone to cure.

After the silicone has cured take your stanley blade or razor blade and with it flush against the glass at a 45 degree angle (or as close as)scrape off the excess silicone from the inside and outside of the tank. Fill with water and check for leaks.  Now some people like to run an additional bead of silicone along the inside joints and if you choose to do this you can do it using your finger with abit of spit on it to smooth it out and push it into the corner I choose not to do it as I prefer the no silicone look but if you want adding on the inside can help seal any leaks and add an additional layer of protection / strength to the joints.

If all has gone to plan you now have a lovely shiney new home built aquarium to fit your size’s etc.  Its pretty easy but remember the prep work is important and time and patience are also required.

If you’re in the south yorkshire area of the UK and want to build your own but are unsure get in touch I’m happy to come help you build your own if I have the time available or I may even build one for you if you want an odd sized tank but don’t think you can handle it yourself.

15 thoughts on “Building your own tank – from scratch!”

  1. I’m looking to build my own tank, just wondering how thick the galas needs to be, I would like to make one 1mt wide, 1/2 Mt deep and half mt tall

    1. the important thing is the depth in thickness calculations there’s many glass calculators on the internet though if you google fish tank glass thickness calculator

  2. It works! I’ve tried it myself at home. I made a 45 gallon tank by following the tutorial on this page.

  3. I’m hoping to build tank using acrylic instead of glass, more expensive but worth it considering I have four children running around.

    I was wondering if you knew how many litres of water that size of tank would hold just so i know what pump would be good for tropical fish.

    And thanks for the small tutorial, it is really helpful.

    1. Acrylic is usually cheaper than glass I suggest checking ebay for sheets.

      A tank the size of the one I made holds about 60 litres so you’d want a filter that turns over 500-750 ish litres an hour.

      If you’re using acrylic then also remember that standard silicone doesn’t have the best bond in the world there’s some epoxy bonding stuff that is far better for acrylic but I’ve never done it so I can’t really tell you exactly what to use.

  4. This is a great guide and one i will be following in the coming months to build my own tank. The only issue I have is the cut sizes that you have given. I do not understand how the front and back can have different heights to the side. Surely if all four sides are sat on top of the base they should all have a height of 296mm? This would give a overall outside size of 300mm. Please correct me if i am wrong just trying to get into my head where all the glass sits. I have drawn out the tank on 3d cad software and your cut sizes didn’t fit. Once again a great guide! Thankyou for taking the time to write it.

    1. There’s loads of ways of doing it some people put all panels on top of the base. others put them all next to the base. I tend to do a 50/50 setup where the end panels sit on top of the base now in my case I used 4mm glass so the end panels are 296mm high the front and back sit on the floor and butt up to the base so they are 300mm high. I feel this gives more strength to the joints as it offsets them rather than having them all on the base and pushing perpendicular to the silicone.

      At the end of the day though its personal preference do whatever suits you best

      1. Thanks for your reply. Would this not make the width of the side panels 300mm rather than 292? or am I looking at this completely wrong :-/

        Also how does the silicone hold up over time? Does it deteriorate over a number of years and require replacing?

        Also Adrian Welch near White Rose Way in Doncaster will do the glass for £15 + VAT. I’ll be calling there for mine soon.

        1. If going for a 600x300x300 tank using front and back on side of base and ends on top and using 4mm glass you would have the following size pieces.

          Base 600×292
          2x Sides at 296×292
          Front/back 600×300

          The base is full length but minus 2x 4mm for front and back panel.
          The sides fit inside the U shape by the front back and base so its minus 4mm vertically and 2x 4mm front to back
          the front and back panels are full size.

          Now while when I made the tutorial I used 4mm glass and 4mm will hold just fine at 600x300x300 I made the tank braceless which does lead to a slight bowing of the front and back panel. Nothing to worry about but its not perfect so I’d be tempted to use 5mm glass and adjust accordingly or add at least a front and rear full length brace.

          If you use proper aquarium silicone it lasts a good few years I’ve got a 4x2x2 quarantine tank that has been siliconed for about 10 years and is still leak free. It does eventually harden and go off when it’ll need stripping and repairing but that’s only really the surface silicone not the stuff between joints.

          Just remember don’t push the panels too firmly together you want a good amount of silicone left between the joints if you push it too hard it all squeezes out and you get a dodgy joint. Some people on bigger tanks use a credit card to act as a spacer. Now that’s up-to you and on a small tank like this its not vital but its something to bear in mind.

          I’ve never tried Adrian Welsh I use either Roundbrand glass in Armthorpe or if I want a nice beveled edge finish not just cut then I’ll use AK glass in Bently. AK can also do cool inner cut outs and bevels which is handy if you’re making condensation trays like I recently had done for the lounge tank.

  5. Hi,
    Great tutorial, this has inspired me to build my own tank (albeit for gerbils, not fish!). I too am based in South Yorkshire (Sheffield). I was wondering who you used to get / cut your glass and how much it was if you dont mind me asking?
    Thanks in advance, Chris

    1. I get my glass from a little place in Armthorpe (Doncaster) the glass for the 2x1x1 shown in the post cost £22 cut and polished around the edges. It was only standard float glass though and quite thin as I was experimenting with the zero silicone style build.

      I plan on doing another tank build post at some point in the future after some new tools have turned up for doing silicone edges hopefully making it even easier to do.

      1. Thanks, did you use a special type of silicone? or just the sealant type stuff you can pick up from Wickes etc..?

        One other thing about the glass, did you buy tempered (or any other kind of treatment) glass? As there wont be any weight on the glass from water I’ll easily get away with 4mm.
        Cheers, Chris

        1. You have to use special aquarium safe silicone for aquatics but if its just for gerbils you can probably get away with just normal clear silicone however there is no real difference in costs between aquarium safe and normal so perhaps go with the safe stuff just incase. never know gerbils may eat at it?

          I believe there is a link to the site I get my silicone from in the article its self

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