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The Aquarium project

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I started this post about a month ago over on RBF and forgot to ever post it here, so this is the work that has progressed over the past month on this project...



First off it's funny how things can snowball so much. Because I have been out of Aquariums/keeping fish for over 15 yrs and just a couple months ago decided to get back into it. I planned on getting just a 10g tank with some community fish to sit on top of the entertainment center. And some how that turned into a 55g mbuna tank that I am building the stand, canopy, 3D background as well as other things for myself. Guess you can tell I am the type of person that can get hooked on/obsessed with something pretty quickly :lol: Anyway on to the project....



Started out with a 55g tank I found on Craigslist a couple months ago. I got the 55G and a 20g "long" tank both from the same seller dirt cheap. I plan to use the 20g long tank as a temp/hospital tank. The only problem with the 55g was that for whatever reason the previous owner decided to remove the center support brace. He obviously was not a very handy type of person because it looked like he removed the brace with an axe :o


Starting out...



So I had to remove the factory top trim and order a new trim for it. Removing it wasn't all that hard, just more of a pain in the rear because it takes awhile to cut all the silicone that holds it on the tank. I used a 4.5" paint scraper and worked it all along the outside & inside of the trim to finally get it to come off. Then I had the LFS order me a new top trim which only cost $15. They could only get me the black trim but that's not a problem because I will be building an all wood canopy so the trim will not even be visible...




Now I have started on my 3D background for the tank.Once I get done shaping it the entire background will be coated with concrete to make it look like real rock. After spending some time trying to decide what shape of rocks I want to make it look like and what design I wanted, I came up with something a bit different than I have seen so far. Since the tank is 13" wide I didn't want to do a background that sticks out too far into the tank where I would lose 1/3 the water volume for the fish to swim in. So what I decided on was this. I bought 6 sheets of 3/4" styrofoam and have siliconed together 3 sheets to make the thickness 2.250" at the thickest part as seen here......




Then for the design I am doing it so there are two "openings" in the background. The reason for this is it will leave more room for the fish to swim, pluse it will actually give the illusion of depth in the tank to make it seem bigger. Because in the two/three openings that I leave between the "rocks" of the background I plan to airbrush the back of the tank where the glass shows with a shaded light to dark blue and then mount two 20" Cold Cathode light bars behind the tank. What that will do is give the inside of the tank the appearance of being in an underwater cave, and the two/three openings with the airbrushed blue shades and the blue Cold Cathode lights reflecting behind the opening will make it look like you can see out of the cave out into deeper "open water" of the lake.


This is a picture I was looking at online which gave me the idea to try it this way. So this will give you a basic idea of what I'm going for...




My background will be about 6 pieces on the back, then I will have some small pieces on the side to hide the intake and return tubes for the Rena xP3 filter and powerhead.


So I started out tonight shaping the first of the pieces. I found a single hand hacksaw, a small drywall scraper, and a round reamer made from a section of a fishing rod with some sanding grit epoxied to it made for the perfect tools for shaping my rocks.


The start of roughing in the edges of the first two pieces that will form the first "cave opening"....






And the first three pieces roughed in and mocked up in the tank so I can see what more shaping I need to do on this half of the background....




As you can see from this picture doing it this way I think will still give me a nice 3D look and will not take up all that much room inside the tank which was one of my main goals with this.



will post more updates as I get farther along.

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Got a little free time this evening to do some more work on the background. Went to Home Depot and bought some more GE Silicone #1, a gallon of Drylok, and a masonary brush (short stiff bristles) and got back to work on the background tonight.


In the picture I have the four main pieces cut out, trimmed and shaped. I still have three more smaller pieces to make to go across the top.




These pics show a bit better how the masonary brush helps to get the thick Drylok paint down deep into the crevices to show the texture better. Roughing the foam with a drywall scraper leaves a real nice realistic rock surface look.





This is just the first base coat to see if anymore shaping needs to be done. Next will be a 2nd coat and then some shading with some earth tones to create some more depth and 3D looks.

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Got a little bit of time to work on it some more today between rods. Just have one more piece to finish building and then shaping then I can coat the 2nd section with Drylok. But was able to get the 2nd coat of Drylok on the 1st section earlier in the week and now did some of the shading paint work on the first section.


The shading I am doing is using a darker Grey in the lowest spots on the "rocks", then going over that as well as some of the medium raised surfaces with a medium earth tone brown. Then going over the most raised portions with white to give the whole surface some more depth/3D look. The method I'm using is dry brushing to get the desired look.


The start of dry brushing the deeper areas that are to be shaded. The one deep crevasse here is just dry brushed with some darker Grey at this point...



Here it is after the darker Grey, Earth tone brown and white shading is all done on it...



And the complete first sections two pieces which make up the left 1/3 side of the tank all completed...


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Decided to get a tad more done before I called it a night. I now have the rest of the background carved out and shaped but still have to mount the smaller piece and get it all in line across the top (trimmed down). Then it'll be time to finish the first coat of Drylok over the rest of the bare foam, then a 2nd coat, then shading like on the first sections....




Also started working on the first of the side pieces. Doing the sides in thin 1" foam board so it does not take up anymore tank space than need be. Decided to also build in some small caves into the side board. The larger cave with have a small divider in it so that it will hide the intake for the canister filter behind one side of the divider, while still providing a hiding cave for some fish. Above that is a smaller ledge supported by a rock shaped post to give it strength and provide another "home" for fish...



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I almost took out the little cave because I didn't like it at first, but now I'm glad I didn't scrap the little overhang cave that I built. Because I ended up adding a ton more detail to the side panel in the form of shaped foam rocks and just coated it with Drylok and now I really like the looks of it. Once it's dry and all the shading is done I think it's gonna be a nice little home for a few fish for sure.


This is the one side panel with the first coat on it...







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First test run with the lights this morning. I still have A LOT of work to do such as 2nd coat of Drylok, lots of shading left to do, have to fill and sand some of the seams to smooth them out. But here is a pic with the lights set up behind the opening which will show you what I have had pictured in my mind to give it the whole "Underwater cave looking out to the open water" look I am going for.



First here are the lights I will be using. They will be a total of four of these lights (two for each opening). They are 20" long Cold Cathode lights which are used for lighting up computer cases in case modding hobby on computers. These have been converted over to normal household 110 power with inverters and a wall plug. The opening is covered with some light blue Christmas wrapping paper then the lights positioned behind it with a small space between the lights to focus the intensity more at the top of the opening so that it fades from top to bottom so it gives the effect of the water getting deeper the lower it goes in the opening...





Here is a pic with the lights on and the first of the two opening light up, and the room lights on as well.....





And a pic with the cave lights on and the room lights off....




And a close up...



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Wow, I had your energy once, looks really good, I have a 28 gal. myself that I have been looking at & wondering 'do I really want to get into this again' ? I never thought about Drylok....it won't interfere with the water in any way ? Ph level ?.......what type of fish are you planning on ?....I was always partial to Angels but like I said , right now I'm just staring at the empty tank.....keep us posted with more pics .

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As long as you use the Latex Drylok (not the oil base one) and cycle the tank like you normally would just to be on the safe side then there will be no changes in any water parameters. Once I get this done which will be a few months because I will also be building my own wood stand and canopy as well as light system. But once that's all done then I plan on stocking it with around 20 Mbuna Cichlids (lake Malawi species).



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Well things are moving along well on this now. The complete back is done as well as the left side panel. All that is left now is the right side panel and then the whole background unit will be done and I can then start on building the wood stand, canopy, and lighting system for it.


I went back over the whole thing today with some flat drab olive green and dry brushed that on to many of the areas to give it the look of algae growing on the rock walls. So now it has light grey for the main color, then dark grey in the creases, earth tone brown in some spots, olive drab in others. Then I went back over all the raised portions with white paint and dry brushed all those raised high spots to give it the look of being worn and lighter on the tips of the rocks.


Once I get the right panel done (which I started tonight) then I'll be finished with the background. In the meantime I cleaned the tank today and placed it all in there to snap a picture...









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Here is a 3D sketch I made of the stand and canopy I plan to build. There will be doors covering the two lower cabinets, and there will be plexiglass covering the three upper shelves.



On the two outer top shelves will be some rock displays of Texas Holy Rock (an underwater fancy looking rock). Then in the center shelf behind glass will be this which I picked up awhile back....


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That is one cool way to do the rock in a tank. I love the shelf and filter disguise. I too love aquariums I have had a 120 salt and 90 fresh and let both go to new owners who had the time & energy. Along for the ride!

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