A Guide to Build a Fish Tank for Fish keepers – 2020


Let’s start this post with the admission that Guide to Build a Fish Tank is every bit as challenging as it is rewarding. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a significant DIY undertaking you can do in your free time.


Sure, you can always go to your nearest pet store and buy yourself a fish tank for sale, but where’s the fun in that? Use this materials list and a step-by-step guide to build your fish tank. Not only do you get to save money and build new skills, but you can also share your experiences on reddit.com/r/DIY


The most valuable material that you can get your hands on is glass. Here are a few tips for working with glass:


It’s best to plan everything before cutting into the glass by referring to a schematic. If you’re not sure about your glass cutting skills, hire a professional glazer to prepare the pieces for you.


  • Pro tip 1: Use accurate measurements for a proper fit and avoiding potential leaks.
  • Pro tip 2: Never cover the tank with a thick glass cover because it can restrict the oxygen cycle.


Guide to Build a Fish Tank Materials list:


  • One front, one bottom, two end sheets, and one back glass sheet
  • Single edge razor blades
  • Acetone
  • 100% silicone aquarium sealant
  • Lots of paper towels and duct tape
  • Washable felt marker
  • Emery cloth
  • If you plan on building a 30-gallon fish tank or more extensive, make sure to install support braces at the center. To do this, cut a 6″ thick piece of glass with the same dimensions as the front panels, and then secure it in place using silicone. For extra durability, you can install two support pieces.


Cutting the Glass Yourself


Remember, safety always comes first. Wear gloves when cutting glass to prevent cuts and leaving your handprints all over it. To aid with precision cuts, use a ruler and place it along the desired path.


With your glass cutter at the ready, place the glass into position to start cutting into it. Make sure to not bang onto the glass as it starts breaking away. Instead, firmly push down on it to separate it.


Here’s a quick tutorial on YouTube that teaches how to cut glass quickly and safely.


The choice of glass can make or break (pun intended) your big fish tank. Buying a glass sheet too thick is like sinking money into the drain. Too thin means your cheap fish tanks could collapse under the burden of their weight. Avoid sleepless nights by investing in the right glass sheet.


Unfortunately, the manufacturing process of glass for fish tanks is a mess, and there’s no definitive way to minimize glass failure.


Most aquarium builders use a safety factor between 2.8 to 3.8. You may think that 3.8 is overkill when you’re building your aquarium, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


The factor also varies with the size of the tank. Using 3.8 minimizes any risk of glass failure, which means that the glass will only fail because of structural weaknesses caused due to damage. Tiny chips and scratches on the glass will be the main reason for failure. 


Assembling the Fish Tank


Once finished, use your emery cloth to polish the edges for irregularities on the surface. Use acetone on a paper to clean common glass areas to about half an inch inward. 


Using Duct Tape


Prepare 20 strips of duct tape at a length of about 6 inches. Keep the strips within reach by sticking them to a clean surface near you. The tape shouldn’t stick to the body, with half the tape sticking out freely. If you run out of duct tape before moving to the other panel, prepare a few more pieces.


Pro Tip: If the tape is not sticking to the tank as it should, clean the surface using acetone and try again.


Assembling the Glass Pieces


Now that you have your glass pieces ready, It’s time to determine their placements to keep track of where each sheet goes (which side or edge of the glass sheet will go inside or outside, up or down). 

You can indicate this using a pen with a washable felt marker.


The most crucial piece of glass is the bottom piece. Place it against a flat, smooth surface, and stick two duct tape pieces on each side of the glass (on the bottom surface) with the sticky side facing up. Can do it by lifting the glass from each side to secure the tape strips in their place.    


Installing the Front Glass Sheet


Time to install the front glass sheet. This step becomes more comfortable if you ask someone to help you hold the glass sheet in an upright position while arranging the glass sheet’s first side.


Apply silicone on all inside edges of the front glass sheet, and then align it with the bottom glass sheet, firmly pushing it down.


Don’t wipe any excess silicone on the outside of the edge of the glass. 

You can do this later once the silicone has completely cured.


With the front glass panel installed, fold the two duct tape pieces upward to stick them to the front of the glass sheet.


Installing the Side Glass Sheet


Use the same technique shown above with the silicone to install the first side panel sheet. Once done, fold the appropriate bottom pieces of duct tape in the upward direction and stick them to the glass front.


You can wrap two additional pieces of duct tape around the tank’s corner for a more secure installation.


Installing the Other Side Glass Sheet and the Back Panels


I am using the same steps outlined above to attach the other side glass sheet and the back panels.


Once pieces are secure and the aquarium finished, apply silicone into the inside tank’s eight joints. Push firmly with your thumb and continue the pressure across the silicone that you just used. It is an effective way to make sure everything holds together.


For added security, allow the tank to stand for a day so that the silicone has enough time to cure (about 24 hours) properly.


In this state, the tank will be fantastic to use right away, and you can fill it with water. However, it may be better to give it a few finishing touches to improve it.


The good idea is to apply a thin piece of cardboard to the base of the tank. Doing so will prevent scratches to the bottom of the tank and keep it warm. Alternatively, you can also do the same thing with the back glass panel.


Now is also a good time to do some decoration and putting colored pieces of cardboard to create the right atmosphere.


Once done with this process, let’s consider some areas of improvement.


Do I need a Lid Over My Fish Tank? 


If your fish species are notorious for being jumpers, it’s probably a good idea to use a tank lid before you decide to introduce your fish. Use a glass sheet with smaller dimensions than the base of the tank.


Which Fish Tank Lid Material Should I Use?


You can also use a plastic cover, but finding the right piece is easier said than done. You can’t just put any part of plastic covering that meets your conditions. If you can’t find the right amounts of plastic for the lid, create yourself, just like you did with the rest of the aquarium.


Fixing Problems with the DIY Fish Tank


Despite your best effort, mistakes will happen now and then. The most common problem is the appearance of strange bubbles in the seals or leaking water.


Leaks happen to be the most common issue with aquariums. If you find a leak taking place, you’ll have to empty the aquarium immediately and start sealing it from the outside.


If the sealing does not take care of the leaking right away, you may have to remove the tank and reapply the silicone. Before you re-do the steps outlined above, make sure to clean the edges with alcohol and apply the silicone as usual.


If the leak persists and doesn’t stop even after you re-sealed the tank, you may have to cut out the piece of glass responsible for the leak and replace it. It should fix it.


The bubbles’ appearance along the seal isn’t always indicative of something wrong as long as the water isn’t leaking. Bubbles are simply the trapped air that formed due to silicone application. If you’re still worried, however, you can always reapply for the sealing.


guide to build a fish tank





Setting up the Inside of the Tank



  • The inside of the tank depends on the type of fish species you want to select.
  • If you plan on keeping freshwater fish, you will need a sound filtering system.
  • The most common choices are power filters or undergravel filters that can easily hang on the tank’s back.


A power fish tank filter should easily circulate 5 gallons of water every hour per gallon of your tank’s capacity. For example, a 16 gallons tank would need a power filter that can handle 40 gallons per hour.


If you plan on using an undergravel water filter, find the right size for your aquarium. A large aquarium will need a large fish tank filter. It is because the air pump must work for the entire tank, not just its immediate vicinity.


Follow the specific installation instructions that come with your filter’s packaging. Regardless of the water filter you use, please do not turn it on until you’ve filled the aquarium with water.



Add a Heater



The heater goes inside the tank and can be easily attached with suction cups. Ideally, Should place it next to the filter where the water is in constant motion (this will keep the temperature consistent throughout the tank). Do not turn the heater on until you’ve added moisture to the tank.


To choose the right model, find something that can keep it to 5 watts of heat per gallon of water. Some fish have specific requirements, however. It is ideal to find a fully adjustable submersible heater that can be easily configured later on.


Pro Tip: Any light pieces you add to the tank will also produce heat and contribute to the tank’s temperature. If this becomes a persistent issue for you, choose light options that don’t eat up. They are much healthier for your fish. 



Choosing the Right Substrate



Fill your tank with the right substrate, whether sand, gravel, or whatever your fish finds best. Most fish will need sand or gravel, which you can see from most pet stores. The substrate will filter the water, provide nutrients to the plants and fish, and create a ‘safe’ space for your fish to hide.


The substrate is available in a range of textures and color choices. In most cases, 2 to 3 inches should do fine. However, if your species are bottom dwellers, like the Diamond Watchman Goby, you should add at least 6 inches of substrate.


Before placing the gravel into the tank, make sure to wash it thoroughly. The gravel may have acquired dust matter throughout its time in the store. It is something that you don’t want to add to your tank.



How to Arrange the Decorations



Add a few inches of water in the tank to give you a much better idea of how everything will look. Adjust the decorations as necessary and always account for the weight of the water.


Once you have set up the terrain, fill the tank up. Some experts recommend leaving a gap of about 1 inch from the water’s surface to the lid, although this step is entirely up to you.


Some people prefer not to have a water line at all.



Adding a Dechlorinator for Water and How to Cycle a Fish Tank (freshwater)



Most freshwater fish will die in tap water because they contain chemicals, such as chlorine. It is why a de-chlorinator comes in handy.


Just make sure to buy a de-chlorinator that is the right size for your tank. You should also find a bacterial catalyst to speed up bacteria’s growth in your aquarium (the right kind).


Once the de-chlorinator is in place, you’ll need to start a fishless cycle to monitor the water’s chemistry (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH values). Buy an aquarium testing kit and carefully adjust the numbers to zero. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to add in your fish.


Use an ammonia remover if the levels of ammonia in the tank are too high. As a general rule, you should always change about 15% of the water to keep it fresh and clean.



Adding Live Fish Tank Plants



We will need Live plants to give your fish tank that natural look and help regulate and filter the water. It may be simple, but live plants cannot add to an aquarium if you don’t follow the correct installation instruction or provide them with the right conditions to survive.


Here’s what you have to do:


Set up specialty light bulbs above the tank to help the plants thrive. The best mornings are fluorescent and LED light options because they generate little heat and provide the right ‘kind’ of light fixture to help your plants get their energy.


  • Set up the lights so that they illuminate the entire tank without directly beaming into your fish’s eyes. As a general rule, if it’s too bright for you to look at, it’s too bright for your fish.
  • Avoid using incandescent bulbs because they are not effective at penetrating the water’s levels and will not be sufficient for your live plants.
  • Depending on the live plants, you will need to keep the light on for about 12 hours every day.
  • Find plants that are compatible with your fish species. In most cases, grasses are compatible with many aquatic pets. But it would help if you referred to their detailed care sheet to see which plants are to be avoided. 
  • The plants should fit inside the aquarium without growing out of the water. Tall plants that grow too big will die outside the water.



Planting the Plants



  • To attach ferns: use a rock to secure the fern and keep them upright. Ferns do not need to be placed in the substrate layer. Some will need something tangible to hold onto for stability.
  • Potted plants: Remove the plant from its plot, careful not to damage the roots poking out from under it. Dig a hole in the substrate as wide as the plant, and place it inside.
  • Plants with stems: Push the branch about 2 inches into the substrate to keep the plant upright.



How Many Fish in a 10 Gallon Tank?



The rule of thumb is to go with one small neon-tetra-size fish per gallon of water. It is worth noting that each fish will have its bioload, and you’ll have to clean up after them based on how frequently they upset the tank’s water parameters (such as nitrates and nitrates). 



Wrapping Up



Building your fish tank can be a rewarding experience and save you plenty of cash as well. It may seem like a daunting task, but it’s not too complicated. All you have to do is exercise caution and patience to make your job just a bit easier.


Just follow the instructions outlined above, use the right tools, and find the correct schematic to build your fish tank without a hiccup.

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