We love living on our 1-acre property in a big neighborhood because it allows us to have our privacy and space yet stay connected to our neighbors and their families. Since we do most of our projects in our garage or driveway, especially when it's warm, we get the chance to meet so many neighbors as they take walks or play with their kids. It's an awesome opportunity to build connections and share our story.
Last summer, one of our neighbors trusted us to learn some new skills in order to build him a solid wood aquarium stand for his new fish tank. So as his hobbies during the pandemic grew, so did ours and we are so grateful!
The blog outlines our basic process, but you can purchase a PDF version of the plan for this aquarium stand for the details to build your own.
This fish tank stand was the first full custom piece that we've built from scratch. It turned out to be pretty great and we're pleased considering how many learning curves we faced. Now that I'm finally writing the blog for it almost a year later, I can say that we've learned so much more since we did this piece. You can see some of those new skills in our Empire blog too.
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We started off by making a list of needs from our friend, such as learning more about the dimensions of his tank, the height that he wanted the tank to be so that he and his young kids could see the fish well, the design style in their home, and the size of the pump he would be using as well as the kind of access he would need in order to get to the pump.
Josh nor I have ever had a fish tank before, so we were also learning about the technical details along the way too. We did some research and gained a lot of our inspiration from Shara at Woodshop Diaries after she built an aquarium stand.
Open the drop down menu to see more details about our materials.
We started planning out our dimensions and cuts by marking out the face frame first. Initially, we planned to have thicker walls and moulding but changed the design to save on costs and due to a mistake we made that occurred later on in the project.
building the sides
We started building each side first so that we could then attach the framing to each side.
Cut two pieces of 3/4" plywood to 24in wide by 28.75in tall. Mark spaces for pocket holes that will be used to later attach the herringbone side wall to the frame. You can see our pencil marks in the left image below as a rough guide.
We drilled the pocket holes before applying the herringbone pieces so that we did not damage them and so that the holes were drilled appropriately for the thickness of the plywood and the 2x4 frame. We used a piece of painter's tape to label each side wall.
Next, we used our miter saw to chop the handles off of paint sticks for the herringbone pattern. As you can imagine, this took quite a few paint sticks.
In order to make a clean herringbone pattern, the length of the paint stick needs to be divisible by the width of the paint stick. Ours were 1 in wide by 4 in long. You can set up a stop black on the miter saw to get consistent cuts since you'll be making so many of them.
Note: It's also important to cut off a small sliver on the opposite end of the handle so that you have a smooth edge against the stop block.
Then, we split up the paint sticks into four equal groups and laid them flat on top of a mat. We used a stain pad and some stain to apply color to each group of paint sticks. Our neighbor helped us pick colors that he preferred, which ended up being:
While the paint sticks were drying, we worked on building the outside frames for the two side panels. Each board on the outside frame was planed down to be 1 1/4" thick and ripped to size at 3 in wide. The two long boards on the frame at 34 3/4" long and the two short boards are 24 in long.
Typically, we would not apply any stain to our pieces until after the build is completed. However, we chose to stain these in advance because we were afraid that the stain would leak onto our herringbone pattern, which is all put together in the next step. Even though we did this, we ended up having to sand on the frame later on in the build and had to reapply stain anyways. In hindsight, I think it would have saved us time to wait to stain the frame until the end. We just would have had to tape well and make sure that we did not apply stain too generously.
Once the glue was dry on the herringbone pattern on each plywood board, we used clamps to hold down a straight edge and double checked to make sure it was squared up with the edges of the plywood backing. Then, we used the circular saw to cut off the excess herringbone pieces.
We only have pictures of the smaller plywood pieces that we used on the doors, but the process for these was still the same as the outside panels in this step.
We had a trial and error process with adding on the frame as we had never done this before. Sydney is also stubborn and could have done a little more research on making shaker-style panels. Nonetheless, we tried a few different routes and learned some things the hard way.
Attaching Cabinet Frame to Side Panels
Once the side panels were all glued up and dry, we started working on making cuts for the face frame. We used the planer to get these boards down to 1 1/4 in thick and used the table saw to rip them down to 3 in wide. Then, we used the miter saw to cut four boards to a length of 12 3/4 in long.
Next, we ripped one more board to 2 in wide and cut it on the miter saw to 34 3/4 in long.
Once all the boards were cut, we added two pocket holes on each end of each short boards. Then, we used glue and Kreg pocket hole screws to attach the short boards to the long board in the center, which makes an I shape.
To attach the face frame, we flipped one side panel upside down and laid it flat on the ground. Then, we used clamps to hold up the I frame securely to the panel. We used some glue and Kreg pocket hole screws to attach them together.
After the I frame was attached, we cut down two more boards that would be a simple frame on the back side of the aquarium stand. These two boards were 1 1/4 in thick, 3 in wide, and 27 1/2 in long. We cut two pocket holes on each end of both boards. Then, we attached them to the outside corners of the side panel opposite of the I frame.
We flipped the piece over and started adding cross bars for the top of the frame. We built out five cross bars in total and also attached them with pocket hole screws. This was a part of the initial plan, but once it was already built out, we ran into another obstacle. Our neighbor realized that he needed a hole in a specific spot for the tubing that leads to his sump. We'll lay out our initial plan here and show you our adjustments later on in this post.
Each of the five cross bars were 27 1/2 in long x 3 in wide x 1 1/4 in thick and had two pocket hole screws on each side. We used Kreg clamps, a speed square, and a level to help us as we attached them.
Adding the Plywood Floor
We believed that adding the plywood floor would be one of our easiest steps, which in theory, it should have been. We cut 3/4 in plywood to 27 1/2 in x 27 1/2 in and slid it into the frame from the back side. It fit fairly closely, but this is how we found out the piece was just a hair off from being perfectly square, which throws off the shape of the floor base. We ended up keeping it because we had already planned to fill the base with epoxy on top of the floor.
Lesson learned: Double check measurements and don't just follow a perfect plan, at least if you're human like us.
Although we don't have pictures of it, we did drill a few pocket holes from the bottom side of the base that attached the plywood base to the frame. Measure carefully for these pocket holes so that they fit between the cross bars and don't hit any other pocket holes.
Gluing Up The Top
This step might be one of our biggest learning curves as we had never done a glue up on our own before because we had someone else help us with the glue up on our dark walnut table. Even still, our neighbor trusted us, we learned from our mistakes, and put our problem-solving skills to use. Whether you are new to woodworking or DIY projects or not, don't be fearful of making mistakes. Give yourself permission to mess up and work on shifting your mindset along the way.
We used our planer, our table saw, and our miter saw to get the boards to size before our glue up. This left us with 8 boards at 1 1/4 in thick x 4 in wide x 34 in long. Our top eventually will measure at 32 in x 32 in total, but we cut each board at 34 in long so that we could trim up the edges after the glue up.
Unfortunately, we don't have pictures from our initial glue up, but we can share some quick tips that we learned.
Tip 1: Alternate the end grains in your glue up. This will help keep the boards from warping one the glue up is dry. See the image below.
Tip 2: We like parallel clamps much better than a bar clamp with a screw for doing glue ups.
Tip 3: Over applying glue can make it difficult to keep everything in place as you tighten the clamps.
Tip 4: Tighten the clamps a little at a time while alternating from each clamp, starting with the two outside clamps.
Tip 5: Use clamps on the bottom and on the top of the glue up. This helps to keep even pressure and helps prevent warps.
Tip 6: Use a rubber mallet to tap down any boards that aren't lying flush with the others. You can also use a clamp if more firm support is needed to keep them aligned. Having squared up edges to begin with is important for this too.
Tip 7: You can use a lightly dampened paper towel to wipe off excess glue, which will prevent you from sanding as much later on.
Tip 8: You're allowed to ask for help if needed :)
We finally got it to where it was acceptable and used a sanding progression to get it smooth. We start with using our orbital sander and 80-grit sandpaper. Then, we move to 120-grit sandpaper, then 220-grit sandpaper, and then 320-grit sandpaper. Some people go further than this into the finer sanding, but we typically do this later on in the project.
Fixing the Top and POURING THE EPOXY
We used a Swanson Square to draw out lines for the overhang that we initially planned and then drew out the dimensions for the hole that we needed to cut. Since the hole did not touch the outside of the top piece, we used a large drill bit to cut a hole in the center of the square hole. Then, we used a jigsaw to cut the square out.
We took down one of the cross bars to cut it shorter so that it would fit just on the outer edge of the square hole. Then, we cut a short board and used pocket hole screws to attach the new board to the side wall to serve as a connecting point for the shortened crossbar. This took some patience as well because our drill wouldn't fit in the small spaces and we had to take down various crossbars and then add them again to make it all work.
We did not put the top back on until after we were finished with the epoxy so we had plenty of light to be able to see. Epoxy was important for the floor because of the sump being held in the bottom as well as being a storage space for other aquarium supplies. The epoxy also helped to fill in the gap we had in the flooring.
We flipped the base over and attached the foot to each corner. Then, we used frog tape on the bottom of the stand to create a barrier to hold the epoxy. Although we taped very well, some epoxy still leaked through the bottom and created a mess to clean once it all dried. Thankfully we were able to clean up the best that we could and it is not visible. Next time if we ever have a gap like that, we would likely use foam backing rod and caulk to seal the edges before pouring epoxy.
Since we did not stain the floor before pouring epoxy, we used a mica powder to match the color of the base stain as closely as possible. Each type of epoxy resin is similar but has some differences. We used Famowood Glazecoat but it is important to follow the instructions based on the type that you purchase.
Because of the lessons we learned in this process, it took several tries to fill the gaps and get a clean finish. We let the epoxy fully harden and dry based on package instructions before applying additional coats. We used a heat gun to get rid of any surface bubbles as well.
Completing the Doors and Attaching the Top
When building the doors, we pretty much followed the same steps as described in step 1 of this blog. In fact, step 1 uses the photos from this step. The biggest difference is based on the dimensions of the doors. When we designed our plans, we left room for the doors to have a 1/2 in overhang on the face frame. This is important so that there's plenty of space for hinges and for opening and closing the doors. Our doors measured 13 3/4 in wide in total and were 30 3/4 in tall in total.
There are many ways in which to attach a top to a piece of furniture. Based on our research, we chose to utilize figure 8 fasteners. We really love how Stumpy Nubs explains how to use these and followed his instructions. The purpose of figure 8 fasteners it to give the wood room to move as the grains shift with temperature and use.
We started with making sure we attached the figure 8s in the proper direction by first laying out where they would be on our base frame. Then, we used a pencil to mark the location. After that, we used a drill bit in matching size to drill into the frame. It is important for the figure 8s to lay flush, so we moved slowly with our drill bit to sneak up on the correct depth. Figure 8s need wiggle room to move, so if the drill bit didn't get close enough to the edge, we used a chisel to give it a wider angle so that the figure 8 could move back and forth.
Ready for Finish
Once the top was screwed on, the end was finally in sight. Since we were new at building custom furniture, we greatly underestimated how much time and effort went into this process and how much learning, unlearning, and relearning we would do. Instead of 4-6 weeks, it took us all summer and we were so happy to be close to the end so that we could see our accomplishments.
We decided to sand down the frame once everything was put together so that we could get as smooth a finish as possible. We worked through the sanding progressions as discussed earlier in this post and we were very careful around the herringbone pattern as we did not want to stain that part again. Delightfully, we didn't make any mistakes during this part.
After the sanding was done, we used pre-stain to prep the wood and followed the directions on the can. Then, we used our stain pads and custom stain on all unfinished pieces. We used tape on the herringbone and on the epoxy floor to protect it from overstain. We stained the body with the doors off and stained the doors separately.
After the stain was dry, we used a brush to apply a polyurethane finish. We typically like polyurethane finish on stained projects much better than using it on painted projects. We used a fine sand paper in between each coat (3 coats total) to get a smooth finish. Now that we have learned more, we also know that we really like the qualities of Odie's Oil finish as well but we did not use it on this project.
Adding the doors
Final Photos with Fish Tank
Josh and Sydney are life adventurers that love to learn and create. We are exact opposites and enjoy gaining new perspective. Our home is where our varying personalities shine, and we use it to gather our friends and family together.