Building a Plywood Aquarium Stand

A plywood aquarium stand is a great option for setting up a new aquarium.

Plywood is an affordable material. It’s readily available. It’s incredibly strong. And you can use it to build a stand without bulky 2×4 framing–giving you much more room for equipment in your stand.

Pre-made stands, like those that come with Red Sea or Waterbox aquariums, will give you an idea of the type structural support a tank you size will need.

They typically make their stands out of MDF. Plywood gives you just as much support if not more.

Here’s how I made a stand out of plywood for the new 65 gallon aquarium I’m setting up…

I made it in my garage with a few handheld power tools: a miter saw, circular saw, jigsaw, router, drill and palm-sander.

The body of the stand is made from 3/4 inch plywood.

1/2″ thick plywood would have been more than adequate for a 65g tank.

However, red oak grain will match other furniture in the same room. And neither Home Depot or Lowe’s had full 4′ x 8′ sheets in 1/2″ red oak.

Home Depot had 3/4″ red oak plywood so that’s what I used.

I rabbeted the the front and back panels along the edges that would mate with the side panels. This was done to ensure a rock-solid joint was formed when they were glued and screwed together.

cutting plywood panels
Cutting the panels for my plywood aquarium stand.

1″ x 2″ sub-framing pieces were then glued and screwed along the top and bottom of the front, back, and both side panels.

attaching the sub-framing
Attaching the 1″ x 2″ sub-framing to the inside of the front panel. Notice the rabbets that were cut in the edges for the side panels to mate into.

The sub-framing will support the bottom panel of the cabinet.

It also provided material to screw into when I joined the front and back panels to the side panels, and the top to the cabinet body.

In this picture you can see the plywood ‘box’ assembled. It also gives you a good look at the 1″x2″ sub-framing. Note that the long 1″x2″ running the length of the stand beneath the two plywood cross-beams is actually a trim piece along the back of a shelf that’s hidden by the front panel in this picture.

stand with framing
Plywood stand showing the 1″ x 2″ sub-framing as well as two plywood cross-beams to help support the top when it’s attached. And Penny, the job supervisor.

That by the way is Penny, the job supervisor. She’s a real stickler for garage/shop safety.

Similar framing supports the bottom panel.Next, decorative trim pieces were made with various widths of 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick red oak boards from Home Depot.

The doors were attached using euro-style Blum 95 degree blind-corner hinges.

The top was made from three 10″ x 1″ red oak planks that I cut to width and length, glued together, and then sanded smooth.

The top is smooth but NOT perfectly flat because I do not have a planar. So the aquarium will sit on a 1/2″ thick piece of rigid insulation foam. This will ensure the slightly uneven surface of the top does not create stress points on the bottom of the tank when it’s filled.

The cabinet was stained and finished with three coats of water-based polyurethane.

cabinet doors
Staining the cabinet doors.
Cabinet front before the doors were mounted.
Cabinet front before the doors were mounted.
Inside of the cabinet.
View of the inside.
Back of the cabinet.
The back of the cabinet.
Finished stand with copper pipe light rack.
The finished stand along with a DIY light rack made from copper pipe.
Finished stand, doors open.
A peak at the inside. The Blum hinges I used are ‘clip ons’. Simply press a tab on the hinges and doors pop off for easier access to the inside. Then just snap ’em right back on.

This write up on the stand I made for my 24 gallon aquarium. gives you an even more detailed look at how to build a plywood aquarium stand.

Filter Floss: When to Replace It for Optimal Aquarium Health

A common question among new aquarium owners is, “How often should I replace my filter floss?”

And one of the most common answers you’ll see on popular reef keeping forums is “every 2 to 3 days”.

There are two slight problems with this rote piece of advice though:

  1. It could cost you extra money. And,
  2. It could starve your tank.

Every tank is unique, including yours. Just because changing the filter floss every 3 days works best on another person’s tank doesn’t mean it will work best for yours.

How often you change your filter floss will depend on your bio-load and the maturity of your tank.

filter floss cut into strips
Filter floss cut into 1 inch strips for placement between sump baffles.

Consider a new tank that is less than three months old…

Changing the filter floss too often could deprive the bacteria and other microscopic critters of the food they need to develop. This may result in your tank taking longer to mature than usual.

Likewise, changing filter floss too often in a established, mature tank could strip the water of too many nutrients causing the coral to starve.

So where does the common ‘2 to 3 days’ come into play?

As a starting point.

Filter floss isn’t needed until you reach your desired nutrient levels. Phosphate of 0.03 ppm and nitrate of 1 to 5 ppm are most typical.

Once your tank is at your desired nutrient levels begin using filter floss.

For the next 4 to 6 weeks replace it every three days.

Be sure to test your phosphates and nitrates at least twice a week during this period.


Let Your Tank ‘Tell’ You When to Change the Filter Floss

If your nutrients continue to rise during the test period switch to replacing it every 2 days – and consider adding additional filtration such as a skimmer and/or granular activated carbon if you don’t already use them.

If your nutrients hold steady or drop closer to zero during the test period, try replacing the filter floss every five days.

Keep testing for 4 to 6 weeks.

If the nutrients continue to hold stable or drop, bump the replacement schedule out to once a week.

Keep testing. And keep bumping the schedule out.

When your nutrients start to rise a little, stop and switch back to the previous schedule. Congratulations! You’ve found your filter floss replacement ‘sweet spot’.

For example, if they were stable when you replaced the floss every 7 days (once a week) but started to rise when you replaced it every 9 days, stop. 7 days is your replacement ‘sweet spot’.

Changing it more often than 7 days would just be wasting money. And waiting longer than 7 days will cause your nutrient levels to rise.

What if your able to go for several weeks without replacing the floss and still see no rise in your nutrient levels?

Well then you may not need to use filter floss at all. It would indicate the other biological and/or mechanical filtration in your system is more than enough to keep your nutrient levels in check.


Dosing Phytoplankton: Is It Good for Your Aquarium?

Dosing phytoplankton can provide many benefits for some aquariums, and yet may cause problems for others.

Determining whether or not it’s a good idea to use it can often be difficult.

And a quick look on popular saltwater aquarium forums reveals quite a raging debate.

Some folks argue phytoplankton is the foundation of the food chain in our oceans, and is therefore beneficial to life in a reef tank.

Others say it can’t be directly consumed by coral or most other aquarium inhabitants … and therefore does nothing except to add unneeded nutrients to the water.

I’ve tried dosing phytoplankton in my 24-gallon mixed reef aquarium on two different occasions. Each spanned one month.

The only change I noticed the first time was an decrease in the time it took for film algae to grow on the glass. Before dosing phytoplankton I had to clean my glass once every 4 days.

After I began dosing phyto, I had to clean it every 3 days.

Bottle of Phytoplankton

There were no changes in coral growth or color. And no other noticeable changes, so I stopped dosing it.

Over-filtration¬† in the months that followed caused my water to become a bit too ‘clean’. I noticed slower growth and paler color in some of my corals. So, instead of running a skimmer and filter floss together, I decided to use just the skimmer.

After a couple of months my nutrients were still measuring in a nice, low acceptable range: 0.01 phosphates and less than 3 ppm of nitrate.

But there was still just enough of an increase in each for my corals to regain their vibrancy and grow a bit quicker. They were consuming the extra nutrients before they could cause my measured values to rise.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “what does this have to do with dosing phytoplankton?”

Well, I also noticed another unexpected surprise. New sponges began to grow on my live rock.

When I first set up my tank, I used live rock from Tampa Bay Saltwater. It was COVERED in barnacles, sponges, and other life.

Unfortunately, as my tank matured, and my nutrient levels came down into proper ranges, they slowly died off and faded away.

When I saw these new sponges starting to appear, I thought dosing phytoplankton might help them to spread even more.

So tried dosing phyto for a second time.

The result?

The same as the first time. I’ve had to clean film algae off my glass twice as often. But I’ve noticed no difference in the growth rate of the sponges or anything else.

So I’ve stopped dosing it. And I doubt I’ll try it again.

It is apparent to me now that my tank does not have enough phytoplankton-dependent life in it any more to make it worthwhile. The nutrients from uneaten fish food, fish poop combined with twice-weekly feeding of coral food is enough to keep my tank happy.

However, I do wish I had known about dosing phytoplankton when I had first set up my tank with that live rock.

All those original barnacles, sponges, porcelain crabs, and the myriad of other filter feeders would probably still be alive and thriving if I had started dosing phyto then.

That is perhaps the biggest key to knowing if it’s worth dosing phytoplankton in your tank.

If you have a lot of filter-feeding critters in your tank, it is definitely worth giving it a try.

On the other hand, if you only have a few, or none, then dosing phyto probably isn’t worth it. You will only be wasting money and adding unnecessary nutrients to your tank.