A DIY Aquarium Stand for Under $150 – Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 of this 3 part series gave you a look at the materials and steps used to build a clean, sleek DIY aquarium stand for less than $150. Now let’s take a look at final and most rewarding step – plus, a rather pricey confession I have to make…

How To Put a DIY Aquarium Stand Together for $150 or Less:

Step 6: Selecting Your Finish

This final step can be both the most painstaking and rewarding step yet. It requires the most patience and the most time. But, if you take your time and do it right, you’ll be amazed at the transformation that takes place.

First up is choosing the type of finish you want to apply:

  • Are you going to stain your wood, or leave it’s natural color?
  • Do you want the wood have a soft, amber tint or a crystal-clear, finish?
  • What level of protection from water stains do you want it to have?

There are many types of stain and protect finishes available for wood furniture. As far as stains go, there are oil based stains and water based stains. And for clear protective top coats three of more popular choices are oil-based polyurethane finishes, water-based polyurethane finishes, and spar urethane – all of which are generally classified as varnishes.

Don’t get me wrong – there are others out there, such as tung oil and linseed oil. But, because they go on in such thin coats, they tend offer far less durability than modern varnishes or varnish-oil blends.

If your staining your wood either water or oil based stain will work just fine. Two things to keep in mind: 1) oil-based stains need to be cleaned up with paint thinner whereas water-based stains clean up with soap and warm water, and 2) a water-based clear top coat may not apply well atop an oil-based stain. So, if you end up choosing an oil-based stain, it may best if you also use an oil-based clear coat.

Your protective, clear top coat is where the real differences between choosing oil-based and water-based need to be weighed – especially if you are keep the wood it’s natural color or are intend to apply a light colored stain…

Oil-based clear coats will give a piece of wood a slightly golden hue when applied over unfinished wood or light color stains. They will also ‘amber’ over time giving them an even deeper golden hue. And they enhance the wood grain, bringing it out and making it look more pronounced.

Water-based clear coats have no hue; they are clear, and remain so over time – giving wood a more true and natural look. However, they also ‘flatten out’ the wood grain and do not enhance it.

As for spar urethane – it’s designed for outdoor or indoor use on wood that is frequently around water, and provided extra protection from water, sunlight (e.g. UV rays), and temperature changes.  We’re talking about the type of extremes you would see on boats, canoes, and such. However, it may actually be unnecessary overkill for our application. Remember, where making a DIY aquarium stand that will be indoors – not to mention a centerpiece of attention that is well cared for for an aquarium stand.

Once you’ve decide on your stain (if any) and clear coat, the rest is simple… or is it?

Step 7: Applying the Finish

Your almost there – only 4 things left to do:

  1. Remove all the hardware from your assembled stand — hinges, handles, etc. If necessary, use some painters tape to mask/protect any hardware that may need to stay on.
  2. Sand your wood surface to open up the grain so it will accept the finished.  At least two passes are recommended: the first one with 120 or 150 grit sand paper, the second with 150 or 180 grit. If you want to really make it pretty, do three passes 120, 150, 180. (Note : it is not recommended to go above 180 grit except on a few select woods, otherwise you may actually seal the grain and make it resistant to accepting the finish coats. For more refined details on which grits to use for which woods, visit this site.) If you are using veneered plywood, be careful not to over sand. The veneer layers are thin. You don’t want to sand through them.
  3. Apply the stain and/or clear protective top coat per the instructions on the cans.
  4. Do a very light final sanding with 400 or higher sand paper or very fine synthetic steel wool to remove any dust particles that stuck to the surface – and trust me, unless you use a spay booth, they will be there. You won’t believe difference this step will make in the smoothness and shine of your DIY aquarium stand. [WARNING: Do not use real steel wool for this step – it will leave very tiny slivers of steel in your finish. You may not see them at first, but you will over time as they begin to rust for humidity in the air.]
  5.  Re-install your hardware.

That’s it, your DIY aquarium stand is ready to use.

No none of these steps are difficult, but several do take a bit of time and patience. And skipping even just one can mean the difference between a DIY aquarium stand that looks like a quick, amateurish job, and one that looks like a beautiful piece of furniture.

I wanted to keep mine it’s natural maple color so I decided to apply a water-based polyurethane top coated.

Here’s the finished stand:

DIY aquarium stand


DIY aquarium stand - interior

Now, I’ll bet your wondering about that two ‘pricey’ confessions I have to make…

My Pricey Confession:

I spent well over $150 on the stand you see pictured. I could have very easily kept it under $150 if I had simply used a piece of the maple veneered plywood for the top. But, since I choose to set up a rimless aquarium I decided to splurge on a granite top for my stand instead.


Rimless aquariums do not have any plastic or metal bracing around the top of bottom to support the glass, so you have to do one of two things with them:

  • Either place them on a surface that is – and will always remain – perfectly flat, or
  • Place a 1/2 inch or thicker piece of foam beneath them

If the surface the glass is resting on is not as flat as possible, or becomes even slightly warped – such as wood may do over time in a damp or humid environment, it could cause a ‘point load’ on the glass. With all that weight of water bearing down on a point load, you would run the risk of either the bottom panel of glass breaking, or the increased stress on the glass panels causing a silicon seam to fail.

I didn’t think a 1/2 inch of being visible would look very nice. So I had a choice…

I could have used a piece of the plywood as the top and put some wood trim around the stand perimeter to hide it – but this would have spoiled the clean, sleek pedestal look I was going for.

Or, splurge on a piece of counter top granite and, just for an extra measure of safety, use a very thin piece of foam instead.

So I splurged… and absolutely love the result.

Now it’s your turn.

If you feel a little ambitious, go for it – make yourself a DIY aquarium stand. It’ll be a unlike any other, a stand that is yours, and yours alone.