Category Archives: Equipment

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.

API Calcium Test Kit Review: Is it a good kit?

API Calcium Test Kits have long been one of the most affordable brand of test kits available to reefkeepers. But the lower price often causes to people to question how accurate or reliable they are.

Curiosity got the better of me. So, when my Elos test kit ran out, I decided to give the API Calcium Test Kit a try.

Let’s take a look at how the API Calcium Test Kit stacks up against the competition.

Wide availability in large pet store chains such as Petco make it one of the easiest calcium test kits to find.

API Calcium Test Kit

And a price around $10 retail and $7 on Amazon make it, as mentioned, the most affordable kit on the market.

Now, here’s a quick look at how it works.

Using the API Calcium Test Kit:

The API Calcium Test Kits is easy to use.

You simply fill the test vial with aquarium water up to the 5 ml mark. Add 10 drops of the solution from bottle #1. Shake well. Then add test solution from bottle #2 into the vial drop-by-drop until the solution turns blue.

Most other test kits, such as those from Salifert and Elos, involve mixing three or more reagents instead of just two.

There is one slightly annoying catch with using the API test…

You need to shake the vial after adding each drop of solution #2. A plastic cap is included in the kit to cover the vial while shaking. But a little solution does drip down the outside of the vial each time you remove it. And it is cumbersome having to cap and uncap the vial after each drop.

The short cut I use is simple. I toss out the cap and simply hold the open end of the vial against my palm or thumb when I shake it.

Vial mount covered by my palm

You can also add several drops of solution #2 at once if you know roughly where your calcium level is already at. Just switch to adding one drop at a time when you get close to your anticipated endpoint.

The test is complete when the solution changes from pink to blue.

As you get closer to the end of the test, the solution turns purple. That is when you know you only have one or two more drops of test solution #2 before it turns blue.

And the colors along the way – pink, then purple, and finally blue – a vibrant enough to clearly tell apart.

This is about as easy as testing calcium can get.

But what about reliability and precision of the results?

Precision, Accuracy, and Reliability of Results:

Accuracy is where some reefkeepers feel the API Calcium Test Kit falls behind the competition.

It only has an accuracy of 20 mg/l (ppm). Other test kits, such as the Elos kit mentioned earlier, have a precision of 10 ppm.

This wider window of accuracy is the trade off for having to mix just two reagents rather than three or more. It’s also the reason the API kit costs less than most others. Fewer components means less cost to produce the kit.

I have to be honest though, I really don’t find this slightly ‘poorer’ accuracy to be a problem. The more experienced I’ve become at reefkeeping, the more I’ve come to realize that being off by 20 ppm on calcium instead of just 10 will have little to no effect on having a happy, healthy tank.

Think about it. The ideal range for calcium is 400-450 ppm. But that’s for it to be absolutely ‘ideal’. It can fall anywhere between 380 and as high as 550 and still be perfectly fine with happy, healthy corals. And it can even go as high as 600 ppm before there is any real cause for concern or corrective action.

If you have a 50 ppm window to be ‘ideal’ and a 170 ppm calcium range that will keep your reef completely happy and health, a precision of 20 ppm on a calcium test kit is more than enough.

Some of experienced reefkeepers … folks who’ve been keeping tanks for decades … even consider 10ppm to be unnecessary overkill.

And I have to agree. An accuracy of 20 ppm isn’t ‘poor’, it’s perfectly fine. And anything ‘better’ than that is just money wasted on something unnecessary … money that could be used toward more corals, fish, or other equipment.

As far as precision and reliability go…

I’ve tested it several times against both Salifert and Elos calcium tests and it never varied more than 10 ppm from either of them. Which makes sense given both of the other kits have an accuracy of 10 ppm.

So it certainly seems to be reliable.

And multiple tests with the API kit have almost always been spot on with the same reading … only varying by 20 ppm once in a very great while. That’s more than enough precision to ensure your calcium stays in a range that will keep your corals happy.



IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump Review

The IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump is a budget-friendly aquarium dosing pump that is easy to operate. But, can you rely on it for dosing your aquarium…

IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump
An IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump

I used two of them for a year to dose 2-part solutions in my 24g mixed reef tank. Here are some of the pros and cons I have found with the IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump in that time:


  • Can be daisy-chained. Each IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump is a single, stand alone pump and you can purchase either a master or a slave. Each master comes with a DC adapter to plug into a power outlet. Slave units cost about $5 less and come with a short power link cable for plugging into the master or slave next to it. You can link up to 3 slave units to each master. This allows great flexibility for keeping down the cost and space used. For example, I only needed two pumps: one for dosing the alkalinity component of the 2-part, and one for dosing the calcium component. If I ever wanted to dose something else in the future, such as magnesium, I could purchase another slave unit if needed.
  • Easy to program. You don’t need a computer to program the pumps. There are six buttons next to the pump display: one to prime the pump, one to enter calibration mode, two to adjust the timing schedule, and two to set the dosage amount. Say you want to dose 20ml a day. Simply set it to 05 for the dose amount and 6H for the timing. The pump will then dispense 5ml of fluid every 6 hours for a total of 20ml every 24 hours.
  • They seem quite reliable. Over the course of the year I never had a pump fail. After initially setting up and calibrating the pumps, I also never had to re-calibrate them (I checked them every 3 months or so but never had to make any calibration adjustments.).


  • Limited flexibility in the dosing schedule. The way you schedule the dosing times is the set the pump to dispense every so many hours or days, either: 1H, 2H, 4H, 6H, 8H, 12H, 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D and so on up to 9D.
  • Can only dose in whole milliliter amounts. The pumps only have a precision of 1ml.

In essence, the simplicity of the pump and the ease of programming it can be a bit of a double-edge sword at times.

Let’s say you are currently dosing a total of 16 ml/day by having the pump dispense 4ml every 6 hours.  But now you have to raise that amount to 17 ml/day. Since 17 is not an even number and cannot be divided by a multiple of two, you will only have one option: to dispense the entire amount in one big dose each day.

If you are dosing something like alkalinity buffer this may cause problems, such as pH or alkalinity swings that upset sensitive SPS corals.

The inability to dose in 0.1 ml increments can cause similar problems if you have a smaller-sized aquarium. For example, while using the pumps to dose 2-part in my 24g, I often found either my Alk or Ca would continue to slowly rise or fall because I had to dose, say, either 19 ml or 20 ml instead of the 19.5 ml I need to stay in balance with what my corals were consuming.

Final Thoughts on the IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump:

The IceCap dosers are nice little pumps. And if I were running an aquarium 100g or larger with ordinary corals in it then I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to use these dosers.

For tanks that are under 100g … or that have sensitive or expensive SPS corals, a doser that has finer dispensing precision and more scheduling flexibility may be a better choice.

As for me…

I got tired of constantly fighting to keep the Alk and Ca (e.g. 2-part) in my small 24g tank in balance with my coral consumption due to the inability to make fine dosing adjustments. So I replaced my IceCap Liquid Dosing Pumps with a much pricier, high-end GHL 2.1 Doser that would allow me to dispense with a precision of 0.1 ml.