Category Archives: My 24g Tank Build

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.




A DIY Aquarium Stand for Under $150 – Part 2

Part 1 of this 3 part series gave you a look at the materials, tools, and plan I used to build a clean, sleek DIY aquarium stand for less than $150. Now, let’s take a look at how quick and easy it was to put together…

How to Put Together a DIY aquarium stand for $150 or less:

Step 4: Cutting

Setting up the work space was easy – as I mentioned in Part 1, I only had a small amount of room in my garage to work in. So, I wanted to keep the process as simple and efficient as I could.

If you plan really well, you can have all your pieces of lumber cut to size when you purchase it. They’ll even do it for free for you at Lowe’s or Home Depot as long as you don’t have a LOT of pieces.  Just be aware that they’re there to help people cut down large pieces of lumber for ease of transporting it home, not to do you project work for you — so the saw blade they use is meant to cut quick, not ‘finely’. It may splinter the wood a bit along the edges – especially if it’s plywood, which will not look very pretty on a finished cabinet. To avoid this, either make the final cuts yourself in the manner I’ll explain in a moment, OR be sure you assemble the cut pieces so that the splintered side faces the inside of your stand.

Since I was using plywood (e.g. too much cutting to have them do there), I had them cut it down into 4 sub-panels I could fit in my car (as per my plan) and did the majority of the cutting myself.

Alright, let’s get started…

First, set up a ‘cheap man’s’ saw horse: lay your 4 pieces of 2×4 down on the ground and lay the first piece of plywood you intend to cut on top of them so that the PRETTY side is facing down.

Next, set the depth of your circular saw so that only half a tooth of the blade will penetrate through bottom side of the plywood.

A circular saw tends to splinter the top surface of wood (pulling fibers as it exits) much more than the bottom surface. By putting the pretty side of the wood face-down and only allowing the blade to clear the wood by half a tooth you drastically reduce the likelihood of any splintering.

As an added precaution – OR, if for some reason you have to make the cut with the pretty side face up – you can also cover the entire line you’ll be cutting with a piece of painter’s tape.

And, if you really want to ensure a clean, splinter-free cut, you may also want to consider using a saw blade that has 40 teeth or more.

Okay, so plywood – good side down – on the 2x4s, like so:

cutting plywood for DIY aquarium stand

Now, grab another large piece of wood from your pile that has a factory-cut edge (e.g. not a Home Depot or Lowe’s cut edge) and use it as your guide or ‘fence’ for cutting. Unless you have a pretty warped piece of wood, a factory-cut edge – particularly on plywood – will almost always be straight.

If you don’t have a pair of clamps, use it to draw a straight line where you wish to make your cut.  Then make your cut freehand with the circular saw, moving as carefully, smoothly, and straight along the line as you can.

If you DO have a pair of clamps:

  • mark where you wish to make your cut
  • measure the distance from the saw blade to the edge of the saw base-plate…
  • move your ‘fence’ the same distance away from where you wish to make your cut…
  • clamp it place…
  • put the saw in place so the edge of its base-plate is against the ‘fence’
  • Look to see that the blade is lined up with the mark where you wish to make your cut (if it isn’t recheck your base-plate and ‘fence’ measurements)
  • Then go ahead and make your cut

That’s all there is to it.

Use the same set of steps to continue cutting out all your other pieces.

If you end up having to make cuts on any small pieces, it may be easier to switch to a hand saw or, if you happen to have access to one, a miter saw.

Here’s a really nice guide if you feel you still need a little more detail:  How to cut plywood with a circular saw.

Step 5: Assembly

Once all of the pieces are cut, it’s time to put it together.

First I applied the edge banding. It had heat-activated glue on one side so I grabbed our clothes iron, emptied the water out of it, cover its hot-plate with a double layer of aluminum foil (a few pieces of painter’s tape held the foil in place), turned it on to ‘cotton’, and proceeded to ‘iron’ on strips of the maple edge banding to all the plywood edges that would be visible on the outside of the cabinet.  I then used the banding the was left to cover any interior plywood edges that would be visible when the cabinet door was open.

Here’s more how-to info on edge banding if you need it. (Note: I didn’t spend money on a trimmer, and simply used a sharp razor knife instead. Worked like a charm.)

maple edge banding for DIY aquarium stand
Maple edge banding


edge banding finished edge on DIY aquarium stand
Finished edge that was banded


Then I began the assembly by attaching and the framing pieces to the inside walls and worked my way ‘out’, attaching the feet, and saving the door and ‘sliding panel’ for last (more on this in a moment).

assembly of DIY aquarium stand
Assembly begins by attaching framing pieces


Feet for DIY aquarium stand
Adding the feet.


I like to tinker a bit (a little too much actually) so I decided to give a Mini Kreg Jig Kit a try and made pocket holes for screwing my pieces together. But it’s totally unnecessary, you can simply insert your screws on the internal surfaces so you won’t see them… or, countersink them and put some adhesive ‘fast-caps’ over them to cover them… or, if you really want to get fancy, you can counter-bore them and press/glue wood plugs into the hole to cover them.

Pocket holes for screws
Pocket holes for screws


Once the stand itself is together, it’s time to attach the door – use whatever style hinge you like. Some people don’t even use hinges, they just set the door in place and/or use magnetic cabinet door catches. That way, they can set the door completely aside and give themselves even more room when doing any kind of work on equipment inside their DIY aquarium stand.

I chose to go with Euro-style hinges, for two reasons:

  1. I think it’ll be much easier to simply swing the door open and closed rather than having to completely set it aside when I want to grab something from inside the cabinet
  2. With the quick press of a little lever on them, they detach; and they snap right back on

In other words, I get the best of both worlds.

NOTE: If you use Euro-style hinges like I did, be sure to follow the installation instructions that come with them carefully! I read the instructions, measured twice, even used a scrap piece of wood as a practice-run ‘door’ to make sure my measurements were good. And yet, when I used the forstner drill bit to drill the ‘cup holes’ on the inside of the actual door, I was off just a little bit and had to use a wood chisel to enlarge the holes so the hinges would be in the correct position. (If you don’t want to spend money on a forstner bit, you can also use a chisel to make the cup holes… or, if your really careful, and ordinary spade-style drill bit.)

And last but not least was the  ‘sliding panel’.

sliding accessory panel
Sliding ‘accessory’ panel


I installed this sliding ‘accessory’ panel as a place to mount any aquarium controllers and/or power strips to. That way I can slide it out for easy access to them, they won’t take up as much shelf space inside the stand, and when it’s pushed back in gravity will let the cords hang back down behind the stand.

That’s it — assembly of the DIY aquarium stand is complete.

In the next and final post in this 3-part series we’ll cover the final step — finishing — and take a look at the finished product. And, I make a rather pricey confessions…

A DIY Aquarium Stand for Under $150 – Part 1

Would you rather see your money spent on amazing fish and coral to put inside your saltwater aquarium… or on a store-bought wooden box for it to sit on? The solution: a DIY aquarium stand.

Pre-fab, put-together-yourself aquarium stands for 20 gallon tanks can cost $200 or more. For a 40 gallon tank they can cost $300 or more. For a 50 gallon tank… well, you get the idea. And for a custom made stand, ouch!

Now, what if you could cut that cost almost in HALF and have a tank stand that looks just as nice if not better…

Here’s how I made a DIY aquarium stand for under $150, in my garage, using little more than a few common household tools.

How to put together a DIY Aquarium Stand for $150 or less:

Step 1:  Select the Materials

  • 1  sheet of 3/4″ thick maple (veneered) plywood – Home Depot, $40
  • 2  96″ long 2×4’s – Home Depot, $5
  • 1  25′ roll of 7/8″ maple edge banding – Woodcraft, $10
  • 4  heavy duty leg levelers (e.g. cabinet feet)(rated to 440 lbs each) – WoodCraft, $25
  • 2  120 deg. euro-style cabinet hinges – Woodcraft, $24
  • 2  packs self-tapping 1-1/4″ wood screws – Lowes, $12
  • 1  cabinet door catch – Lowes, $1
  • 1  14″ drawer slide set – Home Depot, $12
  • 1  32oz can varnish – Home Depot, $12

Note :  The maple plywood was priced at $50 a sheet, but I asked if they would knock $10 off on a sheet that had golf-ball-sized imperfection (I made sure it ended up on an inside piece where it wouldn’t be seen).

Step 2:  Gather the Tools

Required (all of them are quite common for household projects or maintenance):

  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • A carpenter’s square
  • Philips screwdriver
  • an ordinary household iron
  • a utility knife
  • paint brush
  • 1 sheet 120 grit sandpaper
  • 1 sheet 180 grit sandpaper
  • a 1 3/8″ spade drill bit (~$6) OR, if you have a hammer, a 3/4″ wood chisel (3pc chisel set ~$10)
  • safety glasses

Optional :

  • orbital palm sander
  • miter saw
  • 1 3/8″ forstner drill bit
  • a pair of 24″ bar clamps and a pair of 36″ bar clamps
  • a Kreg Pocket-Hole Jig Kit (~$20)

Since they’re not common household tools (but ARE readily available at Home Depot and Lowes), the picture shows what a forstner bit and Kreg Pocket-Hole kit look like — top left is what’s left of the maple edge banding, top center is the forstner bit, and top right is the Kreg pocket-hole kit:

optional tools

Again, these are completely optional. They by no means necessary but, if you happen to have them, will save your a bit of time and work.

Step 3:  Planning

It goes without saying that before you begin you need to decide what you would like your stand to look like as well as determining if you have the time, tools, and work space available to make it. The KEY here is to keep it simple. Remember, unless your an experienced woodworker with high-end tools, the simpler and sleeker your design, the few materials and tools you’ll need and the great your chances of finishing with a breathtaking piece of furniture will be.

Oh, and during your planning, don’t forget to take into account your ability to get the materials from the store to your home. I drive a Hyundai Genesis coupe. My wife drives a Mazda Miata. There is NO WAY I was going to fit a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood into either of those cars.

With a little planning on paper, I was able to have the plywood sheet cut into 4 ideally sized pieces for free at Home Depot when I bought it. It not only made fitting it into my car a breeze, it also made working with the plywood a lot easier when I got it back to the small work space I cleared out on my garage floor.

Here you can see how I pre-planned with pieces of my cabinet would be cut out of each of the four smaller pieces of plywood:

aquarium stand plan

In fact, depending on how well you plan, you could have ALL your pieces of wood cut to size there and assemble them at home even if you don’t own a saw.

That should be enough to get your creative juices flowing, and decide if building your own DIY stand is something you’d like to take a stab at…

In Part 2 I’ll show you the easy, straightforward steps used to put it together.