How to Make Acrylic Aquariums

Written by caroline folkenroth
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How to Make Acrylic Aquariums
Purchase precut pieces of clear acrylic from a local hardware store. (Aquarium image by crossgolfing from

Building your own acrylic aquarium is possible to do at home with a few supplies and some basic instructions. Purchase precut pieces of clear acrylic from a local hardware store to your desired dimensions. You need at least five pieces of acrylic, one for each side wall and one for the bottom. This process requires several waiting periods of 4 to 48 hours, so give yourself plenty of time.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 5 precut clear acrylic sheets 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick, minimum
  • 1 sheet 250-grit sandpaper
  • Hacksaw blade
  • 4 five-milliliter, 18-gauge syringes
  • Weld-On #3 cement or methylene chloride (available at some hardware stores)
  • Several clamps and wooden blocks

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  1. 1

    Determine your dimensions. Keep your dimensions under 24 inches x 24 inches x 8 feet for these instructions. For tanks up to 12 inches high, use 1/4-inch thick acrylic; up to 18 inches high, use 3/8-inch thick acrylic; and up to 24 inches high, use 1/2-inch thick acrylic. For example, if your tank is 12 inches high x 12 inches wide x 24 inches long, you need two 1/4-inch thick sheets of 12-inch x 12-inch acrylic, and two 12-inch x 23 1/2-inch pieces of acrylic of the same thickness. These are your walls. You will also need one sheet of 12-inch x 24-inch x 1/4-inch thick acrylic for the bottom.

  2. 2

    Prepare your edges. Use the back side of a hacksaw blade to scrape off the burrs left by the saw on your precut edges. Sand the edges lightly with 250-grit sandpaper on a wooden block. Be careful not to scratch the sides of the acrylic or to round any edges. Rounded edges make a weaker connection. Carefully peel back the protective film around all edges, leaving about 3 or 4 inches of working space near all edges.

  3. 3

    Place the bottom panel of acrylic on several level wooden blocks on a flat surface. Choose an undisturbed location as the attached sections need several hours to cure between steps. Clamp or brace both 12-inch by 23 1/2-inch panels in place, leaving 1/4-inch spacing on both side edges. Make sure the seam edges are untouched by bracing or clamps.

  4. 4

    Fill a syringe with Weld-On #3 cement or methylene chloride. The syringe has a slot on one side of the tip. Point this side down into the joint to inject fluid into the seam. Run a small bead along both sides of each seam. This is a solvent weld that melts some of each acrylic panel together and dries clear.

  5. 5

    Wait 4 hours before adding remaining panels. The edges are strong enough to lightly handle after 4 hours and will reach full strength in 48 hours. Add both remaining panels to assembly and weld bottom seams only. Again allow edges to dry at least 4 more hours.

  6. 6

    Flip aquarium over on one side to allow side seams to sit on a horizontal plane. Weld these seams with a fresh syringe. Weld only the seams you can reach from above. Let gravity work to your advantage. Again, allow edges to dry at least 4 more hours. Flip aquarium over and weld remaining seams.

  7. 7

    Wait 48 hours from the last welded seam before testing aquarium for leaks. Place aquarium on styrofoam, fill aquarium a quarter full and look for air bubbles or seepage from every seam. Let it sit 2 hours before adding more water.

  8. 8

    Observe the seams. If there are leaks, mark area with a water-based marker and drain tank. Allow it to completely dry. Add some of the solvent used to bond seams into a small cup and add some scrap acrylic chips into the solvent. Allow the chips to dissolve for a few hours and use this thick paste to patch leaks. Allow newly patched seams to dry for 48 hours before retesting.

Tips and warnings

  • For tanks longer than 3 feet, purchase extra acrylic pieces 1/2 inch thick x 4 inches wide x the length of your side walls, for bracing the top edges.
  • Always use proper ventilation when handling chemicals and solvents. Refer to the instructions and warning labels.

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