How to Build a Large Acrylic Aquarium

Photo by Michele Madison

Getting a small tank for your fish may not be too big of an investment, but once you start moving up among the larger tank sizes, you'll see the prices rise significantly. Rather than letting the cost be a barrier to owning the aquarium you want, consider building your own large tank from acrylic panels. The process can be time consuming and requires precision and patience, but it can save you hundreds of dollars.

Measure the area where you want to put your aquarium to see just how large you can make it. Once you know what your limitations are, draw a diagram of the aquarium you want to build, using exact measurements for every side of every panel. Double check your lengths to see that they all add up correctly. From the diagram, make a list of each piece of acrylic you'll need, along with the measurements for each panel.

Order the acrylic panels you need from an acrylic supplier that offers custom cutting services. It is important that you find a supplier that sells cell-cast acrylic, because this kind of acrylic is necessary for watertight applications. You will need 1/4 inch of thickness for every vertical foot of the tank. For example, a tank with four foot side walls would require panels that are one inch thick.

Clear a large, flat work area where you can assemble the pieces. Gather your panels and supplies.

Attach one of the side panels to a side-edge of the front panel. To do this, peel the protective paper off of the front panel and lay it flat on the work surface. Pull back several inches of the protective paper on the side panel. Fill a small solvent bottle with some acrylic solvent, then make a thin, continuous line of solvent along the entire side of the front panel where you will attach the side panel. Finally, set the edge of the side panel directly onto the wet line of solvent. Make sure it is laid straight, then hold it for several minutes while the solvent hardens.

Carefully move the two connected pieces near a wall so that the side panel, which is pointed up into the air, can rest against the wall while the solvent finishes hardening. It is best to let the solvent harden for another four hours or more before working on the next piece.

Repeat steps four and five to affix the other side panel to the front panel.

Attach the open sides of both side panels to the back panel simultaneously. To do this, peel the paper of the back panel and lay it on the work surface. Squeeze a line of solvent out on both sides of this panel, at the points where the side walls will connect with the back. When the solvent is in place, carefully pick up the other three sides of the aquarium and lay them in place. The weight of the acrylic panels will be sufficient to hold the construction together while these two strips of solvent harden.

Attach the bottom panel to the completed four-sided construction. To do this, set up the four walls as you would if the aquarium were in use. Spread the solvent across the top edges of all four panels, making sure it forms a continuous line. Peel the protective paper off of the bottom panel and carefully lay it on top of the wet solvent. Adjust it into place quickly, then allow the aquarium to sit for another four hours while it hardens.

Move the aquarium to an out-of-the-way location to cure for a period of at least one week. During the curing process, the solvents will continue to form hardened bonds at all of your aquarium's joints. When it is done curing, clean it and put it on display.

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