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How to Build an Acrylic Aquarium?

Acrylic aquariums are great for people who want to enjoy exotic fish and aquatic life in general. They are known for their clarity and lightweight, but also because they are easy to make by yourself. If you don’t know how to build an acrylic aquarium yet, don’t worry; you’re about to find out. 

Hobbyist fishkeepers often like to build their own aquariums instead of buying them. It’s cheaper, much more fun, and it allows for customization. It is also a worthy challenge for any DIY enthusiast, as building an aquarium will test your patience, resilience, and organizational skills.

In the article, we will guide you step-by-step toward making the perfect acrylic aquarium that will be the ultimate decoration for its designated location.

How To Build An Acrylic Aquarium

Before making an aquarium out of acrylic, you must work on its design and decide upon the measures. Then you must gather the necessary tools and materials, and finally, you must prepare a working area for such a project.

Compared to other materials like glass, acrylic is easier to work with. It is a malleable plastic you can shape in non-angular ways, making it an excellent material for aquariums.

Acrylic has high resistance to impacts, but you must be cautious throughout the project as scratches can still appear. As a type of plastic, it is reasonably resistant to chemicals, but you must learn about its compatibility before applying it on the surface.

Here are the steps for how to make acrylic aquarium:

Step 1: Creating a blueprint

First, you determine the aquarium’s size, shape, and dimensions. To do that, you must consider the designated place and how it’s supposed to fit in the environment aesthetically. Here, you must be mindful of the practical aspects like accessibility, as it will be vital for the aquarium’s maintenance.

Once you do that, you should decide on the type of fish you will keep there, as it will affect the other choices you need to make, like the aquarium’s capacity.

It’s key to consider the acrylic type. There are many types of acrylic, but you need to find the most suitable for building aquariums. Clear cast acrylic is the most popular choice, and you can pair it with colored acrylic for a unique look. If the area is sun-exposed, you should get UV-resistant acrylic. Furthermore, you should make considerations about the thickness of the material.

Additionally, all of these aspects must adhere to your designated budget for this task.

Creating a blueprint
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: Pressmaster

Step 2: Gathering the tools and materials

You won’t need tremendous skill or experience for this task. Just being handy with basic tools is enough. The tools necessary for performing the task aren’t difficult to operate, and working with acrylic is no different.

Here are the tools you will need for the project:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Glass cutter
  • Sandpaper
  • Syringe 
  • Duct tape
  • Level 
  • Razor blade

The materials are easily accessible and relatively inexpensive. You can buy acrylic sheets from specialized aquarium stores and plastic suppliers. They come in various pre-cut sizes like 4×8 feet, 4×6 feet, or 2×4 feet. There are also custom sizes you can order to match more specific dimensions.

Here are all the necessary materials:

Step 3: Cutting

If you don’t have the best cutting tools or do not know where to perform the cuts, ordering custom-sized sheets is better. It will save time, and the sheets will be much better prepared for gluing together.

Making the cuts yourself is the more cost-effective option. To do it properly, you should use a measuring tape and a marker to know where to perform the cuts. The sheets will have a protective film on them, making drawing convenient.

Choose the cutting method that suits your ability and the tools available. The method that should give the best results is using a specialized acrylic blade. You can also use a circular saw or a jigsaw with a fine-toothed blade.

Whatever you are using, move steadily and confidently along the marked line for cutting. Robust cutters will only take one sequence, while the specialized cutter will require multiple cuts from both sides and snapping the surface.

Once you’re done, use sandpaper to smoothen the edges. You have to check for rough edges even if you made custom-sized orders. The edges have to be smooth to prevent gaps.

Cutting
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: noprati somchit

Step 4: Drilling

The various devices, such as filtration systems and bulkheads, require holes to be appropriately connected. The ideal time to make these holes is before the assembly because doing it after the assembly could be tricky.

Mark the designated spots for the holes in your design. Make sure the sizes from the design are respected. Select an adequate drill, preferably one that is specialized in plastic. Using clamps, secure the sheet and apply only a small amount of pressure, and let the drill do its work.

Use a slow speed and occasionally dip the drill bit in water to cool it off. The danger when drilling the holes is that the drill bit would heat up and cause damage to the acrylic. You can use special coolants and lubricants to make this process easier.

Finally, repeat the process of smoothening the edges only with the new holes you’ve made in the acrylic.

Step 5: Assembly

This step comprises three stages: dry-fitting, bonding, and curing.

Dry fitting is assembling the parts without using glue to see if they fit with each other. If you notice gaps appearing during this process, it is a sign that something is wrong from the previous step and requires correction. The parts are either bigger or smaller than they should be or could have rough edges.

Once the components pass the dry fitting stage, it is time to begin the real assembly by involving adhesive. Attach small tape pieces between the parts to glue them with greater precision. Then, carefully apply adhesive to the edges of the sheets and press them together. The glue will dry, and it will keep them bonded. 

Solvent cement is an adhesive that is specifically designed for this purpose. When applied, it provokes a chemical reaction that causes the surface to soften, and while it’s in that state, it can be fused with another piece. 

Finally, you need to leave the structure to cure. Even if it feels dry to the touch, the adhesive needs more time to completely fulfill its role and reach the maximum solidity of the joined sheets.

Step 6: Shaping

When doing the design, you can fully unleash your creative side.

While there are some general principles for how to make acrylic aquariums, the shaping can be done in numerous ways.

You can create tunnels, make platforms, or build bridges inside or you can even join two aquariums together. You can abandon the traditional rectangular shape for something more interesting, like a bow-front aquarium or even a cylinder.

There really are endless possibilities, although it will require more skill and a different set of tools to bend the acrylic. Curved shapes require a heat gun and molds to take advantage of the malleability of the plastic and turn it into exquisite shapes.

Step 7: Testing

To test the aquarium, fill it up with water. Before doing so, inspect it for some clear signs of malfunction or problems. Check with your fingers if everything is in place, and if something comes up, work on fixing it before performing the actual test.

Slowly fill the aquarium with water and observe the surface for any leaks around the edges. Use tissue papers to test leaks, but ensure the area is dry beforehand to avoid getting a false alarm.

When making complex-shaped aquariums, the possibility is higher that some problems would arise at this phase. It can be a small gap, an incomplete seal, or a misalignment of the edges. 

To fix it, remove the water and completely dry the aquarium. Apply solvent cement along the edge, specifically where you found the leak. Apply pressure to ensure the two sheets bond firmly for as long as it says on the adhesive packaging.

Once you’re done, you can re-test the aquarium and repeat the process if necessary.

Step 8: Setup

The final stage of the process is to set up the aquarium at its designated spot. Apply the filtration system, heating, lighting, and other devices. After completing that, you will have successfully built an acrylic aquarium.

Summary

Some aquarium enthusiasts like to create their own aquariums because it’s the only way to see their aquatic ideas come to fruition. Acrylic is popular because of its clarity, strength, and versatility, allowing for creative freedom.

Knowing how to build an acrylic aquarium means having certain skills in designing, cutting, and shaping plastic and generally being knowledgeable about aquariums. Moreover, it requires having the proper tools and materials.

Although it seems complicated, building your own aquarium can be an extremely fulfilling experience for hobbyists and aquatic enjoyers.

Neal Moir

Neal Moir

is the owner at Titan Aquatic Exhibits and brings more than a decade in aquarium and acrylic pool wall manufacturing experience.

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