Aquariums are a beautiful addition to the home. They are also insanely heavy and fragile. Think about it this way: a 55-gallon aquarium is basically five panes of glass holding over 500 pounds of water, sand, rocks, and fish.
If one of those panes were to crack because of unevenly distributed weight, you would likely have disastrous water damage on your hands. So you obviously can't just plop an aquarium onto a spare rickety table and hope for the best. But I've never been satisfied with the quality of aquarium stands sold in pet stores, and on top of that they can run you hundreds of dollars.
There's got to be a better option, right?
Many aquarium enthusiasts build inexpensive stands from cinder blocks. They're sturdy enough to hold up mobile homes, so they have no problem supporting the massive weight of a large aquarium. Only one problem: they're so ugly!
Luckily, I stumbled on this article last year when I was looking for aquarium stand options. It's a great idea for a durable, easy to build stand that won't be an eyesore. It's also completely customizable. Here's my take on the project.
- Nine basic cinder blocks (8"x8"x16")
- One sheet of plywood (16"x50")
- Two 2x8 boards (50" length)
- Latex paint (I use this)
- Paintbrush (nylon bristles are best for latex)
- Measuring tape or yardstick
The wood and cinder blocks can be bought from Lowe's or Home Depot for $30 or less, and of course the employees can cut the wood for you as well. Cost of paint is more variable. I happen to keep a 5-gallon bucket of white latex on hand, but a gallon of paint will run you $13-25, depending on brand and color. Tack on $6 for a paintbrush and $3 for sandpaper if you don't have them already, and you can expect to spend $45-60 on this project.
Tip: Ask the employees in the lumber department if they have any plywood scraps. The thickness doesn't really matter, as long as it's nice and flat (not warped). You may be able to get your plywood for just a dollar or two if there is a big enough scrap lying around somewhere. You can even use press board to go cheaper; it just doesn't look quite as nice.
Here are things to bear in mind before you begin. The two most important features of an aquarium stand are that it is level and that it distributes weight evenly. If the aquarium is larger than 20 gallons or so, it's a good idea to position it against a load-bearing wall and to ensure that the floor is level, even, and able to support the weight.
Remember not to position your stand completely flush against the wall, because you need room behind the aquarium for cords, hanging filters, etc. My stand is positioned 3 inches from a load-bearing wall. I used a carpenter's level to ensure that the surface is level, but you can also assemble the stand, set your tank on top, and fill it with just a couple inches of water to ensure that the water sits level in the tank.
Pick a spot you are certain you love, because once you get hundreds of pounds of water and live fish in that tank, it's going to be a huge pain to move.
Lastly, have a plan for your electrical outlets and for tank maintenance. You will need an outlet near your stand unless you plan on using an extension cord. Think about how you will plug things in and how you will hide dangling cords or power strips. Think about what faucet you will use for water changes and how you will access it, preferably without having to haul buckets of water back and forth across your house--I've been there and it ain't fun!
You can pre-assemble your stand to make sure it is positioned properly and looks the way you want before painting.
To distribute the weight evenly for a 55-gallon tank, build three columns of cinder blocks spaced 12.5 inches apart. Cinder blocks bear weight best when you stack them with the holes facing vertically (so the holes will be hidden once your stand is assembled).
Start by positioning the three cinder blocks that will form the base of the stand. Decide how far you want them from the wall (I chose 3 inches) and position them 12.5 inches apart. This doesn't have to be exact, but use a ruler to make sure that you have between 12 and 13 inches of space between each column.
Next, lay the sheet of plywood over the cinder blocks, aligning the edges. This will become your shelf. Stack the remaining cinder blocks, 2 on each column, positioning them as perfectly over the bottom cinder blocks as you can. Finally, lay your 2x8 wood planks over the top, aligning the edges. You will have a small space, about 1 inch, between the 2x8s.
Take a look at your stand and the room it is in, and imagine your aquarium here. Do you love it? Is it in a reasonable place where you can enjoy it without it being in the way? Do you want to add another shelf or make any other changes to the structure of the stand before continuing?
Use a stiff bristle brush or broom to sweep any concrete dust from the cinder blocks so the paint goes on smoothly. You can prime the blocks, but I just brushed on latex paint, going over the surface in every direction to fill in all the crevices. I allowed them to dry for about 6 hours before applying a second coat.
Now, for the 2x8s and plywood. Sand them down, smoothing the edges and removing any splinters. Then use a brush/broom to sweep off the wood dust so you have a smooth surface for painting. Most people recommend priming raw wood before applying latex, but the brand I use is very thick and goes on fine without causing any warping to raw wood. In any case, paint the wood with a nice thick coat, using a primer first if you prefer.
I allowed the blocks and wood to dry overnight (12 hours), then reassembled the stand as described in the previous step.
Position your tank so that the corners of it line up as evenly as possible with the outer corners of the cinder blocks. This will ensure the most even weight distribution possible, and your 2x8s will also help to spread the weight evenly across the edges of your tank.
Now, you can finally set up your tank!
I added two storage bins to the shelves to hold fish food and supplies, and I hid my power strip beneath the shelf on the left hand side.
One Year Later
I'm still so happy with this project! It turned out great. The stand has remained level and perfectly stable. Plus, my cat totally digs the craftsmanship.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions, and don't forget to share a picture if you decide to build this stand yourself! :)