I started planning this tank with a list of wants:
Well before I had the aquarium I aquired a collection of artificial plants for decorating the tank. None of the plants are designed for aquarium use so I decided to soak them in water for 6 months to remove any possible toxins.
Mallee root wood pile with plant - experiment
I wanted to use a wood pile as the feature for this tank. I found some twisted mallee root in a wood yard and purchased it for about $10. I tested a few ways to set it up, then soaked it for 6 months to get the tannins out.
Wood and plants after 6 months soaking
Experimental home made artificial rock - Melted styrofoam with rubberized coat sprinkled with river sand.
My 3d internal background was going to simulate a rock wall with plants growing out of the cracks. I started messing around with ideas on how to make it. I made about 15 different fake rocks before I chose my final look.
Experimental home made artificial rock - Melted styrofoam with rubberized coat sprinkled with quartz crystals - looks like a lamington!
I don't have a picture of all the sketches I made to decide the layout of the tank decor. I think I pumped out 30 sketches before I was satisfied with the look. My final rocks were made from high density styrofoam coated with sandstone bondall pond sealer.
Plan for layout of tank lids and lights
I hate the way aquarium lights are not at the front of the tank. When the fish parade up and down against the glass the lights fail to bring out their colour! I came up with the above idea to maximise the light on the fish. It works a treat.
Sump filter plan
I wanted to keep all my equipment out of the tank, so I planned a sump that could fit the pump, heaters and all the filter media.
Top/bottom draw overflow box and pipes plan
I wanted my overflow system (that channels water into the sump filter) to have several characteristics:
Overflow pipes plan
I set up twin overflow pipe that passed through holes drilled in the bottom of the tank. If one pipe clogs then the second one still works. I used screw on flanges where the pipes penetrate the tank and then coated them in silicone sealant to guarantee a seal. The overflow pipes proved noisy in operation so I designed and added silencers.
Overflow box (without bottom draw chamber)
The overflow box provides an extra level of safety in case the pipes leak. The water in the tank will only drain to the top of the overflow box. It also provides a suface to add tank decor.
Bottom draw chamber
Most overflow systems only draw water from the surface of the tank. I wanted my overflow to draw from the bottom as well to pick up all the fish poo that can build up there. I designed the overflow box to draw half its flow from the bottom of the tank.
Bottom draw chamber inlet
Water flow through the overflow system
7' tank being prepared for transport
My tank was built in Queensland Australia for a mere $600AU from 12mm annealed glass! It had an unusual steel frame over the corners for reinforcing. It was pre-drilled for me and had the under/over draw of my own design installed.
Cabinet undergoing repair
My cabinet was a disaster. It was somewhat expensive to buy and arrived in very poor condition. I had to throw away all the doors (which had been made different sizes) and redo many of the joints. I then had the cabinet re-painted properly. Cost over $1,000 to fix all the problems, not to mention lots of my time.
300 litre sump baffle filter
Sumps are great value, next time I'll use a trickle filter instead of baffles.
My garage turned artificial rock workshop!
I settled on using high density stryofoam as the background material for the following reasons:
Styrofoam rocks being arranged and fitted
What I needed for this job:
I ordered styrofoam sheets of 3 different thicknesses and 2 large solid blocks for the really big rocks. I cut them up into various shapes. I worked on the big rocks first. Then I rolled the aquarium on its back and put the big rocks into it. I then worked on the smaller rocks to fill the gaps between the big rocks. I only used very thin pieces at the surface because I did not want to reduce the surface area for oxygen exchange.
I made the rock shapes by first sketching the shape I wanted onto the foam and then cutting with the saw / knives. I then worked on the detail by cutting with a stanley knife and melting sections with the blow torch. I then hardened the entire surface of each rock by slightly melting it with the torch.
Testing the fit for the plastic plant holders and recirculation jet cover (bottom left)
I carved special recesses into the rocks for the plastic plants to sit in. I wanted the illusion that plants were growing out of the rock wall.
View through the bottom of the tank
View from the side
I photographed the positions of the rocks so that I could put them back in their proper place after painting them.
Undercoat applied and then rocks put back to test fit.
I took all the rocks out and painted them with a pond sealer called Bondall. The painting was a very easy process. All I had to do was open the tin and brush the sealer onto the the rocks. Each coat took a day to dry properly. After I applied the undercoat I put the rocks back into the tank. It was like making a jigsaw puzzle :)
Extra rocks (white) being added to fill gaps
As the rocks were painted they became noticeably larger. This meant that they didn't go back into exactly the same positions as originally planned. A few rearrangements were required. I made some extra rocks out of the leftovers to fill gaps and add a bit of depth to the look of the rock wall.
Final coat applied and rocks placed back for final test fit
After the final coat (3rd coat) I put them all back in again and tested the plants. Then came the hardest part. I had to paint pond sealer on the glass between each rock. I couldn't paint the entire background because the pond sealer doesn't bond to glass well enough to hold the rocks down. The rocks just tear the sealer off the glass when the tank is filled. The rocks must be siliconed directly onto the glass or the system doesn't work! I had to painstakingly trace around each rock and then remove it. Once the rocks were out I painted in the gaps.
Painting pond sealer where the rocks have gaps
I had to paint pond sealer on the glass between each rock. I couldn't paint the entire background because the pond sealer doesn't bond to glass well enough to hold the rocks down. The rocks just tear the sealer off the glass when the tank is filled. The rocks must be siliconed directly onto the glass or the system doesn't work! I had to painstakingly trace around each rock and then remove it. Once the rocks were out I painted in the gaps.
Painting the gaps and the plumbing (the fish eventually pulled the sealer off the pipes)
I then added silicon to the back of each rock and put it in the tank. The painted gaps formed an outline so it was easy to put the rocks in their correct place.
Bottom painted and plants glued in
I then rolled the tank upright and painted the back of the tank black to prevent light shining through the gaps. I added a few rocks to the bottom of the tank and painted the bottom with black pond sealer. Since I planned to have digging fish I didn't want to see exposed glass.
Wood pile added as a feature and to conceal the recirculation pump
Tank ready to be set up
It was worth the effort!
I set up the sump filter and installed the overflow pipes. Initially they were extremely noisy so I made a set of silencers for them. Now they are very quiet.
The three parts needed for the silencer
My overflow pipes gurgled so much that they were keeping me awake! I ended up building silencers for the overflows to stop the gurgling. All I needed was 2 PVC 90 degree fittings, a short PVC pipe and a drill.
Silencer complete with hole
I fitted the bits together and put them on my overflow pipe. The result was silence most of the time with an occasional mighty surge with my tank water level dropping several centimeters as all my water was syphoned to the sump! A small hole drilled in the top of the silencer solved that problem. The noisiest part of my tank now is the return pump.
I released 4 golden severums into my tank. Unfortunately one was crazy and killed the other three. This is very odd for a severum! The crazy one grew big and beautiful but remained mad.
I ordered my barbs in advance. Due to delays with the cabinet my barbs had grown to 20cm by the time they were put in the tank!
Tinfoil barb ballet
Oscars - the feature fish
I chose Red Oscars for the feature fish of my tank due to their extroverted character, size and rich colour.It is hard to find good quality Oscars in Australia so these ones were obtained throught a LFS from a very good breeder in Singapore. It cost me a fair bit and I lost a few but it was definately worth the effort!
Oscar exploring its new home
Tiny Oscar looking lost in the massive tank
Oscar six months later - eating a tank mate
Its why we love them :)
How it looked at day 1
Algy starting to grow
About 1 year in
Artificial rocks looking more natural than ever after 3 years
The artificial rocks are still in very good condition. Algy has given them a distinct brownish green colour and made them look very natural. No guest can tell that the rocks are fake.
List of problems:
My sump filter is and excellent biological filter, but I'd been wanting to upgrade my sump's mechanical filtration for the following reasons:
I removed the 2 plastic overflow pipes that go into the sump. I also pulled out the felt and re-used it.
Picked up these items from "cheap as chips" for about $20AU:
I also had:
A4 paper tray cut down
I cut the blue A4 paper tray so I had a stand about 2cm high.
Then I installed the stand in the tub. The stand allows water to pass through a hole in the bottom of the tub unrestricted.
Drain hole cut and safety overflow installed
I cut a hole in the bottom of the tub and installed a plastic cup as the drain. The pink tray is the safety overflow. It provides a way for water to flow to the drain if the media clogs. The safety overflow prevents flooding.
Mechanical filter media installed
I put in 5 layers of mechanical media.The media is:
This is how the filtering works:
The safety overflow provides a direct escape route for water to the drain.
This is the drain. It is just a plastic cup cut off. The tub it a tight squeeze between the sump and the overflows so I needed a drain that could recess into the tub as I slide it in and out. The cup does the job perfectly.
The tape it on the tub because I cracked it while cutting . If it leaks I'll get another one for $10.
Mechanical filter installed and running
I forgot to take a pic of the lid. I cut the lid so it could slide over the overflows.
The final product
I set up a hatchery to use the next time my Oscars lay eggs. I planned the hatchery so it could be set up quickly and easily. I put the sponge filter in my sump so it will be cycled all the time and ready to use.
Sponge filter in aquarium sump