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1

This weekend I drilled two 10 gallon aquariums and installed overflows for an automated water change system. This was my first time drilling an aquarium and it went really smoothly. These two tanks are going onto the new rack that I built (see post). Eventually they will overflow into a drain manifold that connects into the sink plumbing - I'll post more on that project when it's complete.

To install these overflows I used a diamond coated drill bit and 3/4" bulkheads from bulk reef supply. I did a lot of research and read a lot of conflicting opinions on drilling 10 gallon aquariums. Many people say the glass is too thin to be drilled, but I made two holes without cracking a tank. I even had an extra 10 gallon on hand in case I shattered one, but I didn't end up needing it.

water testing new bulkhead
water testing new bulkhead

Setting up for drilling the glass took longer than the actual drilling. I used a couple pieces of cardboard taped together as a guide for my drill bit. A piece of wood would have been better, but the cardboard held long enough for me to get the holes started. Without a guide to start the hole, the bit jumps all over the glass and scratches it up.

drilling setup
drilling setup

I taped the cardboard guide onto the side of the aquarium. Then I placed a piece of tape on the inside of the glass to catch the cutout piece. Finally I taped my garden hose onto the tank to keep water flowing over the bit while I drilled. This part is important. You need a steady stream of cool water to remove glass particles and cool the bit as you drill.

drilled hole
drilled hole

To make the holes I put my drill on the lowest setting and went as slow as I could. I could hear the diamond bit grinding the glass and slowed down whenever it started to screech. It took about 2 minutes to make each hole. You don't want to put any pressure on the drill, just letting the weight of the drill bite into the glass. I think a lot of people shatter their tanks doing this because they try to go too fast.

overflow assembly
overflow assembly

The overflow assembly (shown above) cost me about $2 in parts from home depot. My bulkheads are thread x thread, so making connections is simple. I used a threaded 3/4" street elbow, and cut a piece of PVC to the height I wanted to set my water level to. Then I used a dremel with a cutting wheel attachment to make 8 notches in the top of the pipe.

notched overflow
notched overflow

After I installed the bulkheads and overflows I painted two sides of both aquariums using black acrylic paint. The two tanks are going side by side on the shelf with the overflows in the back. I'm still waiting on some plumbing parts and the filters for these two tanks, so the final setup will be in a subsequent update.

painted drilled aquariums
painted drilled aquariums
drilled ten gallons on rack
drilled ten gallons on rack

Links to aquarium overflow parts on Amazon for your own DIY projects:


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It can be challenging to find reasonably priced aquarium stands. If you want to stack more than one aquarium on a rack, there are even fewer options. This is why most people with a fish room full of many tanks end up building their own DIY aquarium rack. There are a lot of different designs out there. The simplest one I've seen is just stacking cinder blocks on the floor and laying 2x6 boards across them. Personally I like building a cheap rack out of wood.

My First DIY Aquarium Rack

About a year ago I built a DIY wooden rack that holds two 10 gallon tanks. I used 2x4s for the entire structure, and cut some plywood to make shelves for the tanks and the bottom storage area. That whole project cost me about $40. Compare that to the cost of a stand from any store. A stand for a single 10 or 20 gallon aquarium typically runs upwards of $100. This was my first build and although it looked pretty nice (in my opinion) there were a couple things I wanted to change.

My first DIY 10 gallon rack with guppy tank and shrimp tank
My first DIY 10 gallon rack with guppy tank and shrimp tank

 

The first issue is that in trying to keep the rack from being too tall I squeezed the middle shelf down. As a result I only left about 4 inches of clearance above the bottom tank, not quite enough to get in and do maintenance easily. I also wanted to design it to accommodate more tanks. Having a rack that only holds two 10 gallons isn't the best use of space.

Now that I'm building out my fish room I had an opportunity to replace my original rack with a modified design. This new rack was designed to hold four 10 gallon tanks, and use only a little bit more floor space than my first design. However while I was building I decided I would rather have a 20 gallon on the top shelf than two 10's. But I still have twice the water volume in roughly the same floor area as my first rack.

Building the New DIY Aquarium Rack

In order to support twice the weight of my first stand I used a sturdier design by incorporating upright 2x4s between the load-bearing shelves. You can modify this design to suit any size tank you want; I've seen the same design used for a rack of 40 breeders (which I will probably do at some point). The most important thing is building to the dimensions of the aquarium size you want to support. I recommend having the aquarium in your possession before starting so you can test fit while you build.

The design uses the following cuts of 2x4 studs, all of which can be varying lengths depending on your application:

  • 4 upright supports that determine the overall height of the stand
  • 6 long shelf pieces that the aquariums will rest on (the front and back)
  • 6 short shelf pieces (the sides)
  • 8 vertical support pieces that support the weight of the shelves
  • Optional: 2-6 additional short shelf pieces as cross supports
  • Optional: Plywood sheet for shelving
2x4 Cuts
2x4 Cuts

The lengths of all these pieces will vary depending on your design, but I cut my uprights to 47", the long shelf pieces to 27.5", the shorter shelf pieces to 18", the upper supports to 21.5", and the lower supports to 15". A miter saw is ideal for making the cuts, but I used a circular saw when building my first rack because that's all I had. I use 2.5" #8 wood screws for fastening. A box of these screws is about $10 at a home improvement store and that includes a drill bit. 

I painted all of the wood white before I started assembling the rack. I highly recommend doing it this way if you intend to paint your DIY aquarium rack. For this build I used an old can of white paint that was sitting in my garage for about 5 years, so my cost for painting was $0.

DIY Aquarium Rack - Painted 2x4's
Painted 2x4's

After painting I assembled the three rectangular "shelves". I pre-drilled all my screw holes with a 1/8" bit. It's important to use a flat surface to build on and a level and a square to check your alignment. Once I had those three shelf frames built I slid them onto the long uprights.

DIY Aquarium Rack - Assembling the Stand
Assembling the stand

Before screwing anything into place I checked that each shelf was level. I added the support pieces between the shelves, building up from the floor so that each one sat tightly on the piece below it. It helps to drive in one screw to hold each piece in place, then go back and add another screw at each connection point.

DIY Aquarium Rack - Shelf frame assembled
Shelf frame assembled

You can cut sheets of plywood to create flat shelves (I prefer to do this), but this isn't necessary for standard rimmed glass tanks. The glass bottom of a tank with a plastic rim never contacts the surface the tank is sitting on. In fact, you really only need to support the 4 corners of the frame. If you have an acrylic tank with a flat bottom, then the entire bottom of the aquarium must be supported.

I bought a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood for $20 and cut it to size to make shelves and enclose the bottom section. I sanded and painted the plywood just like I did with all the 2x4 pieces.

My last step was to put some doors on the bottom section of the rack. I used some cheap hinges and knobs to hang the doors, which were cut from the same plywood as the shelves. I'm not a carpenter, so its not furniture quality work, but the entire build cost me under $70.

completed DIY aquarium rack
completed DIY aquarium rack
setting up tanks on new rack
setting up tanks on new rack

Once all the tanks are set up and running I'll post an update on this rack. You can see my latest fish room updates here.