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A Wood Stand For Large Tanks
by Dan McMonigle

There are any number of plans for home made aquarium stands on the internet, but some of them start off with, “I’ve never actually built this” or they don’t say it, but if you know a little about carpentry, after a few paragraphs, you realize they haven’t actually built anything, or if they have, it scares you to know there is a tank on such a poorly designed stand. Wood has great compression strength, but it is not so effective at shear strength. That is, wood is strong when it is stacked on top of each other, but not very strong when it hangs onto other pieces of wood.

Here you see a stand design that takes advantage of wood’s best qualities while accommodating its faults. The five pairs of legs (left picture) with their plywood inserts were assembled first. Note the routed groove for the plywood, the notches for the shelves, and in the background the half inch space under the plywood. For ease of assembly, the stand is tipped over on its back here. Under my right thumb, (right picture) there is a half inch spacer. This makes it easy to screw the “bridge” half an inch below the top of the leg. The carpenter’s triangle helps keep things square.

Photo 3 shows some of the internal detail of the stand. Half an inch below the outer rails, are two more rails and two bridges (the front to back shorter boards). This affords support for a 1/2” thick plywood shelf to be screwed and glued in place. Plywood strips sandwiched between the rails help prevent the wood from warping and adds strength, more than necessary even for a stand designed to hold a 90 and a 75 gallon tank.

Here is the top corner of an assembled stand before finishing or the big 3/4” plywood corner braces are installed. You can see how the horizontal rails are let into the 2 X 6 uprights and how almost all raw plywood edges are concealed behind solid stock. The only exception was the top of the legs. A 2 X cap could have been used to conceal this last plywood edge, but we opted not to. Leaving out the cap lets us run airline and power cords down the channel, but you could permanently lose anything that falls in the gap.

My 275 pounds is much less than the tanks will weigh, but not a bit of movement was in the stand. I am sitting on one of the five stands even before the triangle braces have been installed. They are still on the floor in the back right corner. In my right hand I’m holding one of the decorative blocks that will go on the front to conceal screw holes and joints. They were glued with no nails or screws since they are basically decorative.

If you want to see the detail of gluing the plywood strip between two rails, this picture shows the glue pattern. The strip and the inside rail are dropped down half an inch. This shows at the bottom, but only if you sit on the floor and look up at it.

Final touches are the decorative pieces in the front corners to hide screws, the large triangles bracing the back legs, (you can see one of the four clearly on the lower left hand behind the 45 gallon tank), and the staining and painting. We stained the fronts, and urethaned them, but painted the rest of the stand black. Four plywood triangle braces are on each stand, but the one on the lower left is easiest to see here. There is room on each shelf for a 75 gallon tank, or a smaller sump tank and a pump. You might not want the extra height we gave the legs under the bottom shelf, but this allowed us to use storage drawers underneath the stands.

There are no dimensions as such in this article. I want to introduce you to techniques and principles, not give you a blueprint. I don’t know what tank size or brand you want to build a stand for, so you will measure them out for yourself. (Hint) An extra inch or two above the minimum will come in handy some day if you replace the tank or its equipment with a different brand or style. I don’t know how tall or short you are, which makes a difference in how tall you want the stands. I don’t know how much space you need above the bottom tank or if you want that bottom area that I slide plastic storage drawers into now that these stands have been set up for months. It’s handy to have miscellaneous things right by the tank in those drawers but you may have another preference. If you don’t have access to an Auto-Cad program or more ancient drafting tools, you can sketch out your customized stand on graph paper. Drawing out your designs on paper or on the computer screen before you begin buying and cutting lumber is a great way to understand the process. It is a logical extension of the old carpenter’s adage, “Measure twice. Cut once.”

We designed this five stand project on Auto-Cad, a computer-aided drafting tool. That allowed us to figure out the least waste and even let us plan to use 3/4” plywood left from the triangular braces instead of 1/2” on some stands just to have fewer leftover scraps. It took longer to plan and bounce ideas back and forth than to build. That’s the way it should be. Think everything out first.


Disclaimer: By building this DIY project you agree not to hold the author or the owners of this Web site responsible for any injury or bodily harm you may cause to yourself or others. Always wear safety glasses when working with tools and keep chemicals and power tools away from children. Read and understand all safety instructions pertaining to equipment prior to use.           

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