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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I hope I'm not repeating questions here, or at least not the common questions such as what type of paint, foam, silicone.

I'm new to this hobby as of a few months back. I had a rough start with an african cichlid tank but I'm getting that under control. Part of this was going out and purchasing a much larger tank. Last night I came home with a 60 gal. I was torn between the 55 and 75 for a long time and only recently learned the 60 exists with more height than the 55 but without the depth which I don't really have the room for.

I said it once before but it bears repeating: Shame on you all for having so much knowledge, tutorials, DIY articles and helpful members. You really know how to hurt a guy's free time and wallet! :p

While getting help with my current setup, I started browsing the rest of the forums and came upon the DIY background articles and the member photos section. They really do stand out! You've even convinced me that this might be something I'm capable of doing myself!

My first issue is with the permanency of such a background. These don't seem like something you can just rip out easily and move on with life if you decide you don't like it or want to change in the future? Or am I wrong about that?

Both of the DIY articles in the library seem to point at doing most of the work inside the tank itself, though the discussions here seem to make me believe I can build the features outside of the tank and then use silicone to affix them after they're finished. Pros/cons between the two schools of thought on this? It seems as if the second method allows for easier removal... just separate it from the back wall where the silicone is holding it.

I'll admit I haven't searched too deeply for an answer to this next question, but here goes: The backgrounds look great... but has anyone use the same foam and concrete or drylok to make freestanding features or decorations, caves? I would worry that they would float is all, but a couple square inches of silicone might be easier to remove if I change my mind later. Seems like it would work to me otherwise, and cheaper than buying hand picked holey stone or the like.

Drylok vs cement. I like the look and texture of the cement much better, and the thought that beneficial bacteria can find its home in the pourus nature of the surface... but that's an awful lot of work for someone who doesn't have much room, let alone a garage or workshop (apartment here). I'm leaning the drylok route if I go about this... but wondering if I can somehow add texture to it. Maybe some sand and cement color powders tossed on the last coat of drylok? Any idea if it would stick well? Look ok? Any examples of such a thing?

In my mind in envision a background that doesn't go full length floor-ceiling. Maybe 2/3 the way up the back of the tank for sort of a reef shelf with slight overhang. Local river rock piled in the foreground with maybe a java fern or two, back of the tank painted black. Substrate will be eco-complete cichlid sand--the salt/pepper greyish looking kind, covering up a light diffuser/eggcrate to support the rocks. Can anyone else pictures this? Thoughts?

Thanks for your time!
 

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Hi Feralcoder -

My first issue is with the permanency of such a background. These don't seem like something you can just rip out easily and move on with life if you decide you don't like it or want to change in the future? Or am I wrong about that?
My experience is that DIY backgrounds are a permanent structure to the tank. I used three sheets of styro and 6 tubes of silicone, so removing that would take much effort. To say the least, it would require completely evicting the residents.
Both of the DIY articles in the library seem to point at doing most of the work inside the tank itself, though the discussions here seem to make me believe I can build the features outside of the tank and then use silicone to affix them after they're finished. Pros/cons between the two schools of thought on this?
I believe you'll find most DIY backgrounds are shaped outside the tank, then affixed inside once finished. Of course, you'll need to fit and re-fit the background to make room for equipment and to help visualize what you're doing. Keep in mind that it's frequently necessary to break your DIY background into manageable pieces. Because I have two very wide center braces, I had to break the background into six pieces. But I made the overall background first, then divided it from there. Here are some pictures to illustrate the freestanding BG:





Maybe some sand and cement color powders tossed on the last coat of drylok? Any idea if it would stick well? Look ok? Any examples of such a thing?
I'm squarely in the Drylok camp. You can achieve some neat textures by scoring the styrofoam. Try different cutting tools. You can also mix drylok powders and experiment with water dilution to achieve bleed-outs, color variations, and some stand-out texture. Here's what my Drylok job looks like:





A year or so later, after algae growth, it's hard to tell it from real rock. A video:

A little bit of experimentation goes a long way. This was my first DIY background, but I went through a few scrap pieces of styro to get the hang of it. I'm a visual person, so being able to play with it a bit and then seeing the result really helped. You can do this in a small space, but it makes an ungodly mess.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Wow, Benaiah, that's really impressive! I didn't know you could get as much of a rough texture out of drylok. While looking through the member photos, unless someone asks, people generally don't point it out, so I guess I assumed most like yours were concrete.

Hrm. Permanent you say? Maybe I'll hold off on it for now... or if I set up a second, much smaller tank, I'll experiment with that. If I mess that up, I'm not out as much money worth of tank. I'd still love to experiment with this, but hesitant on my brand new 60gal without much to fall back on.
 

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feralcoder said:
My first issue is with the permanency of such a background. These don't seem like something you can just rip out easily and move on with life if you decide you don't like it or want to change in the future? Or am I wrong about that?
Magnets work well for that. I have epoxy coated magnets mounted in my background (with silicone smeared over them) and they work great.

feralcoder said:
I'll admit I haven't searched too deeply for an answer to this next question, but here goes: The backgrounds look great... but has anyone use the same foam and concrete or drylok to make freestanding features or decorations, caves?
Yes, I have a cave in my larger tank. I actually used lead weights (used for deep sea fishing) inside the Styrofoam (again covered everything with silicone) and they work well. It certainly is cheaper (if you don't go out and collect rocks) and you can create a bunch of rocks that resemble each other.

feralcoder said:
Drylok vs cement. I like the look and texture of the cement much better, and the thought that beneficial bacteria can find its home in the pourus nature of the surface... but that's an awful lot of work for someone who doesn't have much room, let alone a garage or workshop (apartment here). I'm leaning the drylok route if I go about this... but wondering if I can somehow add texture to it. Maybe some sand and cement color powders tossed on the last coat of drylok? Any idea if it would stick well? Look ok? Any examples of such a thing?
No need to add sand. Just leave some rough spots on the Styrofoam. -Trust me, you'll have plenty of texture with the Drylok.

feralcoder said:
In my mind in envision a background that doesn't go full length floor-ceiling. Maybe 2/3 the way up the back of the tank for sort of a reef shelf with slight overhang. Local river rock piled in the foreground with maybe a java fern or two, back of the tank painted black. Substrate will be eco-complete cichlid sand--the salt/pepper greyish looking kind, covering up a light diffuser/eggcrate to support the rocks. Can anyone else pictures this? Thoughts?
I have a background that goes up the entire length of the tank and it's a shelf-like. -In fact, there is one rock that sticks out about 8." So, I can envision what you're thinking about but I think you're going to have to use silicone on your background. The magnets will only work well if the background is snug against the top and bottom.
Another note- you won't need the eggcrate because your tank will be able to withstand the weight of the river rocks. :wink:
 

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i got some nice texture by taking a steak knife and running the top edge(non sharpend edge) along the styrofoam. The little circle pieces of styrofoam will pop out and leave a rough texture to it. this works best on edges of the styrofoam
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
DanniGirl, Thanks for all the information! I agree, magnets probably won't work for what I had in mind, as nothing but those would be there to hold it down.

I'm leaning away from a 3D background at this time, but will be moving this fall, so that might be a good excuse to tear the tank down and attempt then.

I put the first coat of flat black latex paint on the back of my aquarium last night. Went on smooth, not much smearing so long as I went slow. Going to put 3-4 more coats on and see how it looks with a light behind it.

I love the idea of using lead weights to hold down freestanding features! I figure attempting a few of those might give me a bit of experience with how the foam cuts, crumbles, or otherwise before I attempt a large background. Worst case with those, nothing was harmed in the tank.

I think I'm putting in eggcrate just in case--my selection of stone for piles/caves/etc is changing by the minute and will be more driven by what I can find at landscaping yards and LFS this weekend. With the black background, and white sand substrate, I'm hoping to find some red lavarock, or deep blue-grey granite/quarts/something to contrast with the other two. From looking at other people's setups, something with sharper corners (as opposed to river rocks smooth and rounded over the year) seems to leave larger crevasses for caves and the like when stacked 'naturally.' I would really love to go with the salt/pepper-looking eco-complete sand, but feel I would need a very light colored stone since my background is also dark. Texas holey rock looks awesome for this, but ****... its pricey for anything that even might have holes large enough for the fish to swim through.

utahpeakcock, thanks for the tip! I can see how that would work. I'll have to try it on the couple practice pieces I attempt. I don't think I've seen anyone mention that method before!

My other concern about a 3d background is that I don't think I can provide for adequate hiding places for all the fish in my tank with just that, so I would be putting in rocks as well, and I've seen how differences between shape/texture/colors clash if you're not careful. Making a 3d background seems pretty easy, you just sort of go to it... but trying to get a very specific look out of it, to match another existing real stone, or at least complement it well, that might be a bit more tricky!

Thanks all for taking the time to read. I'll post pics if I ever get this all together!
 

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feralcoder said:
My other concern about a 3d background is that I don't think I can provide for adequate hiding places for all the fish in my tank with just that, so I would be putting in rocks as well, and I've seen how differences between shape/texture/colors clash if you're not careful. Making a 3d background seems pretty easy, you just sort of go to it... but trying to get a very specific look out of it, to match another existing real stone, or at least complement it well, that might be a bit more tricky!

Thanks all for taking the time to read. I'll post pics if I ever get this all together!
Well, you can always paint the drylok on the rocks and use the pigment to match the background. :thumb:

Going to send ya' a pm here in just a minute.

Can't wait to see the pictures of your current set-up.
 
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