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Constructing a styrofoam-based aquarium background

Discussion in 'Equipment & DIY Ideas' started by Shane, Jul 9, 2012.

  1. Shane

    Shane Members

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    Based on this thread.
    http://www.capitalcichlids.org/forums/showthread.php?t=13639


    A step by step guide:

    Step 1) Cut styrofoam sheets to size. A tight fit side to side is important, but do not sweat the height too much as substrate will hide the bottom.

    Optional steps if making a layered background.

    Step 1a) Optional. Using two sheets like I did really adds some interesting depth. My original design called for three sheets of depth, but I felt it was too thick at that point and threw out the third panel I had made. Important! Getting two sheets of styrofoam to stick together is really, really hard. I tried several products without luck. In the end (and after three attempts) I used an entire large tube of aquarium sealant. Cover as much of the surface area of the back of the smaller piece as possible before affixing it to the larger background piece. Place a lot of weight on it and allow to cure at least 24 hours. If you do not do this the bouyancy of styrofoam will cause the smaller piece to seperate and float to the surface (again and again and again...).

    Step 1b) Melt the edges of the second layer so it appears more natural. I was too timid here. The parts that turned out best were the parts that I accidently caught on fire. I was too cheap to buy a gas torch. I just rolled up sections of newspaper, set them on fire, and held the styrofoam over them. It worked fine. (Do this outside!)

    Note: I do not believe it is necessary to use multiple layers to get a nice background. A single layer background is far easier to construct and will look almost as nice.

    Step 2) Add some texture to the styrofoam. I walked across mine several times on my kness to put lots of rounded dents in it.

    Step 3) Add the primer layer. I used Espresso color Krylon Fusion spray paint. A darker color will give a darker background and a lighter primer layer a lighter colored background. Be sure to prime all the edges around the strofoam.

    Step 4) Add the epoxy layer. I found two part epoxy at a craft store (Michaels). Apply the epoxy in a thick layer. Do not try to paint it on. You want to basically pour it on and spread it around with a flat stick.

    Step 5) Add the sand. I highly recommend the sand sold at home improvement stores as "Paver's Sand." This stuff is useless as a substrate as it contains many fine particles and requires lots of washing or it will really cloud an aquarium. However, because it contains everything from dust-like sand to small gravel, it makes great texture for a background.

    Optional Step 5a) If using multiple layers try using a different sand type on each. I used Paver's sand on the outside layer and Play Sand on the background layer. I really like the contrast. It also shows how uniform Play Sand is versus Paver's Sand.

    Step 6) Let the epoxy set up for 24 hours. Tilt the background up and let the excess sand pour off. Lightly rinse with the hose and let it dry.

    Step 7) Sealant layer. I used Krylon Fusion clear spray paint. Add as many coats as you wish. Every coat will help ensure the background's durability. Let dry/cure for 24 hours.

    Step 8 ) Gently rinse the entire background carefully for with a hose several minutes just to ensure there is no chemical residue.

    Step 9) Cover the back of the background in aquarium silicone (go heavy on the silicone) and affix to the aquarium. In a smaller tank I suggest laying the tank on its back and then placing heavy weight on the background. Let it dry for 24 hours. In a larger tank you will need to construct a bracing system like I did.

    Step 10) Fill the tank and enjoy your unique background.

    A few tips:
    - This project is not a lot of physical work, but because of the various curing stages will take a minimum of 3-4 days to complete.
    - A small background might require as little as $30 in materials. A larger background $80 or more. The primary expenses are the epoxy and paints. The styrofoam and sand are cheap to free.
    - Choose a substrate and stones (if you use them) that will match your background. A clashing background and substrate/stones looks unnatural and will undo all you strived to achieve.

    -Shane

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  2. mscichlid

    mscichlid Founder
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    Excellent post!
     
  3. dogofwar

    dogofwar Global Moderators
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    Thanks much, Shane!

    Have you ever tried Drylok or the like?

    Matt
     
  4. chriscoli

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    This is awesome, I'm going to have to try this in some of my 20's (seems a manageable size for me). How long have you had this version of background going in your tank? I guess what' I'm asking is...how well does it age?
     
  5. chriscoli

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    Could the same epoxy/sand/sealer idea be used to cover things like sections of PVC tubes to make them blend in a little more? Or would the epoxy tend to flow off of a non-flat object before it had time to set?
     
  6. jonclark96

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    You could probably mechanically roughen the surface to get better adhesion of the epoxy. A coarse grit sand paper would do the trick.
     
  7. chriscoli

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    Yep, that's what I was planning on doing, but I'm not sure how thick the layer of epoxy is...or how runny. it might run off before it has a chance to set. Since I haven't worked with anything like this before, I'm just speculating, of course....

    I just had visions of a piece of PVC sitting in a puddle of hardened, sandy epoxy.
     
  8. Leffler817

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    Awesome info!!! Thanks Shane! :happy0180: I've been putting off making a 3D background for a while, but I'm pretty motivated to try it this summer. In an art class, we made sculptures using sheets of blue insulation foam stuck together with GREAT STUFF. Is great stuff aquarium safe?
     
  9. dogofwar

    dogofwar Global Moderators
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    I don't think it's aquarium safe...but I could be wrong.

    Matt
     
  10. verbal

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    There may be some versions of Great Stuff that have weird additives, but in general it is aquarium safe. They even have a black version that is made for filling in pond waterfalls.
     
  11. Prince

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    The black version I heard isn't as stiff as normal great stuff. Great stuff works good however you can't really control the expansion during the drying phase. I used great stuff, and coco peat to make a soil back like background. It looked great. If I would have added some moss to it it would have looked even better. However my mistake was using GE silicon II in brown as opposed to ordering GE-silicon I in brown. GE silicone II has an aditive that maybe toxic to fish and may leach into the water column. You maybe use GE silicone I instead of aquarium caulk to attach the two Styrofoam boards together under Shane's plans. A tube of GE Silicon I is half the price of aquarium sealant.

    Shane:

    What was the name of the epoxy you used?

    Maybe this can be the start of a DIY section?
     
  12. monfrey29

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  13. Shane

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    No, I have not. If you do please let me know how it works.

    I do not know, but I suspect a very long time. Look at this guy's South American tank with a very similar background. It has been up for a while. Even if you have no desire to build a background look at this tank. It is very cool.
    http://www.planetcatfish.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=33502

    Yes, and I plan to do so. Krylon Fusion spray paint is used by Reef Aquarists to hide plumbing. You would not need to use the silicone/sand to just spray paint a plastic piece a certain color. I'll just paint the filter intakes a "sand" color.

    Yes, there are several articles on the internet where people have used it. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they all look a little too fake for me.

    Easy Cast. You save a lot of money ordering it from Amazon.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&ke...hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_78c87asev_b
     
  14. Shane

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    There are dozens of online articles about constructing a background with Quikrete. It seems like a lot of work to me for the results one gets. It will also leech and raise the pH. Not a big issue for hard water fishes, but certainly one for soft water fishes.
    -Shane

    http://dramaticaquascapes.com/doityourselfbackground_page1.html

    http://www.cichlid-forum.com/articles/diy_background.php

    http://aquarium.mriweb.nl/en/index.php
     
  15. Shane

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    Things are coming along. It should clear up by tomorrow.
    -Shane

    DSC_0733.jpg

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  16. londonloco

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    WOW, VERY NICE!! What type of lighting is on the tank? What are you housing in the tank?
     
  17. Shane

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    Those lights are available at Home Depot for $40 each and come with a built in dimmer switch and ready to plug in. I really like them and am using them on several tanks. The only drawback is that, especially if turned up high, they can get hot as they use 50 watt MR 16 halogen bulbs. I would recommend four inches or more clearence between the lights and the top of the tank, but I do not know any other way to get a 150 watt light fixture for $40 with a built in dimmer and ready to plug in.
    Another option is to replace the halogen bulbs in them with LEDs. LED MR 16 bulbs run just over $20 each. I may eventually hybrid them with two halogens and one LED per fixture.
    http://www.wholesaleled.com/collecti...FYio4AodGGIHgg

    It will be a West African set up.

    -Shane
     
  18. Leffler817

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    That looks fantabulous!!!! I love it!

    Why are you holding back, being coy? :D JK



    Sent from my iPhone using MonsterAquariaNetwork app
     
  19. Hawkman2000

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  20. Shane

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    Settling in and Slowly turning into a show piece.

    In quarantine are
    Nanochromis parilus
    P. taeniatus "Moliwe"
    Steatocranus tinanti

    In the tank are
    Congo tetras
    pair of P. pulcher
    Steatocranus irvinei
    Barbus fasciolatus

    Still no cats...

    -Shane

    DSC_0735 (3).jpg
     

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