Making All Glass Tanks

I visited various websites recently and looked over the various issues regarding tank manufacture from either glass or wood. Having done both I would like to share my ideas with you. These are my experiences, but your results are fully dependent on your actions and how you approach the project, and I take no responsibility for any disasters.

Tank building

I built well over 100 All/Glass tanks in the beginning some years back ranging from 12 x 12 inches to 72 x 24 x 24 inches, with no disasters, and NONE of them had top strips as you see today on all the tanks. If you feel adventurous and want to ‘do your own thing’, then read on.

First make yourself a gig from a piece of flat board about half inch thick, the size of which must be slightly bigger than the base size of your tank. Nail 1″ x 1″ strips to this base to the exact size you’ll need for your base glass. Ensure the strips are absolutely square with your base glass. (No side, upright bits, just the four strips on the base). Find a place where it won’t be moved for a day or two before you start work. One important factor in all glass tanks is absolute cleanliness, i.e. no finger marks. Clean your glass first with meths, or white spirit. Take note when cutting, or getting the glass cut, that you need the front and rear sheets to overlap the side pieces, so that when assembled the edges of the sides don’t show in the front view. Personally I prefer the upper parts to sit on TOP of the base glass, but both methods work here, as I tried both, and strength was not effected. If you’re getting it cut somewhere, check the measurements before you accept it, since they may not accept a return.

Obtain a good quality Silicone Sealer, and make sure it is from a reputable brand and used for GLASS (preferably for aquariums), as many aren’t. Building sealers WON’T WORK, so don’t even think about them. Attach eight bits of packing tape to the base glass so that each piece extends out around 2″ (50mm). These strips will hold each of the sheets of glass in position. Place the base glass into your gig and then stand your front and one of the sides into your gig ensuring that they are dead square. Hold together with the sellotape or a good packing tape in several places up each edge at the corners. Use the base tapes to secure each piece as you work from front to back. Now assemble the remaining side and the back in the same manner ensuring all is square and well taped to hold into position. A “caulking gun” as used by builders is idea to apply the silicone, and you’ll need a cartridge of silicone if you intend making more than one tank. Cut a nice angled (45deg.) opening on the cartridge about a quarter inch (6-7mm) down the nose. This will give you a nice “fillet” of silicone as you apply it. It takes a bit of skill to use the cartridge gun, but don’t worry, and don’t rush it.

Start by sealing the bottom first, then the front and sides. Aim for a good clean “fillet” on each seam, and try to get all seams even. Myself personally, I wait around for half an hour until the silicone just starts to skin, then gently wipe my finger up each seam thereby creating a smooth seam. A little warning. Don’t try to dress the seams up with a knife, or similar object, as most seams are almost invisible once the tank is filled. The other point is, “Just don’t do in a hurry, take it slowly and don’t be in a rush to fill it, wait at least three to four days, more if you can.

Any sharp exterior edges can be dressed off with an old oil stone or something similar, and again, just take your time and be very careful, the edges are sharp.

Glass thickness:
(The Krib has a lot of dated technical data on this, so you may like to read it. I didn’t, and in my early experiments it was “try it and see”).

I’m a bit of a daredevil, and in the late sixties was one of the pioneers in the UK for starting the all glass tank craze. My shop was filled with old rusty angle iron tanks of all shapes and sizes, so I built around 60 for the main shop, and umpteen more for breeding. I then sold several hundreds to shops and individuals around the country, and only ever had one returned, but that’s another story. For up to 24x24x12 (600 x 300 x 300mm) I used 32oz. window glass. For my breeding tanks, tanks that were not on show, I used greenhouse glass (much cheaper). For anything up to 5 foot (1500mm) I used 1/4 plate, with cast glass on the base to save on costs. My final creation was a six by two by two (1800 x 600 x 600mm) all in 3/8 plate glass (recovered from a shop window that got smashed locally). Your tank should be ready for filling in 3-4 days. For the nervous, you might want to fit top strips and a cross brace as seen on ready made tanks, but as stated, I never did.

Diverting slightly, but still on the topic, a very nice display tank for Bettas can be made by building a tank as above, but then siliconing partitions from front to back so that you could perhaps view six or eight fish at once. If the partitions were fixed leaving a gap at the base, then heat would be allowed to pass through the whole array of sections. An u/g filter would assist with this by making the return have several outlets, one for each section. There are also grilled plastic sheets as used over office light fittings. These sometimes become available and would make ideal partitions.

Back to the AGTs. If you visit your glass supplier you’d be surprised just how much glass they throw out, (sneak around the back and have a nosey), e.g., bits with a tiny obscure mark on them, which in your case would suit the base etc.

Final words. Making your own AGTs is great fun, and after the first couple (of hundreds), it becomes real easy. Don’t worry, you’ll be an expert after your first try if you just take your time, and make sure you stand your A/G tank on a firm solid surface with a thin (1/2″) polystyrene pad on the base. Don’t place heavy metal hoods on AGTs as they expand and contract with the temp. differences. I also made several 4 foot x 4 foot by 4 foot tanks of WOOD and I will write a further article on this subject soon. – by Bill “Pegasus NZ” –

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