Building an aquarium stand

This is a follow-up on a previous article on aquarium stands.

Here are some pictures of an aquarium stand with puzzle-piece joints. The theory is that these joints are stronger than the butt joints commonly used with screw-and-glue for aquarium stands, especially when exposed to salt water. The aquarium loads the joints and makes them stronger, while butt joints are prone to pulling apart under load.

This stand supports a flat-back hex tank which looks like a conventional rectangular tank with softened edges in the front and a normal back. The stand sits on a sheet of 3/4″ fir plywood, which is supported by 4×4 fir legs and 2×4 cedar crosspieces. All of that sits inside a bottom tray of 3/4″ fir ply, which will be sealed and painted with epoxy to make it completely water-tight. The tray extends 3 1/2″ behind the tank, and the back support members extend up the back of the tank in order to support the canopy that houses the lights and fans. The back support pieces hide the plumbing and electric wires on the back of the tank.

Here’s the tray at the bottom, which also spreads the tank’s load across the floor boards.


Attached to the tray we have the legs, 4×4’s trimmed with 122 and 148 degree angles to follow the tank.


The cross-pieces at the top of the legs are notched to overlap each other, and the legs are notched to carry them. These are the puzzle-pieces, but they’re easy to cut with a table saw or a miter saw.


This is what a front leg looks like. The back legs are longer since they go all the way to the top.


And here we have the assembled frame, less the veneered plywood skin that will wrap around the whole assembly and give it some lateral strength.


All the joints are screwed and glued once you’ve test-assembled and made sure it all fits.

Next time I’ll walk through the veneering and skinning.

UPDATE: Here’s a teak veneer stand.

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13 Responses to Building an aquarium stand

  1. Very nice work, sir. Are you using a table saw or a band saw on all of this? Because it looks exceedingly difficult to do with hand tools.

  2. Steve says:

    Is this a new stand, or are you just now documenting the old pau ferro one?

    In the same vein, I have some boat construction pics up if anyone’s interested:

    It’s all part of coming up with a cogent theory of Attachment Woodworking — based on the unquestionable truth that most bad woodworking is the result of stopping the flow of glue too soon.

  3. This is a new stand built on the same basic design as the last one, but with some improvements. This one has a leak-catcher, supports to hold the light canopy, and an extenstion to hide the plumbing that the last one didn’t have.

    I made all the cuts with a Delta miter saw and an el cheapo supremo table saw; doing it with hand tools wouldn’t be practical. After using the last one for a few months, I found that the old design left some stuff to be desired.

  4. Steve says:

    Then I think you’d be justified in putting out a book, say under the “Whole Earth Mossback Co-Evolution” imprint, on “How Aquarium Stands Learn”.

  5. I’ll do that right after my book on Attachment Fishkeeping, where I show how to carry your fish tank around on your back so you can breastfeed the fishies whenever they’re hungry.

  6. John Weidner says:

    OK, You’ve got us laughing out loud –John and Charlene

  7. Weber Lau says:

    I’m contemplating building a stand and thank you for the effort you have expended in sharing your experience. After examining your design, I have this comment. It seems that you have placed a lot of emphasis on the joints at the top of the stand, and the bottom joints to the tray are conspicuously unsophisticated in comparison. I believe that under any kind of shear or racking stress, the weakest joints will give out first.
    Also, the way the horizontal support members at the top are notched, the effective strength is cut in half, since the 2×4’s are essentially 2×2’s where they meet the vertical post.

  8. The joints on the lip of the tray aren’t load-bearing, Weber, they’re only to contain drips and leaks, so I was more concerned about tightness than strengh. The legs rest on the top of the sheet of plywood on the botton.

    I agree the puzzle-piece joints aren’t ideally strong in this geometry, so I’ve decided to peg them into each other. The notches are situated so that load on the lateral horizontal members causes them to pinch the cross-pieces, which increases the strength of the network. The idea is to build your joints in such a way that load makes them tighter, not weaker.

  9. Paul says:

    Excellent quality work, how would you like to build me one?

  10. Rose Knight says:

    Hello, Richard:
    I know…it’s been over two years since you built your aquarium stand. I am interested in purchasing a 30g. flat back Hex, and would like to build my own stand. You have pix of the finished stand and plans for it that I could use as reference? I don’t want to make any costly mistakes, but want a sturdy stand that will support 30g. tank plus rock and live sand. I plan on a self-contained system without all the plumbing of conventional methods. Corals, a small shrimp, and a couple of snails. Not much of a bio-load to consider. Thank you for posting this for us who are willing to DIY. 😉

  11. Jerry says:

    Yeah! Lets’s see finished pics and plans!

  12. TERRANCE says:


  13. Richard says:

    I dunno dude, I’ve never built one for a tank that big. I guess I’d bolt some supports to the studs and take it from there, but I’d look for a load calculator first.

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