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MMoore0324's 50g Acrylic Build

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Hey Reef Addicts,

So I realized that I joined this site in 2010 and I have a whopping 4 posts... wow! After looking around a bit, I noticed that there hasn't been a ton of activity here for a while. Maybe I can help to get things going again.

Like many of you I'm sure, I've been following Marc for many years and last month I decided that I wanted to try my hand at acrylic fabrication. I sent Marc a message on Facebook and to my surprise he responded a day later with some great tips. I started my very first acrylic tank build about 8 days ago after finally finding the acrylic locally. I've been posing updates about my build on my local club forums. I'm going to copy and paste all my updates thus far here. Some of the information in my updates is me sharing what I've learned about acrylic fabrication so far with my local club members. I'm sure many of you are far more advanced in acrylics than I, so please forgive my "teaching." I'm being lazy right now and don't want to edit each post... sorry! I hope that you will all follow along on this journey with me. I've been wanting to get into this for many years and I'm really excited to finally be doing it. Please feel free to give me pointers when you see mistakes... I'd like to be good at this.


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Tank Entry


  1. MMoore0324's Avatar
    The good news is that I found a supplier (Absolute Plastic Solutions) and have placed an order for all the acrylic material that I will need. This test tank will be small but I do plan to keep it set up.

    Tank Dimensions:
    3/8" Cell Cast Acrylic
    28 X 24 X 18
    Tank Volume: 52.4 gallons
    Working Volume: approx. 48 - 50 gallons

    Sump Dimensions:
    1/4" Cell Cast Acrylic
    26 X 16 X 16
    Skimmer section, return section, refugium section

    I pick up the acrylic on Friday morning and will try to start tank assembly Friday night. I will do my best to take lots of photos along the way. The overall build will be slow as I'm just returning to the hobby and will need to purchase all equipment and supporting items. I'll post a proposed equipment list in a few days.
    I hope that you all will follow along with me!
  2. MMoore0324's Avatar
    Here is my basic equipment list. I want to go as simple as possible. Since this is such a small system it will have no calcium reactor, no controller, and a fairly basic list of equipment. I plan to use quality equipment but not top of the line with everything. Here's what I'm thinking:

    Skimmer: Nyos Quantum 120
    Return Pump: EcoTech Vectra M1
    Lighting: Hamilton Cayman 250w w/Radium 20K
    **Dosing: C-Balance w/ IceCap dosing pumps and custom acrylic reservoirs. (Once the tank has grown enough to demand dosing)
    Reactors: 2 TLF reactors for activated carbon and GFO. These will be fed off of a manifold from the return pump
    Heater: Cobalt Neo-Therm 100w
    In-Tank flow: Current USA eFlux 2100 GPH wave system
    Salt: ESV B-Ionic System

    **I do plan to have a heavy coral bio load in the system with SPS as the emphasis. At the point where the ESV Salt system can't keep up the trace element demand, I'll then add in 2 part dosing with C-Balance.

    Lighting: While I understand that LED's will probably be the primary light source of all reef aquarium's in the future, I just don't think they are for this build. With the tank being 28" long and the fact that I plan to keep mostly SPS - I figure I would still need 2 LED fixture's. While the low operating costs and low heat transfer are attractive qualities; I just can't justify the upfront cost. I have always had metal halide or T5's on my systems and I just love the "depth" and "texture" that metal halides provide. I think the Radion XR30 G4 fixtures are probably leading the way for LED Technology but at $800... they are an investment.

    That's it for now. I'm excited to pick up the acrylic tomorrow and get the process started
  3. MMoore0324's Avatar
    Well... the tank has been glued (welded.) There were some parts of this process so far that were harder than I expected and some parts that have been easier. Welding the tank was certainly the most nerve wrecking. Overall, I think that I'm happy. I wish some of my seams came out better. Some bubbles in a few seams but from what I've read, they should just be cosmetic and shouldn't cause issues. I plan to do a water test on Tuesday, so we will see. Attached are some pics of the build. Not great quality but just trying to show what I'm doing.

    So the next step is a water test on Tuesday. If all goes well with the water test, I have to figure out my overflow. I had planed to do a 2 inch overflow spanning the entire width of the tank on the right side. With the tank only be 18" wide, I just don't want to lose that much real estate. I'll probably just make a small internal overflow on the right side of the tank. After that, I'll route out the eurobrace. Once the tank is leak tested and holding water, I'll start the sump.

    Have a great night guys
  4. MMoore0324's Avatar
    **Update 8/31**

    I've had a chance to work on the tank over the past few days. I've made a little progress but also had a setback.

    On Tuesday I started working on the top eurobrace flange. The top is a 3" eurobrace out of 3/8" acrylic. I probably could have used 1/4" for the top but liked the thought of the thicker material. Plus I think it looks nicer when all the pieces are the same thickness. I knew that I had to make a jig of some sort so that I could route out the solid piece to create my 3" flange. I looked at hundreds of pics online but settled on using a design by Melevsreef. I found some 3.5" wide MDF at Lowes and figured that I could make a "window frame" and set the outside dimensions of the frame to the dimensions of my acrylic sheet. If I routed out the center of the frame that would give me a 3.5" flange. Since the tank is only 28 X 24 a 3.5" flange all the way around wouldn't have provided a very big opening to the tank. So I then found some 1/4" thick window trim and could nail that to the MDF at 1/2" and then I could get my 3" flange. So I placed a scrap piece of MDF on the saw horses to make a work surface. Then I used 1" brad nails and attached the white 3.5" MDF to the table. Then used 3/4" brad nails and affixed the 1/4" window frame to the white MDF to create my 3" flange. The acrylic sits on top of the white MDF and the 1/4" window frame holds the acrylic in place.

    The router bit that I used is a 1/2" Bosch Laminate bit. It has a bearing on the tip which is used to trace along the jig while the cutting head routes out the acrylic.

    It took about 90 seconds to route each side of the top. I found that if I went too fast the bit would skip and i'd get a bump in the edge. If I went to slow the acrylic shavings got caught between the edge and the bit and then as they cooled they melted back onto the edge.

    After the center was routed out, I vacuumed all the shaving up and then made another pass to smooth out those bumps and to clean up any little areas that needed. Since the brand of acrylic that I have has brown masking paper on both sides, I needed to remove the paper so that I could see my jig. Unfortunately, dragging the router along the acrylic scratched the heck out of it. I used a buffing wheel and some Novus 2 and did my best to polish out the scratches. This tank isn't meant to be a TOTM show tank so I didn't worry about it too much. This is a learning experience and as I get more proficient, I'm sure I'll figure out how to keep things looking pretty. Perhaps a router table if I'm going to keep doing this. It was time to glue (solvent weld) the top to the tank. I'd like to add that since this was my first build I wanted to keep it simple. I had watched several videos of acrylic tank fabrication and one of those videos showed the tank being built from the base up. Taking the bottom of the tank, gluing the front, sides, and back. Then finally gluing the top. I figured this would be the easiest way. This is not the way professional tank builders do it and now I see why. Professionals will glue the 4 sides, then the top, and then attach the base last. More in a second on why this is important.

    Here is the attached top. While it's not perfect, I think it looks pretty good and I was pretty proud of my self. BTW, all the sides are 3". In the photo, the back seams looks thin. I'm a terrible photographer.

    So according to the folks that do a lot of acrylic tank fabrication - the proper sequence for assembling the aquarium is (and I should have listened):

    1) Attach a side panel to the font panel - let cure for several hours if possible, minimum 1 hour
    2) Attach the opposite side panel to the front panel - let cure for several hours, min 1 hour
    3) Attach back panel to side panels - let cure 24 hours
    4) Attach top or bracing - let cure for 24 hours
    5) Attach all above to bottom - let cure for 24 -48 hours

    The theory is to make sure all seams are glued in a horizontal fashion. I took this lightly and took the easier route by starting with the bottom attaching the front, then sides, then back, and then top. I glued vertical seams and after seeing how the solvent didn't wick into the seam via capillary action that well - I was a little nervous. I ran a bead of Weld- on #16 along the vertical joints after the tank had cured for 24 hours. I did turn the tank so that the 16 was applied horizontal. Weld-on #16 is thicker than #4 and is used to fill small gaps where the acrylic panels might not be making perfect contact. It still works the same way as it melts the acrylic so that the molecules in the two pieces bond and then the liquid part of the solvent evaporates. Weld-On #4 is water like in consistency so while trying to glue the vertical joints, you can image how I managed to drip on the viewing panels. Because it's a solvent, you can't wipe it. While attaching the top, I wasn't able to get as much solvent into the seams as I'd like and naturally, while doing the seam on the front panel, I managed to get several drips. I'm going to attempt to sand these out later... maybe. Since the top doesn't need to be water-tight, just a strong bond, I think I'll be OK.

    Water test time...

    The tank was about 1/3rd full and going well. Then... I noticed a single drop of water at the left front vertical seam. NOOOOOOOOO..... I put another gallon of water in to see if the leak would get worse. It stayed constant with one drop every few seconds. So I siphoned the water and dried the panels. I should have continued to fill the tank to see if I had any leaks further up the seam. After the tank was dry, I started running a thicker bead of #16 across all the seams. Letting each seam dry for at least an hour before rotating the tank and running the solvent on the next set of seams. I'm going to let those cure for the next day and attempt to re-test on Saturday. If this test fails then I'll have to start again.

    I have a fair bit of 3/8" material left as I purchased a full sheet (4' X 8') of acrylic. I don't think I have enough left for the whole tank so I might just have to buy a few pieces to make up for what I don't have. If that's the case, and I start over, I'm OK with that. I've learned a lot so far from this build and I think by fully understanding the proper way to assemble an acrylic tank now, my next go will be much more successful. I'm also going to be starting my sump this weekend. The sump will be 1/4" material and I'll have some new challenges such as cutting teeth into my baffles and getting my bubble trap baffles correct. If my water test on Saturday is successful, I will leave the tank full for 1 week to make sure it holds solid.
  5. brotherd's Avatar
    That's a nice build! I wish I had the skills.
  6. MMoore0324's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by brotherd
    That's a nice build! I wish I had the skills.
    Thanks, Brotherd. My skills are very limited... but I'm getting better each day. Hope to be at Marc's level some day.
  7. MMoore0324's Avatar
    **UPDATE 9/4**

    Small update-

    The second water test has been a success so far. I filled the tank Saturday night and no leaks. It's been full for 5 days now, so I think I'm good and will assume the tank is water tight at this point. I understand that over time a sub-par joint could develop problems so I will keep my eye on it. To be honest, I'm sure I'll be upgrading, as we all do, again very soon.

    I started work on the sump over the weekend. I had my acrylic shop cut all my pieces but realized that my pieces and the baffles are the wrong size. It's my fault as I gave wrong dimensions. Good news is that they are too big. They did an absolute great job of cutting and all their cuts are very precise... which means... I have to also be precise. I've been rough cutting on the table saw to a 1/8 - 1/16" and then finishing to size on the router. I'll continue to work through the week but obviously my focus is on Hurricane Irma at this point.
  8. MMoore0324's Avatar
    **UPDATE 9/25**

    Work on the sump has slowed down a little - reason being; I kept look at my seams on the tank and it was bothering me that they weren't perfect. While my gluing technique was partially to blame, the other part was due to the fact that my edges weren't prepped as meticulous as they could have been. I plan to keep at this and really want to improve so... I decided to build a router table and split fence. This was a slightly lengthier process that I predicted. The table is made from a sheet of particle board topped with Formica, used to closet shelving. It measures 48 1/2"L X 35 3/4W. Running acrylic through a router table is slightly more "technique" diver than I thought. The good news is that my edges are coming out glass smooth for the most part. I'm currently on an airplane heading up to NYC for the week for work so hopefully when I get back next week, I can resume the sump. I've decided to make a small change to the design of the sump. Since it's only 26"L I didn't feel that afforded me enough real estate for a skimmer zone, return zone, and refugium A.K.A. Marc's Model F sump. So I'm getting rid of the refugium and will only have a skimmer and return zones. I'm going to build a 15 X 15 X 15 and plumb the refugium remotely. I've been growing many mangroves in the refugium of my 600g cichlid tank so I'm going to take my nicest ones and plant them in the remote refugium, Julian Sprung style. I will build a matching stand for the refugium and will place it next to the tank. Now I'll have a nice little home for some soft corals and maybe a few small fish as well.


    I was pretty set on using the Nyos 120 protein skimmer but after seeing some mediocre reviews on the reef forums and product reviews on Marine Depot I decided to rethink. The larger Nyos skimmers had much better reviews so I'm not sure if there is something different between the models other than size, that were the source of the poor reviews. I know from past builds, smaller skimmers have been more difficult to dial in than the skimmer that I ran on my old larger system. I figured that I could just do a Reef Octopus but I really didn't want to spend the cash for a SS model but needed the smaller footprint. So I combed through the "equipment" board on RC and came across a post on Simplicity brand skimmers. I remember seeing them in a 2016 MACNA video so I kept reading. The majority of the posts were very positive and many of the folks posting had been running the skimmer for 12+ months. I did a good ol' Google search and was shocked at the price point. $199 for the Simplicity 120DC. The skimmer had 4 features that I really liked:
    1. A controllable DC pump
    2. Small footprint
    3. A locking - twist off collection cup
    4. Simplicity is a USA based company. Their customer service team is state side and they carry all the replacement parts that you could need
    I figured for $199 that I couldn't go wrong.

    I ended up buying a Simplicity brand DC return pump as well. Again, pretty much stellar reviews.

    For lighting I have decided on the Hamilton Cayman Sun 250w MH with 20K Radium bulb. In a few months I'm going to retro-fit some ReefBrite LED strips to the pendant.
    I've ordered about half of all my equipment / supplies. As I mentioned in the first post, I've been completely out of the hobby for about 5 years. Having to rebuy EVERYTHING has added up but I just couldn't be out of the hobby for any longer. When I get home next week, I will order the remainder equipment and finish the sump and stands. I hope to have the tank running and cycled by mid October at the latest.

    Stay tuned!
  9. MMoore0324's Avatar
    **UPDATE 10/1**

    I had a small setback with my router fence so I had to rebuild it using better materials. With the new fence built I was finally able to get my pieces cut and edges prepped this morning. This afternoon I started gluing the sump. Hopefully I'll finish assembly tomorrow afternoon and can let it cure for a few days before a water test mid-week. Pending a successful water test, I may be able to set the tank up this weekend!

    Here are some photo's of my router table and fence system - finally got it dialed in and now it's easy to route a 1/32nd off the edges, leaving them glass smooth.




    (Very nice bit - worth the $80)


    Equipment started to arrive last week while I was in NY. I think this is one of every reefer's favorite parts. I'll go into more detail about the equipment once everything has arrived and I've begun to set the system up. Here is a quick photo of what has arrived thus far.

    So, for in tank flow I've decided to give the IceCap Gyre 3K a try. The pump came today and I was too excited to NOT try it out. I filled the tank with fresh water and set the pump up. It has a ton of options and will take some time to figure all those out. The controller is very cool and high end feeling. Here is a short iPhone video of the wave that I was able to achieve after a couple minutes of playing around. This is on pulse mode - 70% with a 4 second interval. At 80% water was splashing out a bit.

  10. MMoore0324's Avatar
  11. MMoore0324's Avatar
    Edit: I can't get the video to embed so you can view it here:
  12. MMoore0324's Avatar
    **UPDATE 10/13**

    Just a quick update - I'll try to post a more in-depth update later on. The tank is up and running, finally. I'm pretty happy with how the system turned out. I get a lot of build ideas in my head but I never see them through. I'm really glad that I took the time and have completed this system. Working with acrylic has been a blast and I'm looking forward to my next project. Here are a few photo's from last night, after the tank was running for about 2 hours.



    Remote Fuge:

    First TopDown

  13. brotherd's Avatar
    That's a cool fts.Must have been tricky to get the flow just right so you didn't flood the floor?
  14. MMoore0324's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by brotherd
    That's a cool fts.Must have been tricky to get the flow just right so you didn't flood the floor?
    Thanks! It wasn't too bad. The remote fuge it Tee'd off the main drain line and has a ball valve. The main drain has a ball valve divert some water into the T to the fuge. I started up the return pump and got the water level in the sump where I wanted and then opened the fuge ball valve to 100% and then closed the drain line ball valve 20% to get a nice slow flow through the fuge. The fuge just drains back into the sump via gravity so no issues with overflowing.
  15. dlandino's Avatar
    Looks great! Tons of work but well worth it!