Keeping an aquarium is a great hobby: a colourful and vibrant collection of fish enlivens any room. The saying ‘the bigger the better’ also applies to aquariums, but don’t forget that it’s better to start off with a small aquarium than with one that’s too large. The reason is twofold: firstly, an aquarium requires daily time and maintenance, and that’s much easier with a smaller container than with a large one. Secondly, the weight of the aquarium plays an important role. An average aquarium of one metre wide easily weighs 400 kilos, including its contents, and a significant part of this comes from the aquarium itself. Traditionally, aquariums were constructed from glass, but acrylic sheets, also called acrylate, are becoming increasingly widely used in the aquarium world. Many professionals and self-builders are switching to acrylic because of its many advantages: it’s lighter and stronger than glass, it has better light transmittance and better insulation. In this blog, we explain how to build an aquarium from acrylic sheets.

Decide on the volume and size of the aquarium

First things first: you should always use cast acrylic sheets to build an aquarium, the cheaper extruded acrylic is out of the question! Now we’ve got that out of the way, we can start with the aquarium, and that begins with a good plan or design. The most common form is rectangular and that’s what we’ll assume in these instructions. The first step is to decide the volume of the aquarium because this determines the thickness of the glass. For a tank up to 100 litres, we recommend a sheet thickness of 8 millimetres, for a tank up to 200 litres it is 10 millimetres, and for all larger containers, the minimum sheet thickness is 12 millimetres. Remember to include this plate thickness in your design!

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In most aquariums, the base plate is wedged between the outer walls. Suppose the base plate is 100 centimetres wide and 50 centimetres deep, you then choose the side walls of the same depth: 50 centimetres. You can determine the height yourself, let’s say 50 centimetres. The front and rear walls are therefore 50 centimetres high, but when calculating the width, we mustn’t forget the thickness of the front and side walls. The bottom plate was 100 centimetres wide, but the sidewall must also be clamped between the front and rear wall. The side walls are each 10 millimetres thick, so the width of the front and back wall becomes 102 centimetres! We advise you to place one or two strips at the top to connect the front and rear wall for reinforcement.

As little processing as possible for yourself

Once you’ve determined the sizes, you can order the plates in our webshop. We saw the sheets for free, so you don’t have to do this yourself. We also use state-of-the-art sawing machines that give you a nice clean cut, which is ideal for gluing with the special acrylate glue, Acrifix. What you can do yourself is to polish the visible end faces of the front and back wall. You do this by means of flame polishing.

Using a burner, you can easily smooth the edges of an acrylic sheet. Not every burner is suitable for flame polishing, the end result will be greatly influenced by the shape of the flame and the fuel. Both propane and acetylene burners are suitable for flame polishing, which gives a much hotter flame than a butane burner. The burner must form a so-called ‘pencil flame’: this is a tapered flame shape.

Light the burner and adjust the flame so that a stable and not too large flame is formed. The form must – as the name suggests – correspond to the end of a pencil. In the case of flame polishing, the cone of the flame (the brightly lit core) must not touch the acrylic. Aim the flame at the edge and remove the burner in one gentle movement (but not too slowly) along the edge: the acrylic sheet melts and will then set to a crystal-clear surface. We recommend you practice this first on a spare piece.

Assembling the aquarium

Before you assemble the aquarium, you must ensure that you have a solid and level surface. You’ll also need a spirit level and a pair of right-angle support blocks. You might want to place a thin, soft cloth or sheet on the surface to prevent scratches on the acrylic sheet and spills on your workbench/table. Remove the protective film from one side of the bottom plate (which forms the inside) and remove the protective film from one of the side walls (on the inside). Place a support block on the bottom plate and put on the vinyl gloves. Before you apply the adhesive, the surface must be clean and completely free of grease: clean it carefully using a soft, lint-free cloth and alcohol. Now apply the Acrifix adhesive on one side (end face) of the base plate, then place the side wall against the base plate. Using the spirit level and the support blocks, fix the sidewall against the base plate so that it remains perfectly at right angles. Then allow the glue to react for at least 20 minutes. Acrifix is a reaction adhesive that allows both plate parts to fuse together.

After 20 minutes, your work in progress can be handled with care. Now, we’re going to place the front or back wall. Apply the Acrifix on the end face of the sidewall that you just fixed, and along the end of the base. Remove the foil from the inside of the back wall (or front wall, it just depends on how you’re looking at it) and place it against the side wall and base. Fix the wall using the support blocks and check that the wall is properly perpendicular. You can fix the rear wall with tape and align it against the side wall.

Once again, wait for 20 minutes before handling. Next, you fix the remaining walls in the same way. You can place the last side and front wall in one go. If you’ve correctly aligned the first two walls and set them level, you can easily position and glue the last two walls: you must then wait 3 hours for the Acrifix to fully harden.

Finishing the aquarium

If you’ve applied the Acrifix correctly, your aquarium is now extremely strong and waterproof. Nevertheless, we advise you to properly seal the inside of your new acrylic aquarium. Acrylic sheet, or acrylate, can’t be properly mixed with silicone sealant so you must use a special acrylic kit, such as Ottoseal S72. This kit is completely cured after 24 hours. Now, you can start filling your aquarium. Before you begin, we advise you to study the design and planting of aquariums: the Internet is full of sites and videos to inspire you.