DIY Aquarium Stand

The following article outlines the construction of a dimensional lumber and plywood aquarium stand. I have used this design in two separate aquarium stand builds.

DIY Aquarium Stand

The first was for a 55 gallon aquarium and the second was for a 120 gallon aquarium. This design could be easily modified to aquarium tanks from 30 to 180 gallons in size.

In order to adjust the design for the aquarium size, you would simply have to adjust the length and width of the wooden pieces. The photos that show the progress of the aquarium stand build are from my 120 gallon aquarium, unless otherwise specified.

This article assumes that you possess basic carpentry skills and that you know how to measure, use power tools and glue. Basic safety precautions must be practiced. If you not know proper safety precautions for working with power tools, you will need to consult a woodworking or carpentry book, or perhaps take carpentry classes. This project should take about 2-6 hours to complete depending on skill level and materials used. It will likely take a few days to complete with drying time.

Tools Needed

  • Circular or table saw – To cut lumber and plywood to measured proportions. The preferred method is the table saw, but either will work
  • Jig saw – To make complex cuts in plywood. A hand coping saw or rotary saw can be used instead.
  • Drill or screw gun – For drilling pilot holes or installing screws.
  • Claw hammer – For driving or removing nails
  • Tape measure – For measuring cuts. Remember to use the same tape measure throughout the project to ensure accurate measurements.
  • Writing utensil – For marking lines or holes.
  • Carpenter’s square – The square will help ensure that the project comes out.. square.
  • Clamps – A pair of long bar clamps is needed to hold the larger pieces together during assembly. A pair of 90� clamps are helpful during assembly to ensure the corners are square.
  • Rasp or file – To clean up the rough edges left from sawing.
  • Sand Paper – Use this to prepare the final stand for the finish.
  • Paint Brushes – Use paint brushes or old rags to apply the finish to the aquarium stand.

Materials Needed

1. Several 2x4s – Try to avoid standard construction 2x4s. Instead look for the better quality #1 or #2 2x4s. These tend to be straighter with less knots. Before purchasing the 2x4s, calculate how many you will need for the size of the aquarium stand you are building. Dimensional 2×4 lumber is usually sold in 4 to 16 foot lengths. Make sure to get pieces that are long enough to build the stand.

2. Plywood or other sheeting – The sheeting used for this project will have the most effect on final appearance of the aquarium stand. You can use a variety of sheeting materials such as plywood, wainscoating or paneling. For the 120 gallon aquarium stand that I built, I chose to use 1/4″ oak plywood.

Cost can be a major consideration with the sheeting. Do some shopping around but remember that this is also the most visible portion of the aquarium stand. Remember that while thicker materials are typically sturdier, they are also heavier and will add a bit to the overall length and width of the aquarium stand.

Plywood or other sheeting is typically sold in 4’x8′ sheets. For 4 foot aquarium stand plans, 1 sheet should be enough. For larger aquarium stand plans, 2 sheets will be required.

3. Molding – The molding is used to cover unfinished or rough edges. When purchasing molding for an aquarium stand that you plan on staining, make sure the molding wood is of the same type as the sheeting. I used oak corner molding on the on the 120 gallon aquarium stand. The length of molding needed can be estimated by looking at the aquarium stand plan for your particular aquarium size.

4. Trim – Oak 1x4s were used in the aquarium stand build pictured below. Once again, make sure the wood is of the same type as the sheeting if you plan on staining.
Doors – You can buy premade cabinet doors, or make them yourself if you choose. The doors should be of the same type of wood as the rest of the stand for staining purposes.

5. Door Hardware – The hardware is pretty much up to you. You can use whatever hinges and knobs you find appealing

6. #8×2″ Wood Screws – A pound will be more than you need.

7. Wood Glue – A quality wood glue will make the project easier, but any can be used. You may want to consider a waterproof wood glue.

8. 3d Finishing Nails – A pound will be more than you need.

9. 6d finishing nails – A pound will be more than you need.


Aquarium frame design ideas

aquarium frame

The first step of construction is to build a frame using the 2x4s. The photo below shows the frame that is made up of two rectangles tied together with vertical posts. Crossbeams are added to ensure stability. The top and bottom rectangles should be the same size as your aquarium base with about 1/2″ added for extra room when placing the aquarium. The cross braces should be added every two feet. Because this aquarium stand is only 4 feet in length, only one cross brace was used.

A vertical 2×4 post is used on each of the corners and every two feet where the cross braces are located. The height of the aquarium stand is up to you, but most commercial aquarium stands around 32 to 36 inches high. Make sure when designing your aquarium stand plan that it will not be too tall to fit in the area you have planned to place it. To determine total height, add the aquarium height to the stand height. The aquarium stand I built for this plan was higher than most because I wanted the tank to have a higher line of sight. The vertical posts I used were 40 inches tall.

Every joint in the frame is connected using the 2″ wood screws and wood glue. When installing the screws, drill pilot holes and make sure to counter sink the screw heads. Use a drill or a screw gun for the screw installation. Using a screwdriver for 2″ wood screws makes for one tired wrist.

After the basic frame is built, additional 2x4s are added to give a surface to nail the sheeting to. These additional 2x4s are used on each of the vertical supports to give the stand frame a flat surface. Attach these 2x4s with the 2″ wood screws and wood glue. These 2x4s should be cut to fit snugly between the upper and lower rectangles of the aquarium stand. The photo below shows some of the modifications I had to make to ensure the doors fit the stand properly and that they had a sound location on which to attach the hinges. The doors will be discussed in further detail later on in this article.

Another item shown in the photo below is the bottom sheet of the aquarium stand. The sheet must be cut to the perfect size so it can drop right into the frame. This is one of the more difficult cuts that will have to be made for this project and this is where your coping saw will come in handy.

Covering up the Frame

Covering up the Frame aquarium

Covering up the Frame

The next phase of the construction of the aquarium stand is to cover it with the sheeting of your choice. The front of the stand and the sides need to be covered with the sheeting. Simply measure the aquarium stand frame and cut the sheeting to the apporpriate size. For the front of the stand, you will obviously need to cut holes for the doors. The rear of the stand does not need to be covered unless it is in view or if you are planning on storing a lot of items in the stand. If the plan is to use the bottom for storage, a rear panel will keep things from falling out. To attach the sheet material to the stand, use 3d finishing nails and wood glue. You can hide the nail heads by counter sinking them with a punch and filling the holes with wood putty.

The next step is the trim. Fit is very important here so make sure to measure precisely. If you have a miter box you can miter the trim. If you do not have a miter box or you are not comfortable with attempting a miter cut you can just use lap joints. If you choose to use lap joints, make sure to make the front piece of trim long enough to conceal the side trim. You can have the trim even with the top of the stand or have it protrude above the top of the stand to conceal the frame of the aquarium.

Best diy aquascape design ideas

This is a photo of the unfinished aquarium stand with all of the trim on it.

Best diy aquascape frame

aquarium frame

Finishing the Job

After the aquarium stand is completely built, the finish work can begin. Make sure to sand all areas of the aquarium stand before applying the finish to get the best result. On this project, I used a polyurethane stain that is light oak in color. The finish used should be designed for use with the material used to build the aquarium stand. The photo below shows the aquarium stand after the first coat of stain. The pre fabricated doors are sitting on top of the stand to dry.

DIY firstcoat aquascape design ideas

firstcoat aquarium

Make sure to follow the directions for the finish you are using. It will take between 1 to 3 coats to reach the desired finish. Once the finish is applied, the doors can be attached to the stand and the aquarium can be placed.

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DIY aquascape design ideas


You can add other features such as shelves, lights or power strips to the inside of the stand to fit your needs. You you imagination here!

Alternate designs

Desk aquarium ideas

When I built my 55 gallon aquarium stand, I was a little concerned about it being top heavy. To take care of this concern, I added a layer of 2x4s to the bottom of the stand and clad them with the same sheeting used to build the stand.

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