The ideal material for Aquariums and fish tanks, acrylic is sturdy, durable, waterproof, and has the same crystal clear transparency as glass so that you can watch your fish as they go about their day. Even more importantly, sheets of acrylic can be bonded together through various methods, and once they have been, the area where the two sheets joined will be practically seamless, meaning no potential leaks.
Using acrylic to build aquariums and fish tanks is easy once you have the right tools and the know-how. You can cut sheets of acrylic to size yourself or if you'd prefer you can order cut to size acrylic sheets direct from Cut Plastic Sheeting; all you need to do is send us the dimensions you desire.
Depending on your level of ability, the tools you have and how daring you want to be you can make your fish tank as a simple box, complete with right angles, or you can round off the edges to make it more decorative. We will only be covering how to do the former, as the tools and expertise required to achieve the latter are quite advanced.
Step One – Dimensions
The first thing you need to do is decide how big you want your aquarium to be. You should consider the size of the fish you intend to fill it with, their number, and how large the room you want the tank installed in is. You may also want to look into the cost of a filtration system for larger tanks, if you're thinking about going big.
Step Two – Cutting Acrylic
Assuming you have decided to cut your acrylic sheets to size yourself, you will need to clearly mark out where you are going to cut. Always leave the protective film that the sheets are delivered with on until the latest moment possible and do your markings directly onto it with a marker. If for what ever reason it is not on, use masking tape to show the cutting lines.
If you are unsure how to cut acrylic properly, please see our user's guide on 'How To Machine Acrylic'.
Step Three – Smooth the Edges
When you're about to adhere two acrylic sheets together you must make sure that the conditions are perfect. Any two edges that will be bonded together will have to be flat and smooth, but most importantly they must be exactly the same size. Using a sanding block, sand the edges down starting with 120 grit paper and moving steadily up to 400 grit. Just to reiterate, you cannot marry two sheets together if either have rounded edges, so make sure they are flat.
Step Four – Using Acrylic Cement
There are several ways to bond two acrylic sheets together, but when using acrylic to build aquariums or fish tanks we'd recommend using a method known as 'Capillary Cementing'. You will need to ensure that both sheets slot together exactly, or else you will run the risk of the bond not forming properly.
Give the acrylic cement a minimum of 48 hours to dry. When it becomes transparent you will know that it is dry.
Visit our blog page for more in-depth information on how to glue acrylic edges with acrylic cement.
Step Five – Piecing Acrylic Sheets Together
You should put your fish tank together carefully, and the more time you take to ensure that your acrylic sheets are prepared for joining the lower the chance that you'll have to go back and rework your acrylic. Depending on how you have approached building your acrylic aquarium you may only need to attach the four side panels to the base. Either way, make sure that you bond every sheet that meet together with acrylic cement.
Step Six – Testing
Once dry, you should inspect your new fish tank and make sure that it is fit for purpose. Filling your aquarium with water and leaving it for a couple of days to a week is usually a good way of testing your handy work, and if by the end of that time no leaks have sprung you know things have gone to plan. If you do find a problem, depending on the severity, you may need to simply apply more cement or possibly replace the entire sheet.
Step Seven – Finishing Touches
Once you're happy with your tank you can apply the finishing touches and give it a clean. Acrylic is very easy to maintain, and you will need little more than a moist cloth. Never clean the tank with an alcohol-based cleaner, as this will seriously compromise the strength of the material. You may also want to polish and smooth the top edges of the tank, which can be done in the same way as you smoothed the edges in step 3, but there are ways to apply a more comprehensive finishing.