Aquascaping with acrylic rod

Do It Yourself projects.

Aquascaping with acrylic rod

Postby Korrine » Thu Apr 14, 2011 3:05 pm

SPSluva wrote:Well, this forum is just too darn quiet.:? This is my contribution to pump some blood into the heart of the forum.:D

A couple months ago I had to tear down my tank to remove my corals to quarantine for 4 weeks for pest treatment. I had decided a while back that I wanted to do something different with my aqauscaping but wasn't going to tear the tank apart just to do it. But now that the tank was torn apart it was the perfect chance to try experimenting with something different.

First, I need to explain a little bit about my setup so others can understand my unique needs for aquascaping and keeping rocks elevated off the bottom of the tank. My tank is barebottom and was designed with spraybars and flow on the bottom of the tank to keep detritus pushed into the water column where it is utilized as a food source for the corals and is also kept in suspension until it goes down the overflow into the sump where it is either removed by the protein skimmer or siphoned out weekly. This allows me to keep my water with low nutrients, which is good as the corals I keep require the lowest nutrient waters possible. Due to the flow on the bottom and my desire to keep the detritus from settling on the bottm, my liverock needs to be elevated about 3 inches off the bottom of the tank to allow the flow to get under it. Here is a picture of the bottom of the tank before I painted the plumbing black with marine safe epoxy:
My detritus removal closed loop consists of a Sequence 5800 (6000 GPH pump) that pushes water through an OceansMotions 4-way, which alternates the flow from the left half of the spray bar to the right half of the spray bar to the outlet in the middle right on the bottom to the outlet in the middle left on the bottom etc. This allows a full 6000 GPH to go through each outlet at a time, which is necessary to provide the needed velocity to push the detritus up into the water column. Here is what I first used to aquascape the tank and keep the rock off the bottom:
This is black eggcrate (don't even bother trying to locate the stuff, it is impossible to find, I got lucky and found some on ebay) with 1" pvc risers cut to 3" tall and then painted black with marine safe epoxy. The rock was then placed on top of the eggrate, which kept it elevated off the bottom so the detritus removal closed loop could do its job. This also ended up providing a great hiding place for the fish.

Over the past 19 months that the tank has been running, I've decided I wanted to try something more "open". The eggcrate structure was great but it wasn't as natural looking (not that a bb tank is natural looking anyways, I'm more into functionality than appearance) and it also provided a barrier between the liverock and the bottom of the tank where fish had to swim out around the sides of the eggcrate. This was wasting the bottom 3" of the tank in regards to allowing the fish to swim more naturally through the liverock.

SPSluva wrote:Here is what the tank ended up looking like right after adding freshly cooked live rock.

Now the aquascape was changed a few times since the startup of the tank when I had to tear the tank down to remove naughty fish. Towards the end, the middle of the eggcrate had been cut out and the aquascape looked like this:

I was happy with the way the tank was in this picture but I am a person who always wants to try different things and just can't leave one thing alone for very long.

SPSluva wrote:I had 3 priorities in mind for the new aquascape.
1)The rock structure had to be extremely stable. I'm sick and tired of dealing with rockslides when mounting corals. I have always aquascaped stable structures but there always seems to be a weak spot where a coral will fall over landing on and breaking other corals in its path when I'm messing around in the tank.
2)The live rock would need to be elevated off the bottom of the tank.
3)The live rock would need to be aquascaped as openly as possible with lots of arches and caves to allow swimming room for the fish to swim more naturally.

So the decision was made to use acrylic rod. I ordered the rod from I also picked up some other tools and supplies before starting the project. Here is a picture of what was used:


Total parts list:
30' 3/8" acrylic rod
18' 3/4" acrylic rod
1 3/8" drill
1 1/2" drill
1 12" 3/8" masonry drill bit
1 6" 3/8" masonry drill bit
1 6" 1/2" masonry drill bit
1 12" 3/4" masonry drill bit
1 6" 3/4" masonry drill bit
12 tubes marine epoxy
16 tubes superglue gel

(not pictured)
circular saw
dremel with reinforced cut-off wheels and side cutting bits

I used my old drill as much as I could as I didn't want to get saltwater on my good drill. I only used my good drill when I needed to use the 12" 3/4" drill bit as it had a 1/2" bit. All of the other bits were small enough for the old 3/8" drill. The 1/2" wide drill bit was used to drill holes to mount my ORA corals, which are all on 1/2" wide plugs. The epoxy was used to help secure the rod so there was less "wiggling" allowed with the rocks. The superglue was used to help attach the epoxy to the rods and rocks as epoxy alone does not form a good bond to these surfaces. Everything else should be self-explanatory but let me know if anyone has any questions.

Here is the tank template I used to construct the aquascape outside the tank.

I would have just put the tape on the floor but there is a floor drain here and it is not very level. I needed a good level surface for when I was putting "legs" on the rocks. The door was actually about the same size as the internal dimensions of the tank. The taped squares are where the CL outlets on the bottom of the tank are. The tape across the long end depicts where the spray bars are. And the pieces of tape on the short ends depict where the side CL outlets are.

SPSluva wrote:To start, I took all of the rock from the tank and layed it on the floor. I then divided the pieces up into different sections. In the end I had a group of pieces that would be used as legs for arches, another that would be used for the tops of arches, another that would be used for a pillar, and another group of "filler" rocks that would be used as stand-alone rocks.

I then aquascaped the tank in 3 sections doing 1 section at a time. The first was the left side of the tank.

The first thing I would do is take the arch leg pieces and place legs in them to elevate them off the bottom of the tank so my spray bars can get under them. Adding the legs also allowed me to be able to orient the rock to stand in any position I wanted. To make the legs I just drilled the rock with a masonry bit the same size as the rod I used. Then the rock was moved to a rinsing bucket where I would blast each hole with a turkey baster full of saltwater to clean out the dust. Then the rods were placed in the holes and trimmed down to size with either my miter saw or a dremel. After legs were trimmed to size and the rock was nice and stable (sometimes this would take several trimmings on each leg) I would then fill in the gaps in the holes with epoxy and also put epoxy around the outside. Filling with epoxy is very important because it secures the legs so they cannot wobble. Before filling with epoxy, each area that the epoxy would contact was covered with supeglue gel. This is because epoxy doesn't adhere well to anything but itself. The supeglue provides a good bond between the epoxy and other surfaces. This is the same method I used for mounting corals. The superglue also provides an immediate bond, whereas the epoxy takes about 30 minutes before it is well bonded.

Here is a pic of some legs:

This was the first rock I did. Notice it has 4 legs. After messing around with this rock I found it was a lot easier to use 3 legs instead of 4.

After placing legs in the rocks I would then mount the top of the arch to them. To provide a completely stable strucute, each top was drilled and also a portion of the leg rock and a rod was inserted through them connecting everything together for a very stable structure. Here is the arch and filler rock for the left side of the tank:

SPSluva wrote:Another thing I did was made some coral stands for a few of my larger corals so I could independently position them in the tank and easily remove them in the future for fragging. Here is a stand I made for my pocillopora:



I also made one just like this for my green polyped birdsnest. I made another one for my orange monti cap but it was a little different because this large coral had already encrusted over a decent sized rock so I just put acrylic rod legs into that rock. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of these last 2.

SPSluva wrote:This next part was my favorite, making a pillar. Ever since the Reef Ceramics rocks came out I fell in love with their pillars. So I was really wanting to make one of these for the tank. Since I already had liverock I needed to make my own version rather than going the easy way and just buying the Reef Ceramics. I took my most "open" branched rock for this. This piece is perfect for the pillar as it is very open and has tons of nooks and crannies. Even thought I didn't really need too many nooks and crannies because the main use for the pillar is for plating acros such as my soli and efflo's. But the open branches of the rock allow good hiding places for the fish and make the pillar look more natural. This rock was a wierd shape with a single branch at the bottom forking off into 4 long branches. I wanted the forked branches up so I needed to find a larger rock that I could rest the single bottom branch in. I found one that made a good fit and started constructing the pillar.

The first thing to do was the legs again. Then I sat the branched rock inside the base rock and drilled a couple holes for acrylic rod to secure the 2 pieces together and not allow any wiggling.

Here are some pics of the rods that attach the 2 pieces together:




And here is the finished product:


SPSluva wrote:So now it was off to aquascape the right side of the tank. Here are a few pics from the process:


I really wasn't sure how this arch was going to turn out since I used such a thin piece for the left side leg. Honestly, I figured I would end up crumbling this piece of rock when drilling it but figured I would never know unless I tried. I took things really slow and amazingly there was no crumbling at all. In this picture you can also see the rods that attach the top arch piece to the arch legs.

And some closer shots:




Once again, I forgot to take pictures but there was a third leg and a second top piece attached to this structure to make a 3 legged arch.

SPSluva wrote:Here is what the aquascaping looks like inside the tank:

Full tank shot:

Right side:



Left side:


SPSluva wrote:You will notice that it may look like I don't have a lot of live rock in the tank compared to most aquariums. That is true. There is only about 200 pound of live rock in there and the tank is 280 gallons. The main reason I am able to get away with less liverock per gallon is because of how the tank is setup. It is setup with the BB high flow big skimmer philosophy. With this philosophy, one uses very high flow (my tank has 75x turnover per hour) with a bb tank and an oversized skimmer (my skimmer is rated for a tank 5 times the size of this tank and could easily handle 10 times this water volume) that is tuned to skim wet so it can actually pull out particulate matter (detritus). With this combination, detritus is kept in suspension so that a large majority of it is either used as food for the corals or is removed by the skimmer. This takes a huge load off of the need for extra biological filtration because detritus is being removed before it starts to break down and contribute to the nitrogen cycle. That is what allows me to get away with less live rock per gallon than a typical aquarium.

The second reason I use less live rock is because I am looking at the future of the tank and how it will look 5 years down the road when the corals grow in. I like to leave a lot of room (especially above the live rock) for coral growth. This tank will be completely filled in with coral growth in 3-5 years.

Lastly, I like to use less live rock to allow more room for water to flow around the structure.

I really like how this last aquascaping project worked out. The aquascape is so much more open and the fish swim through the tank much more naturally than before. The water flow also gets through the rock better (especially since the rock is not resting on the back of the tank, it is actually a minimum of 4" from the back of the tank), which keeps detritus from settling on the live rock and becoming a nutrient sink. Like I mentioned earlier, I am more into functionality than looks so what I did is definitely not for everyone since you can see the acrylic legs. Personally, I don't notice them when I look at the tank for 2 reasons:
1)This is an in-wall tank and I built the wall opening so that the wall covers the bottom 4" of the tank. This way you do not see the bottm 4" when looking at the tank while sitting on the furniture in the room. You can only see the legs when you are standing next to the tank and looking down into it.
2)When I look at the tank I focus on the corals and fish, not the acrylic legs.

But even for tanks where you don't want the acrylic to be visible it is still possible to aquascape like this. You just make the legs shorter and add sand to hide them.

Just for fun, here are the different aquascapings that the tank has been through since it started 19 months ago. I think the aquascape has gotten better each time:





And another shot of what it looks like now (before I put the corals back in):

Creslin2 wrote:"this tank will be completely filled in with coral growth in 3-5 years. "

Not if you keep ripping it apart to re-aquascape it. :mrgreen:

Jesting aside, it looks great! Can I have it when you're done?

SPSluva wrote:
Creslin2 wrote:Not if you keep ripping it apart to re-aquascape it.

:lol: Isn't that the truth... :)

Creslin2 wrote:Besides, seems to me like your tank will always be a work in progress, what with fragging and re-designing and all. And THAT'S the kind of work I wouldn't mind doing. :D

UrbanSage wrote:I need to get into the habit of checking this forum on a daily basis.
Travis your tank looks really amazing and you keep giving me good ideas on what to make sure I do once I get to redo my own tank.

My wife willing I will have a lot of modifying to do still in my own tank :D

Susan J. wrote::D I love your idea with the clear acrylic rod for aquascaping. I've seen 1/4 in schedule 40 or 80 used in the same way. Acrylic looks alot cleaner. I'm a horticultralist by trade and heart and I'm never really satisfied with my gardens and lawn. I can see a parallel here that I have delt with always wanting to try something new in my tanks and my garden. I look at reef keeping as gardening under water 24/ 7, 365 days of the year. No winter months to put a damper on your fun. :mrgreen:

Dakota Reef wrote:Hey Travis, I was just going through this thread again......admiring all your incredible corals and I realized that your progression photos don't show the final result with the corals back in place. Do you have one of those to show? I'd love to see it.

I realize I probably got to see the live version at the frag swap but at my advanced age I can barely remember to go to the bathroom let alone what your tank looked like a few months ago.

It should really look nice with the new camera and all :D !!

One thing I really like is that you made your aquascaping less symetrical (did I spell that right?) over time. I'm also interested in gardening/landscaping and I've always thought our artificial reefs look best when they reflect the organized chaos in nature. By making your aquascaping have three major sections rather than two equal sized it really helps......the old landscaping trick of always using odd numbers I guess.

With the corals added to the tank does it give you some additional variation in height throughout the structure? I'm guessing you've accounted for that along with future growth of the corals.

Anyhow great job as if I could just talk you into putting some sparkling white sand in the bottom it would be perfect!!

Creslin2 wrote:well, sparkling white sand doesn't go so well with a bare bottom tank, and I think the ensuing sandstorm in his tank from the hurricane force water movement might make it hard to see the corals. ;) I'm starting to see the difference between my wife's reef and a reef with the incredible flow. Guess I always kinda thought it was overboard, even hearing the water requirments and the flow conditions that the rare fish and corals Travis has needed, but I think it's finally starting to click. :roll:

Not that I want to rush out and buy a 2000 gph pump for the 10 gallon or anything, but I think the Dark Side is showing me quite a lot for when we get a house and set up that 120 reef.

SPSluva wrote:Thanks for the compliments Phil and LOL on the sand comment. To be honest, if I could put sand in the tank without having to tear it down or make it super cloudy for a few days I would do it in a second. On my future systems, I will be going with sandbeds from now on.

I'm not sure why I never included a pic with the tank stocked in this thread. I must have posted the thread before I restocked or something. I will get a full tank pic up here when I get some time to take one.
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