Pre-made aquariums and custom tanks are big business, but building your own isn't as difficult as you might think. For the do-it-yourselfer, five pieces of pre-cut glass, a nontoxic silicone sealant, carbide sandpaper and a few hours of spare time are all you need to create a move-in domicile for a school of finned friends.
Prior to beginning your project, you'll need to determine the size of your fish tank. Once you've determined the tank size and thickness of the glass using an aquarium glass calculator, obtain the glass from an experienced glass cutter. The thickness calculations are imperative, as the thickness of the glass is essential in supporting the weight of the water in the tank, and a weak tank is a disaster in the making. The aquarium glass calculator allows you to input the aquarium's volume -- 10 gallons, for example -- the glass area in total, the weight of the glass, and the weight of the water and glass combined, to determine the proper thickness of glass required to support the aquarium when filled.
You'll need five pieces of glass to build your tank, two equal-size sides and two equal-size ends, and a fifth piece that will serve as the aquarium's bottom, onto which all four sides will adhere. An experienced glass cutter will cut pieces to dimensions that allow for the thickness of the glass, assuring that all four sides fit properly: If your glass thickness is 2 centimeters, the cutter will allow an extra 2 centimeters in the length of the side pieces so you don't come up short when you're assembling your aquarium. Even the most experienced cutter may leave a sharp edge or two, so once you have all five pieces laid out, sand all edges until slightly rounded and smooth, using carbide sandpaper. This will allow you to handle the glass safely. Wipe down with acetone to clean any residue before assembly.
From Glass to Tank
Once all the pieces are prepared, you're ready for the assembly process. Working with glass can be precarious, as the slightest slip-up can leave you running for a broom and dustpan. Place the bottom of the tank on your work surface, and place one side piece flush against the bottom, where you'll adhere it with the silicon. Run a line of nontoxic silicon along one edge of the bottom piece of glass. Be certain to have the appropriate side piece readily available. Regardless of which piece you choose to adhere first, slide it until it meets the bottom with both pieces flat, and then raise the side piece slowly upward until it is in place at a 90 degree angle. Repeat this process for each remaining glass piece, adding a line of silicon along all edges. Stabilize the glass pieces with duct tape to keep them steady during the drying process.
Ready, Set, Fill
Once all pieces are adhered, your do-it-yourself aquarium will need to set for a period of one to two days for the silicon to dry thoroughly. When all edges are secured and none of the adhesive is tacky to the touch, fill the aquarium to perform a leak test. Reseal any troublesome spots with additional silicon and allow for a second drying period. Retest for leaks. When it no longer leaks, it's ready for use.