Do-it-yourself (DIY) projects help many of us stretch our dollars in getting set up and continuing the hobby. Some people can make magic from a screwdriver, roll of duct tape and a 2×4 and others work their skills to the fullest with full-on, heavy duty machinery and talents. DIY projects can make us feel like kings of the hill and others like a big chump. One of my favorite materials for DIY projects is acrylic. It is commonly available, pretty simple to cut and glue, and doesn’t rust! I wanted to share this simple project I did to create refugium for my tightly packed aquarium stand and hopefully inspire the DIY-er in you.
Let me start the story a bit further back. When I got a surprise gift in a 75-gallon aquarium a few years back, I was stoked and knew it was going to be a bit expensive to get started setting up a saltwater tank (and boy did I grossly underestimate too!). My Dad is a wonderful craftsman and luckily I got at least a fraction of the gene. I don’t have a lot of workspace in the small duplex we rent and I was able to grab a great Ryobi cordless toolkit that gave me the majority of the tools I use to do my magic.
I laid out a month-long stand building project but I kept hesitating on the design and slowly stocked up materials. When I finally got the beast done it was a year later and well over budget. At least the time allowed me to research and shop for equipment helping me tremendously in the long run. As with most non-engineers, I grossly over-braced my stand ended up with a good portion of usable “real estate” hogged by 2×4′s leaving me a tight fit underneath. For a sump I squeezed in an 18-gallon tall aquarium leaving a minute chunk of space left over for other gear. I knew I wanted to add some sort of refugium or increase the sump volume even if it was an empty five-gallon bucket.
After a few acrylic projects I felt pretty comfortable with the material and figured a tall acrylic box would make a great refugium. Being budget-minded (every penny spent on something was a penny that wouldn’t be spent on fish or coral), I started shopping the local plastic shops in Northern California and was able to pick up some really nice scraps during a scrap bin sale. Buying acrylic can get pricey and if you find a local shop, they typically sell the scraps for a fraction of the cost but you are left at the mercy of the sizes of the scraps you can find. So for under $10 I got all the acrylic I need and more to make a nifty 12 in. x12 in. x 16.5 in. ‘fuge giving me around 10 gallons of space.
The refugium is euro-braced around the top to get it nice and sturdy and I used PVC plumbing pieces for some simple DIY bulkheads. I feed the ‘fuge with a tee off the return pump that gravity flows into the sump. A small deep sand bed, live rock rubble and chaetomorpha are housed inside giving me added biological filtration. I even rigged a light from a simple plastic ceiling lamp fitting, an extension cord and a 6500K full-spectrum CFL floodlight. So my total cost for the ‘fuge, sand, plumbing and light was $20!
With a project like this, acrylic can be cut with a good straight edge, a few clamps and a circular saw. A router is a nice touch too when you invest in a good bit with a guide bearing, giving you the ability to carvet nice clean edges for the professional touch. If you haven’t worked with acrylic before, there are some great tutorials online and is pretty simple to do. Grab a few scraps and some glue and give it a whirl, you’ll be building your own ‘fuge in no time.