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Fishtank Cabinet


A Fishtank can be a large and colourful addition to your living area. However the basic black plinth-type cabinet that came with our new tank was both unattractive, and of limited usefulness.

Our tank was destined for a spot near our kitchen, where more storage would be very welcome. As such I designed a cabinet loaded with drawers that we have already filled up. One large "drawer" is actually meant to hold a trash can and small recycling bin, keeping both well organized and out of site.

Every project is still in some way a learning experience. I'd like to pass along one such lesson. I designed my cabinet to consist of three vertical 3/4" plywood panels, and a 1/4" back. This provides more than enough strength to carry the approximately 300lbs of weight of our 30 gallon tank. However, having just one vertical member in the middle caused some grief in assembly. First, I had to take care that the drawer hardware mounting screws would not hit each other. Secondly, I also had to watch out for the pocket hole screws interfering with each other for a number of crosspiece members. Live and learn!

Photo Essay

I find Google Sketchup to be a very useful tool for planning out projects such as this. Especially when I want the project to fit a certain location of the house, it helps to also mock up the room where it will stand, to see how it fits. In this situation I played around with different colours, different drawer configurations, and also placed a mock-up of a Fishtank on top to get the overall feel.

One little detail that I planned was to make the top-right drawer shorter than the others. This would leave a small 5-6" space behind it, where I could tuck in pumps and a power bar for the Fishtank. I like being able to hide away cords and related bits.

Most of the project is from 3/4" maple plywood, including the crosspieces at the front. Some iron-on pre-glued maple edging is applied to hide the edge of the plies. It was assembled primarily with pocket hole joinery, which you can see in the photos.

While everything else is progressing, I also took a few minutes here and there to take some scrap pieces to mock up a section of the top. I used this to test how it looks with the 1x2 maple edging, to test the roundover detail on the edge, and to test out my planned finish of Shellac + Varathane. It's better to make your mistakes on some small scrap pieces than on the finished product!

Note how the one drawer doesn't open quite so far as the other... look behind and you see the previously mentioned cubbyhole for holding a power bar and pump and so on.

I first tried a Saman stain, which allows the wood grain to show through. I've used that before with good results. However the wood this time had some fairly prominent mineral streaks, and it just was not looking good. In the end I had to sand it off and instead use a nice kitchen+bath enamel latex for the base. I was careful to let it stand afterwards for several days to harden up, before putting it into use.


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