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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
This blog is a record of my life in my studio.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aquarium Stands: Cabinetmaking under Pressure!

I was recently asked by my to build some custom aquarium stands for people with unusually large or odd-shaped aquariums.  Since I'm a long-time fish enthusiast and owner of a 55-gallon reef aquarium, I loved the idea of building the "ultimate" cabinet stand.  A good tank stand, by the way, is hard to come by.  Manufacturers of these stands use the cheapest possible materials.  Who can blame them?  Most customers, myself included, are already reeling from the unexpectedly high cost of setting up a large aquarium.  When it comes to stands, it's a race to the bottom.

Experienced aquarists, however, know the value of a well-made stand that won't turn to mush if soaked with water for a day or two.  Advanced aquarists, such as my potential customers, require custom dimensions and other features to allow them to use sophisticated sump systems. 

Building the first of these stands was a great chance for me to hone my custom cabinetry skills - under the pressure, literally, of hundreds of gallons of water.
the front frame of a 90-gallon stand

My first commission was a frame-and-panel cabinet stand for a 90-gallon tank.  That's about 1,400 pounds of water and rocks.  As it turns out, the standard frame-and-panel design seen in almost all cabinets is perfectly capable of holding this weight.  The key to ensuring this load-bearing capacity over long periods of time is preventing racking of the case.

Case parts were stained and finished separately
Great thing about frame-and-panel construction is that the tongue and groove joints are a natural prevention against racking.  In order for the top and bottom to slide horizontally relative to each other, the vertical pieces would actually have to LIFT that 1,400 pound aquarium upwards.  Not happening.  So a few extra cross-braces were added, and that's it.

The biggest challenge I found was in making the case black.  Oil-based ebony stain just didn't get the wood black enough, so I decided to paint the thing.  My decision to finish the piece with spray lacquer was also a mistake.  It left stripes of lacquer on the doors of the cabinet.

two cross-braces help keep the bottom rails straight
I am currently trying to master blackness on wood furniture.  I'm having good luck with water-based black stain, shellac, and black glaze.  but that it the subject of another post.

Currently, the stand in the pictures is in service, and looking good.  except for the doors.  those lacquer stripes had to go, so I am re-doing the doors with my new black method.


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