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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In the Design Phase: My "Wrap 270" Aquarium Cabinet

designed in the free version of Google Sketchup

It's only fitting that so many of my custom furniture commissions are aquarium cabinets.  I'm an aquarist myself: as a young teen I volunteered at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's coral reef exhibit, a leading light in reef-keeping technology and methodology, which were poorly developed at the time.   In high school, my friends and I founded an official Aquarium Club,  and I bred South American Convict and Oscar Cichlids.  Today, I'm caretaker to a 55-gallon reef with a pair of clown fish and a pair of watchman gobies, both of which spawn once a month or so.

Most aquarium people find the cabinet stand a source of annoyance, sticker shock, and even disaster.  The stand is the LAST thing an aquarist wants to spend money on.  They're usually finished in black, to make them as invisible as possible.  In fact, if there were a way to eliminate the cabinet stand altogether, I think most aquarists would rejoice.  

And yet, the bane of the aquarist must be of high quality, and of sufficient internal volume, and be finished to a level equal to that of the other furniture in the viewing room.  The whole reason people come to me for cabinet stands is because when you've got fifteen-hundred pounds of water suspended above your living room floor, you really can't skimp on quality.

I remember the first time I realized the need for a solid-wood stand: by the time my emergency crew arrived with barrels and siphons, my fiber-board stand was split from top to bottom along one back edge, and my tank was slowly drifting, ominously, rightward. 

Good cabinets offer more than long-term sturdiness.   A good stand should offer a large internal volume.  Many of today's marine aquarists employ sophisticated sump and filtration systems underneath their tanks, inside the cabinet stand.  My last commission specified the height of the stand based on needed clearance for a type of filter called a protein skimmer, not on any aesthetic grounds.  While most commercial stands are built for the absolute minimum cost, some use fabricated materials and up to three levels of support framing, cramping the inside of the cabinet.

Good cabinets are make the tasks of maintaining the aquarium easy.  Open backed cabinets keep the water cool, but some makers use a back panel in a critical support function, to minimize costs.  Large door openings make it easier to access what's inside the cabinet, but commercial stands have wide rails and stiles, usually made of softwood or plywood, occluding the space behind the doors.

As I build more cabinet stands, I discover more ways to make them more sturdy, functional, and uniquely, subtly, styled.  The Wrap 270 cabinet brings the cabinet stand into its own as an important part of the system.  The design is scalable, and I expect it could support up to 180 gallons with a single 3/4" frame and a few cross-braces.  I've found that using solid hardwood is well worth the extra money, given the amount of interior space is provided by the single-layer, 3/4" frame.

 I haven't yet decided on the orientation of the rails and stiles on the face, yet.  I like the current style (pictured), but something with more vertical lines might be more elegant.

Ventilation in this design is an issue.  Since the back isn't against the wall, the cabinet will be mostly enclosed.  I may add subtle air intake ports near the bottom of the stand, and then mount an up-firing fan at the top of the stand, next to the lights.  This way (hopefully), air will be drawn up through the lower cabinet and pumped out along with the hot air from the bulbs.

I want to have the largest door possible.  But I'm not sure my light frame design can do without a center brace supporting the middle of the tank.  I doubt the brace needs to be centered under the tank, however, so my design widens the left door to a perfect square, and narrows the right door into a "golden rectangle".  Placing the large door next to the vertical column will allow access to the overflow pipe and sump.

Now all I need is a buyer
I figure it's time I built a cabinet design I've been wanting to build for a long time.  It's pictured above, and I call it the Wrap 270 because you can see 3 of the 4 sides of the tank.  It's not something I made up myself; most people have seen an aquarium cabinet like this in a restaurant or large home.

1 comment:

  1. You have got some great posts in your blog. Keep up with the good work.Aquarium Design