welcome to my blog

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


Yes, I'm one of Those...

I have been keeping and breeding fish since I was a little kid.  I was such a fish nut, my friends and I founded our high school's first "Aquarium Club".  I used to hang out at the local cichlid store on weekends, and first bred Oscars in a 55 gallon tank in our family dining room.  In 1991, At age 15, I was working on the coral reef exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History under Dr. Walter Adey.  We took care of the reef,  monitoring the 5,000+ gallon tank in much the same way I monitor my little 55 gallon reef at home today!

The Best Aquarium Furniture Available

OK, maybe "the best" is a little presumptuous. I have seen some truly excellent work on forums such as the Boston Reefer's Web page.  But the truth is, in order to get a high-quality piece of aquarium furniture today, you have to get something custom made.  And from what I can tell, most of the custom made stuff is done by carpenters with materials from Home Depot, with design and construction typical of backyard decks, doorway trim, or kitchen cabinetry.

I'm coming from a different place.  My goal as a furniture maker is to create truly great designs, and realize them in heirloom-quality materials and methods.  There isn't even a splinter of Home Depot lumber in any of my cabinets.  And I am 99% sure I'm the only aquarium furniture maker in New England who does things the "furniture maker's way": jointing and planing all lumber in-house, to make sure I'm working with truly flat, square boards.

And now that I've built dozens of cabinets and canopies (as well as other kinds of custom furniture for clients) I have developed a set of unique features that make my aquarium furniture truly different:

  • 36" standard height (vs. 30" industry standard) - allows the use of tall skimmers and just looks better.  
  • No wall studs.  Cabinets 120 gallons and larger have sub-frames of jointed & planed knot-free VG fir 1.25"x3.25".
  • Premium hardwoods. Other than sub-frames on large cabinets, construction is 100% premium hardwoods.  If plywood is used, it is hardwood plywood (either aircraft-grade birch or marine-grade mahogany).  MDF is never used.
  • Frame-and-Panel Construction.  Optional solid wood raised panels with custom profiles.  Custom moldings, beading, fluting, etc...
  • Inset Doors.  My soft-closing Frame-and-Panel inset doors require precision to make, which is why other aquarium cabinets have doors that lay on top of the cabinet face. 
  • Realistic floor construction.  Today, people are using sumps that are almost as big as the main tank.  Today's cabinet designs haven't kept pace, and I have seen more than one fallen floor (and huge mess).  My floors are made from cross-lapped lumber 3.25" thick, and fastened to the cabinet base with sixteen 1/2" hardwood dowels. 
  • Traditional joinery.  Rather than staple or pin-nail my cabinets together - as do the factories and many carpenters -I use mortise & tenon, dowel, and dovetail joinery for heirloom-quality joinery that won't fall apart over time.
  • Built-in features. Shelves, louvers, fans, power strips, switches, whatever your heart desires, you can have built right into your custom project.
  • Feet.  Especially with large tanks, feet not only protect the floor underneath the cabinet (by providing access and an air gap), but they help keep the cabinet square over the years.  Cabinets for tanks 120 gallons and larger should have six feet.  If such a cabinet is resting on a ring all the way around its base, an uneven floor can cause stress points in the cabinet that will eventually cause the cabinet to rack sideways.  
  • Waterproofing.  I recently started putting a 3" high stripe of epoxy resin on the inside bottom edge of my canopies, to protect the wood from water spray.   Since my canopies already use UV-resistant PVC angle for support, the lower edges of my canopies are now totally waterproof.  I can also coat the entire interior of the cabinet with epoxy.
  • Fine Finishes.  Too many factories and custom builders are happy to slap a coat of paint or a layer of poly on a cabinet and call it "finished."  Sacrilege! I have experience with all sorts of finishes, from clear finishes that bring out the best in an exotic wood, to rock-hard, saltwater-proof hand-rubbed black lacquer.  Not only do I have an HVLP spray system - the finest finish sprayer type available - but I am also familiar with brush types and brushing techniques for a range of looks and styles. 
  • Materials expertise.  Most builders today work primarily with sheet goods and framing timbers, in applications where wood movement isn't an issue.  Furniture making (and yes, aquarium cabinets are furniture) is a different beast from carpentry, however.  When making furniture, knowing how solid wood behaves through the seasons is critical to long-lasting construction.  Many contractors "wish away" the realities of wood movement, or are simply unfamiliar with real, solid wood as a material.  Unfortunately, the majority of contractors are all too happy to build something that looks good today without regard to durability.  My goal is to build heirloom-grade furniture that will last for generations, if not essentially forever.  I use traditional furniture making techniques that account for wood movement, backed up by an intimate understanding of the physiology and behavior of solid wood at the cellular level.

Want to learn more?

Please contact me at "isaacvw ...at... gmail dot, com.

I would love to talk to you about your project!  It all begins with a conversation, then a CAD sketch of your cabinet for your review. 

My aquarium furniture is well priced, but rising constantly as my work reaches new heights.  As of November 2011, my pricing is between 100-120% of the price of a similarly sized AGA Mission Series cabinet and/or canopy.  Of course, the comparison between the two products ends there!