How to Build a DIY Aquarium Stand

Posted in DIY

This is a basic design for an aquarium stand that I have built twice, once for a 55 gallon, and once for a 120 gallon. The design could be modified for virtually any glass tank in the 55 to 180 or so gallon range by simply adjusting the length and width. The pictures are from the construction of the stand for my 120 gal unless otherwise indicated. I assume that you have a basic knowledge of how to measure, cut, drill, nail, screw, glue, etc. I also assume that you know proper safety precautions. If you do not know either, please refer to a basic carpentry book. Plan to spend several evenings on this project. It took me about a week working 2 to 3 hours an evening to finish the project. If you are inexperienced at woodworking, plan to take up to twice as long.

Tools Needed

  • Circular saw - To cut lumber and sheet goods to apropriate size. A table saw is better if you have one, but is not necessary.
  • Jig Saw - To make intricate cuts in sheet goods. A rotary saw or hand coping saw can be substituted for this.
  • Power Drill - For drilling holes, and driving screws. I would not recommend trying to do this with a hand drill.
  • Claw Hammer - For driving/extracting nails.
  • Tape Measure - Use the same one for all measurements. This helps insure accuracy.
  • Sharp Pencil - To mark cut locations.
  • Carpenter's Square - To make sure everything is square. Also helps to lay out lines on materials.
  • Clamps - A pair of long bar clamps is a minimum to hold pieces together for assembly. A pair of 90º angle clamps is helpful for assuring square corners.
  • Rasp - A file to remove rough edges from cutting.
  • Sand Paper - For finish work. I use a random orbital sander, but it can be done by hand.
  • Paint Brushes - For finish work. The exact selection depends on what you are finishing with. I used a simple polyurethane stain, and used scrap rags to apply it.


  • #2 (or better) 2x4s - This grade is normally a little straighter and less knotty than standard construction lumber. You will need to calculate the number and lengths needed based on the dimensions of your stand. Dimensional Lumber is normally sold in 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 foot lengths. I find it easiest to work with 8 foot or shorter lengths.
  • Sheeting - Decide what you want the exterior of your stand to look like. I chose 1/4” Oak plywood for this project. There are many suitable alternatives. Home stores and lumber yards normally carry sanded plywoods in oak, birch, pine, and a few other surfaces. Another possibility is paneling. There are many surfaces available, particularly in wainscoating. Some materials would not even need to be finished. This might save you a couple of days of build time. Thicker materials will be sturdier, but will make the stand heavier and will cost more. Sheets are commonly 4 ft x 8 ft. For stands 4 ft long or less, you can get by with one sheet. For larger stands, you will probably need 2 sheets.
  • Molding - To cover exposed edges of sheeting. For the 120 gal stand, I used 4 pieces of Oak outside corner molding. For the 55 gal stand, I also used some inside corner molding and some quarter round. See the pictures for details. You will have to estimate how much you need based on your specific stand.
  • Trim - I used Oak 1x4s for trim. You can choose something that will go with your sheeting material.
  • Doors - Standard cabinet doors can be bought in various sizes off the shelf, or you can build your own if you feel up to it. You will have to size the front opening based on the doors you buy.
  • Door Hardware - Select something you like. There are many varieties of hinges and pulls out there. I like the spring-loaded hinges because they hold the door closed without a clasp.
  • #8×2” Wood Screws - One pound should be enough.
  • Wood Glue - Any brand will do. You might want to consider a waterproof glue, but I used a standard glue myself.
  • 3d Finishing Nails - A pound will be plenty.
  • 6d finishing nails - A pound will be plenty.


I start by building a basic frame using 2x4s. As seen in the picture below, the frame consists of two rectangles (top and bottom), vertical posts, and cross-beams. The rectangles should be as long and wide as your tank plus 1/2 inch for wiggle room in each direction. The Cross braces should be placed at two foot intervals. Since the pictured stand is only 4 feet long, there is only one cross-brace at the center of each rectangle.

Vertical posts should be placed at each corner, and at each cross-brace location. Decide what height you want the top of the tank to be at,and subtract the tank height to get the length of the vertical posts. For my 120, I made the vertical posts about 40 inches long. This makes a fairly tall stand, but I wanted the tank to be at a higher line of sight.

Joints are connected using wood glue and #8×2” wood screws. Drill pilot holes and couter-sink them. If you do not have a power drill, it would be a good idea to get one. Screwing in 2” wood screws by hand is a very difficult job, even with pilot holes. A screwdriver bit turns your drill into a power screw driver.

To the basic frame, I added nailers. The purpose of the nailers is to provide a continuous surface for attaching the cover material. As shown in the picture below, there is a nailer atached to each vertical support. The nailers are atached to the supports with glue and wood screws. Measure the distance between the upper and lower rectangles to get the length for the nailers. The picture also shows some extra frame work I did for the openings on the front of the tank. This was to create openings that were the right size for the doors I bought, and to give me solid locations to mount the doors. I will talk more about the doors later.

The final feature shown in the picture below is the panel covering the bottom of the frame. This is a tricky cut. You will need to measure all the obstructions (vertical post locations) insied the frame fairly closely. Draw them out with a pencil on a piece of cover material and cut out carefully with a hand jig saw (a rotary saw or hand coping saw could also be used if you do not have a hand jigsaw). The piece is attached with glue and 3d finishing nails.

Covering up the Frame

Now comes the task of covering the frame. It is simply a matter of measuring, marking and cutting the sheeting. Try to lay out the cover pieces so that you get the most from each sheet of material. Glue and nail with 3d finish nails. If you want to hide the nail heads, sink them with a center punch, and fill the holes with wood putty. Note that the back of the frame does not need to be covered unless it will be exposed to view.

Now comes the trim. Again, measure each pice, and cut carefully to get a good fit. If you have the skill and a miter box, you can miter the trim corners. If not, just do lap joints. If you do lap joints, cut the front trim so that it is long enough to cover the ends of the side trim. That way, the joints face to the side, rather than the front. My preference is to have the top trim conceal the frame of the tank, particularly if the frame is a different color than the finished stand.

Here is a pic with more of the trim applied:

Finishing the Job

Once the trim is done, it is time to finish the wood. I used a light oak polyurethane stain. You can select your finish based on the material you are using and the trim on the tank. Below is the stand with one coat of finish. The pre-fab doors are laying across the top of the stand to dry.

Depending on the finish you select, you will probably need from 1 to 3 coats of finish. Follow the directions as far as sanding between coats. When you are done with the finish, atach the doors, and you are done:


Some other features that may make your stand more useful include shelves, lights, and outlet strips. Use your imagination.

Alternate designs

For my 55 gallon tank, I used a slightly altered design. If felt that the tank might be a little top heavy if the stand had the same footprint as the tank. Accordingly, I built out the base into a pedestal using extra layers of 2x4s around the bottom. I then covered this pedestal in a similar fashion to the main frame. This is the end result: