Introduction: Aquarium Coffee Table

Picture of Aquarium Coffee Table

Build an aquarium coffee table for a fraction of the cost of ready-made models, from supplies found mostly at your local superstore. 10 Gallon and 20 Gallon models are easily possible.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

Picture of Gather Supplies

Parts Needed:
20 Gallon Long Tank
24" Fluorescent Fixture (2)
Black Foam Board
Power Strip
Light Timer
1" Chair End Caps (4 pack) (2)
36" x 14" Wire Shelving Unit
Glass Table Top
100W Heater
20G Internal Filter
Glass Vase Marbles / Beads - 12 oz (10)
2 Prong, 3 Way Power Splitter

10 Gallon Alternate Parts:
23"x14" Shelving unit
10 Gallon Standard Tank
1/2" Chair End Caps
18" Fluorescent Fixtures
50W Heater
10G Filter

Tools Needed:
Bolt Cutter
Zip Ties

If you have none of the parts already, I've estimated the costs of the 10 Gallon and 20 Gallon models at $115 and $180 respectively. However, this is where an old glass top coffee table, spare wire shelving or extra aquarium equipment can dramatically reduce the cost. Even if you go out and buy every item you need for the project, note that ready-made coffee table aquariums appear to start at $500 before shipping.

Disclaimer: I'm not an engineer, but the shelving used is rated for more weight than what would be added by a full aquarium of the sizes discussed, so I feel quite safe with the choices made for this project. Do read the packaging on the shelving you buy to ensure your structure will support the approximate 10 lbs / gallon guideline.

Step 2: Assemble Bottom Part of Wire Shelving Unit

Either size of wire shelving unit includes 4 posts which usually split in half for smaller packaging. Some of the 36"x14" shelving units have posts which split into un-even lengths, with a top segment roughly 18" tall. This would be the best kind to find, as a short segment like that would provide appropriate legs for your table. If you cannot find such shelves, use of a hacksaw or other implements of destruction will be required.

Add the first shelf at an appropriate height that will allow you to stow your light fixtures and power strip beneath it.

Step 3: Zip-tie Flourescent Fixtures and Power Strip Under the Bottom Shelf

Picture of Zip-tie Flourescent Fixtures and Power Strip Under the Bottom Shelf

Consider cable routing before securing the zip-ties in place; for example, where is the best place for the power cable to stick out. If using two light fixtures, use the power splitter with your light timer. My arrangement leaves enough clearance for me to unplug the timer and pull it out to change the time settings, as well as plug and unplug the aquarium's filter and heater.

Step 4: Add Aquarium

Picture of Add Aquarium

At this point, put the aquarium in and verify that the heights and clearances are to your liking. I have sufficient space above the edge of my aquarium to reach in and drop food without removing the glass top.

Step 5: Cut the Shelving Wires From Top Shelf, Leaving Only the Sides

Picture of Cut the Shelving Wires From Top Shelf, Leaving Only the Sides

Having 2 "shelves" adds stability and good looks to your new coffee table. Using bolt cutters is a quick and easy way to remove the internal shelf area for your top / middle stabilizing shelf. Although I was too impatient, using a dremel or file or other deburring instrument on the remaining stubs from the cut wires would make the upper shelf safer. I recommend doing so if you have human young around who may put their hands on that part of the table.

After placing that shelf, you can complete the support structure by placing rubber chair end caps on the posts.

Step 6: Add in Aquarium Components and Decor

Picture of Add in Aquarium Components and Decor

You're almost finished! Test your lights and power situation, and position the table exactly where you'll want it at this point... once you add even 10 gallons of water, moving the table will no longer be easily achieved.

An internal power filter, in a corner of the tank is an unobtrusive, yet highly functional way to provide filtration. Likewise, a standard submersible heater will be needed if you're keeping fish that require a temperature other than that of standing water in room temperature. Route the cables down a corner of the tank, through the bottom shelf and to the power strip. Zip tie in place as needed. Usually, it is highly advised not to power these devices until they are under water, so don't plug them in until you've added water.

I used a suction cup, glass tube thermometer mounted diagonally inside the aquarium so that it would be readable while I sat beside the table.

I used colored, flattened glass marbles as substrate in a very thin layer. Any translucent substrate would work.

As there is not a top directly over the aquarium in my configuration, and I plan to add a species known to jump, I have not filled to the very top, but instead I'm leaving 3-4" of "wall" at the top of the tank. Research your desired species or consider an acrylic or glass inset for the top of the tank. Another option would be to configure your shelf height / post length so that the glass table top would be placed almost directly over aquarium. Leave some space for airflow though!

Step 7: Fill and Add Top Glass

Picture of Fill and Add Top Glass

Cut the foam board into appropriately sized strips to wedge them vertically under the bottom shelf in order to conceal the components and the extra light.

You're done! Now you can cycle the aquarium to establish the needed bacteria colony and add fish suitable to your quantity of water.

Due to the arrangement of such an aquarium, a Champagne Island is an ideal addition. I found instructions at this URL:

I've had mine running for months now, and I must say, it's very enjoyable, and fits perfectly as a unique centerpiece to accompany my atypical end tables and other decor. The only complication I've encountered is that when vacuuming the gravel, the standard siphon effect is pretty weak, given that the bottom of my bucket, resting on the floor, is only about 4" lower than the bottom of the tank. It's still good enough to do the job, but I've considered buying a battery powered tank vac.

Last but not least, I'd like to thank those who posted the Pinball and Stainless coffee table instructables for the inspiration to share my little hack with the world.


CG4 made it! (author)2014-09-04

Hey man, THANK YOU FOR INSPIRING ME with a project that consumed me for over a week!

x86Daddy (author)CG42014-09-04

Glad to inspire; yours turned out great!

Shabraiz10 (author)2016-06-18

And how big does the glass top need to be and there risk of the glass top falling so how do you minimise that risk

Shabraiz10 (author)2016-06-18

where did you get the wire shelving unit it from and glass top because I want to make mine identical to yours

SIRJAMES09 (author)2014-12-07



What would I change to suit my tastes? not darn thing! this is a work of art, a functional fish tank, a functional table,....gorgeous!


Would it be possible/practical to add locking wheels to the bottom in order to move it easier for vacuuming the floor?

I'm not an educated man, so I don't know if this is possible or practical...

Regardless,I love it!

x86Daddy (author)SIRJAMES092016-01-27

Sorry for the late reply. I've seen casters for wire shelving, both consumer grade and industrial grade. Although the shelves and posts have some impressive weight ratings, even on the consumer grade, I'd look very closely at the ratings on any casters you find, or ensure they're meant for industrial, heavy weight applications. Also, rubberized wheels are highly recommended, so that they deform and spread the weight a bit vs. rigid ones which might focus the entire weight on even smaller points than the posts do.

fellc made it! (author)2015-04-02

I was inspired by your design and decided to build my own variation using wood. Check out my build on here:

x86Daddy (author)fellc2016-01-27

Nice instructable! Glad to see these taking so many different forms; the wood design gives it an entirely different feel. Thanks for posting the pic!

BigJack1986 made it! (author)2015-11-01

Great idea, saw it and followed a similar idea and it has worked really well. Many thanks!

x86Daddy (author)BigJack19862016-01-27

Love it! The new multicolor LED strips add a nice extra dimension to this project. Thanks for posting your photos!

MandyS29 (author)2016-01-27

How did you run power for the lights/filters. Do you have power cords now coming from the coffee table?

x86Daddy (author)MandyS292016-01-27

As there's a surge strip underneath, I needed to route one cord from under the table to the adjacent couch (behind which I had a wall with an outlet). I used a strip of "cord concealer" on the visible section of cord. It doesn't really conceal (it's just a rubber strip available in different colors), but it serves to prevent tripping on the cord or damaging it.

Fission Chips (author)2015-01-02

Whoa that is sick! Nasty job, Daddy. Keep up that jenkity work!

shinglyelm (author)2010-04-07

Thank you for the great  idea!  I combined yours and another instructables  fish tank coffee table.  I hope you like my 40 gallon breeder coffee table.  I don't have any fish yet because I am going to move soon but will after.  Even without fish this coffee table looks like a piece of art and draws a lot of attention when people come over.

The aquarium lies on a frame base which avoids both having to support the massive weight and scaring the fish setting things on the table.  I removed the corners where the boards meet on the base to be able to run power under the tank, then back and out up the legs. Also one side is removable so I can get to the electronics later.  The coffee table part is pretty much just a shell over the aquarium/base.  The lights on the base under the glass substrate really makes this thing.  Thank you!

fcosorio (author)shinglyelm2010-12-20

Hey man, that table looks great? Do you the plans to share? please advice. thanks.


Amsie018 (author)fcosorio2014-03-15

Hey, I'm in love with your wooden fish tank coffee table!! Just wondering where are you based? I'm in Australia and am wanting a few tank exactly like this but my problem is I can't DIY as I'm not only in a wheelchair but I have no idea of woodwork!! HAHA if you could let me know where your based and if you would consider making one for me please let me know :)

Amsie018 (author)fcosorio2014-03-15

Hey, I'm in love with your wooden fish tank coffee table!! Just wondering where are you based? I'm in Australia and am wanting a few tank exactly like this but my problem is I can't DIY as I'm not only in a wheelchair but I have no idea of woodwork!! HAHA if you could let me know where your based and if you would consider making one for me please let me know :)

shinglyelm (author)fcosorio2011-01-08

I have no plans and I didnt think about doing an instructables until I was done. I was pretty much winging it anyways.  A few of my friends said they are seriously considering making one of their own and they asked for my help. If they actually go through with it I would an instructables at that time. I do have a lot of pictures of my tank at:
...which you can eyeball spaces and lengths.  Its pretty much measure, cut, glue, nail, sand, stain, and seal.  If you want a specific measurement of something just message me back.  I'll help if I can!


koebwil (author)shinglyelm2011-10-26

How is that stocking list working, it seems to me that the tiger barbs would kill everything else, I know they have in the tank I keep mine in. very creative work with the lights though If you ever redo this I would highly recommend doing a walstad style tank or even a reef, that way you wouldn't need a filter, just some powerheads. Plus then the plants or corals would be real. Don't get me wrong it is a fantastic coffee table, I just think it could be a better aquarium.

fcosorio (author)shinglyelm2011-01-13


fetchtables (author)shinglyelm2010-09-26

I want to make something just like this, its awesome. Where do you hide the filter?

shinglyelm (author)fetchtables2010-09-26

No hiding :-/ I have an internal filter. I would have loved a canister filter, but it definitely would not have fit in the 2" of space under the aquarium. It also seemed dangerous to pump water out of the aquarium, under a rug, under the couch, and back again. And I thought a HOB filter would get bumped if it even would fit the tight specs around the top of the lid.

x86Daddy (author)shinglyelm2010-04-08

Thanks for posting pics!  I love to see these alternate builds... the 40 Gallon Breeder does indeed make for a good coffee table size, and the wood frame gives it a very different style.  Looks quite solid.

thirdmillenium (author)2013-10-18

Consider using this set of nesting glass top tables available at Ikea. Very sturdy and allows choice of aquarium table sizes or even create a set of two! Bargain at $60 for the set.

x86Daddy (author)thirdmillenium2013-10-18

Looks really nice, but be careful about this: Bottom panel: Particleboard, Melamine foil, ABS plastic. I couldn't find a maximum weight rating for the bottom shelf, but given that they say particleboard, I don't think it'll hold the requisite 10lb / gallon you can expect in an aquarium. I chose shelves that had advertised maximum weight ratings that were definitely higher than the weight of the full aquariums that would fit them.

thirdmillenium (author)x86Daddy2013-10-18

You're absolutely right; I wouldn't use this unless there was support between the shelf and floor at numerous points

harry potter rules (author)2012-04-10

This Aquarium Coffee Table is a very good idea
i definitely have to follow you!!!!!!!!!
how much does this cost altogether
how do you keep the Aquarium attached to the coffee table

BTW, AMAZING INSTRUCTABLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

strmrnnr (author)2011-07-22

I don't know how well the end caps on your post will act in respect to the next comment,

Keep in mind that the tank should be well insulated from the frame as, if it is not, every time you place an object on the table, it will sound like a sonic boom to the fish. Similar to tapping the side of the tank with a finger nail.

clieu (author)2011-05-11

This is awesome!!! If anyone ends up looking for something that can hold a little more weight, this chrome wire utility cart holds up to 600lbs and is the right length/width.... though it is probably too tall for a coffee table. As a bonus, the wheels might be useful for moving that thing around. Happy building.

manabean (author)2010-03-30

Attatched is an image of my aquarium coffee table. Its a bit simplified where i just bought a 1 tier chrome shelving unit and simple turned it upside down. I added a 10 gallon tank with undergravel filters, blue and clear decorative marbles instead of gravel, plastic round plant ornaments, and a glass on the top.
I still need to buy rubber end stoppers for the ends of the table and the legs are a bit wobbly so I might cement it with epoxy.

The two lovely fish inside are two fantail goldfish which are easy to take care of and beautiful to look at :]

acidbass (author)manabean2011-05-07

nice couch

x86Daddy (author)manabean2010-03-31

Thanks for sending in your photo and build method; it looks great!  As for the wobbling, it'll happen if there's only one shelf... a second shelf or the epoxy idea should take care of it though.

acidbass (author)2011-05-01

awesome now you need to make a sharktank dancefloor jk

33125577utube (author)2011-03-26

well u could put an aquarium on the floor and put glass around it or over it...

bezzin mega mix (author)2011-01-14

this is really cool and modern i made somthing similar,will be uploading images soon!

Lithium Rain (author)2010-07-16

Gorgeous! (What is the pyramid?)

the pictures from shinglyelm is what i am currently planning on making
so any help i would be very grateful for. sorry about my spelling

x86Daddy (author)Lithium Rain2010-07-17

A motion-controlled, flashing LED, puzzle game from 1989 called Luminations. When I received it as a gift when I was a kid, I thought it looked very cool and determined then that it would decorate my coffee table one day. :-) Every once in a rare while, you can spot one on eBay. It's pretty fun and challenging... I've never beat its fourth level.

Lithium Rain (author)x86Daddy2010-07-17

Nice! I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for one. :)

drewdoog (author)2008-03-15

Very nice work To other posters, you dont have to make exactly this project. the best part about instrucables, is to get ideas from other people, then make it your own. The only fish tank id ever want again is a saltwater tank. I dont want the responsibilities of a saltwater tank, so just go from this. replace the fish with bubble rocks and you have yourself a bubble table. replace the water with corn syrup, and you now have a slow motion bubble table. replace the real fish with battery powered fish. Get ahold of some clay, put ribs in it, angle them towards the middle, get a small water pump.. you now have water fall table.

Ginger Magnus (author)drewdoog2009-05-27

drewdoog, I liked your idea about filling the tank with corn syrup and having a slow motion bubble tank. After doing some research I found out that to make a 10 gallon bubble tank, the corn syrup would weight in excess of 100 lbs, based upon figures I found stating corn syrup weighing in around 10-11 lbs./ gallon. With water weighing approx. 8.3 lbs/gallon the frame needs to hold at least 25% more weight. I just wanted people to keep that in mind. 10-20 gallons of corn syrup would be fun to clean up, especially if dyed! I love the idea of the slow bubbles, maybe with some color changing lights. Now I have to find a

First off, NICE instructable!

A couple of suggestions though...

First, an aquarium really needs a LEVEL base! Any imperfections in the shelf will cause a 'rise' or 'hollow' where the tank meets the support, and eventually cause a crack in the (loaded) tank! I'd strongly recommend a piece of styrofoam sheet, thick felt, or foam rubber under the tank to 'absorb' any discrepancies in level-ness. You can probably find clear or translucent padding material to use the tank in the manner the author has done.


I would strongly suggest against corn syrup - between splashes from the bubbles bursting and sugar "creep" (Like salt does in marine aquariums!) This sounds like an ant/cockroach-attracting mess of biblical proportions! Not to mention the inevitable bacteria bloom! (Think petri dish!)
With a rubber gasket on the aquarium's top rim and the top resting on the rim, (With support from the shelving posts,) Mineral oil should work. A couple of drops per gallon of clove oil should prevent it from turning rancid, and it can be dyed with oil-based universal colourants, or even made into a giant lava lamp using 1/2 oil, 1/2 alcohol with a suitable, (READ SAFE!) heat source!

Just my $0.02...

AdHd (author)~Sasquatch~2010-08-15

Mineral oil will not go rancid. Vegetable oil, yes; mineral oil, no.

Sasquatch, good ideas! I gave up on the corn syrup for your exact reasons. I experimented with different ways of using the syrup, but in all events it became to sticky and attractive for me to trust 20 gallons of the sticky goo sitting in my living room. I will have to start trying the mineral oil next.

supersith22 (author)drewdoog2009-08-26

If you do the corn syrup idea, leave a little hole big enough to get a spoon through in the top cover, that way if your coffee or iced tea isn't quite sweet enough you just have to get a little "aquarium water" from the table. lol A slow motion bubble tank would be a really neat thing to have though.

evanwehrer (author)drewdoog2008-09-30

That sounds awesome

fade400 (author)2010-03-22

where did you buy your wire shelving units ? I was hoping to buy them from a physical store but its looking like less and less of an option due to prices.

Thank you =) 

bitsy113 (author)fade4002010-03-28

Home Depot carries these. They're usually in the section where you would find wire shelving, like for closets.

bitsy113 (author)fade4002010-03-28

Home Depot carries these where you would find either shelving(like for closets). Also Sams has them they're usually bigger and a little more expensive.

x86Daddy (author)fade4002010-03-23

I'm in the US.  The retail stores that I've seen the best prices at are CostCo, Aldi, and Target.  The first two carry them sometimes, and when they do, it's a good deal.  The latter runs sales on them every month or two for $5-$10 under usual prices, depending on type of unit, etc... but they carry them all the time at decent prices and selection.

A completely different approach: look for restaurant supply stores in your area, they usually stock a lot of wire shelving components, and some carry used equipment, which would be cheaper. 

Best of luck!

About This Instructable




Bio: I do the corporate IT thing during the day, and diabolical hackery during the night. The Aquarium Coffee Table is my latest hack, but other ... More »
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