Introduction: Build a TV Fish Tank
Do you have an ancient CRT TV console you want to get rid of? Before you toss it out, think about turning it into a fish tank to liven up your living room!
I recently got a subscription to Live Bird Channel TV for my cat (which consisted of some cheap bird feeders positioned strategically on the other side of some screened windows), but I thought he might also enjoy the add-on subscription to the latest Live Fish Channel while I'm out for work.
This is a fun weekend build if you have a TV ready and some fish and decor in mind for your new TV once your subscription is ready for activation!
Not so much of a warning as a friendly reminder, but before starting a project like this, make sure you are able to care for the fish you want to provide a home for. This project may be a cool talking piece for parties and socials, but your fish will need to be fed and cared for just like any other pet you might get. Without further ado, let's begin!
Step 1: Acquire an Old TV and Fish Supplies
Step one for this project is acquiring an old TV console. Fortunately, I found an old Zenith console for free on Craigslist that would've been thrown out otherwise, and the craziest part about it is that the TV console predates me by 4 years. It is pretty cool, though, to know that I'm giving new life to tech older than me..
Anyways, here's all you'll need to disassemble an old TV and reassemble it as a fish tank:
- Flat head an Phillips head screw driver assortment
- Socket assortment
- Wooden hammer (for light prying and glue loosening)
- Hammer and/or hand sledge (or forceful prying and convincing old glue to come loose)
- Furniture cart (makes moving the TV around a lot easier)
- Flat xacto knife
- Screw drivers
- Pocket hole jig
- Hose (for filling the tank. See step 5 if you have questions)
The only materials needed are for reassembly.
- 2x4 boards (A single 8-ft board would suffice, and 2x3's are a perfect replacement if you have easier acces to them)
- 2-1/2" pocket hole screws
- 1-1/4" screws
For the Fish:
- Aquarium that fits your console TV*
- In-aquarium filter (the filters that hang over the back will likely be too tall for the TV console)
- Aquarium gravel (I used about 40lbs for a 29gal tank)
- Aquarium decorations of your choosing
- Water conditioner
- Fish food and other items to care for your fish
- RGB LED lights
I wanted a Jumanji theme for my tank, so I stuck with jungle-like aquarium decorations, and the multicolored LED lights worked fantastically for setting different 'jungle' moods
*For this project, I used a Zenith 27" TV console and a 29-gallon tank, and all of my measurements are based off of the size of that TV console and the tank I got. You may need to find a smaller or larger tank depending on the size of the console you are able to get (and adjust the size of your supports), but the most important thing is that the width and height of the tank you choose are equal to or greater than the width and height of the CRT in your console. This will help with the illusion that you just have a TV showing some fish instead of having live fish swimming around.
Step 2: Find a Spot for Your Tank
So, after you find a TV console and get a tank for it, I guess it's time to find a spot for it. Fortunately, I had some open wall space in my living room to put the TV that had a plug where I could plug the lights and the filter in.
Maybe it's better to pick a good spot for the tank before committing to a project like this....
Step 3: Disassemble the TV
This, in my opinion, is the best part of the project next to seeing the fish swim around in the finished tank.
Take out all the electronics, the CRT, and any supports that will prevent the tank from sitting flush against the front wall. This will require a variety of screwdrivers and socket wrenches, so see the pictures for various scenarios you will likely encounter. The main goal of this step is to allow the tank to sit as close to the front wall of the console as possible.
Once all the electronics and supports are removed, you can use an xacto knife or other sharp knife to cut away any of the plastic CRT trim that hangs back past the front wall of the console.
As for the top panel of the console, free up enough of the supports to remove the lid for easy access to the fish tank once it is in place and full of water. For the Zenith console, this just consist of removing some screws and prying loose some glue like the pictures for this step.
An important thing for aesthetics is to hang on to the black cover for the TV's IR receiver and remember to add it back to the TV console before the end of the project. Unfortunately, I didn't remember, so there is a small square above the TV buttons where the tank's lights shine through to the front.
Also, if you want to add some sort of micro-controller or computer to control your fish tank features, it would be a great idea to save the button panel and wires for the TV console buttons to use as inputs for your other projects.
This is a real warning. When you take apart a CRT TV, make sure to take all precautions possible (like using properly grounded equipment, working in a clean area, etc.) to ensure you don't get zapped by charges stored in the TV. If you have questions about this, talk to an expert.
Step 4: Reassemble the TV
Reassembling the TV is quite simple.
Start by cutting and assembling a bottom floor support for the console. In place of the Zenith wheels that were removed, you can fit 2x4 boards underneath the console on their faces, so they can function as load-bearing supports for a lift table the tank can sit on.
The boards that will span the depth of the console (front to back) will be about 16" for this console, and the board that will span the width will be 28". You can secure the bottom support structure to the console by driving the 1-1/4" screws into the support through the floor of the console.
Once the bottom support is done and secured, cut and assemble pieces for the tank table with 2"x4" boards:
- 5x 13" sections (table top with three front-to-back and two connecting them)
- 8x 5" sections (legs)
Attach the pieces with pocket hole screws as shown in the pictures. Since this table will be under the weight of the tank with all its gravel and water, it does not need to be secured to the console once you have it and the tank in position. Just make sure your cuts are even and the tank sits level in the console.
Step 5: Fish and Decorations
Arguably one of the most critical parts of having a good fish tank is choosing a proper TV theme for the tank. I went for a Jumanji-themed tank! I got some various jungle-y aquarium decorations for my tank online, as well as an in-tank filter since a normal filter would not fit on the back of the tank with the TV console top on. I also got some RGB LEDs to help light up the tank.
For the tank theme, choose something TV-related you like, and pick some tank decorations to go with the theme. To add to the 'TV realism' of the tank, you can print out a large format scene from a TV show or move and add it to the back wall of the tank. You can use Microsoft Paint to help with resizing and printing across multiple pages (see the pictures and annotations for more info), and the advantage of using basic printer paper for your picture is that you can add a backlight to help it pop. If you go this route, take extra care to trim the pictures as close to the edge as possible and use packing tape to connect the sheets while avoiding dark patches in the picture when the light is on. Also, to help keep the image visible, you can put up thick plastic to block out any unwanted light. Electrical tape works well for holding the plastic in place and blocking out light.
For the LED strip, attach it to the top panel of the console towards the back, and if there is an IR controller for it, you can put that where the TV's original IR receiver was. I have my LED receiver attached to the back of the top panel, and it works great.
When it comes to filling the tank, start with the gravel and then use whatever means you have to add water to it. This may consist of using buckets or pans to transport water to the tank, or if you are lucky like me, you can just run a garden hose inside to fill the tank quickly. Make sure the tank is positioned where you want it before you start filling it since the water will make it hard to move. Also, add your tank decorations once the tank is about half full. Once the tank is full, add some water conditioner to prep it for your fish.
As for the fish, choose whatever fish you like! I went with a couple of neon tetras, a couple of zebrafish, a red wag platy, a black molly, and a plecostomus.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Now that you have an awesome fish tank TV, make sure you take some time to watch your fish swimming around!
If you enjoyed this project as much as me and my cat, Catsper, have any ideas or suggestions or want to share pics of your own fish tank TVs, leave a comment below or message me!
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