Introduction: Gumball Machine Fish Tank

Picture of Gumball Machine Fish Tank

I had the idea to turn an old gumball machine into a small, fun fish bowl. Here's my process.

You will need:

Various assorted screwdrivers
Drill and bits
X-acto knife
Sandpaper or sanding block
A gumball machine on a stand. Do not try this with square gumball machines. They must be round, preferably glass.
Glass and glass cutters (or the phone number of a glass shop)
Silicone aquarium sealant (must be aquarium sealant, as bath sealant is not as strong and may contain chemicals that will harm your fish)
Rust-proofing spray paint
Push-in rubber grommets
Nuts and bolts and washers as needed
Some scrap aluminum
LED Betta light
Small aquarium filter (I used a Penn Plax Smallworld Filter)
3-plug extension cord with grounded prong
Rubbing alcohol

Step 1: Disassemble and Clean

Picture of Disassemble and Clean

I got my gumball machine off of Craigslist. It had some really gross stale gumballs in it when I started. 

Take the whole thing apart carefully, and clean everything really well. If paint is cracked or chipped, don't be afraid to sand it off and repaint it. I didn't need to. I did remove the crumbling 10c sticker, even though it would have looked nice. There was a cork ring between the steel on the top of the globe which was stuck to the glass. I scraped it off and sanded the edges of the glass down. If the steel parts on the bottom of the machine are stuck on, try to get them off. They've likely just stuck from age and pressure, and aren't secured.

Clean the entire inside of the globe with rubbing alcohol and let it dry out.
At this point I also took the stand outside to sand and paint the bottoms of the legs, which were in bad shape.

Step 2: Setting Up Your Base

Picture of Setting Up Your Base

Drill a hole near the bottom of the base, or where the bottom meets the sides of the case, for your power cord. Then, pick a spot in the back to drill for your light and filter cords. I went a little above dead center. Rubber grommets (~$1.50 from Home Depot) will go in these holes later to prevent wear from the metal.

Arrange your power cord, filter, and light assemblies in the base. This takes some trial and error. I tied all of the loose cable together, and ended up strapping some foam to the bottom of the filter pump to keep it from rattling against the metal. It was helpful that my light's power cable was two pieces, making it only necessary for the holes to be wide enough to pass the connectors, and not the entire light. 

I nestled the connectors for the light in the candy chute, to make it easy to turn it on and off without having a cable hanging outside.

Step 3: Finding a Way to Secure the Globe

Picture of Finding a Way to Secure the Globe

In its service life, the gumball's globe was kept on the base by the rods running up through it. Since we're going to be sealing the bottom of the tank, a new way has to be found to keep it from falling off. To achieve this, I fabricated a bracket of sorts from the steel piece that was at the bottom, and some scrap aluminum. I spot welded a washer and nut over a hole I drilled on top of the one that goes all the way down. In the photo below is how it looked when I test fitted it. I drilled a hole through the bottom of the stand so I could run a threaded rod up through the base. Turn the two nuts, and the rod moves up to secure the bottom of the globe.

(I also flipped the bolts securing the machine to the stand, to make it easier to remove)

Step 4: Making the Globe Into a Bowl

Picture of Making the Globe Into a Bowl

Now, measure the width of the circular opening at the bottom of your bowl. Cut a disc of 1/4" glass, or cal your local glass place and have them do it for you. It shouldn't be terribly expensive. Make sure to have them grind the edges, not temper them. 

Using your aquarium sealant, lay down a nice thick bead along the circumference of the glass disc. Lay it on to the bottom of the bowl and smooth out the sealant on the inside. Let it dry as instructed.

Once the disc is dried enough to hold (doesn't have to be fully cured at this point), repeat the process with the hold-down on the bottom and the rubber ring (if your tank has one) at the top. 

Let this whole assembly dry to full cure (look at the package) before doing anything. I suggest doing this at the beginning, so you can make the most of the day or two it needs to dry.

Step 5: Set Up the Top

Picture of Set Up the Top

Flip the cover over and line the retaining ring up inside it, marking the front and back. Drill a hole in the back and run the light and filter cord and tubing through it. Rubber grommet here, too. Use some of the aquarium sealant to stick the light to the inside of the cover (it's a very strong adhesive), and then secure the retaining ring to the bottom of the cover. 

Lastly, squirt some sealant into the lock hole and push the lock into it.

Let it all dry.

After some time, I realized that the bare metal would cause metal poisoning in the tank. To combat this, I disassembled the cover and painted it with rust-proof paint.

Step 6: Wait

Picture of Wait

Now came the hard part for me: waiting for all that sealant to cure. 

In case you're wondering, I use the pill container to organize screws and small parts.

Step 7: Water Test

Picture of Water Test

Now it's time to water test your globe. Never test it on the base, as if it leaks you'll kill your electronics. I did my first test on the concrete outside, and I'm glad I did. I found a small leak, which I fixed and let it dry again. 

Step 8: Setup

Picture of Setup

Find a nice spot for your aquarium. Rinse your gravel and plants really well before you use them. I used a mix of rainbow and black. It looks terrible. Stick the filter to the inside of the tank, and hook everything up. Condition and add water. Mine holds about 6 liters.

Step 9: All Done!

Picture of All Done!

Add a fish! Bettas are among the few types of fish that will thrive in an unheated tank like this. I chose red to go with the color of the machine, but that's up to you.

I quickly realized how terrible the gravel looked, and switched to all-black. To hide the tube and cord, I printed a gumball background.

EDIT: Later, I decided to spring for about two dozen glass gumballs, and dumped them in the tank for a good gumball look.


wpgjets92 (author)2013-09-25

would a mini gumball machine work for this?

aloew (author)wpgjets922013-09-29

I wouldn't suggest it. The size I used is already a tiny bit on the small side for even a single fish, so anything smaller would really make a poor habitat.

If you've already got one, I'd suggest just "fixing" it to not require coins and stick it on your desk at work. I did, and people love it.

kglover2 (author)2013-08-24

That is absolutely awesome

Techguyjudge (author)2013-05-02

By cover do you mean lid? If so is it hard to take on and off with all the wires? Can you post a close up? Sorry I'm creating comments but my computer will not let me post another reply to it. Do you have an email? Maybe we could email each other back and forth as I come across a question?

Techguyjudge (author)2013-05-02

Ok! Thank you! Also how did you run your wires into the tank, air line, bubbler, heater? I am working on taking it apart right now. Just gonna put that out there (it does not matter) mine is a newer one on a stand that the gumball would spiral down the "tower"

aloew (author)Techguyjudge2013-05-02

There's no heater in this tank; the fish I'm using doesn't need it. I drilled a small hole in the rear of the cover (it's in the instructable) and ran the wires through.

Techguyjudge (author)2013-05-02

How did you Install the filter underwater?

aloew (author)Techguyjudge2013-05-02

The filter I used, a Penn-plax Smallworld, is meant to be installed underwater. It has two suction cups on the back to adhere to the tank wall. You just have to run an air line to it.

flammaefata (author)2013-03-10

Great Instructable! I love the look! It might be a cool idea to use various marbles/multicolor balls as gravel, then that would also look like gumballs :D

But... Betta splendens (aka Siamese fighting fish) are tropical fish and need to live in tropical/heated water. When they're temperature drops below about 23 degrees Celsius this seriously affects their immune system, which makes them prone to disease. If you're in a climate where their water temperature doesn't drop below 23 degrees Celsius (also at night!) then this setup is super awesome! (Especially as a lot of betta keepers think they don't even need an air pump).

There are other small fish that can tolerate lower temperatures (and such a small tank), like white cloud minnows. Anyway, anybody who wants to keep any kind of fish should research their specific needs (temperature, aquarium size, suitable companion fish etc etc) extensively.

Just a comment for would-be-first-time-fish-keepers: Please read up on establishing a biological filter for the fish as this is probably the number one cause of fish deaths with beginners - their waste builds up in the absence of an established biological filter, making the water toxic and killing them. Sorry for the tangent on this Instructable but it's a bit of a pet peeve for me!

aloew (author)flammaefata2013-03-10

You've managed to come up with all of the ideas I tossed around, and the concerns I had. The reason I didn't use marbles was because it was A) expensive and B) wouldn't trap waste as well, nor keep as much of the bacteria present during water changes.

I chose the betta because of my prior success keeping bettas in unheated bowls in the same room. The temperature rarely drops that low, and the previous betta in that room lived for more than 6 years.

Even though bettas don't necessarily need a filter or air pump, I felt it prudent to have one in this case, because of how little direct air contact there would be with the water, due to the lid.

flammaefata (author)aloew2013-03-12

Glad I read your mind! Yeah, I didn't consider the surface of the marbles for the bacteria.

aloew (author)flammaefata2013-03-24

After thinking about your comment, I decided to pick up some multicolored marbles to accent the gravel.

flammaefata (author)aloew2013-03-24

Wow, I think that really makes it work, completing the illusion :)

jwurm (author)2013-03-22

It might be nice to use colorful marbles instead of gravel to mimic gumballs.

The Last Gunslinger26 (author)2013-03-13

Would I be able to do this with a Square Plastic globed Gumball Machine?

I expect so. I prefer glass because it's less likely to discolor with age, and is less prone to cracking with temperature changes. It would definitely make finding an old gumball machine with which to make this a lot easier, though. Perhaps for the next one, I'll use plastic.

Ok thanks.

Just be aware that some square ones (like the Oak Vista picture in a comment below) will be very hard to seal. The globe must be one contiguous piece of plastic or glass all the way around.

orsd (author)2013-03-11

Actually, if you find a square machine for very little money (~10-15 dollars), and it says OAK or Eagle on the candy door (like above), then you can go to Oak Mfg.'s website at and go to the contacts page for their number. Call them, and tell the rep that you have an oak vista cab that you'd like to convert into a vista 300(smaller) or 450(larger). The globes are still kinda squarish, but they are one piece so they don’t need to be sealed. They also have a cylindrical shaped globe called the "acorn." Also, keep in mind that you will need a new lid, as well. You can also get your needed parts from ebay too.
Also, there will be a little thingy at the bottom of the machine, with either 3 circles or triangle cut in it- you can sell it on ebay. List it as either "gumball wheel" if it has circles, or "candy wheel" if it has triangles. If you converted the globe from a cab, you can sell that too.
PS:Dont buy a machine if the seller is asking more than 50-60, as you can buy if from the company listed above new for around 50.
PPS:Oak's website also has some good downloads with diagrams of their machines- they might be helpful.

CloudNine (author)2013-03-10

Instead of gravel you should use marbles so they look like gumballs.
: D

Green_Primus (author)CloudNine2013-03-10

This! As I read this all I thought when I saw the gravel was, needs marbles!

pielet (author)2013-03-10

Love the idea! How do you clean it or refresh the water?

aloew (author)pielet2013-03-10

By turning the bolt sticking out the bottom, I retract it from the retainer that holds the bowl on. Then I can just carry it to the sink.

raypsi (author)2013-03-10

gr8 instructive blog by golly now craigs list is going to be flooded with peeps looking for gum ball machines I think your instruct-able is gr8 personally I would just by sum software and have the gumball machine wallpaper on a Video monitor I really admire you for your moxie and tenacity

vincent7520 (author)2013-03-10

Instead of gravels you should use gumballs so that the fish have to chew something on
! :))

Another 20th century artifact gone to pieces !………… sob ! :/

wronganswer (author)2013-03-07

It is a nice idea to make a biotop out of a gumball machine. But it is definitely too small for any fish. I recommend to set 3 or 4 sweet-water shrimps in there, maybe a nice snail. But please no fish.
And btw, sweet water shrimps and snails do not need a heater when this miniature biotop is placed in a normal warm room, so there is one more thing you don't have to think or worry about.

batman96 (author)2013-03-07

I would make it where you insert a quarter and turn the knob to feed the fish!

fleetersamuelli (author)2013-03-07

what happens if i put a quarter in an turn the knob? does a fish pop out?

mr.mountaineer (author)2013-03-06

AWESOME!!! one question though (unless you said and i missed it), why does the machine have to be round?

aloew (author)mr.mountaineer2013-03-06

Great question. I tried it first with a square one, but the corners proved nearly impossible to seal, because of the way that the frame is screwed together and how the plates slot in. The picture here is the one that I tried it with. After two weeks of repeated water tests and re-sealing, I gave up.

mr.mountaineer (author)aloew2013-03-06

Thanks for the response. to bad though, i kinda like the look of square ones. but awesome anyway.

sunshiine (author)2013-03-06

Love it! Thanks for sharing this clever idea and do have a splendorous day!

tocsik (author)2013-03-06

AWESOME! I Love this!

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