Introduction: Aquarium Stand With Secret Door for Sump

About: At home, you can find me with my wife and three boys, maybe practicing violin, guitar or piano, in the garage doing some woodworking, bicycling, at the computer, learning small electronics, video editing, surf…

Swim to your local pet store and you might spot a lot of aquarium stands to choose from. But try to find one that will fit a sump filtration system, even a 10 gallon one, and you are likely to come up dry. Go online, and you can find lots of DIY aquarium stands. But try to find a set of instructions that do not involve 2 by 4s, cinder blocks, railroad ties or other unsightly materials, and your choices are very limited. It stinks... like a dead fish!

So that's why my 14 year old son and I decided to swim someplace else and come up with a design of our own.

Since this design, we have built another one with an improved design that allows you to place it anywhere, cabinet lighting, a power cord manager, and other additional features. Here is a link to it: Make a Better Than New Aquarium Stand

Step 1: Tools and Materials


This is the first cabinet I've made, so I don't have a lot of wood shop tools. Many of the tools we did not have we just borrowed.

Electric Mitre Saw with Finishing Blade
Biscuit Joiner
Router and Table
Circular Saw
Table Saw with Finishing Blade
Drill Press
Drill and bits
Other typical tools (tape measure, pencil, brushes, etc.)

1x4 Pine (8 foot lengths)
1x3 Pine (8 foot lengths)
1x8 Pine (2 foot)
3/4" Plywood - full sheet
1/4" Plywood - half sheet
4 Cabinet Hinges (we used the hidden type)
4 Cabinet Handles
Waterproof Wood Glue
Primer and Paint

Step 2: The Secret

A 55 gallon aquarium, with water, weighs 625 pounds. That's a lot of weight! And my son and I knew that if the stand fell apart, our household would have at least two casualties. And the fish might die too. Not to mention, if mother shark didn't kill us, we would still have very big, expensive, smelly mess to clean up. So, we designed the stand with that downward load in mind.

The secret to carrying that heavy load is in how the top and bottom frames are constructed. To make these pieces, we used a router and table that I borrowed from a coworker. Using the router, we took out the corner of our 1x4" pine boards. Since 1x4's are actually only 3/4" wide, we only needed to take out 3/8" (one half of the width). For those who have never used a router, keep in mind you'll want to route the wood a small layer at a time. It should take 3 or 4 passes to take off 3/8" of wood.

Then, we used the brand new biscuit joiner I got as a gift and sandwiched the boards together. This creates "rabbit ears" for another 3/4" board to slide into (called a "rabbet joint"). A downward load on that joint isn't going to give. A strong twisting load might easily snap the rabbit ear, but you won't have a twisting load when the stand is fully assembled.

Step 3: Base and Cap

The base frame of the aquarium stand is exactly the same as the cap, you just flip the top one over.

To make the 45 degree angle cuts, you will need a mitre saw with a finishing blade installed. The regular blade that our powered mitre saw came with makes the edge look like a shark bit it off.

Before we got started with our first cut, we checked the mitre saw to make sure it was cutting true 90 degree cuts on the horizontal and vertical axis, and in the process learned how to adjust that.

After calibrating and practicing with the saw, we cut our 45 degree angles, leaving precisely the desired length. Doing this will give you a healthy degree of respect for people who make custom picture frames.

Keep on swimming... you have two of these to build.

Step 4: Join the Frames

Our new biscuit joiner got put to use. We looked up how to use the joiner on an 45 degree joint and practiced a few times. We put one biscuit in each of the corners, and again used waterproof wood glue and clamps to hold it together. The biscuits expand when they soak up the moisture from the wood glue, and in my opinion, hold very well when dry.

Step 5: Clamp Together

We made a simple jig to help hold the pieces together and square when clamping.

Step 6: Cut Plywood Panels and Floor

The side panels and back panels are made from 3/4 inch plywood. The floor is also 3/4" plywood, and it rests on the inside edge of the bottom frame.

Step 7: Look Mom, No Glue.... Yet

Cabinet makers have a few tricks up their sleeves to hide plywood edges. We used a piece of pine in the back corner, as shown in the first photo, and biscuit joined it to the back plywood panel.

Once you get to this point, you can start to see how everything is going to fit together before you glue it.

Step 8: The Front

For the front panel we used dowels to join the edges together. The biscuit joiner wouldn't do for this. The instructions on the dowel joiner tool were written by a seamonkey, but strangers on the Internet came to the rescue with a couple of great tutorials.

Glue the pieces together and clamp square.

Step 9: Cabinet Doors

We swam to the neighbor's house to use his table saw with a finishing blade to rip 1x3 pine to the desired width, and to create a 1/4" slot along the inside for the plywood panel to slide inside.

We used tongue and groove joints to hold the panel frames together. We glued everything in place, then routed the outside edge.

Be sure you do not take off too much when you route the outside edge - if you go too deep, the holes for the hidden hinges will come through the front.

Step 10: Glue, Sand, Prime and Paint

We glued the pieces in place.    He filled any cracks of flaws with wood filler, then sanded, wearing a dust mask to keep sawdust out of his gills. Then he painted it semi-gloss black with two coats.

Step 11: Hinge Installation

Follow the directions for the hinge you select for installation. We used hidden cabinet hinges.

We needed a drill press to drill the 1 1/4" counter bored holes for the hidden cabinet hinges because we were afraid of drilling the holes too deep and ruining the cabinet doors.

Since I don't own a drill press, we went to my Dad's house to do that.

Step 12: Secret Panel

The secret panel door will allow you access to the sump. For this, after measuring the desired location, we screwed a 1x8" black, painted board to two of the cabinet doors. This board must be cut about an inch shorter than the cabinet doors, and slightly less than your cabinet opening, to fit snugly in place.

We used cabinet magnets at the top to hold panel. It snaps on and off just like we had hoped.

Step 13: Swim

This was a fun project. In the process, my son and I learned a lot about cabinet making. Unlike anything you could buy at the store, you can actually fit a sump filtration system in it. The aquarium stand fits his needs and is something that would look good in his home someday, somewhere out there, in the big blue sea.

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