Introduction: Aquarium Table Lamp

About: There are some things you should just NEVER do.....

Aquarium Table Lamp

Love to watch fish in an aquarium?

Why not have an aquarium as close as the lamp sitting on your table?

This table lamp incorporates a 1-gallon mini aquarium that sports an air pump, under-gravel filter, heater and a dedicated 5 watt fluorescent light for the tank. The table lamp has a single switched medium-base lampholder (a lot of words for a 'normal' light socket) up top and a tip-over switch that deenergizes everything should the unimaginable happen and the lamp get knocked over -- No water and electricity mixing here!

The table lamp's main light socket and the fish tank light can be controlled independently. The fish tank light can even be left on as a 'night light'. The main light socket is a push-thru switch type and the 5W fluorescent lamp above the fish tank has a twist switch low on the back of the base. The air pump and heater operate continuously as long as the table lamp is plugged in.

Since the tank has a heater the aquarium can be used for tropical fish - Neon Tetras are excellent in this tank!

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Step 1: Construction Overview

The lamp is built by stacking sections onto a central spindle (of 1/8 IP size all-thread pipe, the type used for making lamps!) that is mounted to the base.The base contains the air pump and ballast for the 5W fluorescent tank light. The base also has a tip-over switch and in-line fuse to help keep the product safe. The base is enclosed in length of 6" dia. acrylic tube that creates the wall of the base section.

The tank is stacked on top of the base. The tank has a central open pass-through tube and an air tube that runs the length of the tank from the bottom to the top through the water. The central open tube allows the tank to slide down over the central spindle. The air tube carries the air from the air pump below the tank up to above the water level so that there are no water leaks if the pump should stop. There is a clear acrylic tank lid that slides onto the tank and is held in place by a nylon machine screw. The tank top cover has two feeding ‘ports’, one in the front and one in the rear, depending on which you want to use.

The top section of the lamp houses the 5W fluorescent tank light and a 120VAC socket for the tank heater to plug into. An acrylic cap, that can be completely removed, covers the tank top section. The cap has one feeding hole that can be aligned with the front or rear feeding ‘ports’ in the tank lid.

The light socket is just the standard switched variety up on top. You can use up to a 100W lamp, but use LED or spiral fluorescent to save energy!

The materials:



12” x 12” by 1/4" thick Black ABS sheet for base, texture on top surface


16 inches of 6” diameter 1/8” wall tube

12 inches of 5/8” diameter tube

2 inches of 3” diameter 1/8” wall tube

3 inches of 1” diameter tube

12 inches of ¼” (or 3/16”) tube

4 – ¼” cubes

3 – 1”x6” ¼” thick sheet

3 – 7”x7” 1/8” thick sheet

1 – 3”x3” 1/8” thick sheet

Miscellaneous scrap pieces as noted

ELECTRICAL (as specified or similar; all rated 120VAC or greater)

Mini aquarium air pump model Elite799

Simple Choke Ballast 4-6-8 watt Valmont Electric model 89G489 (two wire)

Cherry spring-loaded tamper switch, double pole double throw (single throw will also work)

6’ 18/2 (18 AWG) SPT-2 power cord with plug (can use an extension cord)

4’ 18/2 (18 AWG) SPT-1 power cord

Fast-on Crimp-on Terminals for connection to tip-over switch

Butt-end Splice Crimp-on Terminals

Medium-base Edison Lamp Socket with Push Through Switch, Silver

5-watt two-pin fluorescent lamp

Through-hole mount twist switch

Inline fuse holder with 2A fuse

Insulation-piercing receptacle for SPT-1 cord

Electrical Tape



16-1/2” of 1/8 IP all threaded pipe

3 - Nuts for 1/8 IP pipe

Floor Flange Fitting (plumbing)

Threaded adapter: 1/8 IP to thread of Floor Flange

6”x6” 12 gauge framing tie (sheet metal)

Miscellaneous mounting screws and nuts


Lampshade 18” diameter, 12.5" high

10" two piece lamp harp, silver or paint silver

Black Felt for under base

2 inches of 0.18” aluminum tubing (if not using 3/16” acrylic tube)

Aquarium compatible silicone sealant

Aquarium air tubing

2 - brass airline T-fittings

Spray adhesive

Miscellaneous heat shrink tubing

Chrome window tint film 12”x3”

Miscellaneous wire/zip ties

3 – nylon machine screws

<6” diameter under-gravel filter

Semi-Gloss Black spray paint

Epoxy glue

Methylene chloride acrylic cement

1-1/2 lb black aquarium gravel

Aquarium heater, 25W or less (optional)

Fish (small species like tetras)

Step 2: Build It From the Bottom Up!

The base is 11" diameter 1/4" ABS with texture on the top side. The central spindle is a 16-1/2" long 1/8 IP size all-thread pipe secured to the base by a Floor Flange Fitting. An adapter is used from the 1/8 IP to the Floor Flange. Holes are tapped into the Fitting so that counter sunk machine screws installed from the bottom surface of the base hold the fitting to the top of the circular base. The bottom of the base is covered with black felt held in place with spray adhesive to prevent scratching the surface the table lamp is sitting on.

The equipment 'tray' or metal plate that holds the ballast, tip-over switch and air pump is a 12 gauge sheet metal bracket (framing tie) that is cut to fit into the circular shaped base. It also has a central hole to fit over the spindle as well as corresponding holes for mounting all the base components. The tip-over switch is a snap-fit type that required a rectangular cut out in the plate. The equipment 'tray' is fastened to the Floor Flange Fitting by two screws that go into tapped holes in the Floor Flange Fitting. The edges of the metal plate that all components are mounted to has black electrical tape applied to the edges so that it will not make noise should it touch the base enclosure.

The Tank Light Switch is a twist type and is mounted in the side of the Base Enclosure. Twist on, twist off. The Base Enclosure is 6" diameter 1/8" wall acrylic tube that is cut to a 2-1/2" length and spray painted black. The Base Enclosure free floats around the equipment 'tray' but is ultimately kept from moving around by supports on the bottom of the Tank and the weight of the water in the tank.

Mirrored mylar window tint film is rolled into a tube and slid over the Central Spindle to hide the threads as it is visible through the center tube of the Tank.

Step 3: The Tank


The Aquarium Tank is an open top cylinder made of a 10-1/2" length of 6" diameter 1/8" wall acrylic tube that has a bottom of flat 1/8" thick acrylic that is solvent bonded (cemented with methylene chloride) in place. To doubly insure that the tank does not leak through a possible crack in the bottom joint, aquarium-compatible silicone sealant is applied to the joint from the inside of the tank.

The 1/8" thick acrylic bottom of the tank is probably too thin for my comfort, but was chosen to keep the visible joint line between the tank and the bottom enclosure visually appealing. To 'beef up' the structural integrity of the bottom of the tank 1" wide 1/4" thick acrylic reinforcing cross pieces are cemented to the bottom in an x-pattern. The outside edge of these cross pieces is curved to match the wall of the tank and set back the 1/8" thickness of the wall so that they fit into the wall of the Bottom Enclosure and keep both pieces aligned.

A open central 5/8" diameter acrylic tube passes up throughout the bottom and bottom reinforcing cross pieces of the tank up to the top of the tank and extends 1" above the top of the tank. It is cemented and silicone sealed to the bottom of the tank to keep the tank water tight. A 1/4" diameter acrylic air tube is run along side of the open central tube. Aluminum tube 0.18" OD was epoxied onto the acrylic tube to make it easy to push on vinyl aquarium air tubing. In hindsight I should have used 3/16" diameter acrylic tubing as it will allow aquarium air tubing to be pushed directly onto it, simplifying the construction.


The open top of the tank is fitted with a cross piece consisting of 1" wide 1/4" thick clear acrylic. The cross piece fits in the top of the tank flush to the top edge of the tank. The cross piece ends are curved to fit inside the tank walls and is fastened in place with two nylon machine screws that pass through holes in the ends of the cross piece into tapped holes in acrylic blocks that have been cemented to the inside walls of the tank near the top edge. The ends of the cross piece have been thinned down to 1/8" so that the heads of the mounting screws remain below its surface and below the top edge of the tank. The cross piece has a center opening shaped to fit the open central 5/8" tube and air tube to give them support and keep them located at the center of the top of the tank.

The cross piece is provided with a 'T-flange' (for lack of a better name) located just behind the air tube opening. This 'T-flange' is made by cementing a 5/8" wide rectangular piece of 1/8" thick clear acrylic to the cross piece in line with the 5/8" diameter open central tube. A second piece of rectangular acrylic is cemented at 90 degrees to the first so that its edges extend beyond the 5/8" wide piece cemented to the cross piece. This 'T-flange' assembly is used to capture the back edge of the Tank Lid as a long notch in the lid fits past the 5/8" open center tube and the 5/8" wide piece of the 'T-flange' as the Tank Lid is slid into position. Definitely look at the photographs. The cross piece is removed to install and service the under-gravel filter.


Each end of the air tube is fitted with a 90 degree elbow. I could not find any 90 degree elbows at the aquarium store so I took two brass T-fittings and modified them. I sawed off one side of the straight-through side of the fitting and then soldered a small piece of flat brass shim stock over the open hole. This gave me a very compact 90 degree elbow air fitting. I think I would look at drip irrigation fittings to see if one of their 90 degree elbows would work.

The under-gravel filter is the small type designed for goldfish bowls (< 6" diameter or it won't fit!). A small hole had to be cut in the center so it would fit down over the open central and air tubes. A small scrap piece of thin black plastic had a hole cut to form fit the cross section of central and air tubes and slid down the tubes until it rested on top of the filter. Cutting the hole in the bottom of the under-gravel filter's slats left a large hole that might have allowed the water to bypass the filter and not through the filter slats correctly. The thin black plastic closed off the large hole in the filter forcing the water to go through the under-gravel filter slats. A short piece of clear acrylic tubing was added to the filter's lift tube to increase the length that the air bubbles travel, the thought being that this might increase the effectiveness of the filter or at least it positions the bubbles closer to the surface before releasing them.

There was some difficulty attaching the top 90 degree elbow to the acrylic air tube. Ultimately a piece of heat shrink tubing was used to make the connection secure. I would recommend the type of heat shrink tubing that has thermal adhesive inside to insure a solid joint. A piece of standard vinyl aquarium tubing is run from the top 90 degree elbow down through a hole in the tank cross piece down to the air inlet tube of the under-gravel filter.


The Tank Lid consists of a 6" diameter disk of 1/8" thick clear acrylic that has five modifications made to it:

1. Mounting Slot - 11/16" wide slot from the center to the rear edge to fit past the 5/8" diameter open center tube and 'T-flange' allowing the Lid to be slid into place covering the tank top opening.

2. Feeding 'Ports' - Two 1-inch diameter acrylic tubes 1-7/16" long that are cemented over 7/8" holes in the lid disk. Install one or two. If two are installed one is installed in the front and one in the back of the lid. In use the Top Cover is rotated so its feeding hole is at the front port or rear port depending on which opening you want to feed your fish through (i.e.; hide or show the food opening).

3. Top Cover Alignment Tabs - Four provided. 1/4" cubes cemented equidistant on top of the Lid around the perimeter, set back 1/8" (the thickness of the Top Cover wall) to align the Top Cover with the Tank when in place.

4. Heater Cord Notch - Notch in lid that corresponds to the cross sectional shape of the aquarium heater cord to let the cord exit the tank and plug into the AC outlet located within the Top Cover.

5. Mounting Screw Hole - Hole in the Lid that lines up with the tapped hole in the Cross Piece Support. The Lid is slid into place and a nylon machine screw is threaded through the lid hole into the tapped hole in the Cross Piece Support to capture the Lid and hold it in place.


The tank is masked and ends painted semi-gloss black. The exposed edge of the 1/8" acrylic bottom of the tank is left unpainted to match the Tank Lid, who's edge is also unpainted.

Step 4: Top Cover

The Top Cover is constructed of a section of 6" diameter acrylic tube 1-1/2" in length, a 3" diameter acrylic tube 1-3/4" in length and a 6" diameter flat piece of 1/8" clear acrylic that has a 2-1/2" diameter hole cut in its center and a 1/2" diameter feeding hole near the perimeter of the 6" disk that aligns with the feeding 'ports' in the Tank Lid.

These three pieces are cemented together as shown in the photographs, painted black on the outside and silver (to reflect the fluorescent lamp) on the inside.

The Top Cover houses the 5W fluorescent lamp which is held in a plastic lampholder constructed of scrap plastic. The lampholder is essentially a box build around the square lamp base that houses the fluorescent lamp's glow-bottle starter and is notched to match the flanges on the base of the fluorescent lamp. The lampholder arm has a hole drilled in it so that it can drop over the Central Spindle. It is held in place on the spindle by threaded nuts above and below it.

The upper top surface of the Top Cover is actually a 2-1/2" diameter 1/8" thick acrylic disk fixed to the Central Spindle by a nut top and bottom. It stays in place when the Top Cover is removed.

Step 5: Electrical: Base, Heater Outlet, Lamp Socket, Fluorescent Lamp

See the Electrical Schematic to understand how the unit operates and to wire it correctly.

When working with lamp cord the conductor under the ribbed insulation of the cord should be the neutral conductor of the AC circuit. The conductor under the ribbed insulation should be the conductor that is connected to the wide plug blade, the lampholder socket screwshell (the threaded portion of the socket), and the wide opening of the AC receptacle. The lamp's cord is black 18 AWG SPT-2 cord 8' long. I bought an extension cord and cut the receptacles off.

The components in the Base: the Air Pump (you do have to cut most of its power cord off), the Fluorescent Ballast, the Fuse holder (and 2A fuse), and Tip-Over Switch (spring-loaded plunger goes through a hole in the base plate.) are all wired per the schematic. The lamp power cord exits the base through a notch in the bottom edge of the Base Enclosure. The power cord should be securely fastened to the Metal Plate inside the Base wth wire/zip ties to make sure it will not slide if pulled on.

The Center Spindle carries two 18 AWG SPT-1 (thinner than the SPT-2 used for the lamp's power cord) lamp cords. These cords run from the Base of the lamp up to underneath the Top Cover. One of them carries always-on power to the lamp socket and the heater AC socket. The other cord is connected to the 5W fluorescent lamp pins. The two SPT-1 cords just barely fit inside the Center Spindle 1/8 IP size all-thread pipe. Two notches are filed using a round file into the top of the Center Spindle and two at the bottom. These notches are where the cords enter and exit the Center Spindle.

The 'always-on-power' cord runs from the lower notch at the base up and straight out the top of the Center Spindle. The fluorescent lamp cord runs from the upper notch in the base up and out the lower notch at the top of the Center Spindle. A short length of SPT-1 cord is run from the upper notch at the top of the Center Spindle up and out the top of the Center Spindle. This short cord takes power from the lampholder down to the Heater AC Receptacle.

Now is the time to install the Fluorescent Lampholder, the 2-1/2" diameter disk that 'plugs' the hole in the Top Cover and the Harp base onto the central spindle, before screwing the Light Socket onto it.

The two cords exiting the top of the Center Spindle are stripped and attached to the switched lamp socket with the neutral conductor (ribbed side, wide blade) attached to the silver/white terminal. In order to splice these cords together it is easier to wrap the conductors to the heater receptacle cord around the conductors going to the lampholder terminals and to solder the connection. Then the lampholder cord conductors can be fastened to the lampholder screw terminals. Add additional electrical tape over the lampholder screw terminals to insure they do not short to the metal of the lampholder body. Carefully pack the conductors into the bottom of the lamp and snap the lampholder together. You may have to pull slack down out of the lampholder to make everything fit.

The heater AC receptacle is an insulation-piercing type designed to be installed onto STP-1 cord. Make sure the type you get is suitable for STP-1 cord or it will not attach correctly. The cord is cut per the receptacle's installation instructions and inserted into the device and the compression arm pushed into place. Your receptacle may be a different type; follow it's instructions.

The 5W fluorescent lamp cord exits the lower notch at the top of the Central Spindle. Its conductors are tack soldered directly to the pins of the fluorescent lamp. Only a two-pin fluorescent lamp may be used as this type has its own internal glow-bottle starter that will automatically start the lamp. Heat shrink tubing should be slipped over the wires before soldering and then pushed into place covering the solder joint and pin and shrunk into place with a heat gun. Make sure to completely cover any exposed electrical conductors/pins. Slide the fluorescent lamp up into its plastic holder.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Fill the bottom of the Tank with gravel. I chose black aquarium gravel to match the general color scheme of the lamp. It takes about a pound and a half to fill up the base. Add plants (before adding gravel) to your liking. I also added a floating thermometer to keep a watch on the water temperature to keep my fish comfortable!

If you plan on using an aquarium heater you can install the heater, routing the cord up through the notch in the Tank Lid and then coiling it up and tucking it under the loop of air hose above the Tank Lid. Plug the heater into the heater AC receptacle. Close up the top of the lamp with the Top Cover, install a lamp in the lampholder.

Install the harp and lampshade, an 18" diameter, 12-1/2" high black shade looks nice.

I hope you enjoyed this project as much as I did. I think its a pretty cool looking lamp and very novel to have an aquarium incorporated into it. I have enjoyed watching my fish swim around in their own aquarium lamp!

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