Aquarium Coffee Table




About: 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 projects include Car PCs, BEAM robotics, DeLorean restoration

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.

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Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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.

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168 Discussions


Question 7 months ago on Step 7

Do you sell these as well?


Question 11 months ago on Step 3

How much do the materials for this project generally cost?


1 year ago

Spectacular! It looks very nice. I love how it looks. The only drawback I see is when it comes to maintenance, is a little more laborious to have to remove the glass table. But for the rest, I can only say that it is fantastic. Thank you very much for sharing.


3 years ago

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


3 years ago

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


4 years ago on Introduction



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!

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

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.


3 years ago

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

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

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.


9 years ago on Introduction

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!

Final 1.JPGFinal 3.JPGFunction2.JPG
9 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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 :)


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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 :)


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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!



Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

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.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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.