Concept for a Sculptural Aquarium Installation // LOOKDOWN




About: I'm an artist and designer working in a variety of different mediums and materials. Few years ago, I began documenting my processes of creating my work through different social platforms. Being a passionate...

Sometimes found objects or scrap materials can be a starting point for a great work of art or design object.

Using simple materials the LOOKDOWN was designed as a concept prototype for a large-scale aquarium installation.

Update: Click Play to See Video Above

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Step 1: OVERVIEW – Inspiration

The inspiration for this project came from found scrap pieces of bamboo panels left from a construction project. I was particularly interested in the patterns of this type a panel. It was the interesting crosshatched pattern that inspired me to use it in my own project. I knew it could be a great furniture piece or a small prototype for a bigger project. Immediately, I decided on a rectangular shape based on the dimensions I had available. Having two different board thicknesses, I chose the thicker pieces for the walls and thinner ones for the back.

The basic form is a box, but it was important to me that the details of the joinery were done with strong, elegant design. I wanted to take advantage of the specific patterns to create a clean design so that it would appear to have a continuous line of bamboo strips on all four angles. I came up with a particular way of cutting the edges, and also wanted to join the walls without any visible elements such as screws or bolts. One of the best ways to achieve that was to use specialty furniture tool such as Biscuit Joiner.

Despite its small scale, I used a variety of different tools to achieve the final results.

Please refer to Step 5 for the list of all of the tools and other materials used in this project.

Thank you so much for taking a look, and I hope this project will inspire you to make something using found objects or scrap wood.

Step 2: SKETCH - Idea Creation

As with most all of my projects, I try to sketch out or develop the idea on paper before start making the project.

The seed idea for this project was to experiment with wood patterns to make angle joints as if they are seamlessly connected. The challenging part was to figure out the way to cut all the pieces according to its size without wasting any material. Also, I wanted to incorporate other elements to make it a complete and unique piece.

Though I started with a basic plan, it was important to be flexible and improvise with the materials. Looking at the materials helped me to see that it could be a prototype stand for aquarium installation. I liked the idea of having a small tank next to the sculptural box element, and adding a piece of Manzanita Driftwood from the pile of aquarium driftwood I already had.

Here are some of my sketched ideas for this project

Step 3: WORK IN PROGRESS - ​Preparation

First I had to prepare each board by sanding it, using a sander to take off the existing layer of sealant and scratches. I used 100 grit sandpaper for sanding off the sealant, and then finished it off with 250 grit for the final step.

Considering other objects I had, such as the plastic box, which measured 4" on all sides, I had to cut all boards based on that dimension, so the final wooden rectangle measured 4"x12". Now it was time to cut the wood.

When it comes to using a saw, there are many different ways and techniques to achieve a certain cut. I used a table saw to narrow three long boars to 4 inches (two thicker ones for the sides and one thin for the back). Instead of using table saw with a miter gauge, I chose to use miter saw for the crosscuts, which also measured 4 inches. So, I ended up with two long boards that measured 4"x12", one back board that measured 3.75”x11.75” and two 4”x 4” pieces for the sides.

Note: even though the back long board needs to be 4"x12" I'm subtracting thin edge strip from each side which would later compensate for the loss, please refer to the photo.

If your table saw has a kickback guard you would have to remove it for the next steps.

Step 4: WORK IN PROGRESS - ​​making the Joints

The joints are some of the most important elements of this project, so each angle had to be cut precisely with extra attention so that it's perfectly aligned with the adjacent angle.

Instead of a ruler, I used one of the other wooden panels to set the thickness of the blade. Once the blade was set, I made all of the necessary cuts for that specific height and width.

Please refer to the images, which are in the sequence for each measurement and cut.

It was a good practice for me to make a trial run with a different piece of wood at the beginning to see that all of the angels are aligning. With this specific type of wood, I could make two different joints and still retain the beauty of a continuous line.

Please refer to the images of two different joints

Even thought the 1st example was easier to make, I felt that it didn't connect as cleanly as the 2nd one. I knew I had to make joint cuts first, and later use a biscuit joiner and glue to attach all of the pieces together. So, once I figured out how to make exactly the joint I wanted, it was a matter of taking the time and safety precautions to make each identical cut as precise as possible.

Please refer to the images on how I made the cuts.

Step 5: WORK IN PROGRESS – Biscuit Joints and Glue

Once all of the pieces were cut and aligned the way I wanted, it was time to use the biscuit joiner to make grooves in the wood. I chose biscuit joints because they are strong and hidden completely inside. First I made pencil marks on all sides where the grooves were to be made. Then, using the biscuit joiner I made all of the grooves at the same time. There was one scenario where I had to increase the depth of cut from #0 to #20 so that it could reach to a desired depth. (see photo)

It was good having two boxes because I could use least favorite one as a test.

Now the final step was to glue all pieces together.

First I apply small amount of glue into a biscuits groves and using an old brush to spread it around, applying more glue if needed. I was joining one wall at a time and then finished the bottom piece at once. At this point, it helps to work quick so that the glue won’t dry out. After that, I placed the wood biscuits into the grooves and applied more glue onto the opposite joint spreading around with a brush. Than using a rubber mallet, I lightly tapped around the entire piece making sure there were no gaps. Lastly, using clamps for each corner, I tightened it all down and let it dry.

Step 6: FINAL STEP – Photos of Display

To finalize the display, I cut a piece of driftwood into sections that would be fit into the boxes and glued them into place. This gave the look that the wood was piercing all the way through both boxes.

Even though it's only a prototype concept for aquarium installation, it could be used for other purposes too.

NOTE: Live fish and shrimp were placed ONLY for photography purposes to give the feeling of a real aquarium presence.

Thank you for checking out my project.


Here's a list of Materials and Tools I used for this project.

MATERIALS // objects

  • Bamboo Panels – Found, Scrap Material
  • Driftwood – Manzanita Aquarium Driftwood
  • Plastic box – 4” Square Display Box

TOOLS // equipment

  • Table Saw – primary tool used for most of the cuts
  • Miter Saw – used for the crosscuts
  • Biscuit Joiner with#0 Wooden Biscuits
  • Wood Glue
  • Sander with Sandpaper – I use grit 100 and 250 to make surface smooth and scratch free.
  • Pencil and Ruler and Measure Tape
  • Bush
  • Super Glue (Gel)
  • Clamps - quick grip clamps work the best
  • Rubber Hammer


  • Photography were shot using Sony RX100 IV - This is a great point-and-shoot camera for small documentary work.

Step 8: SAFETY

With this kind of work, I had to be extra careful with every cut I made. Notice that I use push stick and extra wood blocks to push the wood against the saw fence. So always be aware of the placement of your hands and fingers and NEVER rush.

It's always a good idea to make a trial run with a different scrap of wood before cutting the final piece.

When using tools, I always use safety eyeglasses, plus ear protection, and dust mask as needed.

  • Safety Equipment
  • Safety Glasses or Goggles
  • Ear Protective Headphones
  • Dust mask when sanding
  • Push stick for Table Saw

As with any project, remember that safety always comes first!

Note: This project was intended only for intermediate and advanced individuals who have had experience working with table saw.

Stay Creative!


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    38 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Update: I've added a video, which I put together from footage I shot along the way making this aquarium prototype. Hope it will give you little more information. Enjoy and thank you for sharing your thoughts! :) direct link to video:

    Wow, this is a really beautiful piece! I love the minimalist design of the aquarium, with just the wood and the marimo and no substrate. It really draws the eye to the flow of the wood. Why'd you call it Lookdown?

    I have an elephant ear betta that looks just like yours. And are those Amano shrimp or ghost/glass shrimp, I can't tell.

    4 replies

    Thank you for a generous comment. I called it Lookdown because this is a prototype for a large scale aquarium that should be placed on the floor and be looked down at. :]

    Very cool and those are glass shrimp, ideally I'd have cherry shrimp in actually setup. Keep in touch.


    Honestly, I like the way it looks just as a small tank as it is. Obviously the betta can't stay in there, but it's a great size for a few shrimp.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm bemused. If it is to be "Looked Down" on, why is the largest part of it not visible from above?

    It really is a beautiful looking artwork from the front though.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I love the visual weight this has. The materials, colors, strong geometric lines and horizontal emphasis all come across as Beefy, yet not oppressive or lacking in openness. As a free stand styled exhibit with height of 9 to 12 ft you realize this would work wonderfully as as a dual environmental enclosure? Plants, small animals, some reptiles and insects in the "dry" side, and aquatic life in the other. You could almost microcosm an ecosphere of a region. Perfect for any environmentally educational facility wanting to display and visually tie bordering arboreal and aquatic regions and their species together.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for a generous comment. I agree, this could be a great environment for both water and land creatures.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Former 25+ year Vet designer, dealing mostly with media. But increasingly, now retired, design and fabrication. Anyhow, no need to be humble, we're both designers. You know how people are in the industry. I saw something worth praising, so I did. :)
    (There's a reason the average employed lifespan of a designer is about 10 years.)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Make sure the part of the wood that is in the water is treated properly (usually a kind of varnish) otherwise the wood will dump tannins into the water and at the minimum turn it brown but also could be poisonous in a small enclosure.

    Or just buy the branch you wish to use from a pet store so you know it is aquarium approved.

    Beautiful box though. Being a fish guy, I'd rather have the whole thing be the tank :)

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I was considering having the entire box as a stand, but chose to go with a different design. When it comes to wood, personally I wouldn't treat it with any varnish if it is actually an aquarium driftwood. Yes discoloration caused by the tannins is normal but could be minimized by having the wood soaked or boiled. I'm using Manzanita driftwood branch, and it's been soaked so it's very safe. Thanks for your feedback.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I must have missed where you explained to use aquarium grade wood. Sorry about that. I just know it is a common mistake for new aquarium owners and did not want them to make the mistake.

    It sounds like you knew how to handle the wood for aquariums and I just missed it in your steps.

    Nice work too.


    4 years ago

    Elegant. Minimalistic. Great visual balance and dramatic line.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    Marimo moss balls can be bought at aquarium stores or online. They are actually a kind of algae that grows in special conditions in certain lakes. In Japan and Iceland, I believe.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you Diana, it was a Marimo Ball aka Cladophora ball, Mossimo or Moss Ball.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Since I'm That Fish Person on instructables and I'm also a nervous wreck, I'm going to reiterate what the OP said- this was a temporary photo op. Please don't keep fish in something this size long term!

    Now that that's over! OP, I've seen tanks in the past made from treated plywood. The viewing area for the left space could easily be extended into an area the fish could swim in given the proper procedures to make it fish safe! I'm not sure if there are *clear* coats acceptable for use in aquaria that could be used for this design, but I thought I'd toss it out there. I can't get over how beautiful your prototype is.