The Coral Guy (Joe Swipes)
Do it yourself projects have become very popular over the last couple of years amongst hobbyists. Elaborate protein skimmers, canopy's, calcium reactors, etc. are being constructed by hobbyists as an inexpensive alternative to purchasing these items in an aquarium store or over the internet. Some of the concepts that hobbyists are coming up with are just absolutely amazing. I myself have made my own protein skimmer from an original design, an aquarium canopy, an aquarium collar, and an overflow box. I figure that I saved myself around $250.00 by making these items myself and they all function just as well as if I purchased them in a store or on the internet.
I feel that the key to making your own aquarium hardware is understanding how the item that you want to make functions and how to work with the raw materials being used to make the item. As you are probably aware, a vast majority of the aquarium hardware used today is made out of either acrylic or plastic. As such, I needed to learn how to work with acrylic in order to successfully execute my own projects. For this, I turned to a local plastic's dealer who sold all types of acrylic (shapes, sizes, colors, etc). Some of my initial questions were:
- How do I cut the acrylic?
- How do I bond the acrylic?
- How do I bend the acrylic?
- Is there anything else that I need to know about working with acrylic?
To cut acrylic, you can use a table or jig saw with a special blade made specifically to cut through acrylic or you can use a hand held device called a score. The score of course is the cheaper of the three alternatives howerver, it is extremely hard to get a precise cut when using a score (if precise cuts matter in your particular project). I'm preety lucky because the plastics dealer that I buy my acrylic from cuts it to size for me for free (or at least that is what he leads me to believe). I will call him ahead of time and place an order over the phone. He usually has the cut acrylic ready for me in a day or two. Most acrylic manufacturers will cut your acrylic for you for free or charge you a small fee per cut. It is when you start to order your acrylic in large quantities in special shapes and sizes is when it becomes cost effective to purchase either a table or jig saw.
As for joining pieces of acrylic together (bonding), I use an adhesive called Weld On which is designed specifically to bond arcylic. It comes in different numbers such as 16 and 40. The difference between the various numbers is the curing time. I use the 16 and it bonds pretty fast for me. For most projects, I did not need to use a vice or clamps because of the fast curing time. The Weld On 16 I purchased at the plastics dealer for around $5.00. I came in a large tube which and it last me through my first three projects. This adhesive is water proof and extremely strong once fully cured. I have tried to separate two pieces of bonded acrylic using my bare hand and were unable to do so. I glued all of my skimmer components using this adhesive and have not had a leak since the skimmer has been in operations (approximately 1 year).
Bending acrylic is a process all in it's own. I leave this up to the plastics dealer. They take a long heating rod and heat it up to several hundered degrees while placing the rod on top of the acrylic. Once the acrylic reaches a certain temperature, the plastics dealer bends the acrylic to the desired angle or degree specified. If you wanted to, you could probably use a blow torch to heat up your acrylic however, I have never tried this personally and cannot recommend doing so. If you have had success with this please let me know. I would think that the hardest part with using a blow torch is making sure that your bend is straight. What ever you do, do not use your stove to heat up acrylic. Acrylic is somewhat combustible and I have read horror stories where hobbyists stoves had exploded.
As for needing to know anything else prior to working with acrylic, there are a couple of other points that you should consider. All of the acrylic that I have purchased in the past comes with a protective paper cover adhered to it. The papers purpose is to prevent the acrylic from scratching or glue from spilling on it while working with it. While i'm constructing a project, I only remove as little paper as needed to prevent damaging the project in any way. Once the project is complete, I then remove the protective paper and test the effectiveness of the project.
Another thing to consider is the thickness of the acrylic for the project(s) that you want to execute. For all of the projects that i've done to date, i've purchased 1/4 acrylic instead of 1/8 inch acrylic. 1/8 inch acrylic what most store bought products are made out of. Of course 1/8 inch acrylic is cheaper than 1/4 inch however, the 1/4 inch is alot sturdier than the 1/8 inch and for the few extra dollars, i'll pay it to know that I have something that will last for many years. Take note that if you do use a score to cut your acrylic, 1/4 is alot more difficult to cut than the 1/8 inch however, it is not impossible as I have done this many times in the past.
If you happen to have any other questions regarding working with acrylic, please feel free to e-mail me anytime.
The Coral Guy
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