Impulse Build: 29 Gallon Creek Tank

Setting up an aquarium on an impulse is not a smart idea.  Generally speaking, anyway.  I had a bit of an odd situation where I realized I needed to rehome some new aquatic inhabitants quickly.  This is the story of my on-the cheap one day build of a 29 gallon tank.

The backstory: There’s a creek in my neighborhood full of interesting wildlife (and lots of trash.) The kids and I built a 2-liter bottle fish trap and caught some minnows and tossed them in a 10 gallon tank I use for random guppy fry.

It quickly became apparent that the creek chubs we caught were going to need much more space, and soon.  I had two things going for me: an oversized filter in the well-established 10 gallon tank and a manager’s special at my local Pet Supplies Plus for 29 gallon aquariums.

I only needed to buy a couple things to get everything going, a 2nd light housing for an existing LED spotlight I had and some kind of substrate for the new tank.  Heck, I even had a nice piece of driftwood and some feature rocks I was hanging on to for a rescape of the 60 gallon main tank.  This was perfect!


With the tank acquired, I decided to spray paint the back glass black instead of using a black trash bag after everything was setup.  It’s a pretty simple process and looks great, I could even use the cardboard around the tank to serve as my mask for the sides of the tank.

Spray painting completed, I lugged the tank upstairs to its new location.  And then it happened.


Ok, so much for the low cost build, at least they were on sale, right?  Repeat steps 1 and 2, but this time don’t walk the aquarium into a doorjamb.

I chose regular ol’ playground sand as the substrate because it’s cheap; 4 bucks at your local home improvement store. The problem with playground sand is it’s dirty.  To clean, I put the sand in a 5 gallon bucket and ran a hose to the bottom of the sand.

IMG_0047I let the water run while painting the new tank (and cursing about my misfortune.)  Every once in a while, move the hose around to keep the sand that’s settled moving.  The idea is that the dirt and lighter stuff will float off while the heavier sand stays in the bucket.  Keep repeating the process until the water runs mostly clear.

Wet sand is heavy, I ended up splitting the sand into two buckets.  This made the weight much more managable to move the buckets upstairs.

Once the new unbroken aquarium was moved upstairs, I put it in its final place.  I used a wicker desk, it’s very sturdy and I can trust it to hold a few hundred pounds.  Don’t do that. I’m the guy who broke an aquarium on a door after all.


Get, or make a more appropriate stand. You can pick up a cheapie iron stand for around $30.

Once in place, the fun stuff starts.  I decided I wanted to do a simple aquascape, so I went with the classic valley in between a couple of hills.  One hill was larger than other and I tried to roughly go with the rule of thirds when building out the hills.

The thing with sand is that it will settle and gravitate toward being flat.  I used the driftwood and rocks I had plus lava rocks from my old volcano aquarium build to serve as structure to hold the sand in place.

Bolstering sand is a bit of an art I haven’t perfected.  The basic idea is to use your rocks or other material in tiers to keep the sand from sliding all the way to the bottom of the tank.


I only did a minimal amount of plants to start with, mostly java moss and a java fern that was in the old 10 gallon tank.  The planted Aquaclear filter from the 10 gallong tank also went into the new tank with some of the Pothos leaves submerged and the rest draped about the top of the tank.

IMG_20150628_170140960With the sand in place the tank was filled.  Despite my earnest sand washing, the tank was a solid cloud for several hours.

While the dust settled, I hung the lighting.  The placement of the tank was against a slanted wall, which made it perfect for suspending lamps above the tank. I used small inexpensive shop lights from the home improvement store.

For the lights themselves, I co-opted some no-name LED spotlights I was using for making videos. They actually worked incredibly well for the setup and I already had them.  Even if I didn’t I think I paid around 5 dollars each from one of those direct-from-China websites.


Other assorted equimpent was moved over from the old tank, along with a spare powerhead to make some current.  The residents were transplanted and we were off to the races.

Of course I could only get everything done in an afternoon because I had an established filter rated for the new tank.  Starting fresh, you’ll need to respect the nitrogen cycle and make sure your tank is ready before adding fish.

It was an interesting experiment, and a fun project to do with the family.  Well it was fun until I destroyed the first tank.

3 thoughts on “Impulse Build: 29 Gallon Creek Tank

  1. Steve, I hope you didn’t toss out that cracked tank. It can be patched with a piece of glass and silicone or make the tank into a Paludarium — great project for you and the kids. Bet you can find some tadpoles to add to it.

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