Aquarium Stand Selection Guide – 5 Things you Need to know

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An Aquarium stand can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.  In any aquarium, an the stand is an integral piece of a complete setup. This is particularly importantly in a saltwater aquarium due to the fact that the vast majority of hobbyists will place a sump in the stand so the stand will function at the back-end operations of the aquarium.  This article should provide you some in-depth detail the 5 things you should know about an aquarium stand so you can make the best decision for your aquarium.

#1 Know the Type of Aquarium Stand

Before I can get into more detail about aquarium stands, we need to address the various types of aquarium stands you will come across.  When shopping for an aquarium stand, there is a high amount of variety in quality.  When it comes to a saltwater aquarium and larger freshwater aquariums, the importance of quality needs to be taken into account. and when it comes to the needs of a saltwater aquarium. The importance of quality needs to be taken into account. We are going to break down stands into four types:

  • Standard Aquarium Stands – AKA big store stands
  • Brand Name Stands
  • Custom Built Stands
  • DIY Stand

A standard aquarium stand is ones you will commonly find in a general pet store or online like the All Glass Pine Stands. They are typically made of particle board and MDF.  Many of these stands are made as cheap as possible.  While they can work in a freshwater setup or no sump setups, they will not suit the needs of a saltwater tank or larger freshwater aquarium in the long run.  The reason why is because if a sump is installed the stand, the high humidity produced inside the tank from the sump can cause wrapping from the inside of the stand.  Furthermore, spills inside of the stand from maintenance can also cause problems.  Once the warping occurs, the damage cannot be reversed and can compromise the structure of the stand. It is for these reasons, that I do not recommend a standard aquarium stand from general pet stores for a saltwater or larger freshwater setup.  There is simply too much investment made into your tank setup for it to be ruined by going cheap on a stand.

A Better Option
Aquatic Fundamentals Stand

A cleaner and more modern looking stand over the old all glass stands

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 A brand name stand is furniture made by high-end manufacturers who specialize in making stands for hobbyist.  The best example of these stands would be the stands that you find in all-in-one aquariums and rimless aquarium kits.  These stands are very well designed with a wood or metal frame (typically aluminum or stainless steel).  If they are wood, they will usually be designed with plywood instead of MDF.  They will often have features that suit the hobby (Storage shelves, cable ports, etc). A common brand at fish stores are R&J Enterprises cabinets, which are a step up from the chain store cabinets. These stands are great choices for anyone getting into the hobby.

Best For Planted Tanks
UNS Aquarium Stand

UNS are top of the line aquarium stands designed for planted tanks

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A stand is typically built by custom aquarium manufacturers or Brand name specializing in high-end builds.  They are typically made to order and are the most expensive types of aquarium stand.  They can be made of wood or metal.  They will typically be designed with customized cabinet doors and shelves to suit the requirements of the aquarium.  They are of superior quality, but suited for a high-end budget.

Custom Fish Tank Stand
Custom Fish Stands are Usually Built for Maximum Utility

#2 Know the Materials of your Aquarium Stand

There are several types of materials for a stand that you should be familiar with when looking at either purchasing or building your own:

  • MDF/Particle Board
  • Plywood
  • Metal

MDF or particle board is the cheapest type of wood used for stand manufacturing.  It is commonly used with store chain brand stands or stands that are imported. They usually do not hold up in a saltwater aquarium because of high humidity from your sump or wrapping over time.  MDF would only be okay to use if you are either hiring a carpenter to build your stand or you are familiar with woodworking and know how to paint and seal it.  

Plywood is the standard when it comes to quality aquarium stand building.  It is typically used in higher end branded stands and is the go-to material if you are considering a DIY stand.  Plywood is a very strong building material and less susceptible to water damage then MDF.  Plywood is also the material used to build higher end kitchen cabinets due to their durability.  It is stainable and several veneers are available for you to produce a custom look.  They can be painted or sealed and the quality of the material will stand the test of time.

A metal stand is typically used for larger aquariums.  They have great structural support and a mix of metal and wood can be used to build a custom stand. Because of the greater structural strength, a metal stand will be more open which will increase your access to your sump and back-end electronics stored in your stand.   Metal frames are usually made with stainless steel or aluminum. Aluminum is particularly popular outside of the US, but are gaining traction in the US as they are lightweight. A stand built from T-Slot Aluminum Framing Systems is particularly useful for those attempting a custom build for a large aquarium – though can be very expensive.

Metal Aquarium StandMetal Stands are Typically Used for Large Custom Aquariums

#3 Know about Openings and Stand Heights of your Aquarium Stand

In general, a stand will be open at the top.  While this will work well for glass aquariums, you will need support the entire bottom of the tank if it is made of acrylic. For rimless aquariums, it is recommended that you purchase a self-leveling mat. This is because in a rimless aquarium the wood can cause pressure points in the glass.  Many manufacturers will sell the support needed for an acrylic and rimless tank.  It is helpful to have an opening at the top if you are going to place a sizable sump as sometimes when the sump is placed in the stand, it will be impossible to move out of the aquarium stand once your tank is installed.

Another consideration when purchasing or making an stand is the amount of room available for equipment underneath the aquarium. Large door openings and plentiful space help in hiding the amount of equipment associated with reef aquariums. If you plan on keeping a sump under your aquarium, you will need to consider having enough room to hold all your equipment and sump while still having room to maintain it. One of the main disadvantages of many standard aquarium stands is that they have a brace in the middle of the stand that will get in the way of maintenance. Many high-end and DIY aquarium stand configurations do not have this brace.

The height of the stand will also impact your viewing enjoyment. Ask yourself if you are going to be spending most of your viewing time standing or sitting.  A standard sized aquarium stand is built for viewing while sitting down and will usually be shorter than 30 inches. Many of the all-in-one aquariums and higher end aquarium stands these days will have taller stands – usually 30 to 36 inches. Most DIYers will also build a stand to 36 inches in height.

#4 Consider a DIY Aquarium Stand for Maximum Utility

Making a stand versus purchasing one is a serious consideration for experienced reefers or those with carpentry skills.  Purchasing a stand is typically going to be more expensive, but you will not have to worry about constructing the stand yourself and if you are following this guide it is very likely you will end up purchasing a high-quality stand that will last throughout your aquarium journey.

For those of you considering a DIY aquarium stand, most of the DIY stands are constructed out of wood.  Below is a picture frame and guide from the reefcentral forums by member RocketEngineer.  This is a 21 piece design that has been used by many reefers who have ventured into DIY stands.   This is a simple yet solid design that can be created with the use of common tools and common wood sizes and should work for most standard size aquariums:

DIY Aquarium StandThe basic principle of the design is two box frames connected by four legs. The legs are made of several pieces of 2X4’s to assist in construction and seething the stand in plywood for strength and cosmetics. The bottom frame transmits the load of the tank into the floor. Covering the sides of the stand with plywood will help to stiffen the stand against twisting and shifting. Doors could then be mounted to the legs as desired.  The design can also be modified to include flooring at the bottom of the tank.

If you want more of a step by guide to building a custom stand, you can check out GARF’s stand calculator. This calculator is a great tool as all you do is enter in your desired dimensions and the calculator will product a cut list, tools needed, and assembly instructions.

When painting your stand, considering sealing the inside of your stand with a Spar or Marine Varnish. An oil based primer is ideal.

#5 Canopy or No Canopy with Your Aquarium Stand

With the advent of rimless aquariums and ceiling and tank mounted lighting systems, the canopy is starting to become less common these days.  It’s really up to you regarding the look of your aquarium.  Not purchasing a canopy can save you some money, but there are still a number of hobbyists who still use them.  If you are concerned about fish jumping out of your tank with a topless system, you can opt for mesh screening to prevent jumping. 

Ceiling Hung Aquarium LightingTop-Less Setups are More Common Now with Rimless Aquariums

Aquarium Stands Closing Comments

I hope this guide provides you with a lot of insights on what to look for when it comes to selecting a quality aquarium stand.  A stand in a key part of your aquarium and needs to stand the test of time. Please share and thank you for reading.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Mark- Thank you for this post! I have a 10 gallon tank and I want to build a stand that is about 48” tall. Will you tell me the beat way to do this? Should the legs be angled out so as to hold the weight better and not tip over? Have you seen a freestanding tank that is this tall? Thank you.

    Best,
    Magi

    Reply
    • Hi Magi,

      I the tallest I’ve seen has been 42″ for a DIY stand. Anything taller was usually built by a carpenter, or they opt’ed for an in wall install. If you use the same principle as RocketEngineer’s picture, I feel you should be okay. The good thing with a 10 gallon tank that its weight is not that much. I would have concerns if this was a 200+ gallon tank

      Reply
  2. Hi
    I only have a 8 gallon tank, but because of normal water spillage, the cheap wood chips came quick and drastic and look ugly. I bought at big box stores. I can’t do DIY. Is what is left a custom build?

    Reply
    • Hi Gail. For a tank that small you can use a stand from a store that uses wood and treat it or you can hire a carpenter locally to do it. A lot of local reefers make them for others. That’s how I usually get mine for my larger builds

      Reply

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