20 Gallon Long Tank
24″ Fluorescent Fixture (2)
Black Foam Board
1″ Chair End Caps (4 pack) (2)
36″ x 14″ Wire Shelving Unit
Glass Table Top
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
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 /
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.