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Unread 03/24/2014, 10:39 AM   #1
Michael Hoaster
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My DIY Fake Mangrove Root

I'm in the planning phase of a Caribbean Seagrass Biotope Tank. I want it to have no visible plumbing or gadgets. I've got one of those Tunze powerheads that mounts on the top of the tank and hangs down into it. I want to keep it right where it is but I want to hide it. I tried to find a decoration that would do the trick but none were tall enough, etc. to work. My tank is 30" high.

So, in keeping with the Caribbean theme, I decided to make my own mangrove root, to both add to the caribbean look and hide my powerhead.

It has to be tall enough and it has to be hollow at the top to fit my powerhead and it has to allow water to flow into and out of it. Oh, and it has to be able to fit under my hood and down through the top of my tank. I have a very large custom-built aquarium cabinet and removing the top sections would be a real pain. Given all the design constrains, I'm starting to lean toward building it in pieces.

As for the medium chosen, I did some research and came up with an epoxy clay called Magic-Sculpt. It's a two-part product that cures chemically and is non-toxic when cured. It's supposed to be pretty sturdy but UV can harm it, so I'll likely paint it.

Anybody know of a good paint that would work in an aquarium?

I built a support structure that mimics the space in my tank. I made a hollow main root out of plastic drink bottles. I made the root armature (skeleton) out of heavy wire. I then used foil to bulk up the roots, so that I don't have to use a boat-load of clay.

Here are some pics of what I have so far:


Hopefully you can see the wires and plastic bottles that form the basic structure of the root.


The epoxy clay.


A crude sketch with mangrove root on the right.


The roots with the foil added. Starting to look like something!

So, that's what I've got so far.

As for changes, I'll probably remove the long bottom section of the main root. It doesn't look natural and after looking at mangrove photos I see that they don't really grow like that anyway. I'm thinking of replacing the soda bottle with PVC, so as to provide a sturdier base structure.

Any ideas or suggestions?


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Unread 03/24/2014, 11:20 AM   #2
rrasco
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Are you not concerned about foil inside the tank? If you seal it up right, it should be okay, but I would have concerns. If you have air pockets within the foil it will add buoyancy which in my experience always wins, whether it takes a few years to do so is up for debate.


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Unread 03/24/2014, 11:35 AM   #3
Michael Hoaster
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Good points rrasco. I'm thinking I might seal the foil with something before I apply the clay. I've been squeezing the foil down pretty tight, so there won't be a lot of air in there. It should end up to be pretty heavy and I'm integrating it with the powerhead mount, so It'll be bolted in place.


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Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/24/2014, 02:06 PM   #4
McPuff
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It looks very cool and will make a great habitat piece... but I'd use something other than foil for sure. Maybe just free-hand the clay/moldable material instead? You could still use wires as the "bones" as long as your material is not porous. Or maybe you could use some type of plastic coated wire... double protection that way.


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Unread 03/24/2014, 02:16 PM   #5
Michael Hoaster
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McPuff, I would skip the foil if i could afford more clay-it's kinda pricey! I think if I seal the foil and seal the clay I should be alright.

One of the benefits of foil, besides saving cash on clay, is it's really easy to work with. I can experiment with different shapes and thicknesses, and then hit 'undo' and remove it and try something else. Plus I want to do all the clay in one go, so it all cures together.

Doing it first in foil gets me 99% done, and then I 'coat' it in the clay.


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
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Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/24/2014, 05:27 PM   #6
Centralreefs
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I would seal it twice to be safe!


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Unread 03/24/2014, 09:42 PM   #7
Michael Hoaster
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Centralreefs, I concur. Not taking the time to make sure this thing is sealed up tight would be a huge mistake. Can you imagine, going to all this trouble, only to have it leach toxic metals into my tank? Yikes!


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Unread 03/25/2014, 07:13 AM   #8
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Just had a thought... are you going to bake the clay? If so, you could use newspaper to build up a base for the clay. Then, when you fire it, the newspaper will burn up and you should be able to clean it out. It would leave a hollow core and that would also allow you to remove the wires and plastic that originally gave you the shape. At that point, you could decide if you wanted to keep the core hollow or fill it with plaster or cement, etc. Then you'd have no metals or plastics.

In fact, since we're on this kick, what if you made a paper mache cast. This would involve a few steps but would work out really well. You just cover the foil roots you've got now to get your cast. Cut it off to remove the core... each root would probably need to be separate. Then put the cast together and seal the seams back together. Fill with plaster or cement and BOOM... you'd have a solid mangrove root with no plastic or metal. Just a thought!


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Unread 03/25/2014, 09:44 AM   #9
clay12340
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Seems like it'd be easier and safer to find some cool tree branches and just make casts of them in plaster or something and then fill those with the resin. Even if I sealed that multiple times I'd be worried about cracking the external coating during maintenance later on.

That said it looks neat, and I'm excited to see your completed tank. I used to have a native tank that was pretty similar, and it was one of my favorites. I was trying to mimick a tree in an eroded bank type of area, and I think the fish really appreciated the shaded hide out.


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Unread 03/25/2014, 10:32 AM   #10
Michael Hoaster
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Some interesting ideas there, McPuff! There won't be any firing of clay-it's a chemical cure.

Your idea of making a mold with paper mache is very intriguing! However, that wouldn't work with my clay. I'd need a liquid medium for that. I looked into the mold-making thing when I researched this project. It seemed like too many steps. But now that I have a near complete piece it makes more sense-especially since it contains toxic metals. I'll have to think about it.

The problem is I've already invested in the epoxy clay, which should work very well. And I'm pretty sure that if I'm very, very thorough in sealing this thing up, I should be good.

But I think for someone else thinking of doing this, they should consider the mold-making thing-especially if they're just making roots without all the design constraints I'm dealing with! My project just has too many complications involved.

One company on the internet that came highly recommended for mold-making is Smooth On, Inc. (smooth-on.com). They've got a lot of helpful info there. They even have stuff just for aquarium projects!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/25/2014, 10:58 AM   #11
Michael Hoaster
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I considered that idea as well, clay12340. The problem with that idea is that mangrove roots are unique, and I'm stickler for detail! But sure, you could make molds from natural wood, I would think.

I'm definitely going to thoroughly seal this thing. Plus I'm going to build it bomb-proof strong, so I'm pretty confident. I guess I could also pull it out every few years and repaint/seal it just to be on the safe side.


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/25/2014, 07:59 PM   #12
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this is a cool project, but Im curious, why not just have a real mangrove in the tank? It can help with biological filtration instead of potentially harming yours. I understand most mangroves you probably have access are just little twigs, but Im sure some hobbyist somewhere has a "larger" unit that you could probably buy "bonsai" the top to cut back on its growth...just preserving the roots... If you need "instant gratification".

Is there something more then what Im missing?


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Unread 03/25/2014, 08:23 PM   #13
Michael Hoaster
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Yes, NewMariner, you are missing something. The top of this thing has to be hollow to fit a specific powerhead in it, which is the main reason I'm building it-to hide a powerhead. I've considered a lot of different approaches to this project and this is what I've come up with to best suit my situation.

Real mangroves are great, but I don't have room above my tank for one to grow. I've seen some very cool open-top tanks with mangroves.

Yes, there are risks to doing it this way. I'm tweaking as I go. Hopefully I can pull it off!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/25/2014, 08:27 PM   #14
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Alright, fair enough. Im not criticizing. I was just curious. I will be interested in seeing the final product. I hope it works out for you.


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Unread 03/25/2014, 08:55 PM   #15
Michael Hoaster
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I've got some new pics.

I wasn't happy with the 2 liter soda bottle part. When I put the powerhead inside, it didn't fit that well and it deformed. So I thought about using PVC in a 5" diameter, but I really wanted something that tapered a little.

I was in the grocery store today and found a plastic pitcher that looked perfect! More rigid than the soda bottle, and with a nice slight taper. So I went to town on this thing and modified it to work!


You can see the powerhead motor on top, and the green output nozzle through the side of the pitcher.


Another view.


Front view of the root put back together.


Side view.


View from an angle.

Next I've got to figure out how to make it absolutely, positively SEALED. I'm thinking multiple layers.

Also I want to build it in separate pieces, so I need to make attachment points, so I can fit the smaller roots to the main root. I may try half inch PVC pipe and PVC pipe caps. Mount the caps to the main root, and pipe to the smaller roots, so they slide right on, and they can rotate to adjust.

Well, that's what I've got so far!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/25/2014, 09:08 PM   #16
Michael Hoaster
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Thanks, NewMariner, for following. I look forward to showing off the finished product!

If you can think of any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. I still haven't figured out what to use for sealing, or what to paint it with.

Right now I'm focused on construction. Once I get that dialed, it's on to the next step. It's taking a while, but I'm in no rush. It's just got to be right!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
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Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/25/2014, 09:25 PM   #17
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Your sealant is going to be dependent upon what the final "shell" of the exterior is going to be. Im not familiar with any "sealants" for clay that would withstand a marine environment.

If it were me, I'd do some kind of a mold, and do it out of either a plastic or fiberglass. With fiberglass you could mold it to any shape you want, then you could go to your local "marina" or boat accessory store and pick up some marine paint, as well as sealer to seal it. This way you would probably have to reseal it more often since it would be submerged, but probably less often then what your looking at now.

Ive always wanted to do a Massive Sunken ship in a big tank. But Ive never found one of the size Im looking for. Im not that skilled in the designing of things(can't draw worth squat) and probably couldn't build anything to make it look like a ship. But your thread is giving me some ideas on doing it, or finding someone who is more creative to do it on my tank Im working on....


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Unread 03/25/2014, 09:46 PM   #18
Michael Hoaster
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NewMariner, I looked into the mold-making thing and decided it wasn't right for my project. Check out smooth-on.com for some cool aquarium-safe mold-making stuff.

A sunken ship could be very cool, and maybe an even bigger pain in the butt than my fake root!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/26/2014, 06:38 AM   #19
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Here's a thought-

Laminating epoxy will penetrate craft paper easily (although you could probably use regular epoxy thinned with denatured alcohol).
Get craft paper of whatever color looks best and lay it up like fiberglass over the foil. Build it up however thick you want, then topcoat with regular epoxy. I'd be pretty confident this you be completely and permanently sealed.


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Unread 03/26/2014, 07:46 AM   #20
McPuff
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laardvark View Post
Here's a thought-

Laminating epoxy will penetrate craft paper easily (although you could probably use regular epoxy thinned with denatured alcohol).
Get craft paper of whatever color looks best and lay it up like fiberglass over the foil. Build it up however thick you want, then topcoat with regular epoxy. I'd be pretty confident this you be completely and permanently sealed.
This sounds like a great idea! I'm thinking you might have to re-think the clay idea. Perhaps it can be returned so you don't lose out on that investment?


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Unread 03/26/2014, 08:22 AM   #21
Michael Hoaster
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Laardvark, I'll take a look at that, thanks.


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Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 03/26/2014, 10:16 PM   #22
Michael Hoaster
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I've thought about it, and I'm sticking with my plan to use magic-sculpt. I revisited their web site and I think it's perfect for my application. It's hand-moldable, non-toxic and very sturdy. I don't have to go through multiple steps of mold-making, and I don't have spend a bunch more money on epoxies.

I invite anyone else out there to try any of the other suggested techniques suggested on this thread. I'm sure they would work as well. There's got to be many different ways to do this.

I am now researching ways to seal the foil. Again, there are probably a lot of good solutions to this problem as well.

I appreciate all the input! I hope this thread has inspired other DIYers to make their own tank decorations.

I'm so excited about this! I'm also looking forward to my next DIY project - a fake rock wall!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
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Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 04/01/2014, 07:22 AM   #23
Michael Hoaster
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Wow, page 5 already. These DIY threads come fast and furious!

A quick update on the fake mangrove root. I bought some rubberized paint to seal my foil roots. I'll probably do a test application today. I also bought some 1 1/2" PVC caps. I'm going to combine these with short sections of 1 1/2" PVC to use as my attachment points, so I can build this thing in sections. If this and the rubber paint works, I'll be well on my way to finishing. Wish me luck!


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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Unread 04/01/2014, 04:51 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Hoaster View Post
Wow, page 5 already. These DIY threads come fast and furious!

A quick update on the fake mangrove root. I bought some rubberized paint to seal my foil roots. I'll probably do a test application today. I also bought some 1 1/2" PVC caps. I'm going to combine these with short sections of 1 1/2" PVC to use as my attachment points, so I can build this thing in sections. If this and the rubber paint works, I'll be well on my way to finishing. Wish me luck!
I would definitely try that paint out in some salt water. Salt has this corrosive dissolving ability that may dissolve that rubber paint... I'd hate to see you get it all setup then it fails because of this...


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Unread 04/01/2014, 06:45 PM   #25
Michael Hoaster
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Thanks, but the paint is just the first layer. And I'm doing multiple coats of it. And it won't be exposed to salt water. The whole thing will be encased in epoxy clay that is also water proof. It's a heavy-duty two part epoxy medium for use on outdoor sculptures that lasts for years. Plus I'm going to coat the epoxy with water proof paint, sooooo…

I appreciate your concern but I think I've got this.


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As many naturalists and environmentalists have suggested, we should set aside our arrogance,
our desire to conquer and control everything, and walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. -Walter Adey

Current Tank Info: 180g Seagrass Sandbar Lagoon, START DATE November 28, 2018
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