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Thread: 75 Gallon US Native Tank with DIY Foam/Drylok Background w/Faux Sycamore Roots

  1. #61
    DIYFK member Meep's Avatar


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    Play around and test different sands, the bigger the grits the more 'pimply' it will look... You might find tile grouts that have finer sand mixed in might give a better sand stone looking texture, but do note that mixing grout into the Drylock will make it incredibly thick and it will literally turn it into a cement, so mix small batches that you can used before the cement in the grout kicks in (aka don't mix into the entire can of paint and end up with a wasted can) and add a little water to make it spread better after adding the sand...

    That or you can get some mesh screen and sift any sand you use to a smaller size... A dollar store grease splatter guard might work well for this...

  2. #62
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Thank you Warfie for the compliment and idea, and Meep for the suggestions too.

    Click here to enlarge Originally Posted by Warfie Click here to enlarge
    I get that you can add the sand to get the texture, I was looking for a more realistic sandstone look. Trying to get you to do the testing for me! Click here to enlarge
    I have plenty of sand to play with, and grout. So, maybe I can experiment with making some of the layers with that look, and others not. That's what it looks like in rock formations where shale, slate and sandstone appear together. Variety is the spice of life Click here to enlarge

  3. #63
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Hi everyone. Sorry for the lack of updates. I'm struggling with the roots. I've bent and scrapped a bunch of CPVC scraps and can't come up with anything that I'm satisfied with. I'm at the point making a decision to start over with the roots or keep going. The look that I'm going for is to have a root system that conceals my powerhead which delivers flow to the middle to lower water column, while allowing to have the canister filter spray bar deliver flow at the surface over the top of the root system, but the roots conceal that from view. This picture is my inspiration, as I imagine that you'd be looking from the right side of the tank, with the front of the tank to the left of the photo:
    Click here to enlarge



    Obviously, I can't fit the entire structure of the picture into my narrow tank, but, I can mimic the cool aspects of the roots and achieve what I want...I hope.


    I've put together a CPVC skeleton with some pipe insulation to kind of get me the basic root structure frame, right tank side view, like the picture:
    Click here to enlarge



    Here's the front view:
    Click here to enlarge



    I really like the old torn away area of the root extending to the right in the picture, and want to incorporate that into my tank. But, although I'm getting there, I don't like what I've done, so I'll probably redo that:
    Click here to enlarge



    I'm a little frustrated right now. If I decide to go forward, the next steps would be:



    • finish the frame and secure all of the pieces.
    • apply tile adhesive to the entire frame (so spray foam and grout can stick to it).
    • use spray foam to add bulk and a more realistic shape that I can carve to achieve the desired look.
    • apply grout to firm everything up and give it a base color. With the grout, I can further carve and shape to get the and shape texture that I want.
    • use Drylok mixed with cement color to paint the final touches

    That's the plan anyway. I had an idea this morning to just make the roots occupy the upper half of the tank to hide the powerhead and spray bar, and not have it go all the way to the bottom. If I do that, then I'll use pieces of what I have here. What do you all think? I appreciate suggestions very much.



    Thanks for following!

  4. #64
    DIYFK member Sasquatch's Avatar


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    Just throwing it out there but why not use real wood. I'm sure you could find a piece to your liking.

  5. #65
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Click here to enlarge Originally Posted by Sasquatch Click here to enlarge
    Just throwing it out there but why not use real wood. I'm sure you could find a piece to your liking.
    I like the challenge of duplicating nature, the art of it, so right now, that's the main driver for why I'm doing it this way. One advantage with DIY is that you can create exactly the shape and fit that you need. My frustration is probably due to being too much of a perfectionist. I get motivated by instant results and progress. When things don't work out close to what I envision, then I get frustrated and things stall. It's a flaw in my personality, I guess. If I take a few steps backwards, t wouldn't be the first time that I've changed my approach to the background of this tank. But, I'm getting impatient because I want to get it cycled and start collecting fish for it. Times a wastin'.

    In the end, if I'm not happy with what I've made with regard to the roots, I'm not against using real wood. I go fishing a lot, so I'll be keeping my eye out for a suitable piece. If I find one, then I'll get it ready for my tank. If I wind up happy with the DIY roots, then I can always use the piece of wood that I find for another tank Click here to enlarge

    Thanks for the suggestion and feedback!

  6. #66
    DIYFK member Meep's Avatar


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    I know you are well on your way, but an idea for the future... Many years ago when I was creating some artificial branches for reptile enclosures, I would feed some 'hold the shape wire' up the middle of a piece of rope, assemble the wired rope into the shape you want, then you can spiral wrap 'cotton' or 'natural twine' around the entire assembly to add bulk... Once you get the rough shape, mix up some fiberglass resin (light on the activator so it cures a little slower) and then using some disposable chip brushes, brush on and let the resin soak the heck out of the natural fiber rope, the end result is a very strong base structure the with a little more surface prep can be made to look very realistic... If you want it even stronger, you can soak each stage of the rope wrap up, creating essentially a solid fiberglass structure...

  7. #67
    DIYFK member Sasquatch's Avatar


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    Click here to enlarge Originally Posted by Chasmodes Click here to enlarge
    I like the challenge of duplicating nature, the art of it, so right now, that's the main driver for why I'm doing it this way. One advantage with DIY is that you can create exactly the shape and fit that you need. My frustration is probably due to being too much of a perfectionist. I get motivated by instant results and progress. When things don't work out close to what I envision, then I get frustrated and things stall. It's a flaw in my personality, I guess. If I take a few steps backwards, t wouldn't be the first time that I've changed my approach to the background of this tank. But, I'm getting impatient because I want to get it cycled and start collecting fish for it. Times a wastin'.

    In the end, if I'm not happy with what I've made with regard to the roots, I'm not against using real wood. I go fishing a lot, so I'll be keeping my eye out for a suitable piece. If I find one, then I'll get it ready for my tank. If I wind up happy with the DIY roots, then I can always use the piece of wood that I find for another tank Click here to enlarge

    Thanks for the suggestion and feedback!
    I have the same personality so I understand. Only difference is I like actual nature as opposed to recreating it. Although I do have an artistic side to me so I get why you want to recreate it. Best of luck to you!

    BTW, getting frustrated isn't a bad thing. I consider it good to want things how you envisioned them. My 2 cents.

  8. #68
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    I decided to stick with what I have and work with it. I haven't been working on it much other than some minor changes because I couldn't stand to look at it. At least, until yesterday. I had some ideas of how I could make it work, so I went to HD and purchased a few supplies to make life easier and hopefully bring the roots to life. Meep gave me an idea, although working with fiberglass intrigues me, that wasn't it. But, using wire and rope to enhance my design seems to be a good fit. Also, rather than simply shoving wire into the pipe ends, I decided to cut holes the same diameter as the wire/plastic hose that I've used and run the smaller roots through the pipe that way, giving me a more natural appearance, hopefully. This will also add to the sturdiness of the design. The other way was shaky.

    I also didn't like the grout color that I bought before, so I picked up a different color that matches more in line with what is in my head. I can mix the old "bone" color with this one to come up with what I want. It really isn't a big deal on the color because ultimately, I'll be coating the roots in tinted Drylok, unless I mix the grout into it. But, at least as I'm building it, the realism will give me more confidence to keep moving forward.

    As it turns out, the realization that my biggest stumbling blocks for this and other projects seem to be between my ears. More to come as I plan to work on this every night after work a little at a time.

  9. #69
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    As I said before, I've been a little frustrated, almost to the point that I couldn't even go downstairs and look at it. I couldn't envision the roots turning out realistic at all. Since then, I've been doing a lot of thinking and research about it and came up with some ideas to move forward.


    But, I've decided to go with my original design and the frame but with some modifications. I went shopping yesterday and picked up the item that will do the job, plaster cloth wrap.


    One of the potential issues holding me up, other than the looks of the roots so far, was getting stuff to stick to PVC. Honestly, the issue was in my head because I hadn't tried to see if my other plan would work (from the previous post) because somehow, I felt it would fail. Hence, more frustration.


    But, it dawned on me that plaster cloth wrap that I saw used in other reptile builds might be the perfect solution, because it would be then coated with grout and then sealed by Drylok. Also, I don't like the foam insulation that I have on there currently. I will cut it off and use grout to build up my thickness and form. I don't want these roots to float, plus, I don't like the look of it. If the roots don't float, then I can make them removable for easy maintenance and tank cleaning.


    So, my enthusiasm is back. My plan for this weekend is to:

    • add more roots to the frame, cement the pipe and permanently attach wired roots. Drill holes in strategic spots to add more roots for realism.
    • cut off the black foam insulation from the pipe.
    • use foam board in a few places to get bulk, and achieve specific form and texture.
    • use spray foam to add bulk and a more realistic shape in a few places, sparingly, that I can carve to achieve the desired look.
    • wrap the entire frame and all roots with plaster cloth and let it dry.
    • apply tile adhesive to the entire frame over the plastic cloth to seal it in and firm up the structure.
    • apply grout to firm everything up, carve, shape, sculpt and sand to get form and texture that I want.
    • use Drylok mixed with cement color to paint the final touches and seal everything up.
    • build a small root structure that will be removable for access to my removable rock section


    I know, I overthink things and stress about them way too much.



    On a related note, I did receive my new Perfect Dipnet thanks to Mark at Jonah's Aquarium, so I will be ready to stock this tank once cycled! Click here to enlarge

  10. #70
    DIYFK member booth2010's Avatar


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    The background looks great, I wish I had the patience and skill to do something like that.

  11. #71
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Thank you Ryan. I promised to make a video of how I made each layer, but I keep forgetting to do it. I'll have to get my videographer to make one for me Click here to enlarge

    I'm running out of patience...I want this tank up and cycled. I went fishing this past weekend, and will be going again this weekend, so I won't have time to work on it.

    My only update is that I've stripped the black foam away and have started attaching rope to add bulk. I have several diameters of rope to use if I need them. I may use the black foam in some spots for bulk near the surface of the tank where floating isn't an issue, we'll see how it goes. Other reasons that I don't like the black foam is it's too regular of a shape and it is hard to carve.

  12. #72
    DIYFK member Stryf's Avatar


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    That's a nice looking background.
    2300 Gal pond: 7 Koi, 2 Goldfish, 2 Catfish
    125 Gal: 1 Reticulated Stingray, 2 Bala Shark, 3 Neon Tetra, 1 Glo Fish, and several guppies.

  13. #73
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Click here to enlarge Originally Posted by HillbillyHomer Click here to enlarge
    B.T.Y. i would love to see a short video of your carving technique...Click here to enlarge
    I finally got around to making a video of the process. Sorry it took so long!



    Update: I finally got everything organized to paint recently. I'll start painting the base color this weekend with the Drylok.

  14. #74
    DIYFK member HillbillyHomer's Avatar


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    Click here to enlarge...Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!..Click here to enlarge

  15. #75
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    This afternoon, I painted the base layer of Drylok onto all three pieces of my background. Basically, I wanted to kind of seal this thing a bit, and hide the pink color of the foam board. I'll add one more full layer, this time, of a darker charcoal color which will be the base color of the rock. After that, my plan is to use a very dark color for the cracks and crevices for depth, and then apply a few colors of highlights and detail on the fossils. I imagine that this will take me a couple weeks to complete. After that, I will install the background into the tank with silicone. Here are a few pics:

    Application of the base Drylok gray color. I slapped it on pretty good to make sure to get into all of the nooks and crannies:
    Click here to enlarge

    I didn't take a pic of the right section that I did first, but here is the middle section after the Drylok was applied. It's starting to look like rock and not pink foam board!
    Click here to enlarge

    Here is the left section, almost done, before the removable piece was done.
    Click here to enlarge

    Here is the left section completed, removable insert in place.
    Click here to enlarge

    All three sections done, base layer applied. Next layer, base rock coloration. I'll start tomorrow, and hopefully, I can get all three sections done.
    Click here to enlarge

  16. #76
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    I have a question for you guys... I'm going to post a pic here of the middle section again so you don't have to go back and look. This has the first layer of Drylok gray color painted on. My next steps are to add various colors so that it looks more realistic and matches our local riverside cliffs. My question is about shading... I see in other faux foam wall builds, be it for aquaria or model train scapes, that the DIYers paint their colors and highlights first, then go back and paint shading by using dark, watered down paint in a spray bottle and let the dark stuff run into the cracks and crevices and run off the surface. It seems effective. But, I was looking at this picture and wondered if I need to do that. It appears to me that my cracks and crevices seem pretty distinct, and am wondering if I need to do a step like that to begin with. What do you think?
    Click here to enlarge

  17. #77
    DIYFK member HillbillyHomer's Avatar


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    i dont know but i would almost think after algae and stuff starts growing it would help enhance the look of the cracks and crevices.

    But! if it where me i would probably add the highlights to be safe.

    P.S. Click here to enlarge...Lookin Good!..Click here to enlarge

  18. #78
    DIYFK member FLDave's Avatar


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    Guess I'm lazy.............I think it looks great the way it is and, has been said above, when the algae begins to take hold, I think you will get that variation in color you are looking for so.........I'd leave it alone......Click here to enlarge

  19. #79
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Thank you guys. I guess all i need to do is to apply the base color and lighter highlights and not worry about the cracks. When I applied the gray Drylok color, I used a fine brush to make sure to get inside the cracks. I just don't want any of that foam pink or yellow showing up. The sculpture does seem to provide enough shadowing on its own.

    Again, thanks for your input, and also for your patience. I've been going way slower on this project than I had planned.

  20. #80
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Yesterday I applied the next layer of dyed Drylok paint onto the rock wall. This is the base color that best mimics the base color of one of the rock formations found along the Upper Potomac River in Western Maryland.

    From what I've read, most people that paint faux rock, be it aquarists, model train hobbyists, or for DIY home decor, start with lighter colors and work darker. I thought about this quite a bit, and decided to do things a bit differently, because the rock that I'm trying to match is a very dark rock formation anyway. I can always paint darker if I need to. Plus, I feel pretty confident that I can achieve the result that I want. They key will be to mix the right colors to get the shades of paint that I want. Plus, ultimately, in my tank, nature will have a say in the final color.

    My first step was to mix the paint to match the rock. The plate on the left is what I used for this layer. The brown color on the right might be used in another layer (it was a goof up on mixing). For the base color, I used gray Drylok paint, mixed in charcoal color cement dye, and a dab of yellow acrylic paint. Why yellow? The rocks have a tint to them that makes them less gray than the paint, so this color best brings out the match to the rock formation.
    Click here to enlarge

    I used a cheap paint brush to slap on this layer of paint. I used various smaller brushes to get the paint into every single crack, crevice, nook and crannie. This base color will give the cracks plenty of shading when the rock is done.
    Click here to enlarge

    Here's a picture looking at the entire structure from the right side looking left:
    Click here to enlarge

    A view from the left side looking to the right:
    Click here to enlarge

    Sort of a side view that shows a hint of how it was constructed out of styrofoam foam board, foam spray, and filled with stream rocks to reduce buoyancy.
    Click here to enlarge

    The next stips will be to to stipple several layers of paint, each layer being a mix of the same colors but a lighter shade each time. This will break up the monotone coloration and start to add some realism to the rock coloration.

    Here's a video of the entire structure so far:

  21. #81
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    I added another coat of Drylok paint today, the same basic charcoal color with a splash of yellow, but a little bit lighter shade. This is to enhance the cracks and bring out the rock into a 3 dimensional appearance rather than a monotone dark charcoal color. I will do this a few more times, but with a lighter shade and less paint each time. One of these coats will have a more brown tint. After that, it will be brighter colors for highlighting only, but maybe some very light red and/or green added to break up the gray. I will decide as I go based on what it looks like.

    This coat was applied by stippling the paint onto the background with a sponge. The key was to not use too much paint, and try and keep the sponge somewhat dry. Also, this coat covers more surface area than future coats. The mix was Drylok gray, a dab of charcoal cement dye, and some yellow acrylic paint:
    Click here to enlarge

    After testing on a scrap piece, I moved to the real thing and applied the paint to one section to make sure:
    Click here to enlarge

    I was pleased with the result, so I stippled the entire background. All three sections completed, view from the left side:
    Click here to enlarge

    View from the right side:
    Click here to enlarge

  22. #82
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    The next lighter layer added:
    Click here to enlarge
    Click here to enlarge

  23. #83
    DIYFK member HillbillyHomer's Avatar


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    Click here to enlargeClick here to enlarge

  24. #84
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    I painted the last lighter layer of this paint mix. I'm really happy with it so far. It is still a monotone color, although it no longer is the charcoal color of the cement dye, the yellow gives it a greenish gray tint. So for the next layer or two, I plan to add a little brown and maybe green. I don't think that I'll cover the entire wall though, just a dab here and there. I may even focus on a few of the shale layers to add to differentiate some strata, as you might see in nature:
    Click here to enlarge
    Click here to enlarge
    Click here to enlarge


    I really like how using Drylok rather than a layer of dried cement allows you to bring out the detail that you carve. That is a good thing unless you carve a mistake! In this case, the faux fossils that I pressed into the foam show up well. I'm happy that i started with the darkest color first and then added the highlighting, because it really makes the cracks and faux fossils pop.
    Click here to enlarge
    Click here to enlarge

    I used springs that I had laying around the house to imitate crinoid stem fossils by bending them and pressing them into the foam. I also pressed in small sea shells to imitate brachiopods and other bivalves. The coral that I pressed into the foam turned out nice too. It is subtle, but was enough to break up the flat shiny surface of new foam board. I don't know how much will show up later after algae builds up, but for now, I'm happy with how it turned out so far.
    Click here to enlarge

  25. #85
    DIYFK member HillbillyHomer's Avatar


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    Sweet!
    Click here to enlarge...LOL might look good to get a toy trilobite worked in as a fossil...Click here to enlarge

  26. #86
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Thank you! I have some real ones that I might be able to add!

    I sponged on a little brown last night on a few layers to break up the monotone color and display a more stratified effect. I will touch it up a little more perhaps before installing it into the tank this weekend.
    Click here to enlarge
    Click here to enlarge

  27. #87
    DIYFK member FLDave's Avatar


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    The "Fossilization..." looks great, I would never have thought about that....Click here to enlarge

  28. #88
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    Thank you Dave!

  29. #89
    DIYFK member Chasmodes's Avatar


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    One of my biggest concerns with the background is the amount of foam that I used and the risk that the entire thing will float up to the top after I fill the tank with water. To mitigate those risks, I filled the structure with river rocks and used spray foam to fill in the gaps. The foam will help bind all of the foam boards together along with the glue and plastic popsicle sticks that I used for the internal structure. The river rocks were to offset the buoyancy that the extra foam might cause. Also, the structure is big enough that it fits tightly in place under the frame of the tank. The junctions of the three foam sections also are shaped in such a way as you can't just pull them straight out. I plan to use a ton of silicone to affix this background to the tank glass underneath, on the sides and on the back of the background structure. The Drylok application made the fit even tighter. It fits so tightly that I can't pull it straight out to the front of the tank. I think that it might not need the silicone to stay in place, but I'm not going to take a chance on not using the silicone.

    Last night, I fit the structure into the tank. The tight fit discussed above created another problem. Not only will it be challenging to apply the silicone neatly, but I had to really push to get it into place. The tight squeeze caused about a quarter sized spot of Drylok to chip away at the junction of the center and right sections. I'm going to pull it out and repaint that spot, but if it happens in during the final installation, then I'll just have to do an in-tank touch up. I'd rather not do that, but....I gotta get it done.

    Here's what it looks like from the left side, you can't see the spot that chipped away. The spots that you see are just a reflection off of the glass.
    Click here to enlarge

    You can see where the paint chipped away near the top of the junction of the middle and right sections, leaving the pink foam exposed. It should be easy to fix, so I'm not that worried about it.
    Click here to enlarge

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