When I constructed my aquarium cabinet out of pine great pains were taken for strength and accuracy. An aquarium full of seawater, rocks and sand is very heavy. Improper construction could leave to a very unwanted disaster.
Once the stand has been properly constructed, it could be used in its raw state, but only if the system is in a garage or a hobby room. If the system is anywhere in the house then there is a need to blend it in and make it attractive. The lady of the house will have something to say on the choice of finish usually. My aquarium is in the hall where there is a good deal of medium stain varnish finish, and I matched it in to that. After the initial base coat, four full strength coats were given to the whole surface of the stand, inside and out.
If the stand is to be painted or varnished, the initial action is the same. The wood needs to be sanded down to a very smooth finish, using fine glass paper. Sand ‘down the grain’ using a small wooden sanding block. This block will apply even pressure and avoid pressure marks. This produces quite a lot of dust and before a paint brush is lifted this dust must be removed. If surface decoration is to be pinned or glued to the stand, rub the stand down carefully first, or access will be restricted. Later sanding can be done with the decorative additions in place.
When varnishing, the first coat is better if it is thinned with 10% white spirit. This will allow good wood penetration and adhesion. However, be sure to check the instructions. Make sure an adequate amount of time is allowed for drying, again as in the instructions, before applying a second full strength coat. Before applying full strength varnish coats, check the wood surface for smoothness. Applying varnish can raise the grain of the wood. If necessary, using fine glass paper and with a gentle ‘with the grain’ motion, sand down again. This action should be considered for every coat that is applied. Even the final coat can be smoothed if necessary. However, as it is the final coat, obtain some ’wet and dry’ paper, very fine standard. Have a bowl of water nearby, and, keeping the paper wet, very gently rub down with the grain. Do not use excess pressure or the surface might be marked.
Using paint for the finish is very similar to varnish. Again, the bare wood should be prepared as described already. Then a wood primer should be applied and given adequate time to dry. If necessary, sand down with fine glass paper, as the grain may have been raised. Then apply the first coat of paint. Once dry, check if it is smooth – if not, sand down. Continue applying paint coats until complete, sanding down as necessary between each one. On the final coat, ’wet and dry’ can again be very gently used if required.
For a good finish to be achieved it is best to work in a dust free environment as far as possible, so clear dust up and let things settle well before proceeding with varnish or paint. Make sure a good quality paint brush is used, or the finish may be marred by lost bristles.
Using high gloss varnish or paint will make it more difficult to achieve that ‘perfect’ finish because of imperfection light reflections. Often a semi-gloss – or perhaps even a flat finish – looks better.
For health reasons, the working area should be well ventilated when using varnish or paint.
The final finish can only be as good as the base preparation, with a little assistance from a ’wet’ rub down at the end if needed. So take the time.
When viewing the aquarium, it is the reef and/or fish that are looked at. However, there is much satisfaction – and money to be saved – in constructing a stand and finishing it yourself.