David Grigors Aquascaping article

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  1. Redwinger

    Redwinger I contributed!
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    Aquascaping Techniques - October 13, 2004 Workshop - By David Grigor

    There are endless possibilities with aquascaping a reef tank. Most people go by the general rule of 1-2 pounds of live rock, get the biggest pieces of rock possible and just start stacking it. Over the last several years I have been aquascaping by drilling the rock and using rods to make a interesting looking tank. Many people get intimidated-at the thought of drilling your rock. I hope with this workshop I can show you just how easy it can be and what the possibilities you can create with a tank of any size.

    Here are several Pros to using rods for aquascaping:
    • • Creates much more flow in and around the rock structures of the tank.
    • • Create a much more open look and more space for fish to swim around.
    • • Uses much less overall rock. Live Rock can be one of the most expensive initial costs of a reef tank. By reducing the amount of Live Rock you use can save significant dollars.
    • • Create a more sturdy structure. Less likely for rock to fall damaging corals and/or the tank itself (particularly with acrylic tanks).
    • • Increase the real estate withing your tank for corals. This is particularly true for SPS corals.
    A few cons or common misconceptions:
    • • What if I want to re-use rock that I have already drilled. This is really only minor. In most cases the holes created and not easily seen. Because of the irregular holes etc. already in the rock. I have had difficulty locating the drilled hole even just minutes after drilling when trying to fit the rod in place.
    • • I don't want it to be too permanent in case I want to reuse the rock. I have never had a instance where I can't reuse the rock. There are two main ways of filling the joints between the rocks to make more sturdy. One is the use epoxy plumbers putty and the other to use a acrocrete type mixture. While the acrocrete mixture is more difficult to remove the rocks can still be forced apart and reused.
    • • Drilling the rock can break it. I have found that Fiji rocks are the best for this type project. Many of the more branching rock is difficult to drill without breaking the rock. As long as you don't try to drill to close to the edge and use a good drill bit breaking the rock is not likely.
    • • Less filtration from using less rock. I really feel this is overrated. Particularly if your using any time of substrate as this also provides filtration. When using a Live rock ratio of 1-2 pounds per gallon I have never felt the filtration has been compromised.
    • • Amount of time it takes to aquascape. Until you have actually tried it you would think this takes a lot longer to do but I have found that is actually can take less time. Generally, because you can have a game plan of how your aquascpaing is going to look and can stick to the plan. When just stacking your rock, I can remember take a long time trying to get pieces to interlock together and or using putty to try to get the rocks to stay.
    Tools and supplies needed:
    • • Live rock:
      • • Choose appropriate sized rock for you tank.
        When using the traditional stack method, many people like to seek out large pieces to do the aquascaping. With the rod method it is important to use rock proportionate to your tank. In particular proportionate to width of you tank. Tanks that are 18” or less, I have found the smaller rocks give you better options. While you should have about 3 rocks that will provide a good base, the rest of the rock should be about softball size.
      • • Type of rock.
        Fiji rock seems to rock the best as it is fairly dense. Don't attempt to drill Tonga and other branching type rock as it will usually break or split.
      • • Rubble Rock
        If you had your rock shipped usually you will find some broken pieces. Save it regardless of size. It can be used to hide the joints by placing the pieces in the joints much like you would bricks in mortar.
    • • Rods:
      • • Fiberglass rods:
        They are used to put reflectors on at the edge of your driveways etc. They can be found year round here in MN at Home Depot or Menards. Usually orange in color. Cost about 2-2.50 per rod. Get 3-4 of them. What you don't use can return to the store later. They are usually found on the isle near the mailboxes and house numbers. I have found Meanards to be cheaper than Home Depot. The fiberglass rod is preferred over acrylic rod because it is slightly smaller than 3/8” so easier to slide into rock and is more rigid.
      • • 3/8” Acrylic Rods (optional):
        Can be purchased at Acrylic shops should usually by the foot. Acrylic rod is recommended The acrylic rod is more flexible than the Fiberglass rock so not recommended to be used with the rock structure. I prefer to use the acrylic rods when mounted corals horizontally to the rockwork because the rod is exactly 3/8” and provides a snug fit. Fiberglass rod can also be used but usually require some putty to help keep it in place.
    • • Drill:
      • Any type drill will work. I don't like to use cordless as they are more expensive and more likely to get water damaged. I prefer to use cheap drills where I won't be upset if it gets ruined. Hammer drill can be handy on some harder rock but not required.
    • • Drill Bit:
      • Use a 3/8” drill bit. The longer, the better. Choosing the right drill bit is important. While masonry bits will work they do take longer to drill your rock and require more pressure which can break the rock. It is best to use a drill bit that says it can be used with concrete. These cut the rock much better than masonry bits. The Bit I like to use is made by Bosch called a Blue Granite Industrial Hammer Drill Bit. Part # HCBG-14. Bit is 12” long. Can usually be found at Home Depot and costs about $12.
    • • Dremel tool or miter saw:
      • Used to cut the lengths of rod. I like to use a dremel because it is so portable. Any miter saw etc. would work.
    • • Plumbers Putty (Optional):
      • Can be found at hardware store usually next to the PVC glues or thread tape. I like to use Harvy's Plumbers putty. Comes in a blue/white tube.
    • • Crushed Coral (Optional):
      • Will be discussed later in the document. Used to make a small portion of acrocrete to put in the joints between rocks.
    • • Portland Cement (Optional):
      • Will be discussed later in the document. Used to make a small portion of acrocrete to put in the joints between rocks.
    • • Terry Towels (Optional):
      • Will be discussed later in the document. If you choose to use acrocrete method of joining rocks you will need terry clothes to dampen and place over the structures while the acrocreate is curing.
    • • Hand Towels:
      • Needed to keep your hands as dry as possible when working with the drill.
    • • PVC (Optional):
      • If you planning a sandbed. May want to cut some 3” or 4” PVC into lengths to match the size of your sandbed depth. You want to avoid placing the rock directly on the sandbed as it will not be sturdy. If you plan to put the rock directly on the tank bottom PVC won't be needed.
     
  2. OP
    Redwinger

    Redwinger I contributed!
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    The Planning:

    • • Draw out a general sketch of how you want you rockwork to look. Unlike the stacking method usually you can stick to your plan although there will likely be some improvising the will become inevitable once you get started. Hints to your design. Everyone is different but this is the general formula I like to use:

      Try to avoid creating one big structure. This will create a more open look and free up much more bottom real estate for brain corals and other bottom dwelling corals. Will provide more flow in and around the structures. Also believe it or not will actually increase you real estate for SPS type corals as you will not only be able to mount corals on the top of the structure but can also horizontally mounts corals on all sides so the corals become part of the structure.

      On shorter tanks such as 2-3' L: Two separate rock structures. 4' Tanks 3 separate rock structures. 6” tank 3-4 separate rock structures. Structures consist of archways and tall ledges and in combination depending on the look you want. A more open look would choose more ledges.
    • • Lay down plastic or tarp for a work area. You want to have plenty of room to work. It is best to be able to view all of your rock that so you can choose the right shape for the right job.
    Drain the tank:
    • Regardless if re-aquscaping an existing tank or a new tank, best to drain the tank as far as you can and temporarily put your corals in a holding bin somewhere. Also recommend moving the fish also. I hear so many people thing it's too big of a job or want to avoid removing the corals. If you already have a sandbed in place, just drain down about an inch or so above the sandbed. Even large tanks in my opinion it isn't that big of a deal to do and will save you time during the aquascaping. Also by removing the water you will be able to move rock in and out of the tank for fitting etc. without getting your arms wet and also have a clear view of what your doing. Trying to do with water in it makes it more difficult to see what your doing from above when the water it rippling. Also saves time when filling in the joints discussed later in workshop when tank is dry.
    Let the aquascaping begin:
    • • Do all of your drilling outside the tank.
      Best to reassemble in the tank after done with the entire structure. You may want to place the structure in occasionally to make sure you leave enough room in front and back for clearance for a magnet etc. to clean the glass. Also to make sure you don't build it too high.
    • • Use your bigger rock as the bottom piece for each of your structures you plan to build.
      If you need more support particularly for off balance structures you can use acrylic rod and glue to a sheet of acrylic to mount the base piece to. The acrylic sheet can easily be covered with crushed coral or other sandbed. If your planning to use cutting board material for your bottom drill a hole in it and stick an acrylic rod in it to place your base rock into for added support.
    • • Keep the drill as dry as possible.
      I know this is common sense but sometimes I get careless when it comes to this. If your hands get wet dry them off. If drill gets too wet it can give you a little jolt and will have to wait until the drill dries before using it again which can be valuable time.
    • • For Tall ledges:
      Drill through the entire rock when making tall ledges etc. and just stack the rock on top of each other. Don't be too concerned with the rod showing. We will touch that up as a final step.
    • • When creating archways and horizontal rock:
      Form fit the rock where you want it and get a general idea what angle and what the placement of the hole should be. You want to be able to drill at least 1-2 inches into the rock to provide enough support. Try not to drill too close to the edge as you could cause it to split. Need not drill all the way through the rock.
    • • Make additional holes in structure for mounting corals.
      I like to put predrilled holes in the sides of structures as well as on the tops so that I can easily mount corals (particularly frags) so they don't get knocked over and damaged. By putting holes in the sides of the rocks of ledges etc. You can increase real estate by mounting corals horizontally on the rock. It really makes for a much more interesting structure using the corals to create the aquascape. Usually in stacking method you are limited to putting corals on top of the structure or trying to glob putty to get the corals to mount horizontally.
    • • After you're done with a structure, put it back into the tank so it will give you a more visual clue as to what it next. After all of the structures are complete and in the tank, you're ready to fill in the joints.
    Filling in the joints:
    • Filling in the joints between the rocks will provide additional stability and make the rocks look more contiguous. There are two major options. The acrocrete is prefered when building a new tank. Because it takes 6-8 hours to cure, your rock may go through a cycle again after water placed in. However it does have several advantages as the structure will be much more sturdy, will provide a more seamless transition from rock to rock, take less time to fill in the joints.
    Acrocrete:
    • Use gloves, mix small portions of acrocrete at a time. Use equal parts of Portland cement and crushed coral. Use just enough water to mix. You don't want the mixture to be soupy at all. Put the acrocrete in the joints. If you have any rubble rock from your Live rock shipment. Place it on top of the acrocrete once it is in the joint. Much like you would building a fireplace. This will help hide and once the acrocrete is covered with coralline. Don't worry about the PH levels with fresh acrocrete. That is only a real concern when making your own live rock because of the amount of Portland cement used. Since we are just using to fill in the joints it isn't enough to be concerned about PH levels. After your done with filling in all the joints you will want to moisten terry towels to keep the rock damp while the acrocreate is curing. I have found terry towels the best as using newspaper or paper towels will dry out too quickly. Also a good idea if possible to cover the tank to keep from drying out. Usually I time it to be done with the acrocrete around bedtime so that first thing in the morning 6-8 hours later your ready to put water back in.
    Plumbers putty:
    • This is more recommended when you are re-aquascaping an existing tank because you want to minimize the length or time your rock is out of the tank and amount of time to put the corals back in. Disadvantage is it is more time consuming to do vs. the acrocrete and depending on your tank size could require several tubes of plumbers putty. When putting the putty in place, use any rubble rock you can to put into the putty after the putty is in place. This will help give it texture and make it less noticeable.
    Final step – Coral placement and mounting corals.
    • As mentioned earlier, It really helps to have pre drilled holes in your rock structure not only for your existing corals but also for placement of future corals. The holes usually are not easily noticed as easiest to add the holes while your making your structure outside the tank.
    • I like to mount my SPS corals onto 3/8” acrylic rods so they can easily be mounted into the predrilled holes in the rockwork. You can use the fiberglass rods but they aren't quiet the tight fit as the acrylic rods. If you decide to use the fiberglass rods usually just takes a little bit of putty to keep them in the snuggly in the hole.
    • Not only does mounting corals horizontally onto the rockwork increase overall real-estate in your tank. It also helps keep the bottom portion of the coral from dying off because of the water circulation under the corals and relfected light can reach the underside. It really helps to make the corals be part of the rockwork vs. just sitting on top of the rockwork.
    David Grigor
     
  3. JnS

    JnS TCMAS Premium Member
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  4. RSnodgrass

    RSnodgrass TCMAS President
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    Thanks for the info... I know how I'm going to do my rock now and if I don't have to buy more then holy savings I'm going to get some corals ;)
     
  5. coralreefer

    coralreefer I contributed!
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    Nice, I am in the process of reaquascaping my tank.
     
  6. RSnodgrass

    RSnodgrass TCMAS President
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    I just used the 3/8's acrylic rods for my 37 gal and it worked great. For the most part I stacked it like I normally would but used them for support. I actually liked the flexability because I could 'bend' the rocks to where they needed to be after dilling a hole a little off.
     
  7. David Grigor

    David Grigor TCMAS Old Timer
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    Flexability with the rod probably isn't a big issue on such a small tank. 3/8 rod can be difficult to work with when your pushing the rods through lots of rocks or very thick rocks it can get jambed from the grit. The Larger structures with lots of flow though it can sway back and forth. Fiberglass being both cheaper and more rigid, and slightly smaller diameter do make it easier. Only time I use the acrylic rod is for the base plate to glue it firmly to the acrylic sheet to make off balanced structures such as long overhangs.
     
  8. kpete4

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    I'm excited to try this when i finally get to that point. Anyone have a pic of what a finished product would look like??? I'd love to see and get some ideas
     
  9. David Grigor

    David Grigor TCMAS Old Timer
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    I've done 2 workshop meetings on it in the past. No plans for anymore.

    Pictures don't really do any justice. Since the texture of the rock are the same the camera really doesn't pick up the 3D effects.

    I hosted the May meeting and can see some older pics of the 320g tank in the same link:

    http://nicholb.smugmug.com/gallery/308600#151682469
     
  10. kpete4

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    Really cool example I found off of an itunes podcast. If you have itunes type "reefvideos" in the search. When it opens click on the small arrow after the reefvideos name. Download #8 (tanktour Carl's 150g) It might take a little while to download

    It's a really cool video of a tank setup using a lot of these techniques
     
  11. onnen

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    David......You have an amazing looking tank!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Very nice pics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm jealous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  12. steve1600cc

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    Very Cool,Can't wait to give this a try...Thanks!!
     
  13. fivesmallworlds

    fivesmallworlds Halichoeres Bivittatus
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    Definitely the way that I'll go when I upgrade to a larger aquarium. I would have never thought of this. I always wondered how other people got these amazing overhanging shelves in their aquariums without it topling over. I wish I had been around for the lectures... I'd love to see a finished product of this method firsthand.
     
  14. NorthSide Reef

    NorthSide Reef I contributed!
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    AS DG said (years ago when this was a new thread) it's hard to see the real structure in a picture because it is hard to see the depth of the aquascape. these pictures even harder since I have a lot of rock siliconed to the back wall.


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    #14 NorthSide Reef, Jan 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013
  15. acharpenter

    acharpenter Senior Member
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    This one deserves a bump!
     

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