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.