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Building a stand questions; buying lumber


Kat_Rigel
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I would like to build a small aquarium stand like the one in this video from The King of DIY.

I have a few questions, as I'm pretty new to any carpentry. First, you have to pick out straight boards from the hardware store. Will this be easier if I go to a lumber store/yard instead of a big box hardware store? I expect there would be an associated increased cost, but if it saves me a significant amount of time, I'd be ok with that. (Within reason.)

My other concern is making straight cuts. I think there aren't many ways to cut corners on this (lol.) I'm trying to find a friend that can do the job for me, or maybe someone on taskrabbit or Craigslist. I just KNOW it is super easy for SOMEONE out there! I am extremely limited on space (3rd floor apartment, the only area I can work in is a small balcony. It's enough space to put the rack together, but I can't buy a table saw or the like.)

Any other tips for building this, or recommendations for building stuff in tiny spaces? I'm planning to have it hold two 10gal tanks, so it will be smaller than the one in the video. I've done my share of DIY and crafty stuff, but this one... this one needs to be RIGHT or there will be a disaster! Lol

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I know people joke about the twisted lumber at the big box stores but it's not to terribly difficult to find wood that is straight or at least straight enough for most projects.

The thought that comes to my mind if you build it yourself is you could use (2) 5 gallon buckets as a saw horse to hold the wood off the ground/floor and use a circular saw on the balcony to make the cuts. Or after you buy the wood make the cut marks and then make the cuts at a friends or familys place and then build it at your apartment.

I've heard stories about people getting whole projects cut for them at the big box store if you bring in all the measurements but I think that can be hit or miss depending on the particular store.

Edited by TheDukeAnumber1
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I built all of my own stands out of dimensional lumber, plywood, and deck screws using similar designs.  The key is purchasing straight lumber that is not warped, twisted, or split from an indoor lumberyard (not as easy as it sounds in my location) and then storing it flat on the floor inside until you are ready to assemble your stand.  The easiest way to make sure that the wood is straight is to check on the lumber yard concrete floor.

I recommend making a plan that includes your actual tank sizes and allows for lighting/filtration and maintenance with the number of cuts and lengths (i.e. 6ea 13", 6ea 10", 6ea 30", and 4 ea 60"- the yard does not have time to take off your design, also don't go on these dimensions, measure the actual tanks you are going to use and plan ahead) and see if you can either pay the lumber yard or find someone to make the cuts.  You can make these cuts yourself with a hand saw, but that is going to be a lot of work (30+ cuts for this stand design depending on the material lengths you are using) before factoring in the balcony. After that you are going to need 2-1/2" torx head deck screws (bit comes in the box, self-tapping) and an electric drill.  You could assemble the stand inside once all the cuts are made and vacuum up the mess.

If you are using 12" wide tanks on carpet or in a high seismic zone I also recommend also attaching the stand to the wall behind it.

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you tend to have to pick through the pile of 2x4's no matter where you go. as a side note, be nice and put them back on the stack when you are done finding straight ones. a powered miter saw, or an old fashioned miter box and hand saw are how you get straight cuts. find a friend with a saw, or if we knew your location, maybe someone here could help you with the cutting. as long as you draw up a plan, and figure out your dimensions, it takes very little time to do the actual cutting.

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2 minutes ago, lefty o said:

you tend to have to pick through the pile of 2x4's no matter where you go. as a side note, be nice and put them back on the stack when you are done finding straight ones. a powered miter saw, or an old fashioned miter box and hand saw are how you get straight cuts. find a friend with a saw, or if we knew your location, maybe someone here could help you with the cutting. as long as you draw up a plan, and figure out your dimensions, it takes very little time to do the actual cutting.

You could always hit up the local club too.  I agree that it takes longer to pick straight wood than make those cuts on a miter saw, but I would not want to do that by hand - that will wear you out.  It took me longer to work around the knots and slight warping 🙂 on my stands.

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8 minutes ago, Daniel said:

I used to assist Roy Underhill occasionally when he taught classes at the Woodwright's school in Pittsboro, NC. And when he needed pine for a class, he would go down to the big box store and just sort through the piles until he found enough straight lumber for the class.

Sorting through the pile is a right of passage when you are building your own stand.  Protip: bring your gloves so that your hands are not filled with splinters.

Edited by Matt_
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One positive about your local lumber yard is that they may be less busy than the box store and more likely to help you out (depends on the day and the time of day) and they usually have higher grades (generally less knots and defects) of dimensional lumber (not necessarily more expensive when you compare 2x4s for a given grade).  Note that a kiln dried 2x4 is actually more like 1.5x3.5.

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Just now, Matt_ said:

One positive about your local lumber yard is that they may be less busy than the box store and more likely to help you out (depends on the day and the time of day) and they usually have higher grades (generally less knots and defects) of dimensional lumber (not necessarily more expensive when you compare 2x4s for a given grade).  Note that a kiln dried 2x4 is actually more like 1.5x3.5.

very good point for those that havent worked with lumber before, a 2x4 is not 2x4. that will really screw up your plans if you dont account for it.

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1 minute ago, Matt_ said:

One positive about your local lumber yard is that they may be less busy than the box store and more likely to help you out (depends on the day and the time of day) and they usually have higher grades (generally less knots and defects) of dimensional lumber (not necessarily more expensive when you compare 2x4s for a given grade).  Note that a kiln dried 2x4 is actually more like 1.5x3.5.

These and all the above are very good tips, thank you so much! Keep 'em coming, research is vital before a project! 

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I recommend taking a trip to the store before you buy to understand your options.  The big box stores have good information on their websites that explain the basics of purchasing lumber.  This is where a plan and takeoff helps because you are not going to want to be handling the longest lengths of lumber (>20') and you will have excess when finished.  You are going to need to plan for excess dimensional lumber in an apt, because many municipalities will not knowingly accept leftover 2x4s or other C&D waste (or at least have size limits) as it can puncture the landfill liner (this C&D waste actually goes to a separate landfill in many locations).  If you do cut this yourself you will need to account for the kerf (width of the saw) and add a min. extra 1/8" gap on both sides of the tank length to allow for installation.

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25 minutes ago, Matt_ said:

many municipalities will not knowingly accept leftover 2x4s or other C&D waste (or at least have size limits) as it can puncture the landfill liner (this C&D waste actually goes to a separate landfill in many locations).  If you do cut this yourself you will need to account for the kerf (width of the saw) and add a min. extra 1/8" gap on both sides of the tank length to allow for installation.

THIS! Stuff like this is stuff I didn't even think about. I am going to try and watch a few YouTube vids as well; I found a beginners carpentry YouTube channel that I think will be helpful.

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Once you are to assembling the design the other tools I recommend are coarse sandpaper to remove the burs from the 2x4s, a 48" aluminum bubble level, a carpenters square (speed square) to make sure your corners are at 90 deg, and composite shims (important - not the wood shims that fall apart when wet).  It is surprisingly difficult to build something straight and level.  With the amount of weight of a triple tank stand it needs to be vertically straight.  Plan your connection so that the deck screws do not contact each other and split the wood (predrilling really helps).  I like Joey (King of DIY) but he does not always show all of the steps in the fabrication process.

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5 minutes ago, Kat_Rigel said:

THIS! Stuff like this is stuff I didn't even think about. I am going to try and watch a few YouTube vids as well; I found a beginners carpentry YouTube channel that I think will be helpful.

I personally like Steve Ramsey with Woodworking for Mere Mortals because he has some good basic tips and does not do fancy furniture connections like dovetails and biscuits.  I am sure there are many others as well.  Before you ever use a miter saw you definitely want to watch at least one safety video if you are using one to make the cuts yourself.

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If this is something you think you might do more than once, look at the small tool kits.  You can usually pick up a kit with a battery, drill, small circular, etc fairly cheap.  They’re not great but they can do what you’re trying to do.  A miter saw would definitely be better but since you’re in a apartment, you probably don’t have space.  The ultimate would be to “phone a friend”.  You only need an hour or so to make all the cuts.  The assembly is ezpz.

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