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How Aquariums Are Made, A Tour Of Custom Aquariums

By KG Tropicals on

John: Hey, folks, it's John with KGTropicals. I just got done recording a 10-things episode. I know it's time to record my next video and I said, "You know what, I've already got the green-screen up. Let's just roll with that." A few weeks ago, I traveled to Wisconsin to visit Custom Aquariums. This is a company-- You may not know this, I've been affiliated with this company for a long time. I put B-roll of the tanks that I've gotten from them over-- Top of me right now.

I have been with Custom Aquariums since 2015, and I am a huge fan of this company

I had never been to their facility to see how all of this is done. I'd seen other videos of it, but I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I was fortunate enough to get invited to go over there the weekend of Aquashella, which was perfect timing because I was already over that way anyway. I went over there, met up with my friend, Ted Judy, he gave me a tour of everything, including a brand new building that they just built, doesn't have anything in it yet except for racks that they're going to be using to build these aquariums and crate them and ship them out and all that. It's really exciting to see that new building. It's absolutely massive. I'll show that at the end of the video, but anyway, I just wanted to take you on a tour of the facility, show you how all this is done.

If you're curious about how these tanks get made, here's the video for you. Don't forget, I'm actually a retailer for this company, so if you're interested in a tank from, email me, [email protected]. We'll talk about it. We'll see if we can get you set up with one.

Once you have finalized everything with your sales rep for this company, which I hope is me, everything is going to start here in the glass shop. This glass shop is huge and it has some super high-tech equipment. The people in this place are just so nice. It was one of the things I couldn't get past. They were so nice throughout the entire complex, not just the people in the glass shop, everywhere. Everybody was just so nice.

I guess it's a Wisconsin thing, I don't know, but at this point of the tour, I was terrified, I'm going be honest with you because look at the size of that panel of glass. That is three-quarters of an inch thick. I don't know what it weighs. All I know is if it fell off that machine, it was going to be a massive explosion, but it's a powerful machine with those suction cups and I don't think they've ever had one fall, but anyway, I'm a worrywart like that.

This young lady here is cleaning off the panel. You saw her cleaning off the table before. Now she's cleaning off the panel just to make sure there is nothing on there because a tiny pebble or a piece of anything that's on there that gets between that pane of glass and that table can actually wreck the entire thing. I can only imagine what that giant panel of glass costs, but anyway, once everything is all cleaned, she can use this machine to put this humongous panel right on the table and that's when the really cool stuff starts.


Once the panel is cleaned off and put on to this table, you can see everything here is automated, it lowers it down, and this machine is actually going to etch the glass where all the cuts need to be made and then she will actually use the table to create the breaks in the glass.

The first thing she does is enters in everything into the computer here to make sure it's optimized to get the most out of each panel of glass, because again, this stuff is pretty expensive and it's extremely thick and extremely hard to deal with, so they don't want to have very much waste on here, so the computer helps them with that. This machine here is the one that's actually going through. Right there, it was just actually measuring the panel to see where the panel lays out. Now it's going to come through and it's going to actually etch that edge.

What that does is everywhere where there is that etching, that's what I'm calling it. It is etching. I don't know if that's the right term, but everywhere it scores it across like that is where a break can be created and turn those pieces into actually multiple pieces and we're going to see an example of that.

While she was doing this, one of the panels actually did break and Ted wanted me to include it in the video, but the footage wasn't any good, so it's my fault there, but one of the panels broke. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't the machine's fault. It's just the fact that we're dealing with a natural product here, and sometimes things don't go exactly to plan, but you can see that the table actually has some type of system in it. I don't know where.

It lifts the glass up ever so slightly so that she can move it around with her hands. It's absolutely fascinating. It's this huge blower underneath it that does that. It's pretty cool, but you can see that it breaks pretty easily even though these are giant pieces of glass. When the glass is cut like that, you can see how the edges are left and that's when it has to go to the next part of the process.

Another one of those powerful forklift looking things with the suction cups is going to bring the piece of glass over to this next machine, which actually polishes and straightens the edges. You saw how rough they were earlier.

When it comes out of this machine, it's perfectly straight, it's polished, and it has the edges beveled on it, which they bevel every edge on every piece of glass on a Custom Aquarium's tank and that's just a beautiful thing. I'm going to give you a close-up look of that here in the next little clip, but all these machines are always moving around carrying these huge panels of glass and it's just impressive to see what that machine does.

Here, this is the drill that's actually drilling the holes. This is just a scrap piece of glass that he showed me. He just did a demonstration of it for me. It took about-- I think it was like 18 seconds to drill the hole through the glass with no chipping, no anything. The drill actually goes down from the top, and up from the bottom and it just gives you a perfect hole just like that, and it's like 18 seconds. Much much easier than taking a drill and doing it by hand and all that, which nobody ever wants to do.

This machine here at this stage of the process is actually cleaning the glass, making sure it is free of any type of marks, scratches or anything like that. That's what this gentleman does all day long. If there is a flaw of any kind in the glass, some of them can actually be repaired and that's what he's doing right here. There was a scratch. It was the smallest scratch I've ever seen and I could barely even see it, but he saw it and he circled it. You can see the painstaking work he's putting in, to actually making that scratch go away. It's pretty impressive how thorough he was making sure that there was absolutely no blemishes, no flaws or anything. It was neat to watch.

This stage of the process right here is where things actually start to take shape. They are actually going to put these panels together. They're going to use clamps and corner braces to hold it together, and then the real fun happens, that's when they start to silicone these tanks. They silicone the tanks in two different sets. The first set is where they're actually going to embed the silicone between the panels. Yes, they don't just put the glass together and then hold it together with a bead of silicone.

They actually hold these panels apart and it must be like a 32nd of an inch. I don't know, I didn't ask them for an exact measurement, but these panels are actually not touching. There are tiny spaces in there that hold them apart enough to get silicone between the pieces of glass. I've actually got a demo of that coming up here later on in the tour, but the reason why they do this is to allow silicone between the pieces because if this settles down, it's going to give it room to move.

Rather than if it starts to settle, it's going to be glass on glass. It could actually break the panel. They keep them spaced apart with teeny little rubber stoppers that you can barely see, but it gives it that gap that they can actually put silicone in. That's what this first set is, is getting that silicone between all of the panels of glass, and then we move on to the next step which would be the second set.

I think that's what they call it. Set one, set two, where they actually put the silicone bead on the inside around all of the interior corners.

[music] With all five pieces set and held in with the clamps they actually made sure that it was all square and everything was good to go. Now she's going through and just putting painter's tape on this just for silicone control so it doesn't go all over the place. This right here is what I was talking about earlier. He was nice enough to pull out a credit card. I didn't get a chance to write the number down to actually show the gap between the panels and the reason why it's there like we said is so that she can actually inject silicone into that seam.

The panels are sitting on silicone rather than being right up against each other. This was something I did not know and I have two of these aquariums in my house. I didn't know that they did this. When Ted explained to me why they did this, it made total sense and it just made me love this company even more because the little extra step makes a huge difference. Right there near her thumb, you can see a little circle and that's one of those little spacers. They're tiny but they do the trick.


Since all of those interior seams are all now bound with that silicone and the first set is done, you can see it just leaves it so clean, it looks so nice. Now is the time to do the second set which would be the giant silicone bead that you can see-- That's on the inside of the aquariums. Every aquarium has this if it's glass and with them, they spare no expense. Look at the size of that caulking bead that's going through there. It is massive. I think she used like eight tubes of silicone just on the interior of this one tank.

This is a huge tank. This is obviously not the one that she was working on earlier. This is a tank that's like 12 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet or something like that. It was outrageous how big this tank is. A normal tank probably wouldn't take quite as much silicone but with this one, because of the size of the tank, I think it took eight to get around it. Just absolutely massive but this here is going to seal off that seam even more and provide more support on top of the seam or the bead that's already between the panels of glass. It's a great system. I've never heard a Custom Aquariums tank leak. Obviously, they're doing something right.


Another interesting thing about this company is they don't have standard frames made. These frames are very beefy metal frames that are individually made by hand for each tank. That's what this gentleman's job is. That's all he does all day long, is build frames for these tanks and each one is made for each individual tank. You got to love that and they're very very strong.

Now we are in the other building. This is just an example of huge caves that they built for a falcon which obviously was not there but they don't only build aquariums they build bird cages, reptile enclosures, all different kinds of stuff. I'm showing that rack there because it's just like the rack that I have on my 360-gallon but it's white and I didn't even realize that white was an option. I would have gotten the black anyway but that's really cool that they offer it in black and white.

All of this here is just pieces of equipment that they use for cutting the steel and doing all of the welding and all of that stuff. This is a [sic] example of a bird enclosure I believe that was there ready to be created up and sent out. This is just another one of those staging areas where they're getting everything ready to move on to the next phase of this process but what you're seeing right here is one of my favorite areas.

This was my dream space here. This is the woodshop where they build the wooden stands.

They build them and finish them all in this space. They've got some super high-tech equipment, really big dust collection systems and stuff like that. It's very very nice and it's a place that I could have spent hours in because I am a woodworker, I always have been and it's just one of those fantasy lands for me. I absolutely love it. Tons of wood storage back here. I'm going to just give you another angle of the shop. They've got every piece known to man, woodworker's dream, huge belt sanders and shapers and router tables and all of this, just a wonderland for me. I loved that area. Here is MJ. He's got to make an appearance.

Back here is the finishing area. This is where they apply the stain and the clear coat protectant to the wood. They weren't doing that, that day and I used to be a professional wood finisher. I really wanted to see them, how they spray all of this and all of that but I missed that part but, all well, no big deal. They had some pieces sitting there ready but I guess whoever does the finishing just wasn't there that day, or who knows?


This area back here is the last staging area where they get everything put together. All of the plumbing, those are all of the seamless sump systems that are ready to be packed up and this is the creating area. Once they have everything together all in place that's when this gentleman here who I actually think was not supposed to be doing crates that day, I think he was filling in for somebody he told me, but they create it all right there and get ready to send it out.

Let me just tell you, folks, if you've watched my video on the 360-gallon tank that I got, these crates are no joke. You could live in one of these things. They are so structurally sound. It is just a giant solid box; no shortage of wood, no shortage of screws to put it all together. They really go the extra mile with these crates and they should because they're going to go on a truck and they're going to bounce around, forklifts all that kind of stuff. You want to make sure that they're going to be safe when they travel to get to you.

If you're wondering what the diagonal pieces on the tops of the crates are for, I had one on mine, I asked Ted about it. I'm like, "I think I know what those are, but what are they?" Those are to prevent the shipper from putting anything on top of these crates. Makes total sense, if they got that diagonal piece of wood on there, they aren't putting nothing on top of it. That's the process. That's how they take it from an idea to the glass shop over here to the stand and finishing shop and all of that, the woodworking shop and metal shop. It goes through all of that. Then it gets to that area that we were just looking at, which is where they create everything up. You saw the bottleneck that they have there. They're building and sending out a lot of tanks every single month.

Sometimes the shipper hasn't come and there's a bunch of tanks sitting there. That's what this new building here is for. They're going to have the creating and shipping area here. A lot of storage in this big building. I don't know, they might even do other things, but look at the size of this building, they can pretty much do whatever they want. I was really excited to be able to go through this building and see what they were going to be doing with it.

One of the things that is interesting about this building is that center section there. There's actually going to be an elevator that goes up there for even more storage up there. They were telling me that they're probably going to put a small forklift up there to move stuff around. Very, very cool what they're doing with that new building. Hopefully, I get by there to see that once it's all set up and in action.


To wrap up this tour, I thought I would show you some of the really nice tanks that they have in their showroom. This one here might actually look familiar, it's the exact same tank I have in my fish room, the 240-gallon, which I also have African cichlids in.

Anyway, this tour was so much fun, and it wasn't even really a tour, Ted basically set me free and said, "Go wherever you want to go. There's really nothing off-limits." It was a lot of fun walking around that place. Of course, I didn't get as much footage as I should have, but I think I got enough to get the point across, that this is a company that is taking this very seriously.

They build some absolutely incredible aquariums. If you want one, email me at [email protected], we will get you set up. It's not as scary of a process as you think, the process is actually very smooth and we'll get you set up with that dream tank. Anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a commercial for me. This was supposed to be something to show you the process of how these tanks are made. I had a lot of fun doing it. I hope you did too.

If you did why don't you click subscribe, because we're going to be putting out all kinds of stuff in the coming weeks, months, years, who knows? Thank you so much for watching this and going on this ride with me. I look forward to talking to you again next week.

About KG Tropicals

There are many aspects to keeping an aquarium. Many newcomers to the hobby can be quickly overwhelmed. The KGTropicals YouTube channel was created to be a place for no nonsense information about the hobby, a place where the information is delivered in a way that even the most inexperienced fish keeper could understand. Whether you want to breed aquarium fish, heal a sick or injured fish or you just want to know how to set up your first tank, KGTropicals has you covered.

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