Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Basic Aquarium Canopy Plan

  • 01 of 08

    DIY Basic Aquarium Canopy Plan

    Chris Young

    Here is a plan for constructing a Basic DIY Aquarium Canopy. You can use plywood (1/2" or 5/8" treated works best) T-111 as in Jordy's 300g Reef Tank, or any other wood (oak, birch or maple skinned plywood looks great) you like. Plywood sheets are 4' wide, so if your tank is 48" wide (like your basic 55g tank), you can save yourself a few saw cuts during construction.

    Darryl Craig's 180g Reef Tank is an example of what your canopy could look like with a little work and not much money. Darryl used painted plywood and stained trim on his canopy. Some other examples of DIY canopies which may give you some ideas for yours:

    Compare Prices of Aquarium Lights & Lighting Products

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Basic Canopy Plan

    Graphic by Stan Hauter
    We will start with a simple canopy base here, then work through adding a top, ventilation, trim, lighting and access doors, one step at a time. Above is a view of the four base pieces of wood.
    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Tools & Parts List

    Jordy's 300 Gallon Reef Tank. Jim Dusenberry
    Now that you know what you want your new canopy to look like, let's get started.

    Tools needed:

    • Tape measure
    • Wood saw
    • Screwdriver
    • Hammer
    Parts Needed
    • Wood
    • 8  2" "L" brackets.
    • 32 1/2" screws (for the brackets).
    • 1 nail (for starting screw holes
    • Paint (for plywood) or stains (for wood).
    • Brushes.
    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Canopy Lid Lighting

    Canopy Lighting Illustration. Graphic by Stan Hauter

    Make a sketch of your new canopy.

    • Measure the outside distances of the top of your tank, side to side, front to back.
      • Accuracy is important.
    • You will probably want the front panel to run the entire width of the canopy, with the side pieces inside the front and back panels (see "exploded" view above).
    • Determine how high your canopy will be.
      • Take into consideration how high off the water your lighting will be.
    • How are you going to access the tank for feeding and maintenance? Examples are:
      • Jordy's tank (see photo previous page)access is from the side/rear.
      • You can also access the tank from an open top canopy.
      • You can install hinged doors in the front for access.
      • You can have a hinged (at the back) top on the canopy.
        • This works well if you are going to attach your lights to the canopy lid (See Canopy Lighting Illustration below).
          • Add 2 3" butt hinges and screws to your Parts List.
      • You can have a Front Access Door, hinged at the top.
        • Add 2 3" butt hinges and screws to your Parts List.
      • Here is another Method of Hinging The Entire Canopy Front Panel.
    • Determine how much wood you will need and add it to your Parts List.
    Buy the items on your Parts List and get your hammer, tape measure, wood saw (electric or hand) and screwdriver (electric or hand) and let's get started building your new canopy.
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08


    Canopy Bracket Placement. Graphic by Stan Hauter

    Measure and cut the wood to the dimensions determined above.

    • Check to make sure that the front and rear cabinet panels are the right length.
      • Should be the exact width of the outside of the tank.
    • Check to make sure that the end panel lengths are correct.
      • Should be the exact depth (front to back) of the tank, minus the thickness of the front and rear panels.


    1. Lay the side panels down on a clean, flat surface.
    2. Measure for the bracket placements, marking with a pencil. (See Bracket Placement Illustration Below)
    3. Hold each bracket in place and make a pencil mark in the center of each screw hole.
    4. Place the nail on each screw hole mark and tap it approximately 1/2 way through the wood.
    5. Hold the brackets in place and screw the screws into the holes.
    6. Lay the front panel down on a clean, flat surface.
    7. Align each of the side panels so that the edges are flush and pencil mark the screw holes on the front panel.
    8. Place the nail on each screw hole mark and tap it approximately 1/2 through the wood.
    9. Hold the side panel in place and screw the screws into the holes.
    10. Repeat the process for the rest of the panels.

    Your cabinet base is now assembled and ready to be painted or stained.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Lid Mounting & Trim

    You still need to:

    • Put a top (lid) on the canopy (optional)
    • Install Lighting
      • Lid Mounting
      • Bracket mounting
    • Install trim
      • Trim only on the front and sides.
      • On this canopy design, this also secures the canopy on top of the tank.
      • It is usually easier to paint or stain the trim prior to installing on the cabinet.
      • Install vents, as needed.
      • Install fans as needed.

    Your new canopy is ready to install on your tank.

    • Make sure that the lights are not plugged in when doing this to prevent an electrical shock.

    When you have completed your canopy, take a picture of your tank and send it to us. See About

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    DIY Basic Canopy Front Door Access

    DIY Basic Canopy Front Door Access. Graphic by Stan Hauter

    Another option for accessing your tank through your canopy is through the front, via a door which hinges at the top. This gives you excellent access to both your lighting fixtures and the tank itself.

    The following is more easily done before the cabinet panels are assembled.

    1. Measure and cut the piece of plywood (or solid wood) for your door.
    2. Place the door on top of the canopy front panel.
      • Make sure that you will have enough room for your hinges at the top.
    3. With a pencil, draw a line around the door on the front panel.
    4. Measure and mark on the panel a line which is 1/2" inside the door outline line.
    5. With a circular saw, cut just inside the inner line.
    6. Measure on the door where you want to place the hinges.
      • Keep in mind which way the door will swing.
    7. Place the hinges on the door and mark, with a pencil, the center of the screw holes.
    8. Place a nail on the screw marks and drive it 1/2 way through the door material.
    9. Place the hinges on the door and screw the screws in with a screwdriver.
    10. Place the door on the front canopy panel.
      • Make sure that the door is centered over the front panel hole.
    11. Mark the hinge screw holes with a pencil.
    12. Place a nail on the screw marks and drive it 1/2 way through the door material.
    13. Attach the door to the front panel with the remaining screws.
    14. Check that the door is fitted properly and swings freely.
    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    DIY Canopy With Front Hinged Door

    DIY Canopy With Front Hinged Door. Graphic by Stan Hauter
    Placing the door on the front of the Canopy makes sense for most aquarists. By hinging the door at the top, the door can be easily opened (just flip it up) for access to the tank and lighting fixtures.

    If the hinge plates are embedded in the door and lid materials, the door will close tightly, allowing almost no distracting light leakage. The canopy components in the graphics below are slightly "exploded" for clarity.