Orca Counter

Here the full photo series for this project


Details Below:

This is one of my more recent pieces, and is the counter top that is on one side of my, very large, fish tank I am building in the basement room, that I also built,  but more on that in future posts, as I wanted to show the process I went through to make this counter top and the mosaic.

Originally I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with this brick wall.  I knew I wanted to make a counter top to extend the side of the tank stand, but wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. At first I thought I would put the plywood up and then tile the counter in white subway tiles but I wasn’t in love with the idea, or the added cost to of grout, sealant, thin set etc…

IMG_0017

We have kept a deep rock bottle for many years that we put all our bottle caps in, and I had always intended to use them to make some mosaic of sorts. I had tried a bit with setting them as mosaic tiles before with our house number sign, but the sign needs to be bigger for the mosaic to work. I also had several types of  cements in the garage outside, including white Portland cement, as well as a few different colored aggregates, which I had been using for building rock formations for the big tank.

I started by sorting all the beer caps by color groups, and took about 2 days to sort them all out. This was, in many ways, like taking census of your household beer drinking habits for the last 10-15 years, so it was kind of interesting to see. Heineken, Boulder Beers and Breckenridge are apparently are our top 3 beers.

Next I started trying a few different designs, including turtles and fish, but decided I wanted something that would stretch across the counter top, like a whale, or porpoise. In the end the Orca patterning and body shape worked best for this.

IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0027

 

After I had decided on the design, I penciled in the pattern before I removed the bottle caps, so that I could build the frame of the box around the counter to hold it all in. I then masked off all the edges I wanted to protect from the next steps.

IMG_0030 IMG_0031

 

For the next part, I had decided I wanted to use different color concretes but to do that, I would need to make some sort of temporary form mold to hold the shape of the different concretes. During the process of building the tank stand, I had squared off a bunch of 2×4 boards, this meant I had quite a few super thin strips of wood, which I soaked in water to prior to setting the form. I used small finish nails to hold the form in place.

IMG_0033 IMG_0034 IMG_0035

 

Once the form was in, I mixed and poured the first concrete mix, which was White Portland cement and white reef sand. This went in all around the outside of the form for the ‘sea water’, and as soon as I spread it out, I would press the bottle caps it the concrete and then smooth it around the cap using various tools and a spray bottle.

IMG_0036 IMG_0037

Let it sit for a few hours, then come back and remove the forms, and make the forms for the white spots on the Orca. I poured those in with White Portland cement, and a black sand for the aggregate, just to set it off from the other white cement. As soon as I poured both the white I started on the gray cement, which I used standard mason mix with some added black sand as well. You have to work quickly and methodically to get all the beer caps pressed in and cleaned before the cement starts to set.

IMG_0038 IMG_0039

 

Somewhere during all this I had decided I was going to pour an clear epoxy resin over the top of this, so that it would look awesome, be solidly encased and waterproof, given there is to be a large saltwater fish tank next to it.  I did some research and settled on a Bar top epoxy that pours out in 1/8″ layer and is self leveling. At first I only ordered enough epoxy to do one pour, but once I did a bit of math I decided I would buy enough for 2 pours.

In hindsight though, I should have ordered 3, as one more pour would have filled the edges of the counter perfectly, but each pour costs about $80, and I had already exceed my budget for the month. I am still thinking of putting a third layer on it though, to fill it up before, I fill the tank and build some bar rails around it.

Doing the pours themselves are fairly nerve wracking and quite a process. For starters you have to build a tent around the area, and heat the inside temp to around 85 degrees or more. You then have to mix the epoxy, which is very specific in amounts and mixing times. Failure to meet any of the directions for the pour can result in a bad pour and ruin the whole thing. Luckily though I did my homework and planned it all out ahead of time.

Had one issue with the seal coat not completely sealing the surface underneath and some micro bubble made it into the first pour, but otherwise it turned out great and has really become one of my favorite pieces so far.

IMG_0098 IMG_0099 IMG_0100

IMG_0101 IMG_0102

To do on this is to add a molded bar rail around the front and maybe one around the feet area, but that will likely come sometime down the road.

 

Tank is leaking..OMG!!!

At about 4-6 months with the new saltwater tank, the tank started leaking a bit. It wasn’t huge or anything. In fact it was just this odd spot of salt creep that kept appearing in the front right corner of the tank. Luckily it wasn’t huge as this gave me time to prepare to take the tank down and reseal it.

I had never resealed a glass tank before, but after some internet research I found that it wasnt really that hard to do, and only had a few easy steps to do it. First step was to get the tank emptied. So I acquired a 30g and a 10g tank for the task of housing everything for a few days. I plumbed the 30g directly to the existing sump and started moving the rock, corals and critters to the 30g, and I moved all the sand to the 10g.

IMG_3189

I pulled the main tank down, and cleaned it completely with vinegar and water.

Next step, and actually the most tedious step, was to remove the old silicon. You cant remove just a small section of the silicon either, you must remove all of the silicon; except the stuff that is between the panes and holding the glass in place.

Once you get all the silicon cut out you have scrub and clean any residue left behind from it, which takes a bit of elbow grease, some razor blades, rubbing alcohol and at least a few beers.

IMG_3187

After that you use masking tape and you tape up all the edges of the tank. You tape both sides of the seam and leave about a 1/2-1/4 inch gap between them. Once you do this its just a matter of laying a bead of aquarium safe silicon and then quickly removing the tape before the silicon skins. Then its 2 days to cure before you can refill it.

IMG_3188

IMG_3191IMG_3190

 

Refilled and running like a champ again.

IMG_3193

 

First saltwater tank

When my daughter was born I had a decent freshwater tank. It was a planted 55g and had tetras and bala sharks. My friend Ryan Knope had given me the tank to get me back into aquariums, which was something I had all my life until I went to college, and couldn’t afford one. I had that tank up and running for several years, and the Sharks were starting to outgrow the tank, so I was looking to upgrade to a 75-90g bowfront.

When I told my wife that I wanted to upgrade the tank she suggested that I should go to saltwater, since it was something that I had always wanted to do. She very much regrets that suggestion, but to late now. mwahahaha 😉

Thus marks my entry into the very addicting and amazing world of Marine Aquatics.

I did a ton of reading, bought a few books and read everything I could find on the internet to decide exactly which direction I was going to go with the tank and how to care for it. I still wanted a bowfront though as I has seen a few of them and really liked the shape. I hunted for the right tank for several months via craigslist until I finally found this beauty of a tank.

It came with tank, stand, canopy, the rock, a couple corals, a crab or two, a 20g tank for the sump and a return pump. The rock and stuff was already cycled and ready to go, so I made the dividers I wanted for the sump and then got the tank moved and running.  I added a few chromis, two clowns and a jawfish at first. Most of which sadly didnt survive to long since the tank was fairly unstable at this time. I do still have the clowns and the scarlet hermit crab however and they likely will get to be the first inhabitant in my latest monster tank build, but more on that in another post :)

IMG_2031 IMG_2250 IMG_2470

Tankbuild1 IMG_3137