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Old 04-21-2012, 08:26 PM   #1
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I have a 55 gallon Malawi Cichlid tank. Included in my stock are Mbuna, which are rock-dwelling Cichlids of Lake Malawi. As of the time of this initial posting, I have gravel, some store-bought ceramic or plastic wood-looking decor, and some artificial plants. There is enough hiding places that they can all disappear if they are startled, but I feel they could use more hiding places to feel comfortable. As well, my Yellow Labs have been found to be holding a few times, but none have made it to fry. I have decided to do my first rock-work project. I thought I would post my progress and/or lessons learned. Feel free to offer advice or tell me I am doing it all wrong. As I mentioned, this is my first rock-work.

I have a few ideas that I'm considering for an overall design. So far as stone-selection, I have decided to use smooth, mostly flat, dark grey stones from my landscaping.

I picked a bucketful that looked clean and not too jagged. I rinsed off loose debris with hot water in a service sink. Then soaked overnight in water. Next I soaked for several hours in vinegar, looking for any bubbling. None bubbled. I soaked again overnight in water. Next, I used an old toothbrush and scrubbed each one with a paste of water and baking soda. I rinsed off well with hot water. Now I am boiling the stones in an old pot in the grill burner.

That's where I am at so far. I'll keep posting updates and may post a pic or two of progress along the way.
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Old 04-23-2012, 10:46 AM   #2
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I started with about 15 lbs of rocks. In the process of soaking in vinegar, scrubbing with baking soda, and boiling, I tossed out any stones that were blemished, had ugly stains, or had a brownish color. Probably 1/4 of them were tossed back into the landscape. I want only clean stones that are as close to black as possible. They look more grey when they are dry, but are a very dark grey when wet. I'll try to remember to take some pics tonight.
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Old 04-23-2012, 02:28 PM   #3
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I'm follow curious to see how you make out
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Old 04-23-2012, 05:54 PM   #4
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Upon doing significant research, and posting questions in other forums in AA, I guess I feel as confident as I am going to be that the stones are "safe."

I'm a little torn as to whether to secure the stones to brown vinyl gutter, black PVC, or just secure the stones together with silicone aquarium sealant. The PVC and vinyl ones are very clever, but I think they will look a bit unnatural in my tank. I'm leaning more towards a more natural look with strategically stacked stones with nooks and crannies big enough to fit fish in them, but random enough to make look like it may have occurred naturally. I have a few sketches that look good on paper at least.

I am determined to only use supplies available locally. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any black aquarium sealant in the stores, so I had to settle on clear sealant ($7 for a tube). However, I'm planning to secure the stones on the inside of the "seams" such that the ugly, shiny, clear sealant is not visible. We'll see how that goes.
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Old 04-23-2012, 11:54 PM   #5
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Sorry, I keep editing this post. Hopefully that does not cause any problems with anyone. Let me know if it does, please.

Here are a few of the rocks that I am using. The stones look darker when they are wet.
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To come up with a good initial design, I laid the plastic container down flat and just added enough stones to cover the bottom completely. Then I carefully stood the plastic container nearly on end and let the stones pile up, having the back of the container to keep them from collapsing completely. It gave a nice natural look, and helped me figure out how to assemble the rock-work.

With that image in mind, I dumped the stones out and began assembling them in the corner of rectangular plastic containers as a form, since am planning to put the completed rockwork in the corner of the tank. Securing the stones together using silicone is necessary with these smooth flat stones, or they would just slide off of each other and create a pile of rocks with no hiding spots big enough for any fish to hide in.

I'm building the rockwork by degrees as tiers. Below are two different tiers that I will try to stack up later in the project...hopefully. In the second pic you can see a rough cave taking shape. I have some added temporary stones in there to hold the pile in place until it dries, but you get the idea.
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That's about as high I could stack them and keep them in place while the silicone was wet. I'll have to let the silicone dry overnight before I continue.

My next step is to remove the rockwork from the containers and add more silicone to the back unseen seams to reinforce it, if needed. Later, I will try to assemble the tiers one on another and fill in a few extra rocks at the seams and corners to round it up a bit and give it a more natural look. I'm also planning to add discreet silicone "bumpers" in the back to keep it from banging into the tank glass.

Lessons Learned: The aquarium sealant in a tube is rather difficult to work with. I wish I would have cut a smaller opening in the tube end so I could be more precise in the application. I had planned on using the silicone such that it was not visible at all, but this is proving to be challenging with the uncooperative, messy stuff. I will have to try to cut out/scrape off any excess with an X-Acto knife when it's finished. At this point it looks like I may need a second tube to complete the project. The good news is that it adheres to the clean river rock just fine. I also advise plenty of ventilation when using silicone. There were a lot of fumes, and I was a little woozy for a while afterward.

My stone inventory is about 1/3 gone already. I may need to forage out in the landscape for another load to clean and use. We will see.
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Old 04-25-2012, 07:55 AM   #6
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I didn't need to reinforce the seams after all. The silicone cured pretty tough. In the next day of assembly, I used free stones to prop up the stones that I needed to secure in place. Here's a pic from the next morning after it cured.
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I'm not done yet.
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Old 04-25-2012, 09:42 AM   #7
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Looking good, I will be starting mine soon...I'm going to use the same process but I plan to use a little different stones....
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Old 04-25-2012, 09:53 AM   #8
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Thanks. Good idea. It's rather tedious to use small stones.
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Old 04-27-2012, 11:05 AM   #9
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I've added on the start of another nook/cranny on the side. It looks goofy right now, but I will fill it in with rocks when it dries. Keep in mind that it's build to sit in the corner of the tank so I will leave it open on the side(s) to keep the total weight down. You can see below that I started another leg. When I'm done there should be 4 or 5 small caves in the project. I harvested another bucket of stones. Im in the process of detoxing them.
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So far it's very solid. I even dropped it once from about 6" and it held together just fine. Looks like I'll be able to get away with one tube of silicone after all.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:33 AM   #10
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Cool, I was able to collect some nice Fieldstone, limestone and some Slate...I have other stuff to do but I'm encouraged after seeing your set up.
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