I am on the road to getting my planted tank back!!! This month I started
cutting up the raw cork bark I bought for the new aquascape. Below you can
see what the raw cork bark looks like, in one of the pictures I put my hand
in the shot so you can get a relative idea of how thick the pieces are. Each
piece is about 3-4 feet in length and anywhere from 12” to 18” wide. I had 4
pieces to start with.
I started out with a bit of an idea as to what I wanted to see and
accomplish with the cork bark but not really knowing for sure how it would
work. Because of this I decided to make a template out of cardboard of the
inner dimensions of the tank. Another reason for this is that the tank has
water in it and is currently populated with fish.
This was a great idea it gave me time to mess around and change my mind
as I went along. The time was well needed, have you ever tried to cut cork
bark? With angles that you do not know yet and that have to fit together? It
may be lightweight but is dense and loves to dull out tools. I first tried
to use an Exacto knife…well it wasn’t the right tool to use to cut the cork
bark through it’s thickness to make smaller pieces. After a couple of tries
and almost loosing my fingers I decided to used a mitre saw, this worked
As pointed out earlier by having the cardboard template it allowed me
some time to fiddle around. I knew that I wanted to have the look of a
riverbank on the left side of the tank. This riverbank in my mind would have
the bottom being closer to the left hand side and back glass of the tank
while curving upwards and outwards to create a plateau, about 2/3rds of the
way up. This plateau I would be able to plant with some sort of grass like
plant afterwards. With this in mind I drew a line on the template for the
initial layout of the base of the riverbank.
I figured to get the curve of the riverbank upwards that I wanted, I
would cut the cork bark into pieces, each piece would be 6-7 inches in
height. With each piece being that height I figured that it would take three
layers high to create the height that I wanted. To create the curve upwards
and outwards each layer of cork bark would have the bottom and top cut at a
bit of an angle. The raw cork bark stock had the bark pattern running
vertically on each piece (running the 3-4’ length) and I wanted the bark
pattern running from the bottom of the riverbank to the top. So off I went
and cut about 7-8 pieces for myself to start with. Well the cork bark also
had a natural curve to it and as would happen, not the curve I wanted. I
wanted my riverbank not only to have an upwards and outwards curve but also
a concave curve when viewing it from the front of the tank left to right.
This meant that I had to cut the pieces 6-7” wide and figure out the angles
of each piece as I went along.
After many trials and errors I finally got the first layer cut and each
piece fit perfectly with each other. I started cutting the pieces for the
next layer and tried to fit them onto the bottom layer. With a little
finagling and a little propping up with anything I could find I managed to
get the second layer somewhat cut to shape (total of about 4 hours of work).
Mmmmmmmm…something is just not sitting well in my mind…I look at the overall
design and it looks great but I then look at the space behind the cork bark
and it is way to big! By the time I get the third layer on, the mass of
substrate that will be back there will probably collapse the whole wall.
Never mind the fact that all I want to plant up there is some kind of grass
like plant that will not need such a deep substrate for the plant’s root
system. It’s just way too much, probably about 20 gallons worth of
displacement at the least. So time to take it all apart and redo it. After
about another 2-3 hours of work I get it all figured out, re-designed,
re-cut and fit back together again with all the props. It is now a much
smaller area and I am not so worried about it bursting on me with all of the
substrate behind it when it is finally set-up. I start on the third layer.
Things start getting a little complicated by the fact that I can not see
what I am doing with all the props needed to hold the riverbank up, plus the
fact of the weight of each new piece added makes the whole thing wiggle out
of place. Even with duct tape helping out it is getting increasingly harder
to accomplish anything and my patience is running away at an alarming pace.
I decide that if I am going to get any farther I need to get the bottom two
levels glued together and hope that the base design is ok for the last level.
Not only have I not worked with cork bark before I have never glued it
together. I did a bit of research and also asked a few people about it. I
will try using silicon for the job. I take each piece and cut small groves
onto each surface that will be glued together. I use this method in my art
practice frequently. By doing this not only do you have the properties of
the glue at work but you also have now a mechanical lock for the glue to
work with. After notching all the pieces I then take the vacuum to each
piece to get rid of any dust or dirt before I silicon them all together. I
put enough silicon on each joint so that when pushed together it gushed out
the back end. On top of that I added extra and work it into the cork bark in
at least a two-inch swath around each joint. It takes me about an hour or
two but I get everything glued together and all is held in place by duct
tape and props. Lets hope it all holds together when I take all the tape and
props off the tomorrow.
Well it holds together! And as with any other project I do I test the
joints. I try and pull them apart with force and they hold. Lets hope they
hold under water with the added preasure of the substrate behind it. Since
all looks good and feels like it is going to hold I start on the last level.
One note of interest, as I am going along I am also trying as hard as I can
to make each seam non existant as possible. That means in some cases cutting
much smaller pieces then I want so the humps and groves of the pattern of
the cork bark line up as much as possible. Many might think that I am being
a bit anal…well that is one of my endearments (at least I keep telling
myself that hahahah)…thing is in my head for the most part I want this
corkwall/riverbank to be as expossed as possible in the long run. So I am
not planning on planting that many plants that will obscure the riverbank as
much as possible. Hence my anal retentativness to detail of the pattern. I
let this last level take me where it wants with just enough persuasivness by
me to keep the image I want to come out. Ends up looking pretty cool and
because I let the pattern and the pieces take me away I now have one major
plataue and a smaller one off to the side. This has also benifited me in
another way. By having the design of two plataues the one has a piece of
corkbark running right in the middle of the two halfs up top and is another
place for me to secure the whole structure to the back glass. This helps
aleviate my mind in regards to the pressure of the substrate against the
wall itself (see picture below).
With the cutting done for the third layer, I take it all apart and repeat
the gluing up process again as described earlier and wait another day for it
to set-up enough to take the props and tape away to see what the overall
effect looks like.
As I am sitting there looking at the silicon drying I can’t sit still and
have to do something else hahaha. (My wife hates me for this I can never sit
still) I take one of the pieces of tree stump that I used in my old set-up
and place it in front of the cork bark riverbank. I still have a concern as
to how well the silicon will hold up underwater with all of that pressure
from the substrate behind the wall. I take the piece of driftwood and place
it in front of the cork bark wall, it is a little to tall and I cut it back
a bit plus make the slate base a bit smaller also so it will fit just in
front of the wall. This does two things for me. It adds a buttress to the
wall and it will also give another feeling of depth to the set-up when done.
Well the next day comes and I take all of the supports away
and look at my final product. Looks better then expected!
Dang! Forgot to design into the wall the hole I need for my Intake of the
filter! And the other side of the tank is now looking kinda barren. Mmmm I
still have a few pieces of cork bark left………