Well being newly back into aquarium keeping yet also being a hands on sort of person I decided to see what I could do in making a lily pipe for my nano tank. Years ago I used to make my own filter siphon tubes (just the U shaped ones) by filling those tubes that you can by in the pet stores with salt and heating until they would bend. For my nano tank I wanted to use clear acrylic tube and being lucky I guess because I live within 20 minutes of a Tap Plastics retail store. So the stage was set for this DIY project and Iíll say now, Iím pleased with the results.
My nano tankís filter is a ZooMed 501 canister and needless to say the tubes that it comes with are not meant for a planted aquarium. Being itís a small canister filter the tubing size is around 3/8Ē or 9mm. So I purchased several 6í lengths of 3/8Ē acrylic tube (they are only a couple bucks a length and I figured that Iíd waste some trying this, and did) and also a foot of ľĒ solid acrylic rod. Iíd already made some inflow tubes and a miniature spray bar out of this stuff but wanted to see if a Lily pipe was possible.
Other that the acrylic tube and rod I used the following tools and materials: Salt (plain fine grain table salt), masking tape, some acrylic glue or superglue, fine tooth hobby saw, sandpaper of various grits, heat gun, stove top burner, and plenty of patients.
So letís get started. First I cut about a foot long piece of the acrylic tube. Really you just need to score it a couple times with the fine tooth saw and youíll be able to snap it pretty cleanly. For right now the cut ends donít matter because later they will be cut off again.
Next I cut a piece of the 1/4Ē acrylic rod as this was going to be my plug in one end of the tube. It fits very tight and will need to be glued in with acrylic glue or super glue. I found that heating the tube over the stove just a little helped with inserting it in the end of the tube. Coat it with the glue before the final insert and it should seal the end of the tube really well. Again it doesnít matter what this looks like because it will be cut off and discarded later.
Now comes the fun part depending upon how you look at it. Glass blower blow glass by heating and blowing so I figured that Iíd do the same with the acrylic tube. I could heat the tube over the stove top burner but Iíve found that using a heat gun gave me more control where I wanted to heat the tube. You will need both hands so you will either need to have someone hold the heat gun or do what I did and lay it on the edge of the counter with the parts that get hot hanging over the edge. Note: you do not want to burn your kitchen counter so set up on something where it doesnít matter. I had a container of cool water nearby large enough to fit the size of the finished pipe into. This will be used to cool and set the pipe as I go through the rest of the process.
Okay I determined that I wanted to heat the area of the tube between ĹĒ from the plugged end to 3Ē from that end. Really I just guessed this but it seemed to work out pretty good. I used the high setting on the heat gun and kept the tube in constant motion both twisting and moving back and forth on the area I was heating. I kept the tube about 1 ĹĒ from the end of the heat gun and moved it further away as it became hotter. As you heat the tube it will eventually start to flex and bend with its own weight. I figured that it would need to get pretty hot to blow a bubble in it and had to test several times along the way. You do need to be very careful not to get it too hot as it will blister on the surface. I still havenít done a perfect one without any blisters at all. So finally the tube got hot enough and when blowing gently I could see a small bulge form in the end. I kept the end in the heat and gently blew into the tube until the bulge was the size that I thought I wanted. Once there I quickly covered the end with my finger and slowly dipped the hot tube into the cool water so that it cooled and set. Note if you donít cover the end with your finger after getting the bubble the right size it will shrink back a bit and can deform some when cooling in the water. So at this point I ended up with a tube with a bulge in it like the image below.
Next I filled the whole tube with the table salt tapping the side of the tube to get it packed in real tight. Once full I tapped the end closed with masking tape to keep the salt in and again freeing up both hands to work the bends. I forgot to take a picture of the straight tube full of salt but itís about a foot long and youíll get the idea from the images.
To make the bends start with the one closest to the bubble again heating the pipe with the heat gun covering about a 1 ĹĒ area. The pipe with the salt in it will again start flexing and bending under its own weight. I was very careful not to let the pipe stretch by its self as it can easily get out of control. So I made the first bend then cooled completely in the water and then had to figure where to make the U over the tank bend. This is something that you could put a mark on the pipe with a sharpie for the center. But I just guessed and figured a little long because you can always raise the tube up a bit on the tank.
The U bend is actually the easiest bend to make but can also go wrong the quickest. The key is to heat a long enough area on the pipe and get it very flexible without losing control of it. Two hands here is a must and if you have a wood dowel, broom handle, curved edge of a knife handle, etc. to bend in over it could make it simpler. I just heated about a 4Ē section of the pipe and once it was super flexible slowly bent it by sight. Once this bend was made the pipe is still very flexible so I held it in position and cooled it completely in the water. This is what I ended up with:
Close up, you can see that I have a few heat blisters on the bubble.
Next I used a fine tooth hobby saw to very carefully cut through the bubble at the desired angle. This is a bit of a guess but cut a little long and plan on sanding it down to the final size. This cut is very hard to make without chipping the edge of the bubble. I used pull strokes of the saw only and left the salt in the tube for some extra support. If you have a Dremel with a cut off disk I think that it could work for the rough cut, Iíll try that next time.
At this point I was feeling pretty good, almost there, but a good time to remember to be patient, donít get in a hurry now. With fine sandpaper wrapped around a small piece of wood I carefully sanded the opening to the final angle and shape that I wanted. For the final polish on the edge I used one of those ďfour in oneĒ emery boards used for finishing and polishing fingernails. Next I figured and cut the other end to the length that I wanted, smoothing the sharp edge with sand paper. A final wash with warm soapy water and a real good rinse and there I had it. . . a DIY nano lily pipe.
Itís not perfect but it actually works incredibly well forming that little surface funnel which keeps the tank surface sparkling clear. Iíll get some in the tank shotís in a couple of days.