Convert an Old TV Into a Fish Tank

Have you discovered a dinosaur of a TV set in your attic? You know, the ones with imitation wood and knobs instead of buttons? It sure can't compete with today's flat-panel units, but it doesn't have to head straight for the junk pile -- if you're creative. Among other things, you can convert your old TV into a unique fish tank. Just follow these instructions.


  1. Find an old wooden TV console.
  2. Open the wooden television console. Console televisions usually have a removable back, but you may have to go in through the side.
  3. Remove all electrical components.
    • Be especially careful not to shatter the tube, as the older models can be very dangerous. See Warnings for additional information.
  4. If necessary, remove any internal dividing panels. Unless you plan to integrate them into the design, remove interior compartments to free up space.
  5. Consider whether or not to remove any control knobs. The knobs on the television may jut into the body of the wooden console depending on your television’s model. Since the goal is to empty the console to make room for a fish tank, you may have to remove a knob or two; however, if they are all to one side, consider leaving them in place and devoting that cramped end of the box to any ugly, external pieces of the aquarium that need to be included in the setup (ex. the air pump).
  6. Measure the usable interior of the television.
    • If necessary, measure the spaces for the actual aquarium and its out-of-water components separately.
  7. Buy the necessary aquarium components. Using the TVs internal measurements, buy an aquarium and any additional components necessary including a filter, air pump, overhead light, and tubing. Make sure the tank that is wider and slightly taller than the screen. Be especially careful to leave room between the top of the aquarium and the lid of the console for an overhead light, which your fish and plants will need if they’re going to be enclosed in a dark box.
    • Place the air pump inside the cabinet to suppress the noise. However, it can be mounted outside if there is not enough room.
    • If you don’t have space to fit an overhead light inside the console, consider getting a remote ballast light instead.
    • If your TV console won't fit a standard tank size, you can have one custom-built to fit.
  8. Test-fit the aquarium inside the empty television. Arrange them inside the TV console and make sure there is room for everything. Don’t fill the aquarium yet.
  9. Drill cord and/or tube holes through the back panel of the console if necessary. If possible, cut out an additional discrete hole to encourage ventilation and discourage condensation.
  10. Create a lid on the top. The most elegant way of approaching this is to cut the entire existing lid off at the seams.
    • Attach hinges, and turn it into a flip lid. Alternatively, you can remove the existing top and replace it with a flip lid made from a new piece of wood stained to match the old paneling.
    • Replace the back of the TV.
  11. Reinforce the bottom of the console if necessary. If the bottom doesn’t look capable of holding up gallons and gallons of water, you can either replace it with a stronger piece of wood or reinforce it with underneath with wood or metal.
  12. Weatherproof all surfaces multiple times. Use a water-resistant finish such as polyurethane to protect the enclosed space from becoming water-damaged.
  13. Mount a surge protector to the outside of the back of the cabinet if necessary. If you need to run a cord from inside the tank to a power source and it won’t reach the wall, attach a surge protector with a long cord directly to the dry back of the aquarium to bridge the distance while keeping the area relatively tidy.
  14. Assemble the tank inside the console. Attach the pump, filter, and hoses, then set up the aquarium itself. Use these guides to set up either a freshwater or a saltwater aquarium.
    • Cycle the tank before adding fish. This is an absolute must if you want your fish to live for more than a week or two. To humanely cycle the tank, do a fishless cycle.
  15. Add Fish, now you're finished!.



  • Wire the light for the fish tank through one of the controls on the original television. This may require you to take out one of the original controls.
  • Build the tank to exceed the width of the screen rather than just cover it, and you will have a larger volume of water and be able to hide the filter and heater.
  • For colder areas, insulating the box is a good idea. This will help maintain a constant temperature.
  • Use the extra space inside as storage space for the food and cleaning tools.
  • Cool backgrounds are the key to a great T.V. aquarium. You can use an underwater scene (which can be found at most fish-pet stores), or you can make a custom one of a television show you like. (Get the measurements and the picture, then head to your nearest print shop and have them print it for you.)
  • Be extremely careful when doing this, also make sure that the TV is off before you start. Of course, it will be off when your done because of the things you are removing.


  • You may want to take the old TV to a repairman and have him remove the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). While the contents of the CRT are not normally dangerous, the air vacuum inside can cause shards of glass to fly if its glass skin gets cracked or breached in some way. (TV tubes up until about 1960 do not have integral implosion protection and can be extremely dangerous. You'll notice a label on all tubes that are less volatile that says something like, "This tube provides integral implosion protection." If you don't see that, don't mess with it.)
  • If you use your existing TV stand, make sure it is strong enough to cope with the weight of the water.
  • The capacitors and other electronics can store charge for years after it was last used. Shock hazards could still exist, so care should be used in removal and disposal of the electronic components.
  • Be sure you are ready to take on the responsibility of owning fish. They are more work than you may think!
  • Make sure you have finished building the cabinet before you start inserting the tank.
  • The radiation shield and other components may have very sharp edges.

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Sources and Citations

  • Aquahobby – Source of much of this article. Used with permission.
  • TV Tanks – Hobbyist site on transforming a vintage television into a multimedia aquarium.