Fishy Business

Media 1’s latest custom job required getting tanked.
Dale Salamacha used sign fabrication concepts to build a fish tank in his home.

After employee Greg Berry’s article two months ago regarding the rapidly diminishing floor space here at Media 1/ Wrap This, I’m taking back the literary reins this month to talk about a fun little project we just completed. This was not for a client, but rather a custom project for my personal residence.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL SWIM

Two years ago, my wife, Christy, and I built our dream house in our hometown of Oviedo, FL. But for a guy with a seriously overactive imagination, a shop full of fabrication equipment and a wife with a Pinterest addiction, even a semi-custom home could not satisfy our desire to customize. Thus began our 24-month journey – a journey that tested our patience, nearly put asunder our marriage vows and obliterated our credit cards into smoldering piles of melted plastic. Two solid years of designing, building and installing all manner of custom features.

We built an 8-ft.-tall entry chandelier, a flashing LED “Cinema” sign, tons of dimensional wall décor and custom furniture ranging from a kitchen nook to a 10-ft. dining table. We ripped out a staircase, knocked down walls and remodeled bathrooms. No contractors, just Christy and I – and several talented M1 guys!

I have personally been working on this house every weekend and evening for the past 734 days. Seriously, every weekend. We even vowed to postpone vacations until the house was complete. 

Media 1 employees lended a hand in fabricating Salamacha’s fish tank.
Media 1 employees lent a hand in fabricating Salamacha’s fish tank.

So while we are both on the verge of nervous breakdowns, we are close to completion, and by the time you read this, hopefully we’ll be on a beach in Mexico, fully spent but fulfilled with unparalleled pride in our work. 

But there is this one project – the pièce de résistance – that serves as a massive focal point in the home, an idea that elicited scoffs from our friends and an undertaking even sign-industry people told me I couldn’t pull off. But after months of planning, designing and building, I am proud to say they obviously didn’t know who they were dealing with!

A sign company most definitely can build a 420-gallon, L-shaped marine fish tank. 

DEEP DIVE, HUGE SAVINGS

Smack in the middle of the house was a semi-open room called a “pocket office.” It featured an L-shaped desk, complete with a marble pass-through counter, reminiscent of a dentist’s office. Yuck. Who the hell wants that in their living room? But because it included a load-bearing section, the builder was unwilling to eliminate it from the plans. 

After closing, we hired a contractor to demo the desk, the Starbucks drive-through window and all walls and flooring. Once the room was wide open – minus the bearing support beam that we finished as a matching column – I began construction using 2 x 6-in. wood to build a base capable of supporting this beast of a tank. Meanwhile, at M1, CNC operator Dominic Ream was slicing and dicing three 6 x 8 ft. x ¾-in. sheets of cast acrylic purchased from Piedmont Plastics. Our MultiCam Apex ripped through each sheet in 17 minutes flat! 

My friends Mitchell and Mason Grable at Riptide Aquaculture (Altamonte Springs, FL) were invaluable in designing the 24-in. deep x 32-in. tall x 7-ft. (one way) x 5-ft. (the other way) Dory-enclosure. They also supplied and installed all filtration equipment, sand, live rock and salt water. (Thankfully, they’ll also perform the weekly maintenance.)

M1 guys Steve Pass, Jason Wissig and I spent 10 hours adhering the tank walls with Weld-On 4 acrylic cement. After sufficient curing time, we filled the tank with 420 gallons of water and let it sit through the weekend. Satisfied with the leak test, six of us trailered the 450-lb. Tetris cube to the house, carried it inside and set it directly on the wood base.

While Riptide was installing equipment and filling the tank (a full three-day process), I was busy cutting and painting cabinet trim panels and doors. The top cabinets were built over the finished tank, with 2 x 2-in. wood studs. All cabinetry/doors are ¾-in. birch plywood, finished in Matthews satin white paint. 

The full tank weighs 4,200 lbs., and the acrylic is withstanding water pressure of 1,800 psi!

Currently housing 25 marine species, it will showcase 50 when fully stocked. And the overall cost? Initial estimates from professionals topped $40k (plus the demo). Doing all work ourselves, with the help of our friends, I’m all-in for $8k. Straight custom, on a budget. Told y’all I could build a tank! 

And, yes, partner Rick Ream, this was a one-off. I promise not to turn M1 into a fish tank fabricator.

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Signs of the Times August 2019

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