My Powerheads Keep Falling, and I'm Not Going To Take It Any More! -
Do-it-Yourself Powerhead Brackets


An issue that seems to affect most aquarists is the problem keeping powerheads attached firmly to the back of the tank with the ineffective suction cups provided by the manufacturer. Over time they lose their elasticity and ability to adhere to the glass or acrylic. Eventually, it seems that most aquarists will have a powerhead come loose and create some sort of problem. Usually, it's a minor hassle trying to scrape the glass clean, clean the suction cups and put the powerhead back in place. Sometimes it's a bigger problem, especially if a prized coral gets damaged or the substrate gets churned up into suspension. In most cases once the suction cups are too old and stiff to attach to the glass securely, it's inevitable that the powerhead will continue to fall. It becomes a constant problem until the suction cups are replaced and the glass is thoroughly cleaned.

After having this problem myself I began looking for alternatives to suction cups. At the time few choices were available in the trade and those that were cost money. Because at that time I probably had a dozen powerheads in various tanks, I set out to devise a cheap alternative that was reliable and easy to make. After a few failed attempts, a simple (and inexpensive) bracket became my standard solution for mounting powerheads.

The finished product.

Get Your Tools & Materials Together

First you need the following equipment: 1) A workbench, vise or some other way to clamp a piece of wood horizontally; 2) A piece of wood that will be used to create a form. The wood should be approximately as thick as the top lip of your tank. The form board needs to be wide enough so when you bend the plastic it doesn't bump against the clamp holding the bracket material in place. A 1" x 8" or 1" x 10" piece of lumber works for my purposes, but if your top lip is wider, you may have to search the lumberyard for the right piece of wood. (Sorry, this DIY project doesn't work for euro-braced or most acrylic tanks.); 3) To round out the tools list you'll need a heat source (I use a paint stripper, but a hair dryer works just fine), some clamps, a thick pair of leather gloves and bracket forming materials.

The bracket materials I use are slats from a faux wood window blind. You can find these window blinds at most home improvement stores in various lengths with slats about 2" wide. I now use these plastic slats exclusively. They're cheap, easy to work with and become covered in coralline algae very quickly once they're placed into the tank. The brackets I originally used were made from plexiglass strips that I had cut at the local hardware store. It's very likely that when you order a piece of 12" x 12" plexiglass and tell them you want it cut into six 2" strips, they'll give you some funny looks. If you're a regular customer, though, they'll eventually let you dig through the scrap bucket and you can get an unlimited supply of plexiglass strips for next to nothing.

Left to right: gloves, faux wood blind slats, drill bits, clamps, drill and paint stripping gun - all located on the work bench.

Get on with the Project!

The first step is to prepare the work area. Clamp the board firmly in place, have your hand clamps readily available, and if you're using a paint removing gun prepare a place to set it down where you won't burn something or cause a fire. Be careful with the paint stripping gun, as its tip can get very hot and cause a nasty burn. When using the paint stripper a medium to low heat works best to avoid burning the material. If you're using a hair dryer, set it on high heat.

The bracket demonstrated here is designed to hold a Maxijet powerhead just under the water's surface, so I need about 8" of material. These slats are easy to cut with a straight edge and utility knife. If you're using plexiglass, you'll have to score it the same way as demonstrated for the faux wood blinds and snap it off. Learning to cleanly snap the plexiglass takes some practice, so don't get discouraged if you don't get a clean break the first time. If you're using plexiglass be sure to wear eye protection. It doesn't always snap smoothly and sometimes splinters go flying.

Scoring and cutting the faux wood slats.

Remember to clamp the long end and bend the short end! Once it's clamped in place, heat it slowly using your heat source. I find it easier to heat enough of the material to make two bends at once. Heating is not a race, and you don't want to burn the material. As you alternate the heat side to side, the plastic will start to bend on its own. While wearing gloves, bend it and form the hook. After it's formed into a suitable shape, clamp it and let it cool. Next, follow the same procedure again, this time at the bottom of the bracket. This bend is to keep the powerhead from sliding off the bracket. Be sure to allow enough clearance for any screen over the pump's intake. The first few times you do this it's not unusual to be disappointed with the results. It's easy to burn the material while heating it and although it's usually a cosmetic problem, it doesn't look as nice. Another common problem is bending the bracket out of square. When building a short bracket, that's not usually noticeable but with a longer bracket it just doesn't look good. Both of these common problems can be avoided by checking your setup and taking your time.

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Bending the faux wood slats.

The next step is to add a suction cup to the back of the bracket. In an ideal world it's as simple as drilling a hole slightly smaller than the nub on the back of the suction cup and just popping it through the hole. In the real world the next size smaller drill bit is too small, and no amount of effort will get the suction cup in place. If that happens, it's easy enough to just make the hole large enough for the suction cup to slide in and grind a notch at the top of the hole that fits snugly around the neck of the suction cup. This suction cup is basically used for spacing purposes and won't have the downward pressure placed upon it that holding up a powerhead would receive, so it doesn't need as secure an attachment. You probably were thinking no more suction cups, but this suction cup is for a different reason. First, the bracket will tend to aim down because of the way it hangs on the tank. I buy large suction cups and use them to level out the bracket. Second, the suction cups serve to absorb vibration from the powerhead to the glass tank. If you've ever had several powerheads in a tank going on and off with a wavemaker, you'll understand why eliminating vibration between the glass and the powerhead is a good idea. The last step is to zip tie the powerhead to the bracket, rinse everything off and put it into the tank.

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Additional Uses

Once you've made a couple of these brackets, you'll probably find all kinds of uses for them. Also, I have battery backup bubblers on all my tanks. Here's a plexiglass version made to hold both the bubbler outside and the rigid tubing inside the tank.

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The suction cups on my heater mounting bracket failed even more often than powerhead suction cups. I suspect it's because of their close proximity to the heater. In any case, it's no longer a problem because the heater bracket is now cable tied to a DIY bracket. Quite often a powerhead behind the rockwork is desired but that area has minimal accessibility. And even if you could reach the location it's almost impossible to get the powerhead attached to the glass. In this case I've made a long bracket, threaded it down the back of the tank in an open area, and then slid the bracket and powerhead over to its desired location.

A larger version of these brackets with some eggcrate material makes a convenient coral fragment shelf in your tank or sump (shown below). In this case you'll want to bend the shelf bracket at more than 90° to level the shelf. If you fabricate a coral fragment shelf, make sure to use enough brackets to support the weight the shelf will be holding. This is one situation where plexiglass is the preferred material if your shelf is more than two or three inches deep. The plexiglass is stronger and is less likely to bend or fail under the weight of the coral fragments.

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As shown in this last picture, the brackets can also be used outside the tank to make a shelf, for a convenient place to store supplies.


Happy DIYing!

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

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Do-it-Yourself Powerhead Brackets by Agu Lukk -