Tools of the trade

Every fish keeper that has kept fish for any length of time, and especially if he/she has maintained multiple tanks concurrently, knows that having the right tool for specific tasks can save time, effort, and frustration.  I can’t count the number of times that I started some task only to realize that I simply didn’t have the right tool to do the job. For that reason, I’ve put together a short list of tools that your fish keeping toolbox should not be without. This isn’t exhaustive, but having these items will make setting up and maintaining your aquarium much simpler.

  • Scissors: I can’t imagine anyone not already having a pair of scissors. However, never underestimate the importance of this common but essential tool. Use it to cut sponges or floss to fit filters, etc.
  • Snips or shears: Snips are always needed for something. I find them perfect for cutting vinyl backstrips for glass canopies, those plastic pieces that slide on to the glass cover at the rear of the aquarium.  Snips will easily cut notches in the backstrip for HOBs, canister hose fittings, submersible heater cords, powerhead cords, air lines, etc. They are also very good at cutting the plastic hinges for two-piece glass canopies when you have to buy the long replacement hinges and cut them to fit.
  • PVC cutter: At some point in your fishkeeping, you will need to cut some PVC, some hose, or maybe even a plastic intake tube that comes with various canister filters. You can use other tools to cut these items, but a PVC cutter will cut it all and quite efficiently.
  • Utility knife: This is practically indispensable. It’s called a utility knife for good reason. It has too many uses to mention them all.


Tools and supplies you should seriously consider for your fish keeping toolbox. Photo courtesy of the author.

These next items aren’t really for a tool box, but they will be needed at some point in your fish keeping travels.

  • Stainless steel stock pot: If you keep Rift lake cichlids, especially rock dwellers, you’ll invariably need some rock. Whether it’s river rock, slate, sandstone, holey rock, quartz, or other varieties, many people boil rocks before adding them to their tanks. I would recommend a pot that holds at least 14 quarts. You’d be surprised how just a few small rocks can fill a pot.  You can also use the pot to boil ceramic caves, clay pots, driftwood, and other types of decorations just to be safe. I’ve even boiled PVC connectors and pieces.
  • Buckets: Yeah, you might be thinking, “Why do I need buckets if I use a Python or similar faucet-attaching hose to drain and fill my tanks?” Trust me. It’s not a matter of if, but when, you will need a bucket…or three. Where are you going to put all those rocks, decorations, ornaments, etc. when you remove them from the tank to vacuum your substrate?
  • Hose clamps/zip ties: If you use a sump filter or a canister, don’t trust just sliding your hose ends over the hose fittings. You better clamp or zip tie them.
  • Cleaning brushes: You can never have too many brushes. Use them to clean rocks (either instead of boiling them or before you boil them), hoses, PVC pipe and fittings, filter parts, etc.

​What are some other tools you think a fish keeper must have?

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