Monday, September 19, 2011

Living in a Fishbowl

Well, I finally finished my TV-to-fish tank project. For those of you who are long time readers you may remember that I had a 1950 Motorola TV that I bought at a yard sale. It never worked, but the cabinet was nice solid mahogany, the speaker cloth was fine, and I knew it had potential.

I took the guts out of it- that picture tube was heavy! It had a few scratches (OK, gouges) and water marks on the top, so I had to refinish it. After my coffee-table makeover project earlier this summer, I knew this would be fairly easy.
Here's the 'before':

And the 'after'. Came out pretty well! I also restored the knobs with a little elbow grease and some black marker to color in the dial numbers (remember those? LOL).

But that was the easy part. The hard part was finding a fish tank that fit inside and that covered the whole porthole window. I finally found one at a yard sale this weekend for $3. It's actually a hermit crab tank, but it fits great and has a cover. I had trashpicked a filter pump and aerator from our neighbors and two seascape backdrops, so all that went inside as well. At some point I want to find a large black and white still from a vintage TV show to use as a backdrop, so it looks more like the TV is still playing a 1950s show. 

I had to buy some lighting for inside the tank. Since there is very little headroom, I decided to get a string of rope lighting and attached it to the inside upper edge. It's not real bright, but it does the trick- it was more important that the lights didn't get very hot.

We made a shelf out of plywood to fit on the rails that held the TV chassis and slid the new tank in.

It's hard to see, but we have two fish in there- Gomer Pyle and Barney Fife. One fish is white and the other black and white. My son is a huge fan of the Andy Griffith show, so hopefully we'll find a B&W photo from that show that we can use as a backdrop. (We lost our best fish, Nemo, earlier in the week, so he never made the move. RIP, Nemo.)

And lit up at night, with a Helmscene 3D TV lamp on top. (I must have taken 100 pix trying to get a good one, and this is the best of that lot. My camera stinks!) That is a vintage ad for the 1952 version of this TV on the table next to it. I used that for reference when putting the knobs back together.

Nov. 2011 update: I changed the background to a vintage test pattern, and added period rabbit ears and a UHF tuner:

It is definitely cool, and I think just about anyone with an old TV could do it, if I could!


  1. Fantastic!
    I LOve it!!! It came out sooooo great


  2. Oh wow that is awesome! Nice job...I've heard of gutting old tv's and adding a new flat screen tv inside but never a fish tank. Neato!


  3. What a classy fishbowl! It really turned out nicely :-)

  4. WOW! That is quite the makeover.

    It turned out beautifully. Congrats! And long life to Gomer and Barney!

  5. Beautiful! What a conversation starter, and a great use for things that other people might trash!

  6. That is so cool. We have one of these old tv's in one of our barns. We talked about doing this. thanks for sharing.

  7. That is really cool. I've heard about people doing that, but I've never seen one finished. I bet the kids love it!

  8. That came out so amazing! You did a great job, what sn awesome piece to have!

  9. Wowwwwie! That's great! I remember seeing one at a diner, and thought it would be a cool project, but you actually did it!

  10. WOW!!! Great job! It turned out so well and I love that you have a TV lamp and an original ad for the set. Too much fun.

  11. Love this! So clever, and thanks for entering our contest!

    Contest link:

  12. Very nicely done - the test pattern and rabbit ears are great finishing touches, and you really worked a miracle on the cabinet top!

  13. How do you get in the cabinet to feed the fish? I have a tv exactly like yours, and I considered cutting the top off and putting hinges on it to access the tank.

    1. I just slide it forward and reach in from the back. But if you have the skills to put a hinged top on I would definitely consider it. I have thought about doing just that more than once.