As far as betta hammocks go, I know some people have made them themselves homemade ones that were slightly better/safer than the store bought version. I can't remember how, but I saw it on this site for sure. They bought a couple big silk leaves and I think used silicone to attach the wire through and seal it so it wouldn't become fully exposed/rust.
Good luck with the tail biting! Sounds like such a pain to deal with!
Even though you don't want the hassle of substrate, maybe consider those large glass stones. Just have a thin layer; because they're huge, it's much easier to clean and clean around them.
Also, add a large cave and some plants. The cave will give him a dark place to hide when he just wants to be alone. Lots of people have luck with the betta hammock, but all of mine HATE it. Try taping a plastic plant to the water level; mine love a leafy plant at the water level to hide under and swim around. You can also float wisteria and/or water sprite.
Lastly, make a black backdrop. This'll cut down on distractions and spooky things on up to three sides of the tank (among other things). Unless you really love viewing your tank from all sides, block off the ones you don't look through. It'll make your tank look deeper, too.
Seriously though, suck it up and get some substrate; your tank isn't that big. Fish like substrate. And a cave.
I would (as always) suggest FinSafe plants by Acumen Aquatics. Have a look at their products on facebook - they are stylish and very betta safe. Lots of big broad leaves, and very high quality. I have 3 plant and 3 gorgeous ornaments from them. :)
Fish don't really care if there is sub, and I would have to argue that unless it is a soft sandy/dirt bottom, any other sub is just not natural. The difference between glass stones and straight glass is almost nothing. They are hard and don't offer hiding spots.Maybe the stones would cut down on a reflection? However, unless he is flaring at the bottom of the tank, I don't think that is a problem.
Gravel is for humans, plain and simple. Probably 99% of our fish were grown in tanks without sub on the bottom. The only real benefit that I can see from having gravel is that it does provide another place for the good bacteria to grow, and is a great sort of "back up" if you completely clean out your filter. Though, again, as mentioned, most breeders keep their tanks bare bottomed and the fish are just as happy.
Gonna chime in about the substrate - I had one of my boys in a temporary tank with only a couple of fake plants in the bottom - After a couple of days, I noticed that he was spending ages flaring at his reflection on the bottom glass.
This may be down to the fact that the tank was on a dark blue surface, but since then, I won't keep one in a tank with nothing on the bottom - Simple choice of the wellbeing of the fish (Even on a potential level), versus a little extra work when doing the water changes.
It's not even that much more work - I made my gravel cleaner with an old soda bottle, so the only real difference is sticking it in the tank further, and moving it about a bit.
I am not skipping substrate to cut down on work, though I appreciate the insinuations of laziness. I am skipping it because I like the clean, simple appearance of it. He doesn't flare at the bottom at all (or the sides - he's not a big flarer) so it's not stressing him out.
I got three more plants (with foliage lower to the bottom) to put in his tank and I'm also going to look for a dark cave for him. Thank you all for your feedback!
One of my boys has a bare bottom tank (mainly due to him burying himself in any substrate that I've put in with him.. silly fish) and he doesn't seem to care. I did add in a few of the glass rocks here and there for him to play around with, but other then that, it's all bare.
There is no harm, physically or mentally, with having a bare bottom tank. Yes, some fish may flare at their reflection, but again, it's not going to harm them. Their well-being has nothing to do with substrate, but with water chemistry and temp.
So go ahead and keep the bare bottom and don't feel bad.. it's not going to do him harm in any sense.
Sorry - I didn't mean to imply I thought that you were being lazy.
I also insinuated he was/is lazy. Don't take all the credit, haha!
I agree about the clean bottom, but at the rate my fish poo, it wouldn't be a clean bottom for more than 20 minutes; at least the gravel hides fish poo more-so than bare bottom. My hospital tank, though, is substrate-free.
Get a nice cave, though; something closed and dark gives the fish territory to establish himself in and call his domain.