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You have a couple of options better than a homemade cartridge. You could buy one and use it nearly forever....just rinse it out during each water change.
You might also get a filter sponge and cut to fit.

Activated carbon gets a 'bad rap' on the forum(s). It is excellent at adsorbing impurities and has been used in aquariums (and for purifying drinking water) for decades. The downside is that it is only effective for a short time before it is exhausted. It also removes impurities (aka nutrients) that living plants can use. Still, unless you have lots of plants, occasional use of activated carbon can be a benefit.
Then again, if you:
>don't over stock
>don't over feed
>do weekly partial water changes of sufficient volume to keep the water fresh
You won't need carbon - the best purification is replacing used tank water with fresh.

I'm unsure of the difference between activated and AMMO carbon, but if you were to make your own cartridge, I wouldn't bother putting either inside of it.

As for cycling, you don't really have a choice...it's going to happen so learning about it will better ensure your success.
 
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