Reptile enclosure


jwebb2011
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Let me start off by saying this is my first ever wood working project. I know it isnt the finest piece of work, but all i had for power tools at the time was a circular saw and a drill. So youll have to excuse some of the slop in my work. I also had no real plans other than my over all dimensions. But i have to say after building this i think i have found a new hobby, i already liked to build things anyways.

Here i am laying out the top and sides for a test fit, i am building it upside down right now. All cuts had to be made with a clamped T-square and my circular saw, i lucked out and everything came out square. My finished outside dimensions had to be 42"L x 22"D x 20"H.

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Glued and screwed top and sides together, everything is butt jointed because i didnt have the means to do anything else. I countersunk all the screws so i could fill them later.

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This is going to be a front opening enclosure so i had to make a barrier across the bottom front to keep the substrate in.

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This is going to be a front opening enclosure so i had to create a barrier to keep the substrate in. I cut out some openings in the back and used some heating vents to add ventilation. And i used a melamine board for the bottom, just to help with some of the moisture that will be in the tank.

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I sealed the bottom edges inside with aquarium sealent to help keep any moisture from leaking towards the particle board edges.

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Then i got started on filling and sanding.

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I saved this part of the build for the end because i really had no idea how i was going to make a door or frame for a door. I didnt want to just butt the ends together because i was afraid drilling through the 3/4" plywood would be a disaster.

So it finally came down to these mickey mouse joints which i cut with a hand saw. None of the joints came out 100% perfect, but they were close enough for a first timer who was under pressure.

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I test fitted everything together and the whole frame ended up being pretty square, if i remember correctly when i measured corner to corner to check for square it was off by about 1/16"

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Glued and clamped it over night.

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The following day when i placed the door frame in place to test fit it i noticed a slight bow across the top and bottom edges. I now know plywood is almost never perfectly straight. Luckily the clasps im using to hold the door shut suck the ends in when closed.

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I didn't take any pictures of the staining and sealing process (who likes to watch "paint" dry anyways) but i put 1 coat of stain on the outside followed by 3 coats of min wax outdoor water sealer throughout the entire piece. It took over a month for the enclosure to air out enough to be pet friendly, next time i will find a better product.

I notched out the top of the litter barrier to account for the thickness of the hinges, again I had to use the circular saw for this, just raised the blade and made a few passes.

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Then I mounted the glass to the door. For now it is simply mounted to the inside of the frame using mirror clips, but at some point i would like to recess it into the frame, i just dont have the equipment to do it right now. Not to mention the glass place didnt cut it square so it will be tough just routing the edges to recess it.

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And here is the finished product. I have to say i certainly learned a lot during this process and if i ever have to build something like this again I will not be making some of the same mistakes. First being trying to make a decent piece with garbage for tools. I already know what I am making next and I am not even goi to attempt it until I have a couple of tools in my arsenal.

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Thank you all for taking the time to look at my project. Please dont be to harsh, but i do appreciate constructive criticism and some experienced tips.

Thanks

Jeremy

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Jeremy, you have nothing there to be ashamed of. Your project turned out quite nice, regardless of the tools you used. Well done!

By the way, thise 'mickey mouse' joints you used for the door frame are called 'lap joints', and are a strong, useful joint. If you obtain a chisel or two before the next time you need to make a frame like that, you might step up to a 'bridle joint'. ,he bridle would add a little more strength against twist, and can even be pegged together so that glue isn't needed, in case you need to disassemble the joint.

Don't worry too much about having a limited set of tools. The key to woodworking is understanding how to use the tools you have. You have a circular saw and a drill. A hammer as well, I imagine. I see a speed square in the photos. I would recommend that you get a decent hand saw, a couple of chisels, and maybe a block plane. They don't have to be expensive. Learn to sharpen thing effectively. With just that small collection, you will be well armed when you tackle your next project.

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Hey, jwebb2011, very nice work on your enclosure! You certainly did a great job irregardless of the tools you had or didn't have access to. And most importantly, it does look like you've done a good job making it a safe and appropriate space for your guy, and by that I mean you have the heat lamp off to one side to establish a thermal gradient, and I see you have a fluorescent tube so you could run a UVB lamp if you needed one. Maybe I missed it, and your last pick is just a little blurry, but what are you keeping, a Blue Tongued Skink? From what I remember, they need either a calcium supplement in their diet or a UVB light bulb, but maybe that's best left for another forum....

 

I have been keeping and breeding snakes and other reptiles for many years now, and we also keep aquariums. I built a very similar cage for my wife's bearded dragons, but it has two front glass pieces that slide in a track instead of a door. I've also built a number of aquarium stands, other wooden herp enclosures, and rack style cages for snakes out of melamine and Sterlite shoes boxes. One of the reasons I joined this forum was to improve my woodworking skills so I could someday build truly furniture quality reptile enclosures and aquarium cabinet stands, that's a personal goal of mine.

 

Please don't think for a minute that I'm knocking your build because I'm not at all, but I am a little concerned for you and your skink over the following small points:

This is going to be a front opening enclosure so i had to create a barrier to keep the substrate in. I cut out some openings in the back and used some heating vents to add ventilation. And i used a melamine board for the bottom, just to help with some of the moisture that will be in the tank.
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I sealed the bottom edges inside with aquarium sealent to help keep any moisture from leaking towards the particle board edges.
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I am the furthest thing from a master woodworker - that's why I'm on this forum - but I really do have a lot of experience building reptile cages, and I'm a little concerned about your use of melamine as a bottom for your cage. From my experience and research into building cages like these, I know that melamine is great at handling a quick spill of liquid that gets wiped up fairly quickly. However, melamine is not really water proof or even very water resistant, and if liquid (like a spilled water bowl or your buddy's business) is allowed to stand on the melamine for much of a time, the melamine will quickly start to degrade. Once that very thin white covering wears off the melamine, it's just particle board underneath, and you'll find it quickly begins to rot, mold, and simply disintegrate. So again please don't think I'm knocking your build, but if you're relying on that melamine bottom to be moisture resistant, you may want to reconsider that. There are alternatives, such as just coating the plywood bottom well with polyurethane, or you can lay inexpensive adhesive backed floor tiles down on top of your plywood; these can be found under a dollar a square foot. Some guys use real ceramic tiles, and I've personally fit a layer of acrylic to the bottom of one cage I made. I definitely wish you the best of luck, but I'm going to ask that at the least you keep your eye on the melamine and see if it's getting wet and in danger of deteriorating, which can lead to potential health risks for your lizard. For one thing, your substrate or bedding may serve to absorb any extra liquids, and you may not have a problem at all. But I'd hate to see your hard work rot prematurely, or anything preventable happen to your dude (or dudette, I suppose).

 

And just a quick note, because again I've done a lot with it, as a rule silicon aquarium sealant adheres to glass and very little else. That means that usually it will not bond to wood or plastic materials. In my humble opinion, a better option to seal the seams of your cage at the bottom would be to use a regular caulk for wood. Just be sure it's a "plain" caulk without extra anti microbial agents (mold killers, etc.) that may harm your pet. Again, I mean all this to be helpful, not critical, so please take it as such. 

 

Otherwise you cage looks great, your lizard looks very happy and I wish you both lots of luck! If you're interested, there's lots of info on the internet in herp forums and elsewhere on building cages and decorations. I did the whole "layers of styrofoam covered in floor grout" thing to make the inside of our bearded dragon cage look like faux rocks with hiding caves and basking shelves built right in. It looks pretty cool, it's easy to clean, gives the guys more room, and having perches they can climb up and down on makes even better use of the heat gradient as they can climb up closer to or down away from the heat light. You can google that kind of thing if you're interested, or ask here and I can find some links to some cool stuff. If you have any questions about anything I mentioned here, or anything at all you think I might be able to help with, fell free to ask and I'll do my best to help you.

 

Again, great looking cage! happy herping, happy building, and best of luck to you!

 

-TheWoodShouter

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..,,

So it finally came down to these mickey mouse joints which i cut with a hand saw. None of the joints came out 100% perfect, but they were close enough for a first timer who was under pressure.

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Hardly! Steamboat Mickey could never pull off a half lap joint, especially with a hand saw.

Good intuitions, and a very strong joint. The hand sawing will make you really appreciate a dado stack one day!

Great looking project and happy to hear you caught the bug.

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