Introduction: Amazing Ant Farm

Picture of Amazing Ant Farm

In keeping with my other Instructable, I had an idea for a project that other people had done, but wanted to do it better. Here is a cheap, easy to make, very durable ant farm for your ant watching pleasure. It doesn't look the prettiest, but then again, do your ants really need a $2000 princess palace?

Step 1: Figure Out the Size

Begin by figuring out the size that you would like your ant farm to be. Make it large enough to hold a good number of ants, but not too big. It helps to know the size of the ants you will be putting in; if you have a larger size ant, a larger farm would be better. At this point, it is also good to determine the gap that you will leave between the two sheets of plastic.

Step 2: Materials

Picture of Materials

Now that you have determined the size of your ant farm, you will need the following materials:

1. One or two pieces of plastic big enough to cut the windows out of.
2. Enough 1x3 board to go around the edge of the window size.
3. Threaded rod and nuts (used 1/4-20 in this model)
4. GE Silicone Door and Window caulk to seal around windows
5. Building stuff skills

Total cost was $10 for plastic, $2 for wood, $2 for hardware and $3 for caulk.

And you will probably need for tools:
1. Saw to cut windows to size if they are wrong size
2. Saw to cut wood boards to size
3. Drill to drill holes in the top for threaded rods.
4. Method of putting the appropriate groove in the boards (see step 5)

Picture shows necessary building stuff skills for this project. (just kidding)

Step 3: Cut the Plastic Windows

Picture of Cut the Plastic Windows

It is a good idea to cut the plastic before building the frame; this allows you to build the frame around the plastic rather than trying to fit plastic into a frame after the rest is done. Home improvement stores such as Home Depot carry a good selection of clear plastic sheets, but you can also order them online.

You will need either two sheets of equal size or one larger sheet to cut up. For simplicity and to maximize material usage for this project, one sheet of plastic from Home Depot was cut in half. These two pieces will be the front and back windows of the farm.

Picture is of me cutting the plastic, although it might be a good idea to pay attention to the saw which was actually cutting while this picture was being taken.

Step 4: Cut the Sides

Picture of Cut the Sides

Choose a board size for the frame that will provide a wide base to ensure stability. For this project, 1x4s were used although the spacing between the windows is only 3/8 inch. This allows over an inch on both the front and the back to prevent rocking.

Start by measuring the height of the windows. This will be the height of the two side pieces. Using a saw, cut two pieces to this length.

Picture is my new Dewalt compound miter saw which is totally overkill for this project, but a nice saw for cutting these boards.

Step 5: Cut the Side Grooves

Picture of Cut the Side Grooves

Next is to cut two parallel grooves in each of the side pieces to firmly hold the sheets of plastic the correct distance apart. The width of each groove depends on the thickness of plastic that you have and the distance apart depends on how much separation you want between the two sheets. I will not go into too much detail because there are many ways to do this.

Easy ways to do this include:
Table Saw with Dado Blade
Router or Router Table with Straight or Slot Cutting Bit
Sliding a Biscuit Joiner along the board
Circular Saw
Chisel and Patience

For the thickness of the plastic available, a biscuit joiner turned out to be perfect. Basically you want to end up with two grooves as pictured.

Step 6: Cut and Groove the Bottom Board

Picture of Cut and Groove the Bottom Board

Next stand the two sheets of plastic up with the two side boards in place. Measure the distance between the two side pieces. This is the length of the bottom board. Cutting and grooving the side boards first enables the builder to measure the actual length instead of trying to account for the depth of the grooves in the side boards. After cutting the bottom board, put in the two parallel grooves as with the other two boards.

The three pieces (bottom and sides) should be able to fit together around the plastic holding the plastic pieces apart and upright.

Step 7: Secure Pieces Together

Picture of Secure Pieces Together

Drill and countersink holes in order to keep the bottom and sides attached. Do not overtighten the screws because the frame will need to come apart later, but it is good to ensure it fits together now. Take care to avoid drilling into the plastic or the grooves in the boards.

Picture shows clamping, drilling and countersinking holes.

Step 8: Cut the Top Board

Picture of Cut the Top Board

At this point, cut the board to go across the top. This should be long enough to span the outer edges of the frame. Do not cut it too short the first time like I did.

Step 9: Secure the Top

Picture of Secure the Top

Since the two sides and the bottom will be secured to the windows, they will be sealed against escaping ants. However the top is removable so to ensure no ants escape, it needs to have a method for being secured. In each of the side pieces, one or two pieces of threaded rod is embedded and a nut is tightened from the top to provide pressure to seal.

Start by clamping the top board in place and drilling pilot holes through the top board into the side boards, taking care to avoid the grooves for the windows. Next insert threaded rods into the pilot holes in the side pieces. Enlarge the holes in the top piece so the top piece can easily slide onto the threaded rods. Next put a washer on top of each threaded rod and then a nut. Wing nuts are nice for this because they can be more easily tightened by hand but regular nuts will work too.

The first picture shows the first two rods in for testing. The second picture shows the four threaded rods and the last picture is securing the top for the final test.

Step 10: Prepare to Finish the Frame.

Picture of Prepare to Finish the Frame.

The next three steps is fairly involved; basically assembling the whole frame before any of the glue or caulking starts to harden. In other words, if you want lunch, go get it now before starting this. If you would like to paint the wooden pieces of the frame, now is your chance. Start by marking all of the adjoining frame pieces so that if they get mixed up, you know where they go. Next, undo the nuts on the top and screws on the bottom of the frame so all of the pieces are separate. Remove the protective sheet on the plastic windows now too.

Picture is of lunch.

Step 11: Caulk the Window Grooves.

Picture of Caulk the Window Grooves.

Begin by laying out the pieces of the frame in a row with the grooves facing up. Open the tube of caulk and load it into the caulking gun. Small squeeze tubes work also. The best caulk for this is probably the GE Silicone Window and Door available at home improvement centers. Run a bead of caulk in each of the grooves; no need to fill up the whole groove as then it will squeeze out too much, but ensure each of the grooves has a light even coating the whole length.

Step 12: Assemble Frame

Picture of Assemble Frame

It is helpful to have a helper for this step. Stand both of the windows up in the base piece and make sure they are firmly seated in the grooves and in the caulk. Next apply a small amount of wood glue to the ends of the base piece where they meet the sides. Holding the windows firmly, put on both of the sides, ensuring the windows are in the grooves, the frame is square and the window is sealed all the way around. Adding the screws after putting on the sides will ensure the frame is held securely together at the base.

Step 13: Apply Foam to the Top Board

Picture of Apply Foam to the Top Board

Glue foam onto the underside of the top board to provide a good seal on the top edge when the top is placed on the ant farm. Any squishy foam will work, probably weatherstripping would work well too.

Batteries provide good weight to evenly provide force while gluing the foam onto the top board.

Step 14: Dance

Picture of Dance

Wait for 24 hours for the glue and caulk to dry (unless you have quicker drying adhesives). Place the top board on and secure with nuts to check the seal all the way around. At this point, you should have a nice sturdy ant farm to begin filling with ants.


grendel54 (author)2014-08-29

can you post a picture of the finished product with ants in it?

catwood (author)grendel542014-12-03

Sorry, it was a gift for my friend. I don't have any pictures of it populated with ants.

flying pie (author)2010-05-13

can i just use a  hand saw for this or a dreamel because i dont have a dreamel =-|

catwood (author)flying pie2010-05-13

Yes you can use whatever tools you have that you think will actually work on the materials.

flying pie (author)catwood2010-05-16

what about  the plastic

You can actually cut plastic with a utility knife and a metal straight edge. Just score it a couple of times and snap it over the edge of a table. You may need a file or a sanding block to clean up any rough edges.

Don't try to cut too deeply, several light scoring cuts are better. If try to cut too deeply you can slip off the straight edge a slice the tip off of your finger. (don't ask me how I know this, I just do) =D

Better yet, use clamps to hold the straightedge.

catwood (author)flying pie2010-05-16

Woodworking tools cut it pretty well. If you have any wood handsaws, they can be half decent at cutting it. Not a hacksaw; the blade will get destroyed.

flying pie (author)catwood2010-05-17

so what about cutting the plastic panel

Deadshot 20-20 (author)2012-03-25

I suppose this is not designed as a termite farm or meant to hold Carpenter Ants ;) I like that it is such a large display. I bought an Uncle Milton Gel Ant Farm for my desk at work. It's lighted but kinda dull.

This display with a backlight or focus lights would look great.

lexkeepsitsimple (author)2012-01-20

And this is why I never make an ant farm... no power tools and I think I will kill myself accidentally if I use a chisel. I am seriously prone to accidents. Maybe I will just get an aquarium and fill the inside of it up with another container full of plants...

lexkeepsitsimple (author)2012-01-20

You can get them to cut the plastic sheets at the hardware store- they will usually make 3 free cuts and then 1 dollar a cut. Saves time though.

lexkeepsitsimple (author)2012-01-20

Thank you so much- I have wanted an ant farm for forever but have no power tools. I love this instructable (I can get the wood pieces cut for a buck a cut at the hardware store, first 3 cuts are free, but it will be perfect then). THANK YOU!

gallatea (author)2009-02-05

Great project. Do you have any photos posted anywhere of it up and working with ants?

thomasporter (author)gallatea2012-01-13

second that

catwood (author)thomasporter2012-01-13

Sorry I built this for someone else so I don't have pictures of it in action.

nikeman76 (author)2010-06-16

cool... this inspired me to make one :)

schifferay (author)2010-01-10

wooooow what is ur lunch?? what is the thing that look like donut?? =]

catwood (author)schifferay2010-05-13

They are bagels!

erfonz (author)2008-10-23

I had an ant farm, but those mortherf***ers didn't grow sh*t. And if I tore your legs off, you would look like a snowman.

rory_woj (author)erfonz2010-02-23

hahaha, I havent heard Mitch Hedburg in a long time

MrL33TPenguin (author)2009-02-20

what do you fill it up with before the ants are put in? is it just dirt?

chainedflesh (author)2008-08-17

Hi, I love your idea. I just wanted to mention that the man who invented the ant farm has asked people not to use the phrase "ant farm" when describing any ant colony product other than his own. The reason for this is that he only recieves royalties on it, and his income from those are very slim. If it becomes common for people to refer to all ant colonies as "ant farms" then it becomes a generic term and the company will lose the copyright on the name and thus he will lose his royalties. Just thought I would let you know and spread the word.

RyuuKasai (author)chainedflesh2008-11-27

I'm not criticizing you for spreading the word, but I think that he's a bit late to prevent the term from becoming widespread. I hope he manages to keep his royalties, but I've always heard people refer to "ant colonies" as "ant farms". This is an awesome project, by the way. : )

tileguy (author)2008-08-14

I am hoping you realize you can't seal the ant farm totally on all sides? You need oxygen to get in and also, of course, not let the ants in. I have owned on of Uncle Milton's Ant farms a long time ago. They have breathing holes on the top of the ant farm that are about 2" long and a 1/2" wide. You can add some slots like that to the top of the ant farm and apply fine screen on the inside to cover the slots so ants don't get out. Also, take note, if you have the two plastic panels too far apart, you will not be able to see what the ants are doing. I am guessing that the Uncle Milton's ant farm panels have no more than 3/8" - 1/2" spacing at the most.

tileguy (author)tileguy2008-08-14

Ooooops, not let the ants out, duh. Not enough coffee yet, sorry.

shantaram (author)tileguy2008-10-26


shantaram (author)2008-10-26

Great now they can go to the ant farm and keep off my kitchen counter love your idea and i like ants ...

CapnChkn (author)2008-08-13

Alrighty! I gets to ax the obvious question! Beyond just making some ants build tunnels, how do you plan to get the queen and other (ant) social elements to accept this as a normal environment? Are you going to seek out a fertile princess? Are you going to try to harvest an established colony? Hmmm. I wonder if there's an ant supplier on the web soemwars...

Lftndbt (author)CapnChkn2008-08-14

You get the from the backyard silly! ;P

CapnChkn (author)Lftndbt2008-08-14

Yup. I knew you could get the ants without the Queen, but to have a self sustaining population, you need the breeder of the nest. After looking around on the web, I found that: A) Because of environmental concerns, mailing Queen ants is illegal. B) Keeping a full blown colony is a major undertaking. Space would be your first concern, Queens produce a lot of eggs a day. Food would be the second. Apparently the ants you get from Uncle Milty are just going through the motions of life without a queen, and having the mother around kicks them into hyperdrive. With that incentive, they would need a place to kind of forage and so on, one reason why the ants for these constructions are big as species of ants go. They would find a way out somehow. Maybe an array of flat nests which you could cover with dark cloth to keep them building up to the clear barrier, connected by tubing, with a way to the out of doors.

Lftndbt (author)CapnChkn2008-08-15

I was only stirring you. I keep ants, have two colonies and a queen in each. I also have a spawned colony without a queen. My setups include several interconnecting chambers for each colony and two separate foraging areas for both... The first colony accepted immediatley but the second colony had to be persuaded via sugary treats to migrate into their new enclosure. They still don't use one chamber and have a tendancy to abandon sites without notice.

CapnChkn (author)Lftndbt2008-08-15

Cool! I gots werms. I seem to have more Black Soldier Flies than anything though. I'm usually keeping the ants out instead of in.

tileguy (author)CapnChkn2008-08-14

There is a supplier or ants for ant farms. They are the original creators or the "Ant Farm" in the 60's or 70's. Google ant farm uncle milton. You can buy an established colony and the material used as dirt, not dirt, for the ants to live in.

johnnydev (author)2008-08-14

All right... I'm new here and really want to make this for my boys but I have a question about this portion of the instructions...

"Start by measuring the height of the windows. This will be the height of the two side pieces. Using a saw, cut two pieces to this length."''

Is this correct? this would tell me that the plastic will span the top and bottom of the to side pieces perfectly... If so then wouldn't the plastic end up sticking out of the top when you add the bottom piece?

Please help me understand if you could :)


catwood (author)johnnydev2008-08-14

I think it is worded correctly; the side pieces do go the whole height from top to bottom of the plastic in this version. The bottom piece then goes in between the two sides, rather than the whole thing resting on the bottom panel. In other words, the side edges of the bottom touch the sides instead of having the bottom edge of the sides touch the bottom piece. It can never hurt to cut the side and bottom pieces an inch longer than needed and cut them down after trying which way to fit them together works.

nibbler125 (author)2008-08-13

knowing my luck they would all get out and invade my room

catwood (author)nibbler1252008-08-13

haha you could always build an autotargetting flame thrower to keep the rogue ants under control

xboxteen01 (author)nibbler1252008-08-13

make a small moat. they wouldnt get far lol

Brennn10 (author)2008-08-13

Awesome job! Can you post some pictures of it with ants in it?

catwood (author)Brennn102008-08-13

Sorry. It has not been filled with ants yet.

Brennn10 (author)catwood2008-08-13

No rush my friend. I was just curious if you have or not. Definitely post some when you do fill it with ants. I am anxious to see them!

codester (author)2008-08-13


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Bio: I like building stuff :)
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