Plastic storage box (the bigger the better)
Low Watt soldering iron
Wire Mesh (Be sure the gaps aren't too wide, mine was half-inch x half-inch)
Wire cutters (or small pliers)
Hobby knife (mine is a very thin knife I got from games workshop but you can use a stanley knife and a drill to drill holes in the wood)
Hardwood (Optional if you wish to make extra levels, similar can be used, even your recycled plastic that's been cut from the sides)
Wooden Dowels (optional)
Wood glue (optional: Non-toxic)
Finish (optional: I used "Mod Podge" non-toxic)
Cage front (optional: literally searched "cage front" on Google and bought one that was suitable. Recycling from old cages is fine too. Bar size half-inch apart. Of course you can skip this part and just open your cage from the top, but if you want to stack them like me then you'll need a door at the front)
A note about wood
As I created this guide with hamsters in mind, you may have to look up information for your specific species of pet.
There are certain sources that say do not use cedar or pine or any sort of wood that contains glue such as MDF or plywood. It is said that these can sometimes contain things that could irritate your hamsters lungs and cause reactions.
In my opinion, it is really about seeing how your hamster reacts to these woods. I have used pine wood shavings for many years without incident. The wood used in this guide is hardwood which is suggested to be safe for hamsters.
Choose your wood carefully and keep an eye on your animal for a while :)
Step 1: Step 1 - Planning
Get some paper and note down how your cage is going to look. It will also help to mark out on the box with a marker where you're going to cut. A lot of boxes are already slightly shaped / indented on the front and sides so it may be easier to follow this.
If you're adding levels, plan those out as well including the shape and where in the box they will go, how high up etc. Some things to think about are what is going to go underneath? Make them high up enough that the hamster and maybe a house can go underneath. Also pay attention to how high up the levels are, do you want your hamster to be able to easily reach the lid? Do you have a stand up wheel to put on one of the levels? You may need to take measurements to make sure everything will fit!
Once you have thoroughly planned then you're ready to start!
Step 2: Step 2 - Cutting
Make sure you have marked out where you are going to cut and everything is correct before you start.
It will give off plastic fumes...which are definitely not good for you so try to be in a ventilated area. I made my whole cage in my bedroom and i did this soldering sat next to the window and it was still quite bad, so be aware of that before you start.
Take your soldering iron and start to cut around your marks. Now if you're using a low watt soldering iron like i did its going to take a while, so do one side then take a little break and do the other then the front. It's hard to get it neat. Once you're done, sand down any sharp bits, or it may be easier to just run your hand along the edging (after it has cooled!) and solder down any sharp areas.
You're done! This was personally one of the most boring parts for me. Hopefully you didn't burn yourself (i did twice).
Measure round the outside of the holes you cut in the sides of the box.Remember, ideally the wire will be around 1 or 2 inches bigger than the whole so you will be able to easily attach it. Cut the wire with wire cutters or small pliers. Again mine were hobby pliers that i got from games workshop, very small and handy. Try to cut off any sharp pieces so it has a smooth edge and use a metal file or something similar to file it down if needed.
Cut another piece identical to the first for the other side and this part is done.
Now I'm not going to lie. The way I did this was slightly dangerous (but quick and effective!) so please be careful and follow at your own risk. You can always change it and do it how you want. I ended up cutting my finger open during this part with the hobby knife! If you're using wood that is quite thick this will not work for you and your only option is to saw it or get it cut somewhere. Obviously that's something to think about when you're buying the wood, in my experience, there's a chance the animal will chew it and it'll have to be replaced eventually anyway so cheap, thin wood is your best bet!
Take your wood and draw out the outline of the level (or levels). Be sure to measure if you need to. A little trick I did was to use pieces of A4 paper and cut out the shape of the wood then fit it inside to make sure, then you can put this paper on the wood and draw round it but it's all about preference here.
Take the knife and score around your lines as deep as you can, always away from you if possible. Once it is scored you should be able to snap the wood at these scores (put the knife down first!). It may help if you do straight lines at first. Use some small pliers and the knife to define the shape a little better then sand down all sides of the wood.
If you're adding a ladder or bridge to the level, cut this now as well in pretty much the same way.
Step 3: Step 3 - Wood Finish and Decoration
You may want to add a finish to the wood, maybe to preserve it or make it look better. If you're going to use anything please make sure it's non-toxic as the hamsters will most likely have a chew on anything in the cage.
I personally put a topcoat on my wood levels to make them last a little longer and to protect them from liquids. I used "Mod Podge" water-base sealer, glue and finish. It's non-toxic and it gives a nice finish, just strengthening the wood a little. One thing to note about this though, as it's water-base, copious amounts of fluid will dilute it again. Unless your animal is extra messy you shouldn't have to worry about this, it will always dry again eventually anyway.
You'll need to put a couple of coats on and leave it to dry thoroughly before attaching the level.
I added some decoration to my level using wooden hardwood dowels but you could quite easily use lollipop sticks or something similar. It's really about using your imagination here. Add little fences at the edge of levels or even build ladders.
I attached my dowels using a non-toxic wood glue. I also added a few dowels on the ladder i made for some grip, glued them in the same way but added a top coat on top just for extra strength.
I got some pebbles out of my garden, cleaned them thoroughly and glued them on there as well around the area where the toilet and food bowl will be. Make sure the pebbles are too big for the animal to swallow!
If you're extra creative you could even make a house or toys like this, but I'm rather impatient and that would take a lot of dowels!
Be sure to let everything dry thoroughly before you move onto the next step.
Step 4: Step 4 - Cable Ties
First we will attach the side wire. Place the wire across the hole and mark out where you are going to put the cable ties. You'll probably want to put at least 1 in each corner and a few on the sides (cages for dwarf hamsters or smaller rodents may need more).
Take the soldering iron and put 2 holes next to each other on the marks you made. After they are cooled, place your wire again and attach it using the tie wraps, the 4 corners first then the sides. Do this for the other side and that part is done.
The front is attached in pretty much the same way. Be sure to pay attention to where your door is! Placement of this piece is much more important than the sides. For the cage front I got, it was one for birds and has a door which just drops down but doesn't clip shut or anything. I noticed that I could clip it behind the plastic to keep it shut so that was handy (see picture). Other suggestions are a little tiny padlock, a hairpin or anything else you can find, but do not underestimate your animals ability to escape!
Attaching the levels
Take your levels and mark out where the cable ties will go. Pick places that will give the most support and don't be afraid of using too many. Remember, if your hamster chews through one, it will be good to have another nearby so the whole level doesn't collapse.
Put holes in the wood where you marked, big enough to put a cable tie through. I did this by taking my hobby knife and screwing it through (I hope you have some spare blades!). If you have thicker wood or don't fancy playing with knives any more, it can be drilled or you could possibly make a hole by putting a screw through the wood then taking it out again (leaving a hole).
Once you have the holes in the wood, solder holes in the plastic using the soldering iron, one above the other in the places you marked and thread the cable tie through.
If you have a ladder etc, you can attach that now if you like.
Step 5: Step 5 - Furnish
Now is the fun part...
You've basically finished the cage, the levels are in and ventilation is good. Now you can add a substrate (wood shavings / litter) and some toys then finally your pet!
Some things you might consider:
Be sure everything is dry and aired out before you put your pet inside and keep a good eye on it for a few days to make sure every thing's sound :)
If you have any problems during the course of this, feel free to message me and i will try help you out. Likewise if you have any suggestions!