Introduction: How to Build a Hermit Crab (or Other Small Critter) Cage
This instructable will provide you with the details on how to build a hermit crab cage. If you're not a fan of hermit crabs, you could use it for hamsters. Or lizards. Or mice. Or...well, you get the idea.
The kids decided they wanted to get hermit crabs this summer, but when I saw the price of new cages at the boardwalk sea shell shops, I knew I could make them a larger cage much cheaper.
Kiteman and RedThreadsOfFate added some words of advice on keeping hermit crabs and I think it should be pointed out as well. Hermit crabs require an environment with high humidity (70-80%). Although this mesh cage will not provide that environment, it will serve as temporary housing until a more suitable, permanent home can be found.
If you're interested in learning more about caring for your hermit crabs, take a look at one of the following sites:
Step 1: Ingredients
Here's what you'll need to build one like I did. If you want a bigger (or smaller) cage, adjust the size of your dimensions as necessary.
First and foremost, you need a plan. The old adage of "fail to plan, plan to fail" will bite you otherwise. Sketch out your cage from a couple of angles, labeling the pieces that you'll need to build. Be sure to use sizes that are mass produced and easily available at your local lumber yard, otherwise you'll be back at the drawing board.
The measurements below are based on standard size wood stock (but real measurements). For instance, the board that makes up the floor and back was sold as 1" x 12" even though it really measures 3/4" x 11 1/4". I don't know why that is...maybe it's a vast wood industry conspiracy to confuse us or something.
Here's the list of materials (and the dimensions) for the cage I made:
3/8" x 1 1/2" x 18" (4) -- wood trim (2 front, 2 top)
3/8" x 1 1/2" x 12" (2) -- wood trim (2 top sides)
3/8" x 1 1/2" x 10 3/4 (4) -- wood trim (sides)
3/4" x 1 1/2" x 10" (4) -- wood vertical supports
3/4" x 11 1/4" x 18" (2) -- wood floor, back
10" x 18" (2) - wire mesh - top, front
10" x 8 3/4 (2) - wire mesh - sides
2" Hinges (2) (comes w/ screws)
Hook and Eye (1 each)
6" length of chain (need a 3/4" screw)
*the wire mesh was sold in a roll 72" long and 24" wide. This worked out perfectly as I was able to get the four pieces I needed cut with a minimum of waste (see the right part of the plan for a sketch of the four pieces of mesh I would need).
jig saw (a table saw could be used instead)
staple gun (loaded with 1/4" staples)
sandpaper (fine grit)
corner frame clamp (optional, but comes in handy when gluing the top frame)
Step 2: Cut/sand the Wood
Measure and mark the pieces you'll need before making your cuts. For the front and side trim pieces, as well as the vertical supports, you simply need to make a horizontal cut.
For the top frame pieces, however, you'll need to make angle cuts. Since the frame will be a rectangle, set your miter saw to cut 45 degree angles (or 135 degrees). Place all four boards in a stack and make a single angled cut on one end of the stack. (See the graphics below.) This will ensure that that the angles are complementary once you're done cutting. (Of course since all the cuts should be 45 degrees, they should be complementary by default, but just in case your miter saw isn't 100% accurate, making the cuts this way will ensure they'll fit together nicely). This will make them fit much better than if you cut each one separately.
After the first cut, rotate the wood and cut the opposite end from the other side of the blade (e.g., if the the majority of the wood was to the left of the blade for the first cut, place the majority of the wood to the right side of the blade for the second cut). Once you make the second cut, you'll have four pieces of wood that will fit together nicely.
After you've got all your pieces cut to length, use fine grit sand paper on the ends to remove any loose bits. Also, you might want to go over the rest of the wood with the fine grit sand paper as well to make it nice and smooth. This will help later when you paint your cage. (Sanding isn't required, but helps make a better looking end result.)
Cut the floor and back panel to length using your miter or table saw. If you're using a jig saw, it's recommended that you clamp a straight edge to the wood so that the jig saw has something to use as a guide. (See the picture below to see what I'm talking about here.) It's very hard to cut a straight line freehand and having the edge removes the need from having to straighten it later with a rasp and sandpaper.
Don't forget your safety goggles and hearing protection around power tools!
Step 3: Glue the Wood
Once all the pieces have been cut, it's time to glue them together.
Lay a bead of glue along the back of the floorboard and press it against the piece of wood making up the back panel. If you have large enough clamps, go ahead and clamp the two pieces of wood together to get a solid seal. You should now have an L that, once dry, will stand on it's own.
Before it dries all the way, you'll want to glue the four supports on. Glue the back two supports 3/8" from the side of the floorboard and abut against the back panel. Glue the two front supports 3/8" from the side and 3/8" from the front of the floorboard. (The supports are offset by the thickness of the framing strips.)
Before the back, floor and supports dry, glue the framing strips (so that you can ensure the framing strips are flush with the floor and back -- not required but it gives a neater finished appearance). Glue the bottom strips first (in order to get a better bond, clamp the strips to the supports using your clamp of choice). Once the bottom strips are dry, repeat the process with the top strips. I found that by turning the cage over, the strips wouldn't slide down the supports.
For the top frame, you can either glue the pieces and hope for a tight seal or use a corner frame clamp (see picture). The downside of using a corner clamp is you need to wait for the pieces to dry before moving on to the next one. The upside is that you're going to get a better bond and a stronger overall frame.
While you could strengthen the bonds by adding some wood screws to the joints, I don't think it's necessary for hermit crabs. They're not going to be rocking the cage like other critters might.
Step 4: Paint the Cage
Now that the glue has dried, it's time to paint the cage. Pick out a color scheme that you think your critters will enjoy. Or that you (or your kids) will enjoy. Or both. You can either use spray paint or a paint brush, although using spray paint will result in a smoother finish.
Prior to painting the cage, you should prime the wood so that it won't soak up the paint and require you to put on more than two coats.
Once the primer is dry, follow the instructions on the paint and paint the cage.
After the paint has dried, you may want to add a coat of shellac to seal the paint from any moisture sources you'll be adding to the cage (unless you're using high-gloss paint, which should be somewhat moisture resistant already).
The picture attached to this step is from after the cage is completely done. You can see the kids decided to have fun with the colors. Go for something fun!
Step 5: Cut/install Wire Mesh
After you've finished painting the cage, it's time to cut and install the wire mesh.
Measure the opening on the left side of the cage (or the right side, it doesn't matter) from top to bottom and front to back. If you followed my plan, it will be about 8" x 10" or so. You'll bend the wire so that you can staple it against the vertical supports, so make sure you add another 1/4" - 1/2" on either side (so that it's ~9" x 10"). (The wire mesh in the materials list is sized correctly. If you're following this plan, simply cut them to size as listed in Step 1.)
Bend the mesh along the long side so that there is a row of squares making up the right angle.
This can be easily done if you place the wire mesh under a board (except for the edge to be bent) and then fold the wire up (using your hands -- the wire is pretty malleable).
Do the same for the opposite side and then slide the mesh, with the bent portions touching each of the vertical supports so that the wire completely covers the opening. You may need to adjust it a little if the bend was too big (or too small).
Staple the mesh into place using your staple gun (remember eye protection!).
Repeat this process for the front and opposite side.
For the top frame, simply measure the interior of the frame, add 1/2" to the length and width and cut the mesh to size. Staple in place and you're ready to go. No bending is required for the top mesh.
The pictures below are from the finished cage. It should give you an idea about what I mean above by bending and stapling the wire mesh.
I found it easier to deal with the wire mesh when it was cut as close as possible to each square (e.g., there were no "orphan" wires sticking out). This also makes for a cleaner finished product.
Step 6: Add the Hardware
Once the mesh has been installed, you're ready to add the hardware. In this case it's a pair of hinges, a hook and eye latch and a chain (to keep the top from opening too far).
For the hinges, it's important that you add them so that they'll support the frame evenly. I found it easier to put one side of the hinges on the cage first and then screw the frame onto the other side. You may have other ways of doing this, but, regardless of which way you do it, be sure to drill pilot holes first! If you don't you run the risk of splitting the wood (especially on the top frame, which in my case was only 3/8" inch thick).
For the hook and eye, position the eye in the center of the front of the top trim and the hook in the center of the front of the front of the top frame. (See picture below for specific location.) After drilling pilot holes, screw both the hook and eye into their appropriate places. You may need to bend the hook a bit to make the connection a little tighter.
Finally, attach the chain so that the lid will open to 120 degrees or so. This will allow you to open the cage and reach into it without having to use one hand to keep the lid open. Using a screw that's a tad bit shorter than the vertical support is deep (~3/4"), attach one end of the chain into one of the vertical supports and connect the other end to the wire mesh on the lid.
Step 7: Add the Critters and Decorate As Necessary
Now that you've finished your cage, it's time to add your critters and decorate their home to your heart's desire.
Watch out for the claws on the hermit crabs, though, they've been known to pinch!
For more information on keeping hermit crabs as pets, check out some of these online resources.