In this project we upcycled an old dresser into a statement-piece rabbit hutch. This project would have been easier with a wood shop and prior woodworking experience, however we're novices and it still managed to come out really well! It will take 1-2 weeks of active work time. Costs will vary dependent on your desired look, the state of your existing furniture piece, and what tools and materials you have on hand.
Step 1: Measurements and Planning
In our instructable, we were using a very old dresser. Some steps may be easier with a newer starting model.
The first thing you should do is take measurements to decide where to cut, which supplies to purchase, and which order you should progress in. Our hutch took approximately 5 working days over the course of a month, including half a day to sew liners for the interior. Dependent on how you choose to finish the interior levels of your hutch, you may not need liners.
We knew the top shelf would have to be removed, we would be cutting a hole to create a ramp between levels, and that the hutch needed a new back. We also knew our hutch would need to be sanded and refinished. We also had to build doors, the ramp, and create the new back for the unit.
Step 2: Sanding
We started our project by sanding the old varnish/stain off the existing dresser. Because the piece we were using was pretty wobbly, we decided to sand it prior to removing the back. We used a handheld electric sander, first using 40 grit paper, followed by 80 grit, and finishing with 120 grit. Utilizing three different levels of coarseness in the sandpaper really helped to create a soft, smooth wood grain which is what we wanted because we would be staining the piece further on. If you desire a painted or antiqued hutch, you may not need to be as thorough in your original sanding.
We sanded the tops, sides, and front ledges using the hand sander. The bottom lip of our dresser was decorative, molded trim. We had to sand this section by hand.
Step 3: Renovation
After the sanding was complete, we were less concerned about the integrity of the dresser shell. We knew that by adding a new back, by creating the ramp, and adding the doors, the piece would become more stable than it originally was.
So we began our renovation steps. The first major step was to remove the top shelf. Because our dresser was very old, the shelf had pegs that extended into the sides of the unit. To avoid having to deconstruct the entire shell, we used a jigsaw to cut this shelf out. Second up was to remove the original back piece. This gave us access to the interior of the unit. We needed this access to be able to cut a hole for our rabbit to reach the second level. You should create a hole that is big enough for your rabbit to fit through while also keeping in mind he/she will need a landing at either side of the ramp to access each level.
We cut a 7x7 inch hole for our rabbit by creating pilot holes and again utilizing the jigsaw. In our dresser, there was a back support beam for the second level that extended into the sides. We decided to cut just inside of this beam to protect the structural integrity of the unit.
Step 4: Construction
After the renovation was complete, we had three major items to construct: a new back, the ramp, and doors.
The back was the first piece we made. We cut a piece of plywood to fit the back of the unit. We hand sanded the plywood after cutting.
Next up was the ramp. This would have been easier if we owned a table saw! We started by cutting a piece of leftover plywood that was long enough to extend from the bottom level to the hole in the second level. You should design this piece to be at an angle that can be easily traversed by your rabbit. To give him additional grip on the ramp, we cut spare pieces of the 1x2 trim board into triangular strips and attached them to the ramp. We also cut two support beams for the ramp out of 1x2 trim board.
The doors were the next bit. We used lengths of 1x2 trim board to create 3 rectangular boxes for the door frames. We decided to make the bottom level a large door that would open downwards and the top level would have 2 doors that would open towards you from the center. We went with 45-degree angles for our door frames (a $10 miter box would have made this part much easier!). We secured the trim board pieces with L-shaped brackets.
Step 5: Contact Paper
To help protect the wooden interior from breaking down, we covered the inside with contact paper. In our design, we were planning to make waterproof liners for each level, so the contact paper was not entirely necessary but offered a secondary level of protection for the wood. We papered the bottom of each level, the walls, the ramp, and the inside of the back piece before attaching to the hutch.
Alternative ways of protecting your hutch could be utilizing tile, linoleum, or by using wood sealants.
Step 6: Rebuild and Staining
After the contact paper was added, we started by attaching the ramp. We drilled the support beams through the floor level to hold it in place. Then we secured the top of the ramp by attaching one of those triangular strips to the bottom of the first level and drilling the ramp directly into this piece.
Once the ramp was firmly secured, we attached the back of the unit by utilizing L-shaped brackets and small screws. We secured the back at small intervals and checked for tightness by pushing outwards from the interior once it was secured. Any loose areas we added in additional screws.
Once the structure was back in place, we stained the exterior of the unit with Red Mahogany using old rags. The rags helped us to control the color and intensity of the stain. We also stained all sides of the door frames. After the stain dried for 48 hours, it was ready for polyurethane. We used several coats of the spray gloss polyurethane, sanding between each layer. We did this over the course of a week, sanding and spraying each night.
I forgot to take pictures of the staining and polyurethane process-sorry folks!
Step 7: Hardware
After a week of drying completely, we finished out our doors and added hardware. We used chicken wire on the interior of the door frames to allow for more temperature control and air flow. To attach the chicken wire, we used wood staples. We nailed these in at almost every intersection, to try to prevent any sharp and/or loose edges. We also pulled the wire taut as we nailed the edges in.
After attaching the chicken wire, we attached each door to the hutch using decorative hinges. For each top door we used two hinges and for the bottom door we used three. We then attached handles, one for each top door and two on the bottom door. The last hardware pieces were our locking mechanisms. We attached two of these bolts to the bottom door and one to each top door.
Step 8: Liners
This step is optional dependent on your personal preferences.
A big part of creating this custom hutch was to decrease the financial and environmental impacts our rabbit created. We wanted to stop using bedding.
To accomplish this we sewed fleece to waterproof flannel creating a fabric liner for each level. We measured each level independently. We sewed the liners inside out and added an extra couple of inches to the sides and back to extend upwards in the hutch. The liners are machine washable and offer the rabbit a comfy surface to lay on.