Introduction: Fishcage

At some point in college, on a trip to TJ Maxx with a roommate, I marveled at all of the decor and glassware, and had an idea. I wanted to put a fish in a birdcage. At that point in time, I thought it would be easiest to buy a glass cylinder large enough for a fish, and build a cage over it. With the rigors of my classwork, this never happened, but when I was finally out of school, I returned to the idea of the fish in a cage.

In this instructable I will take you through the building of a Fishcage, from ready-made parts with one example that went very smoothly, and another that required a bit of extra work to get a good fit. I will also touch on the basic care of fish in bowls, but please consult with a knowledgeable fish store or online resource to make sure a fish in a bowl is right for you. There are many factors to consider when you are responsible for a living thing.

Step 1: Picking a Cage and Glass Vessel

I started by searching ebay for a classic cage with some decorative value, but birdcages have become very popular (read: expensive) thanks to popular wedding culture. But, also thanks to popular wedding culture, Michael's started carrying many different styles of decorative birdcages. I suggest looking either there, or at JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby, Target, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, or HomeGoods (we just got one of these, and they have some cool cages!). If you want to spend a little more time, but get a more charming cage, check out ebay, craigslist, flea markets, antique stores, or garage sales.

Most of the stores I mentioned above are also good for glass vases. Some other places to look for large cylindrical vases are Ikea, Pier One Imports, World Market, and online. You are looking for a glass vessel that will fit in the cage, obviously, and is only as tall as the cylindrical part of the cage.

Next, head to your local pet store to get all of your fish accouterments.

  • So, the final list of what you will need looks something like this:
  • A cage that has a big enough volume for the fish you want
  • A glass cylinder that will fit the cage (with or without modification)
  • Spray paint (optional)
  • Water conditioner or pre-conditioned water
  • GravelFish bowl decor and / or plantsA small bowl heater
  • A filter (optional)Aquarium saltWater conditioner

And if your cage does not quite fit:

  • Wire cutters or snips
  • A Dremel with cutting and grinding attachments or other small rotary tool with these attachments
  • JB Weld or soldering equipment
  • Files

Finally you will want a fish and food, but you probably shouldn't purchase this just yet...

I chose the ready-made route, and got my cages at Michael's, and both glass cylinders at TJ Maxx. I got lucky with the my first cage, and found a glass vase that dropped right in, and fit perfectly (not shown).

For the second cage, which is shown, the glass was the perfect height, but did not fit inside right away. I could tell that the glass would fit, if not for four thicker bars that ran the whole height of the cage. You might be able to see one of the offending bars in the third and fourth pictures. I will show you how I fixed this issue in the next step. If your glass fits perfectly in your cage, move on to Step 3, you lucky dog you.

Step 2: Modifying a Cage (or Glass) for a Flawless Fit

Obviously I cannot cover every scenario here, but I will give you an idea of how I am solving the issue with my ill-fitting cage (this Fishcage is still in progress, but almost to the painting stage!)

My main issue was with the four bars that ran the whole hight of the cylindrical portion of the cage. My landlord / roommate (/ guy who lends me a lot of tools) thought he could help me quickly take them out with a 4" grinding wheel, but there wasn't quite enough clearance for that to work (and we had to sacrifice a fifth bar in the process of trying that out). I opted to snip the bars as close to the attachment points as possible, use the Dremel with a cutting wheel to take the bulk out, then come back in with the Dremel with a grinding attachment to take down the old welds.

Next, because I like the look of having bars all the way around at even intervals, I got some wire in a gauge that matched the remaining, thinner bars to replace what was cut out. If you are working with previously coiled wire, you can easily get a fairly straight piece by securing one end of about an arm's length of wire in a vise. Take the free end in a pair of vise-grips, and yank away from the vice in a strong, fluid motion. You should be left with a fairly straight piece of workable wire. I just snipped mine to size, but if you want to avoid crimped ends, you can use a little jeweler's saw to cut your wire. Then, file your new attachment points to fit together.

For ease I have decided to use JB Weld, but you could also solder or maybe weld the new pieces on. JB Weld is a two part epoxy, mixed 1:1, and then applied to the joints with a scrap of wood or dowel. The work should be clamped after application. Remember to follow the directions on the package of any adhesive you choose, wear gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area!

The joints on my cage are still curing, because I bought the original formula for the strongest bond. This takes type takes 20-25 minutes to set, and 15-24 hours to fully cure, but they do have a faster formula, 6 minutes to set, 4-6 hours to cure.

The other problem you may run into is that you may only be able to find a glass cylinder that is the right diameter, but is taller than you need. Personally, I haven't tried cutting glass with any at-home methods, but their are many tutorials online that help you cut it with etching tools, string, alcohol, and FIRE! It sounds exciting. You should try it. Let me know in the comments if you do!

Step 3: Painting the Cage (Optional)

If the finish of the cage you found is not your cup of tea, you should definitely change it to something more to your liking!

I went the spray paint route, old reliable spray paint. Always there when you need, and no messy brushstrokes! However, you do have to be mindful of drips!

Here are my pointers for spray painting, but nothing can take the place of good, honest practice.

  • Clean the thing you want to paint, it will be worth it. Depending on the condition of the surface you want to paint, you may need to do anything from wiping it down with soap and water to get rid of any oils to swabbing it with paint thinner to sanding or using a wire brush to take off an old, flaking finish.
  • Take the time to set up a clear, protected, well-ventilated space. Not only does it keep your work area tidy, the lack of visual distractions will help you to see if you are applying paint evenly.
  • Follow the instructions. Shake the heck out of that can. Spray a little upside-down at nothing important to make sure the nozzle is clear if you have already used some of that can. Pay attention to the timing of each coat. And please check the temperature and humidity of your paint location to the best of your ability!
  • Hold the can the 8-10" inches away, and keep it moving. Only change directions when not aimed at your object (basically, you should make a full pass, and be painting the drop cloth exclusively when you stop your hand to go back the other way). Also, keep rotating or walking around your piece as you go, to ensure an even coat.
  • Start with three coats of a sand-able primer. Always. Primer ensures that color you picked will look closest to what you think it will look like, based on that plastic cap. Sand-able primer is invaluable, because those drips you are trying so hard to avoid might happen. You would much rather have them happen during the priming stage, and be able to remove them with some sandpaper.
  • Hit any accidental drips with a fine-grit sandpaper between priming coats, and / or after the priming stage. If you do sand, clean off sanding dust with a soft cloth or compressed air before applying more paint.
  • Finally, do a few coats of your top color. Remember to time the coats according to the can, and not to linger!
  • Spray a clear coat if you like that sort of thing!

Whew! I had more tips than I realized. My original plan, inspired by the faux bird crystal on top of this cage, was to do a gold top coat. I removed the bird from the top (it screwed off, and taped the threads with painter's tape), and primed (the first and second photographs, along with another project I was painting at the time). After my primer coats, however, I was digging the matte white and wasn't sure about going all gold. I decided the look of the cage would be elevated if I just did the lid in gold. I could always paint the bottom gold if I didn't like it two-toned. I used newspaper secured with masking tape to protect the bottom part of the cage from over-spray, and ended up with the finished paint job seen in the third photo.

Step 4: Add Your Fish Accoutrements

Ah yes, we were decorating this cage to house a fish bowl. This step is pretty straight forward if you are a seasoned fish owner. If not, I will go over some mistakes I made as a first-timer in this step. Please add your tips in the comments if I miss anything, I'm still a novice fish owner!

Rinse your bowl and things that will go in it well with tap water. A sieve is helpful for rinsing the gravel. I accidentally cleaned my fish accessories with soap my first time. Luckily I found out this was wrong before I bought a fish. If you do this, rinse everything with white vinegar and water and even more water. Now add your heater, gravel, and any plants and decor to the bowl. You can add tap water and condition it at this stage, or you can add pre-conditioned water. Let the conditioned water sit as long as necessary. For many fish, it is beneficial to add a some aquarium salt (follow dosing instructions).

Step 5: Add Your New Pet and Enjoy!

When you get your fish, make sure you let his bag of water warm or cool to the same temperature as your bowl gradually, before adding him and some of his water.

Please research the type of fish you want before setting up whatever fish habitat you choose. Make sure your fish will have enough space, and make sure you can keep up with water changes if you are going the bowl route. I highly recommend keeping a few gallons of conditioned water near the bowl (so the temperature is the same), and buying a syphoning tube to vacuum the gravel while doing a quick, partial water change.

Well guys, that was my first instructable! I am very happy that I finally got to finish one of these humorous cages, and have a second one on the way. I especially like that mine has a door, it really adds to the illusion of the fish being free to swim right out into the room for me. Hopefully my fish doesn't have an identity crisis due to his dwelling. Now I need to design and make a larger custom Fishcage from scratch so it can have a good filter and heater set up, and incorporate some of the other great instructables that have been entered for this contest!

Let me know what you thought in the comments, and let me know if you made one, how your fish is, or if I missed anything you think I should have included!

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    7 years ago on Step 5

    Excellent work - now, if only opening the cage door could bring out a 'wedge' of water... ;)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Haha, I know! I'd really like to take some glass blowing classes and fill a hanging type cage with a glass wall. You could definitely have it bubbling out a doorway with that method, examples given below. I am not sure I would want the bulges though.


    That's such a cool idea! I love the way it looks, something very Alice and Wonderland feeling about it, and it's awesome! Thanks for sharing and welcome to instructables!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for the kind words and welcome! Yes, I agree with your Alice and Wonderland comment, it is a very whimsical piece. The other, taller cage will be teal with a yellow ball, and I think they will fit together nicely, although I plan to keep male bettas (already have one in the smaller cage), and I guess they can't be near each other, even in seperate bowls!