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?
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.