Introduction: DIY Snake Cage
DIY snake cage! In this article I breakdown the important steps from my video tutorial series on how I converted cabinets into boa constrictor enclosures.
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Step 1: ACQUISITION
Hunt the local classifieds for cabinets and/or shelving units! These can be very useful, especially if you’re like me and have limited carpentry skills and/or a limited space to work in (I live in an apartment). Usually old cabinets can be picked up for rather cheap and provide a solid foundational structure to work with.
The cabinets I found were vertical standing, about 72″ high, 20″ wide and 18″ deep. Originally they were used to house my Exo-Terra 18x18x24, which they held perfectly. I rotated the pic below so you are able to sort of picture what they originally looked like. But don’t stare at that picture for too long… it will really mess with your mind.
Eventually I moved my Exo Terra’s from them and got the idea to lay them on their side so I could store a large bin in each one as shown in the picture below. But just like my reptile induced debt, my snakes grew and it was time for an upgrade.
Step 2: DEMOLITION
Next I had to remove parts of the cabinet that I either hated or did not need. These particular shelves had two things that fell into both categories:
- The back panel:The back panel was maybe of a very thin sheet of essentially a melamine type material. I had punched holes through it in the past and it was just overall too flimsy of a material to have as a back wall, so it had to go.
- The fixed shelf: These cabinets came with several removable shelves as well as a few fixed shelves. The fixed shelves are held in place with wooden pins. I had to remove the highest shelf, as I wanted to use the full 46″ length the cabinets had to offer.
If you are interested in watching a man struggle doing a man thing, watch me try and cut that shelf out with a hand saw. It’s pretty funny.
Step 3: “CONSTRUCTION”
Now it was time to add a new back to the unit. I choose a product called “hardboard” which I found at Home Depot. It is essentially a very thick, very hard (I’m going to stop you right there)… very compressed sheet of cardboard.
Hardboard was cheaper than plywood and has more than enough structural integrity. Plus it would eventually be sealed with vinyl floor and silicon so I wasn’t worried about water damage, etc.
First, I ran a bead of No More Nails Adhesive by LePage around the perimeter of the unit. I really recommend picking up a tube of No More Nails, even just to have for around the house. I was amazed at how well it adhered once it was dry, and it basically has zero chemical smell. Although, I can’t say it is non-toxic for animals though so I’d stay away from using it where the animals can readily access just to be safe.
Once I compressed the hardboard into the adhesive, I added a few screws per side for some extra support. The screws probably weren’t necessary but, why not?
Step 4: SEAL ‘ER
It is very important to seal up all seams in the enclosure! Melamine and wood cabinets can quickly become damaged due to moisture, so I went heavy on the silicon! Boa constrictors aren’t kept in wet/damp enclosures by any means but their urates/pee can do some real damage.
I used General Electric Silicone I. This is very IMPORTANT because GE Silicon I is 100% non-toxic and safe for animals once dry. GE Silicon II, is not!
GE Silicon II is labelled as “Mold Free”, meaning they add a chemical to the silicon to prevent any mold growth. This chemical is toxic to animals. GE Silicon I is labelled as “Mold Resistant” meaning no additional chemicals are added.
Step 5: TIME TO LAY SOME FLOOR
Ok, so now it was time to start laying the floor in the enclosure. This flooring is basic vinyl flooring, it comes in a large roll. I found it in a discount box at Home Depot! I went with a large plank, hardwood appearance. Here are the main benefits vinyl flooring provide:
- Incredibly easy to clean
- DurableSeals and protects the floor and back wall from damage
- It actually looks pretty decent, there are may different designs to choose from (ceramic, brick, rock, wood)Easy to install
- Absorbs heat
- Non-abrasive on the animals
I used an exacto blade to roughly cut out the size of vinyl floor I needed. I decided to cover only the bottom and back wall with the flooring. The sides do not see enough wear for flooring to be necessary, nor does the ceiling.
Then, I dry fit the piece of vinyl into the enclosure. Once I was happy with the fit, I was ready to glue it down.
NOTICE: I only used a single piece of flooring for the back and the bottom. This means there is no seam where the back and bottom of the enclosure meet. This is definitely the way to go as now I don’t have to worry at all about any leaks, etc.
Instead of using proper vinyl floor adhesive, I used my trusty tube of General Electric Silicone I. I used silicone to glue the floor down for 2 reasons:
- I knew it would hold (silicone sticks to pretty much anything)
- It is completely non-toxic to the animals when it is dry
First I laid down a bead of silicone in a “squiggle” pattern on both the back wall. Then, I used a scrap piece of hardboard to smear the silicone out as best I could.
Once I finished smearing the silicone on the back wall, I “squiggle-smeared” the bottom with its share of silicone as well (not pictured).
Now it was time to insert the vinyl flooring in for real. The flooring is very easy to work with and the silicone is quite forgiving. I was able to set the floor in the enclosure and wiggle it around till it sat in the position I wanted.
I used a rolling pin to press the flooring into the silicone to ensure they were bonded together thoroughly. Then, I cut off the excess flooring that was hanging off the bottom.
And finally, you guessed it… more silicone! (my personal rule of thumb: if your lungs and eyes aren’t burning… you haven’t used enough). I used more silicone to seal the seams where the vinyl floor meets the melamine of the cabinet.
Step 6: WE HAVE a RUNNER
I’m not sure if you can actually call that board in the picture below a “runner board” but that’s what I call it! Anyway, at this point I was ready to install the runner board along the bottom of the enclosure.
This board is being installed so the glass tracks on the bottom have a place to sit. Technically, I could have installed the glass track directly to the cabinet itself but this way substrate doesn’t fall out every time I open the doors.
The board is a 1″ x 3″ and the wood is oak although you could probably use any type of wood (hardwoods should only be used).
I punched about 5-6 screws through the bottom of the enclosure to secure the runner board in place.
And of course… more silicone! This is the inside seam i.e. where the oak board meets the vinyl floor. Seriously, when in doubt you should seal it up! There is no point in risking moisture damage. Realistically, oak can resist a lot of moisture but it just makes more sense to make sure it is completely sealed.
Step 7: SKIS!
One little thing I did that I forgot to record was add “skis” to the bottom of the enclosures. I made these from scrape 1″ x 3″ lumbar I had lying around as well as some left over vinyl flooring. I installed 3 of them as you can see two pictures down. These skis serve two main purposes:
- They allow air flow between the top and bottom enclosure and the bottom enclosure and the carpet in the reptile room. Since I am using heat mats for a hot spot, air flow is very important to reduce heat transfer between enclosures.
- They make the enclosures far easier to slide around on the floor when moving.These skis weren’t in the original plans but I am glad I thought of them! Sometimes the ideas that come to you on the fly are the best ones!
Step 8: LET ME EXPLAIN
Okay, let me explain! I went ahead and did a few things without filming myself. The picture below shows what those particular items were.
- Installed a short strip of LED lights
- Stained the oak runner board
- Bolted on the radiant heat panel
- I fed the light/RHP cords through a vent hole (second picture below)
Step 9: GLASS TIME
This was definitely the most rewarding part of the entire process (besides introducing the snakes to their new enclosures)! Installing the glass really pulled the entire project together. Before I get to the actual glass, lets talk about the tracks.
I ordered the glass and the tracks from the same local glass shop in my city. The picture below shows what the tracks look like.
Below is a picture of extremely clear glass… so basically its a picture of nothing! The only downside of glass was the expense. Here is the actual order description the company gave me:
- 4 lites (sheets) of 5mm clear tempered glass @ 23 5/8” x 16 5/8”, complete with polished heights, minimum widths and “touched” corners to allow for easy sliding
- 2 Pieces of top track @ 45 ¼” & 2 pieces of bottom track @ 45 ¼” (cut to size)
- Note: To fit a cabinet opening of 45 ¼” x 17 3/16”, complete with 2” overlap in the middle. Deductions have been made on height to accommodate the track. $287.00+taxes
The actual glass was about $200.00, which really wasn’t bad i.e. $50.00/sheet. But after paying for the tracks and service fees (polishing etc.), it added up to something higher than I was initially looking to spend.
I took a few days to pull the trigger on the order, but eventually I just realized the glass NEEDS to be done right. It is not an item you want to cheap out on. The company that did it was great as well, I essentially gave them the size of the hole and they did all the calculations to make sure the glass would fit (certain precise, dedications need to be made to ensure the glass can be removed from the track after installation).
I also recommend tempered glass if you plan to build something similar. It is so much strong and so much safer than traditional plate glass.
I used the product, No More Nails Adhesive to glue the tracks down to the cabinet. At first I thought it would be a good idea to reinforce the tracks with small screws after I glued them down. I do not recommend doing that! To make a long story short, the screw I used got jammed, stripped and then I had no way to remove it. Luckily it didn’t impact the glass sliding through the track.
In summary… a liberal amount of No More Nails Adhesive is more than strong enough to get the job done!
Once the rail was coated in glue, I pressed it in place and weighed it down for 20 minutes or so. After 20 minutes, it was rock solid. I am amazed at how well that glue holds!
Of course, I then glued and compressed the bottom track too.
Step 10: SET UP
And voila, glass is installed! The next thing I did was run a 24 hour, heat/ humidity test. It is very important to do this when you set up a new enclosure!
It is so tempting to throw an animal in as soon as the enclosure is finished but patience is very important here. You need to ensure the enclosure is safe for the animal first.
SETTING UP THE ENCLOSURE:
- Tape heat mats to bottom of each enclosure
- Hook up thermostats and probes
- Plug in radiant heat panels (set on timer, on at 7am, off at 10pm)
- Plug in lights (set on timer, on at 9am, off at 8pm)
- Place large water bowel in enclosure
- Add thermometers and hygrometers
- Sit back and wait!
The most important thing was properly calibrating the thermostats. When keeping boas, you are generally looking for a 90°F hot spot on the inside of the enclosure. Although, my thermostats need to be set for much hotter. Reason being, is the mats are taped underneath the enclosure, meaning the heat has to penetrate through the melamine (3\4″ and the vinyl floor).
The thermostat probe is sandwiched between the heat mat and the bottom of the enclosure which means it is exposed to much warmer temperatures than the inside of the enclosure gets to. Both my thermostats had to be set to roughly 98-100°F to achieve an ideal hot spot on the inside of the enclosure.
After 24 hours of testing my metrics were as follows:
- Hot Side Ambient: 81°F
- Cold Side Ambient: 76°F
- Hot Spot: 88-91°F
- Humidity: 60%
Everything looked great! Although I did end up bumping the humidity of the reptile room up so I could increase the enclosure humidity to about 75%.
Step 11: DECOR, RELEASE THE BOAS!
Now that I was confident that I had balanced and ideal parameters inside the enclosure, it was time to officially set them up!
I set a hide up on each side, through a layer of coconut husk down and set up some driftwood that I had found (and treated) a few weeks back. I also threw in some Exo-Terra foliage for some ground cover.
Time to introduce the homeowners! Here is Winston taking he first “steps” into his new home. Winston is 50% Colombian/ 50% Sonoran Desert, and since he is a male, I am thinking a 4′ enclosure might be large enough to be his forever home. Or at least his home for many years still!
And here is my second boa, Whip checking out her new place. She is full Colombian, so this will only be her home for the next few years likely.
Step 12: MATERIALS AND COST BREAKDOWN
MATERIAL LIST (APPROXIMATE PRICES, in Canadian Dollars), also keep in mind I built TWO enclosures so this is the list of materials I used to do both.
- Cabinets= $50.00 for both
- 2 x Hardboard 2′ x 4′ sheet= $17.00
- No More Nails= $9.50
- 4 x tubes GE I Silicon= $20.00
- Screws= $5.00
- Vinyl floor= $45.00 (had tons left over)
- Oak board, 8′ L 1″x3″= $15.00
- Glass and plastic tracking= $300
- LED Lighting= $35.00
- Vivarium Vents= $10.00
TOTAL COST: $506.50 (~$255.00 per enclosure)
Not Bad considering a PVC cage of similar height (with lighting and heat) would have been closer to $350-$400 EACH before taxes and shipping (Canadian dollars)!
We are DONE the DIY SNAKE CAGE Project!! Thank you very much for reading along/ watching the videos I have made.
If you have any questions please add them in the comments or contact me directly, by visiting my website Animals at Home!