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BUILDING THE CONDO

Just over a month ago I took on the challenge (with considerable help) of building a new cage system to accomodate the family of Degus and the Chinchillas. Several considerations were needed to begin with.

  • Chinchillas and Degus in this case dont like each other, so cant be allowed to see each other.
  • Current cage set up means a HUGE amount of mess, new cage needs to be designed to minimise this.
  • New cage needs to give more space for all animals.
  • New cage needs to allow maximum ventilation to prevent animals over heating on hot days.
  • Cage needs to be wipe clean, but paint used needs to be safe.
  • Any exposed corners are prone for chewing, measures need to be taken to prevent escapes.
  • Finally, and most importantly, while keeping the animals safe, the cage must also keep them in!

First point of call was an email to John Hopewell (look up for his link) to get him to custom build me two extra deep galvanised metal pull out trays, and 6 shelves with extra wide access gaps to allow very big Chinchilla to pass through easily! Less than a week later all of that arrived, superbly built and just what was needed. Quick plug for John here, we exchanged a great number of emails discussing the various possibilities, and John provided EXACTLY what I asked for at a great price!!!

With metal parts on site, a design drawn up, it was time for a visit to the largest DIY store locally to purchase wood, paint, screws etc so we could get started!

THE RAW MATERIALS.

You cant possibly start a project like this, where you are also planning on documenting each stage, without assembling everything you have and taking a snap! Luckily for us the cage was built middle of April, during a lovely warm and sunny spell, so the main building work could take place outside.

THE BUILDER.

Further luck for me, my father is a teacher, and on half term when the cage is ready to be built! He has tackled lots of projects over the years, and while he doesnt claim to be an expert, he has a fair amount of experience of working with wood.

Anyway, I promised him a picture on here before all the images of him totally knackered from all the hard work! So here he is!!

WHERE THE "@$&%&# DO WE START?

Managed to get extra people roped into helping now, enter fiance to the left! (please keep in mind I am working too when not taking pictures!!!!)

You will also note the piece of paper at the bottom left of the screen, so yes, we were working to a plan, problem is, while most of the plan is on the paper, some of it is still up in my head, and doesnt quite match the plan in Dad's head. Still, I'm sure it will all work out fine soon enough!

MEASURING OUT...

Already learning, measure it out, and then measure it out again! I swear that piece of wood wasnt that size last time we measured it!

No arguments or injuries at this stage I am pleased to note, quite a deal of confusion on the part of myself and the fiance, still Dad seems to know what he is doing, so we are going to follow his lead. (That way too, if it goes wrong he can take the blame!)

THE BASE IS DRAWN...

As has already been mentioned, the need to measure and re measure cannot be over emphasised. The base shown here was measured about 4 times before we risked moving forward! if the lines had been out, everything else wouldnt fit quite right, and the strength of the cage would be undermined.

THE FIRST CUT...

I really dont need to say very much here. Its a pity I didnt capture a video of this moment, because it took a good couple of minutes before the saw actually touched the wood! Dad was rather cautious at this point as it was now all based on the previous measurements being correct!

MEASURING THE BACK...

To ensure the strength of the cage, the fewer pieces that the main frame can be made up of the better. So the back is all one piece of wood (a very heavy piece of wood!) The idea is that from here the main frame of the cage (the 3 upright panels) will be kept far straighter and in line if they are all secured to one solid back panel.

CUTTING THE SIDES...

All of the pieces of wood have been measured using a set square and ruler to mark out straight lines. The tricky bit is the building. The lines are being cut with a circular saw as seen here in the capable hands of Dad, but are being cut by hand, so it is essential the wood is supported securely.(Hence the addition of Andy). It would be possible to have all the pieces of wood cut professionally to ensure the sizes and edges are perfect. But the cost of this process would be much greater. I am working on Dad's track record and reckon it should be pretty darn good as it is!

SANDING THE SURFACES...

Remembering that this is going to be the home for two groups of animals, it is important to make sure all surfaces and especially all cut edges are sanded smooth to remove any possible sharp edges. This will also create a better overall finish and look, as well as making it easier to paint later along in the process.

CUTTING SHELF SUPPORTS...

The shelves purchased from John Hopewell are heavy duty galvenised metal bar shelves. They fit the size space in each cage perfectly, but need to be supported. We looked at various methods for this, and originally were going to go with cutting a grove in the wooden upright into which the shelf would slide. However, to achieve this, the uprights would need to be very thick. The alternative, as you can see from the picture, (and more clearly below) is to create wooden strips that the shelves will sit on top of. Above these strips and the shelves will be curved wooden strips that will prevent a build up of debris at the corner, and help to secure the shelves in place, while still leaving the able to slide out when needing to be cleaned.

STARTING TO BUILD THE FRAME...

As has already been discussed, the cage comprises of one solid panel for the back, one solid panel for the base, and 3 solid upright panels. Now that these have all been cut out, its time to start putting it together. To make things a little easier, the upright panels, which later will support the metal shelves that John Hopewell has supplied us with have already had the shelf supports screwed on. Its a great deal easier to drill and screw into wood when you are able to lay it on a flat surface and press down, rather than attempting the process on a vertical surface. So here the image shows that the uprights all ready have the small shelf supports added, and that the base is also in place.

PUTTING UP THE SIDES...

Once the base and central upright have been secured to the back panel of the cage, it is time to add the outside upright panels. To do this the first challenge is put on the cage, will it stand up right?

The uprights are secured to the back panel with screws. Because we are working with MDF, that is prone to spliting, pilot holes have been drilled into all the pieces of wood, and to ensure a better finish a countersink has been used so that all the screws will sit flush into the wood when they are added later.

FRAME AND SHELF SUPPORTS...

The frame is now essentially together, and all that is missing from it is the roof. This image shows that each metal shelf has its supports in place, and at the top of where the metal pull out trays will sit there is a line of curved edge wooden strip designed to ensure that all dust etc from the animals will be guided into the trays, rather than build up at the edges.

THE DEGU SHELVES FIT!

The first major hurdle jumped, one half of the cage is together, and the shelves all fit nicely. It is possible at this point to see that extra shelves will be needed to allow easy access between each level.

MEASURING THE EXTRA WOODEN SHELVES...

To ensure ease of access between each level, the addition of home made "leap n ledge" shelves need to be added. These are made from the same wood as the rest of the cage, and simply screwed into the unit at the desired points as it is all being put together.

IT ALL FITS!

There is always that moment of worry when you undertake a project, that moment just before you put it all together, where you ask yourself, will it work? We asked that just before this picture was taken! The frame was up, and the shelves needed to be added. Would they slide in as planned? thankfully, they did! (ok, one shelf on the Chinchilla side needed a good deal of brute force and got sworn at, but it all went together in the end).

ADDING THE DOORS...

The doors were built from a single sheet of MDF cut to fit each half of the front of the cage, with holes taken out at each shelf level. These were then attached to the cage at the outside edge with four external hinges each. (Built by the very wonderful Adrian, not pictured, but expert with building!) In this image the cage has now been moved to my house, and is part of the way through being painted. (see, wasnt just taking photos, was working too, hence the slight gap in the visual time line!)

You can also see for the first time here that the top has been added, but that two holes have been cut into it. This was not planned from the start, but it was felt once the doors were on that it would benefit the occupants if there were holes for hot air to escape in the summer, hopefully providing them with greater ventilation.

PAINTING THE DOORS...

If you look back at the conditions required from the final cage, one was to ensure it was easy to clean. This is going to be achieved by painting the whole interior. To make sure it is safe for the animals, I have used child friendly paint designed to paint wooden childrens toys. It is low odour, and when dry is harmless to children even if chewed.

The process of painting has also been very long! The unit has recieved 3 layers of undercoat, after each layer it has been gently sanded, and then a final top coat. The finish is very smooth to the touch and should ensure that any stains can be easily wiped off. I plan to make up a vinegar solution as a cleaning agent, mixed with water and put into spray bottle, it can then be applied and wiped away. This solution will ensure no chemicals can harm any of the animals.

ADDING THE LOCKS!

I have looked at these images and realised that to some extent they do not show you the scale of the cage. But then we come to this picture.

This picture was taken in my living room(sorry about the mess!) And as you can see it pretty much fills all the space that is available! Not a small project, and it takes 2 fully grown men to lift it!

The cage has been laid onto its back to add the locks. We looked at various ways of securing the cage doors shut, but settled on the use of bolt bar locks, one each top and bottom of the doors. This way the doors can be opened independently since the Degus and Chinchillas do not get on and thus ensuring chance meetings do not take place.

THE LOCK FASTENING SYSTEM

here is a close up of the locks used for the cages, very simple but added to both the top and the bottom to ensure that nobody can push their way out at the other end.

SETTING UP HOME...

The final stage before turning the cage over to its new occupants is to add a few "homely touches". You can really see the increase in cage size that has been achieved. The extras that each group of animals have dont come even close to filling the cage up, giving so much space.

Of course, that now means a shopping trip is in order to buy them more toys!

Well, for those of you who have worked your way through to the end of this page, thankyou. To give you an idea of what this project has cost, the supplies from John Hopewell was 80. The wood was 40. Paint 20. Mesh 16. Staple gun (to secure mesh to doors etc) 12. Bolts 12. Plus all the screws etc that were kindly donated by generous parents. (my wallet just wasnt on me at the time!) It hasnt been a cheap project, but I think ultimately its worth it!