Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cage Building Part 1: Gathering Your Supplies

Building your own all wire rabbit cages is a relatively simple process that requires only a few tools and a minimal amount of skill. If you can use a pair of pliers or wire cutters and a measuring tape then you can build your own cages. The only tools you will to make your own cages are: a good pair of wire cutters, needle nose pliers, J-clip pliers, a metal file and possibly a flat head screw driver.

Now, when I first started building cages I scoured the internet and read several books regarding the topic. Each had it own useful advice and every builder of cages has their own experiences. Although after reading some books I am sure the author never built any of their own cages, they just simply repeated the information they acquired verbatim from another source. In this series of articles I will try to enlighten you to some of the tips and techniques that I have learned over the years of building cages. But before you can get started building cages, you have to acquire the right equipment.

The Wire (Galvanized Steel Wire)

As for the cages themselves you will need two different sizes of galvanized welded wire ½ x 1-inch for the bottom of the cage and 1 x 1-inch or 1 x 2-inch for the sides and bottoms. Galvanized steel wire is rolled wire that has been coated or galvanized after the welding process to help prevent it from rusting. The strength and thickness of the wire is determined by the 'gauge' rating. The lower the number or 'gauge' of the wire the stronger it is. The standard for rabbit and small animal cage wire is '14 gauge'. Wire that is labeled '12 gauge' is thicker and stronger than '14 gauge', while wire that is labeled '16 gauge' is thinner and weaker. Many wire rolls may not have the gauge noted on the package, but my experience is that it if it is labeled as 1 x 2-inch, or 1 x ½-inch rabbit or 'cage' wire it is usually 14 gauge. The 1 x 1-inch square will at my local Tractor Supply is '16 gauge'.

You can find galvanized cage wire at your local Lowe's, Home Depot, or Tractor Supply. It can also be found on-line from many vendors, but the shipping cost generally make it uneconomical for most small breeders, and saving money is one of the reasons most breeders make their own wire cages. If your local home improvement superstore does not carry the size of wire you need, they will order it for you at no additional charge. If you are an 'Amazon Prime' member, then you can find the required cage wire on Amazon and have it shipped to you for free. If you are not a member of 'Amazon Prime', then my advice is to save yourself some money and let the other guys pay for the shipping cost.

Knowing the size of the cage that you are going to build allows you to purchase the most economical width of rolled cage wire. As our cages are a maximum of 30” wide, the bottom cage wire only needs to be 30” in width. The standard width of the most popular roll of ½ x 1-inch cage wire used to make the bottom of rabbit cages is 30” so no wastage here. Unfortunately, the wire used for the sides and top of the cages (1 x 1-inch, or 1 x 2-inch) comes in a variety of widths usually 24”, 36”, or 48”. So you have some decisions to make here in regards to cage height.

A quick note about PVC coated wire. I have seen some of this type of wire used by some rabbitry's to make their cages. The idea is that the PVC coating keeps the cages from rusting. I have cages that are in my outdoor hutch that are three years old and they have not rusted as of yet. The j-clips do rust and have to be replaced, but none of the galvanized wire I have used to make the cages has rusted. Because a rabbits teeth grow continuously, they like to chew, often when I go out to the barn and the hutch I will see them working their teeth on the wire. While the PVC coating may not hurt them, I prefer to not take the chance that the coating that they may chew off could case them harm. Use the PVC coated wire if you want, but I would use it with caution. Until I know more about it's safety, I will pass on the PVC coated wire.

Making Your First Wire Purchase

Looking at your choices, a cursory glance might make you believe that a 36” width of rolled cage wire can easily be cut in half to give you two 18” sides (36 / 2 = 18). While half of 36” is indeed 18” you are going to lose 2” on 1 x 2-inch wire due to the cut line. Therefore you are left with the choice of making one cage that is 18” tall and the second cage that is only 16” tall. For small breeds (Mini Rex, Holland Lops, Hot Tot's etc) a 16” tall cage is fine, but for adult New Zealand's, Californian's and American's a 16” cage is not tall enough. However, you could use 16” tall cages for what we call “grow-out” cages that can house rabbits from the time they are weaned until they are about 16 weeks of age.

The same can be said if you choose to purchase 1 x 1-inch rolled cage wire. Once you cut one side to 18”, you will be left with a a section of wire that is only 17” in height. One inch in height may not seem like much, but I have decided on a minimum standard of 18” cage height for my meat breeders and do not wish to make my cages any shorter. However, if you raise meat breeds as well as smaller breeds, then the 36” width might your best cage making choice.

A 48” roll of cage wire will you leave you with approximately 10” of wasted wire if you make your cages 18” in height. However you could make all of you cages 22” in height and minimize your waste. It is debatable if a cage taller than 18” is beneficial to the animal or not, but if you are using racks and drip pans and want to stack cages, you just have to remember that the taller the cage, the less room you have to stack cages. Taller cage stacks makes it difficult for young adults and those who are vertically challenged to get the animals safely and easily out of the cages. If you are hanging your cages from wires, this my not be an issue, but it is something to keep in mind.

As for me, I have come to rely on the 14 gauge 24” width of rolled cage wire. I prefer the 1 x 2 for sides and top, but have recently began to purchase the 1 x 1-inch rolls when that was all that is available. The 1 x 1-inch rolls however are the thinner 16 gauge, but I have not experienced any difficulties with cages made from this wire. Depending on the size of the wire (1x2, or 1x1) I have a small strip of 4 – 5” leftover when cutting the sides. I then use these small scraps to make hay hangers that I put on the doors of the cages to hold timothy hay for our rabbits. For me it was a simple matter of availability of the wire, and I will admit it is easier to wrangle a 24” roll of wire by oneself than it is a 36” or 48” roll. Having the space to work on a 4' (48”) roll of spring loaded cage wire is one factor that people often overlook when they get ready to make there own cages.

My recommendation at first is to start small. Purchase a 24” roll to make your first couple of cages, then when you are comfortable with manipulating the wire you can make the decision whether of not you want to purchase and work with wider rolls of cage wire.

Fasteners (J-clips) and J-clip Pliers

If there is one item that you need to pony up the cash and buy, it is a good set of j-clip pliers. You can buy the cheap j-clip pliers sold at Tractor Supply and other retailers for about $9.00, but I guarantee you you will regret it, and I have had both the experience and the sore hands to prove it. The cheap pliers are thin wall pressed pliers that bend and have to be straightened often during the making of a single cage. In addition, because they are made from pressed metal, the thin handles cut into your hands when you have to apply pressure to the j-clip. I am sure my friend and author 'Steve Coyne' of the Texas Bunny Barn blog will attest to this statement as we have made many cages together for both rabbitry's using these cheap pliers before buying a set of heavy duty j-clip pliers for only about $9.00 more than the cheap ones (total $18.00 for heavy duty pliers).

The second problem with the cheap j-clip pliers is that I found that I had to use an additional pair of needle nose pliers to fully seat the j-clip. So you have to do twice the work which strains your hands even more. Bottom line the cheap pliers are not worth the money you will pay for them. You can buy, nice heavy duty j-clip pliers on-line via Amazon for about $18.00, or check with one of the many rabbit equipment suppliers. I bought the cheap pliers when I first got into raising rabbits because I did not know there was an option and that was all my local Tractor Supply carried. I had to learn on the fly so to speak, but now you will know that there are other options available. So just in case I haven't made myself clear, purchasing a good set of heavy duty j-clip pliers will make your cage building go so much faster and the experience will be more enjoyable.

As for j-clips, there seems to no consistency between manufacturers. I say this because over time, I have found at least three slightly different designs of j-clips. They all work, but the j-clips that I have found that work the best have a more flat 'J' angle. These j-clips however are of a heavier design than the ones I have found at my local Tractor Supply, and to be honest I could not crimp them on my cheap pliers. However they work extremely well in the heavy duty pliers. In addition, for best results I have to put a small crimp in the cheaper made 'Pet Lodge' brand of j-clips available form my local Tractor Supply with my needle nose pliers to get them to function properly in my heavy duty j-clip pliers. The bottom line, do not waste a lot of time searching for a particular type of j-clips, just buy them and be done with it, you may have to make some small adjustments to them to get them to work to your satisfaction, but it is no big deal.

I have never used C-clips (aka hog rings) or C-clip pliers (aka hog ring pliers) to make cages so I cannot really comment on their use and how effective they are, but I find no reason why they should not work quite well. In fact, some hot rings are galvanized steel so they should not rust like the cheaper j-clips will. Just to try the c-clips, I would have to buy all new gear, and I am simply not willing to do that at this time. The prices for the j-clips and the c-clips are about the same, however the pliers appear to be roughly 30 -50% more expensive. 

Wire Cutters

Galvanized steel wire whether 14 or 16 gauge is pretty strong stuff and you will need a good set of sharp wire cutters in order to cut your roll of cage wire to the proper size for assembly. When I first started raising rabbits I purchased a decent pair of 7-inch 'Kobalt' brand wire cutters from my local Lowe's for $8.98. If you have a good set of wire cutters, that's fantastic, if you have a cheap dull pair, either sharpen them or invest in a good pair. A good pair of wire cutters will save you time, hand fatigue and a lot of frustration.

Bench Grinder and or Dremel Moto-Tool (Optional)

I list these two items as optional, but for me they are an essential part of my cage making process. When cutting cage wire, you will discover that the wire cutters leave small, sharp burs on the edges of the wire that you cut. I use a bench grinder to remove the burs from the individual cage panels (see part 3, putting it all together) and my Dremel moto-tool to remove the burs from around the cage opening when I cut out my door openings.

If you do not have a bench grinder or Dremel moto-tool, then a standard metal file will do. It is a while lot more tedious process to use a manual file, but you have to use the tools you have. You do not have to grind the small burs totally flat, but you do want to smooth them enough so that you do not scratch or cut your hands and arms on the sharp edges when removing your rabbits from their cage.


Not everyone can build their own cages, nor do they want to, and that's OK. For me, I find I can save about 30 to 35% by building my own cages. In addition, by building my own cages, I have learned how to take them apart when necessary and do any maintenance needed to repair, reduce or expand a particular cage to meet my rabbitry's individual needs. As I mentioned earlier in this article, cage building is not hard, you just need to have the right equipment a proper workbench or table for the assembly of the cages.

Having a friend or spouse to lend a hand is an added bonus. As I have a shop and the space to make cages, my friend Steve Coyne often comes over and together we knock out cages for both our rabbitry's. Not only does it speed the process along and make it more efficient, it gives you plenty of time to socialize, talk rabbits, and generally just shoot the breeze. In part two of this series I will go through the process of how I make my cages. As always, we ask that if you find this information interesting that you please share it with your friends on Facebook and Google+. Don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+. You can also subscribe to our blog so that you do not miss any of our new articles or our notices regarding new rabbit's that are for sale.

Other Related Articles On Our Blog:

Cage Building Part 2: Size and Placement Matter.

Cage Building Part 3: Putting It All Together.

1 comment: