As I mentioned in my first two articles, cage building is a relatively simple process that requires only a few tools and a minimal amount of skill. Now that you have gathered the tools and the supplies you need to make your cages, and have decided on the size of the cage and the placement of the doors, it it time to start building cages.
In this third article in the series I will explain to you the process that we use here at 'TAP Rabbirty' to build our rabbit cages. While there may be many different approaches to cage building, the process that we use works well for us. I use an assembly line type technique, which I call the “panel method”, in which I cut all of the sides, bottom and top panels first for each cage, then clean up the edges and wire cuts as necessary before putting the cage together. It is my desire that the theory and thought behind my decisions will hopefully help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that we experienced when we first started building your own building cages.
The Bend Method
When I first started looking for information about building my own cages, I purchased two books by Bob Bennet 'Rabbit Housing: Planning Building, and Equipping Facilities for Humanely Raising Healthy Rabbits' and his small booklet 'Build Rabbit Housing'. Mr. Bennet likes to use what I call “the bend method” to making cages and this is his primary approach in both books.
His method involves straightening a roll of wire until it is long enough for two sides and the top. For a 24” x 24” cage 18" tall, the length of wire would be 5ft (18" per side, plus 24" for for the top). The panel then has to be cut to the specific height of the cage you are building. He then takes a 2x4 board and measures the length of the side, places the 2x4 board on the wire and then with a hammer bends the wire against the board to make a 90 degree angle for each side. He then attaches this to the bottom and then attaches the other two side panels which he has already cut out.
I attempted this method only once, I was not satisfied with the results and it was difficult to get a good bend as a 5ft long piece is cage wire is hard to manipulate by yourself. In addition, I did not like the way the other two side panels attached to the cage where the wire was bent to form two of the sides (a personal idiosyncrasy). The short story is I had to find a way that was easier for me to manipulate the cage wire when building my cages. That was when I decided to make them with what I call the “panel method”.
The Panel Method
I build my cages using what I call the panel method. My method involves straightening a roll of wire out just long enough to cut each individual panel (sides, top, and or bottom). The individual panels are then trimmed to the proper height as necessary and cleaned of wire burrs. The panels are then set aside until I have enough completed panels make a cage. I start with the bottom and then attach the sides one at a time and then the top to complete the cage. Don't worry, I will go into more detail on how I put my cages together later in the article under the 'Assembly Section'.
The panel method makes it easier for one person to measure, cut, and assemble cages by them self. This is especially true if you do not have a long workbench or you have a limited work area. This is why it has become my only method for making cages. I only make individual cages, I do not make two or three hole cages as a single unit as they are not as flexible, and do not suit our rabbitry's needs.
A Coiled Steel Spring (Kinetic Energy)
Galvanized steel wire comes in a tightly compressed roll which then has to be unrolled and stretched straight. Because of this it has the recoil and potential to spring back on you like a steel spring (kinetic energy) and can be somewhat a pain in the butt when you are working by yourself. Having an extra hand is nice, but many times I build my cages by myself so I had to discover a way to keep the rolled wire flat and keep it from springing back on me like a steel trap when I was cutting wire by myself.
The simple solution was to take a 3' long scrap piece of 2x4 and place it over the end of the wire and clamp it in place (tightly) with bar clamps to my work bench and then unroll the wire to the desired length. Then I take another scrap piece of 2x4 and place it over the wire past the point I want to cut and then clap it to the table. This procedure while simple allows me to cut the cage wire safely without the need for an extra set of hands, and keeps the wire from springing back on me so I do not get injured.
As I mentioned, I build my cages using what I call the panel method. I follow the same steps each time I make a cage regardless of the size of the cage. I will list the following steps I take to make a cage from start to finish with as many pictures as possible to help clarify what I am doing at each stage. In this example I will be making a 24”x24” cage, 18” tall with a centered door out of the smaller 16 gauge cage wire. For a 24” x 24” cage the size of each side panel is 2ft in length and then trimmed to make it 18” tall. The top needs to by 24” x 24” so I do not trim it. I then attach each individual side panel to the 24”x24” bottom cage panel (1”x 1/2” wire) first with j-clips, then I fold the sides up like a box and attach them together with j-clips. Once I have the sides and bottom securely attached, I attach the top of the cage to the side with the j-clips completing the cage assembly. So let's look at each individual step in detail.
Step 1) Straighten out the cage wire so that you can cut the individual panels that you need to make your cage. Remember each cage has four sides of the same height and length, whereas the bottom and top are the same length and width, but they are not trimmed for height. Straightening a roll of wire out just long enough to cut each individual panels is the one step with the most potential to harm yourself as the wire can easily snap back on your like a steel spring. When making cages by myself, I clamp the cage wire to my work table with a scrap piece of 2x4 pine and wood clamps.
Once you have the wire clamped to your workbench, measure the size of the panel you wish to cut. In this instance because the cages are to be 24”x”24” and I am using a 24” wide roll of 1”x1” cage wire, I simply measure 18” (the height of the cage) down the length of the roll and make my cut across the entire roll with my wire cutters. The result is that I have a panel that is 24” wide and 18” tall when stood on it's side with only one cut. Repeat the process until you have all four of your side panels cut.
For the top, you are going to need a panel that is 24” square, so measure 24” down the roll and cut across the width of the roll to make a 24”x24” panel for the top. You will need to do the same for the bottom panel, but remember the bottom panel needs to be made from 1”x1/2” 16 gauge rolled wire. Now that you have all your panels cut out it is time to move on to the next step.
Step 2) After you have cut out all of your panels, you will note that they are still concave and will have to be flattened. I lay my panels curved side up on my workbench and then starting at the top of the panel begin to bend it in the opposite way. Then I reposition my hands about 4 four inches lower and make another bend in the same direction until you get the panel relatively flat. It may take you a few times to get into the rhythm, but it is not hard and once you have done a few panels you will see how easy it it.
Step 3) Now that all of your panels have been cut and you have flattened them, it is time to remove any of the burrs left on the edges by your wire cutters. We take the panels and then grind off the burrs on my bench grinder. If you do not have a bench grinder, then you can use a dremel moto-tool or you could even use a metal file but that is going to be a lot of work. Now, you do not have to remove the burrs from the panels as they will be on the outside of the cage and will not affect the rabbits, it just looks better when they are removed and it makes carrying the cages more comfortable. Having cage panels with sharp metal ends makes it is easy to scratch or cut yourself, and I prefer to leave my skin intact when at all possible. After all I get enough scratches from the rabbits let alone the cages.
Builder's Note: I trim the cage wire because I use 2ft wide rolls, 25 feet long. If you want to make 24” tall cages then you will have less wire cuts to trim.
Step 4) Once all the burrs have been removed from the panels it is now time to start putting the cage together. Start by attaching one side to the bottom of the cage panel, then fold the panel flat and turn to bottom panel around and attach the panel on the opposite side. Continue this process until all four of the cage panels are in place. For attachment of the cage side to the bottom, I place one j-clip every three inches as the floor will have to hold the weight of the rabbit. For the sides and top I place one j-clip every 4 inches. Remember j-clips are cheap and I would rather put extra clips then not place enough.
Once you have all four of the side panels attached to the cage, you simply unfold the the panels and begin to connect them together with j-clips until all the side panels have been attached to each other. At this point regardless of the gauge of the cage wire, the cage will feel flimsy, however once the top is attached I assure you the cage will become rigid and feel solid. Once you have added the top panel, all that is left to do is to measure and cut the door.
Step 5) At this point you should have a solid square 24”x24” wire cage. Now the only left to do is to measure and cut the door for the cage. Remember from our second article 'Size and Placement Matter' that I recommend that you make all your doors a minimum of 12”x12” to allow for the addition of a nest box if necessary. Measure and mark the center of one of the cage walls and cut out a 12” square opening for the door.
Once the door has been cut and removed, you will need to de-burr or smooth off the cuts made by your wire cutters. You have several options here, but the one that works the best for me is to use my dremel moto-tool with a grinding stone to smooth the wire surface. If you have a small hand held grinder you can use it but you must take care not to remove to much wire. If you do not have a moto-tool or grinder then you will need to use a metal file to smooth the edges.
If you do not have a dremel, hand held grinder or metal file, there is still one more option. In this case when you cut the door out do so leaving enough wire so that you can bend the wire back making a smooth curving surface. Not so easy to explain, but a picture is worth a thousand words in this instance. I still have a few old cages made this way but it is not my preferred method, but it might work well for you.
Step 6) The final step in completing your cage is to make and attach your cage door and latch. As all my cage openings are 12” square, I cut a square piece of wire 14”x14” because I like to the door of the cage to overlap the opening by 1”on all sides. Determining the way you want your door to open is a matter of personal preference. I have started changing all the doors on my cages to open to the side, although I still have a few that open from the top down. For cage latches on our outside cages when we first started raising rabbits we used snap rings for cage locks as the are extremely secure. You can find snap rings at any Walmart, or you local hardware store in packages of 3 to 4 for about $6.00 or less. While we still use some of these snap rings, I now make my own cage latches as well. Making your own cage latches is not difficult, but it is a subject for another article. Now that you have attached your cage latch your cage is now ready for it's new resident.
Potential Cost Savings
Can you really save money making your own cages? Depending on the wire you purchase and the cage size you are making you can make your cages for 54 – 65% cheaper than buying commercially made cages. And that is with buying the smaller 10 to 25ft rolls of galvanized cage wire. Buying the larger 50 to 100ft rolls can save you even more money. I have taken the time to list some of the popular sizes of cages and their manufacturer's as well as the cost of making your own cages for comparison.
Dumar 24”x24” cage 16” tall $24.99 (Tractor Supply)
Dumar 30”x30” cage 16” tall $29.99 (Tractor Supply)
Miller Manufacturing 24”x24” cage 16” tall $32.94 (Walmart)
Miller Manufacturing 30”x30” cage 16” tall $42.15 (Walmart)
Pet Lodge 30”x30” cage 16” tall $29.99 plus shipping (Southern States)
Pet Lodge 30”x36” cage 16” tall $39.89 plus shipping (Mills Fleet Farm)
DIY Cage 24”x24” cage 18” tall (14 gauge 1”x2” wire) $11.65 ($4.99+$6.66)
DIY Cage 24”x24” cage 18” tall (16 gauge 1”x1” wire) $14.94 ($4.99+$9.95)
DIY Cage 30”x30” cage 18” tall (14 gauge 1”x2” wire) $28.86 ($6.66+$22.20)
Because cages are made with a combined total of 6 panels (4 sides and a top and a bottom). maximizing the way you cut your wire can really make a difference in the amount of money you save. So think about the layout and measure twice before cutting your panels.
Using the common sizes of rolled cage wire that you can find at your local Tractor Supply, Lowe's or Home Depot I have taken the time to breakdown the cost of making individual cages based on the type and number of cage panels required. The cost of the rolled wire is of course based on the cost of the wire at the time this article was written (April, 2016), so over time the costs may vary.
Galvanized Steel Wire 14 gauge (1x1/2”) 30” wide 10ft long $19.99 ($1.99 per ft) from Tractor Supply.
Enough wire to make 4 2'x'2 cage bottoms, making the cost of the bottom cage panel $4.99 each. Or 3 30”x30” cage bottoms, making the cost of the bottom cage panel $6.66 each.
Galvanized Steel Wire 14 gauge (1x2”) 36” wide 25ft long $39.99 ($1.59 per ft) from Tractor Supply.
Enough wire to make 15 2'x2' cage panels 18” tall and 15 2'x2' cage panels 16” tall, making the the cost of the cage panels $1.33 each. So you could make 3 2'x'2 cages 18” tall and 3 2'x2' cages 16” tall (total of 6 cages) for $6.66 each without the cost of the bottom of the cage and clips.
Enough wire to make 9 30”x30” cage panels 18” tall, plus four extra side panels, making the cost of the cage panels $4.44 each. So you could make 1 30”x30” cage for a $22.20 without the cost of the bottom of the cage and clips, and have 4 additional panels left over for another cage.
Galvanized Steel Wire 14 gauge (1x2”) 72” wide 100ft long $179.99 ($1.79 per ft)
Enough wire to make 30 2'x2' cages 18” tall, making the cost of cages $5.96 per cage for the sides and the top, without the cost of the bottom of the cage and clips.
Galvanized Steel Wire 16 gauge (1x1”) 24” wide 15ft long $17.99 ($1.99 per ft) from Tractor Supply.
Enough wire to make 9 2'x'2 panels 18” tall, therefore each panel costs $1.99 each and it tales 5 panels (4 sides and a top) to make a cage, so the cost of each cage would be $9.99, without the cost of the bottom of the cage and clips.
When it comes to galvanized rolled wire, I have found the most economical way to purchase your wire is in a 50 or 100ft roll. However, these rolls are very cumbersome and may not be suitable for your purpose if you are making your cages by yourself due to both their size, and weight. Overall the 1”x2” rolled wire is the best buy for cage making. Even though the 16 gauge wire is smaller, because it has a tighter weave pattern 1”x1” more wire is used so the cost is slightly higher (the roll is only 24” wide as opposed to 36” wide).
I have several buck cages that are 24”x24” and I have used the 1”x1” wire to make these cages, primarily because it was all that was available at the time. I have found that although the wire is thinner (16 gauge versus 14 gauge) it works out quite well for smaller cages. I would not recommend that you use this wire for building and cages greater than 24” square as it could get quite flimsy.
This final part in this article series was quite long and I hope it was informative on how I cut, prepare and assemble our cages here at the TAP rabbitry. Because this article is already five pages in length without the illustrations, I have decided to write a seperate article on making your own cage latches. As you can see by the cost comparison you can increase your cage budget by 50% by making your own cages. In addition, I have found that the wire I use to make cages is superior to that of the commercial cages that you can buy at your local Walmart or Tractor Supply. I know from experience as we had to buy two of the cages in an emergency. The bottoms of these cages soon began to rust after about 6 months of inside use. I have cages I made two years ago that have not rusted as of yet and many of them are outside. Yes the j-clips will rust, but none of our cages here at the Tap Rabbitry have.
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Other Related Articles On Our Blog:
Bennet, Bob, Storey's Guide To Raising Rabbits 4th Ed, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2009.
Bennet, Bob, Build Rabbit Housing: A Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-82, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 1982.
Bennet, Bob, Rabbit Housing: Planning, Building, and Equipping Facilities For Humanely Raising Healthy Rabbits, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2012.