I'd like to thank Tony wilks for this guide.
This guide is designed to help those people wishing to build their own vivs, for their first project.
I have used pictures at each stage to show the basic steps. There are other ways of doing it but I’ve found this the easiest. You will see I have used power tools for a lot of the work but the same results can be achieved using hand tools, like saws. I do NOT recommend using the electric jigsaw. Unless you are very experienced in using them, it is almost impossible to get straight lines, so use a hand saw.
I use furniture board for building vivariums, also known as Conti board, it comes in 6 or 8 foot lengths and in 12,18, or 24 inches wide, it’s easy to cut, shape and sand, and has a melamine surface which easy to keep clean. It also comes in a variety of colours, white being the cheapest and available from most large DIY stores.
So, what size? For a 4ft x 2ft x 18inch vivarium, you would need two pieces of 6ft x 18 inch timber. Each piece would give you a top/bottom and a side. A number of stores have a cutting service, which would save you time and you would get nice straight edges. Then there’s the back, this can be hardboard or plywood, hardboard being the cheapest, but plywood being more durable.
For the purpose of illustration, I will show you a 30x18x18 vivarium that I have built.
One 8ft length gave me 2 sides, top and bottom.
Lets turn this wood into a wooden vivarium like this:
Unless you have got store to cut it, carefully measure and cut the wood, making sure you get it square cut, use a T square if you have one, if not, measure each side and draw a line across the timber.
Measure, cut and sand the edges to give a smooth finish:
Stand it on the floor and see how it's going to look, the sides should be inside the top/bottom. This way you don't get any rough edges to mark any furniture it may stand on.
The next step is the tricky bit, you really need another pair of hands, (Dad,Mum,Brother?) it can be done alone with a bit of patience. Mark the top and bottom with the side stood on the edge, this is so you know where to drill holes. You will need two holes at each end of the top and the bottom. I use one and a half inch No.6 Chipboard screws for this, make sure they are chipboard screws or they will split the wood, also use a countersink bit to recess the screws so they are flush with timber, if you have one.
Mark drill and countersink:
You are now ready to assemble the frame. I used sealant during this part of the operation to get a waterproof joint, especially on the bottom, to prevent leakage. I’ve used ordinary sealant, some people use Aqua sealant (fish tank sealant). Some people will argue against using normal sealant but I have never had any problems with it. The choice is yours.
Using a square try and get it as square as possible, will make it easier later when you put the back on. Proceed to assemble the frame.
Now for the back, in this case i used 4mm exterior plywood. It comes in 3ft x 2ft or 4ft x 3ft sheets. The easiest way of marking out it to place ply on the ground and stand frame on it or measure and cut if you prefer, again making sure that the cuts are square. Drill holes round edge and again countersink if you can. I used 5/8ths No.8 screws for this, apply sealant and attach back by ONE corner with one screw only for now. (This is where you really need to get the whole thing square or you will have difficulty fitting glass later). Next got to the opposite corner (diagonal) and pull the frame together.
We now have a basic vivarium:
This next part is optional but I strongly recommend that at least the bottom board (plinth)is put in the vivarium. Three reasons, first it stops the substrate coming out and getting into the runners and on the floor. Secondly, not everyone will agree with this, but I believe that it also helps prevent stress to the reptile because it doesn’t feel safe looking “over the edge” so to speak if it’s just glass. Thirdly, two pieces of cheap wood is better than a bigger piece of expensive glass, that’s my way of looking at it anyway.
So, cut the 2 pieces of wood, drill holes on side of vivarium to hold in place, put sealant on and screw into place. Make sure that the distance between the 2 pieces is parallel or the glass wont fit.
Using Double Sliding door track 4mm, it usually comes in 6ft lengths. There are 2 pieces in each pack, the deeper one is for the top, shallow for bottom. Cut to size, the inside length of vivarium and glue into place. I used a hot glue gun but any good adhesive will do. So it looks like this:
Next, run a 4mm bead of sealant round the bottom of the vivarium and smooth off with the best tool ever to be invented, the finger, wiping off any excess with a damp cloth:
I strongly recommend you wash your hands thoroughly after this. We are now ready to measure glass. This can be obtained from your local glass merchant. In this particular case the glass is relatively small so I used standard 4mm. For any vivariums that are bigger , you should consider using toughened or laminated glass, for safety reasons or even 6mm glass. If you use 6mm glass, DON’T forget to use 6mm runners. As most glass merchant use millimeters as standard you should measure in millimeters yourself.
Measure from inside the top runner (deep one) to the edge of the bottom runner. When you measure the width make sure you get an overlap so a lock or rubber wedge can be used.
You can now add the final touches. I drilled several holes in the back and fitted a vent cover with build-in fly screen:
You can now fit your own electrics into the vivarium, don’t forget to make a guard for lamp etc so reptiles don’t get burnt.
Well there you have it. I hope this has given you some idea on how to go about building your own. Here’s a break-down of the cost. By using hardboard for back and white wood it would have saved about £12 Furniture board - £14 Plywood - £6.50 Runners - £5.50 Sealant - £5.00 Screws (2 packs) - £2.50 Glass (with smoothed edges and corners rounded) plus 2 finger plates - £10.50
Total cost of vivarium- £44
Seeing your reptile in a vivarium you made - Priceless
Written and photographed by Tony Wilks