Are you looking for a hamster cage, but can’t find what you want in the shops or online?
Have you heard about bin cages, but aren’t sure what they are all about?
Do you want to make your own bin cage, but don’t know where to start?
This is the blog for you!
What is a Bin Cage?
A bin cage is a plastic storage box that has been converted into a hamster cage. You can adapt it to your own needs in terms of layout and colour. It is especially useful if you want to stack cages, or can’t find a suitable cage to buy.
A bin cage may not be ideal for hamsters that chew a lot as they have been known to chew their way to freedom through the walls, like with any plastic cage!
Step One: Gather Your Equipment
10-12mm for Syrians, 6mm for dwarves or babies.
Something to cut the hole in the box
For example, a soldering iron or Dremel drill. It is best to have a dedicated bin cage soldering iron – molten plastic residue can make it unsuitable for proper soldering in future!
Something to fix the mesh to the box
Cable/zip ties are cheap and quick to use, but can be chewed. A more sturdy alternative is using washers, bolts and nuts.
Pliers or strong pair of scissors
for cutting the mesh and cable ties
Plastic storage box
Here at Vectis, I use Really Useful Boxes with 6mm mesh held on using cable ties. My spare temporary cages are Wham boxes as these stack inside each other for storage. The bin cage soldering iron and pliers were a good investment in 2012 and are still going strong!
In this blog I’ll therefore talk about using a soldering iron, cable ties and pliers. If you plan to use different cutting and fixing equipment, these instructions will still work.
Step Two: Choose Your Box
Check the box you plan to use has no indentations or plastic ridges (or even little pre-drilled holes) that could be a starting point for chewing. As well as looking at the floor space, make sure the box is deep enough to fit the toys and wheels you wish to use.
Think what other features are important to you in your bin cage:
Easier to store when unused?
Stable stacking when in use?
Flexibility to put ventilation panels in the sides or the roof?
A particular colour?
Different brands of box are more or less suitable for these different features, for example some are more stable in a taller stack when in use as a cage, whereas others are more able to fit inside each other for storage. Sometimes you just have to look at them in the shop and see what you think!
This Really Useful Box has no internal ridges for a hamster to chew
Step Three: Placing Your Ventilation Holes
Next you need to decide where to put the ventilation panels in your cage. If you prefer, you can mark where you wish to cut using a felt tip pen.
Placing them on the roof will give a nice deep area for filling with substrate. It will allow you to hang toys and will make it harder for the hamster to access the mesh. It will, however, mean you are unable to stack the bin cages.
Placing the panels on the sides of the box allows you to put used cages in a stack and use room space efficiently without needing shelves. Having a mesh panel on more than one side improves ventilation and allows you to hang toys between them.
Remember to leave a good amount of plastic remaining at the bottom of the mesh panels so the substrate doesn’t get kicked all over the floor!
These are my first attempt at making bin cages. I was so focussed on providing good ventilation that I forgot to leave space for substrate and burrowing!
I now leave more space for substrate, and have a design that allows for both ventilation and stacking.
Step Four: Cutting Your Ventilation Holes
Safety first! When cutting the holes in the plastic, ensure you are in a well ventilated room away from any animals. This is something that must be done by an adult as the soldering iron becomes very very hot.
Work with the soldering iron facing and moving away from you. Go slowly and carefully because burns from soldering irons are very painful (I have the scar to prove it!) If you do burn yourself when using a soldering iron, get the affected area under cold water for at least 10 minutes and consult the NHS website for further advice.
After you have cut the ventilation holes, make smaller holes around the edge. This is what you will use thread the cable ties or bolts through when attaching the mesh. For cable ties, a hole the width of the soldering iron tip is usually big enough. If using bolts, nuts and washers you will likely need fewer attachment points as hamsters are less likely to chew these loose.
Top Tip: Don’t throw away the piece of plastic you cut out to make the ventilation hole. These make great patches for when someone chews a hole in their cage! This blog is about how to mend a hole, including using plastic patches.
Step Five: Cutting Your Mesh
Strong scissors can cut through 6mm mesh, though you can also use pliers.
If the mesh panel has any sharp bits, trim those flush so they don’t pose a hazard to the future cage inhabitant. Make sure to sweep up any loose bits of metal promptly as they are sore when you stand on them (yes, I’ve done this – ow!)
Step Six: Attaching the Mesh
Attach cable ties at the four corners
At this stage, it is best to leave the cable tie ‘tails’ long. It allows for adjusting how tightly they are fastened when all the cable ties are in place.
Tie the cable ties so the ‘knot’ is on the outside of the cage and away from small teeth.
If you fit the mesh panel on the outside of the cage, you are leaving a plastic edge and making it easy for a hamster to chew a big hole in your new cage!
Put cable ties in the rest of the holes until the mesh is firmly attached close to the plastic.
At this point, recheck all the cable ties are tight, including the corner ones you put on first.
Trim the excess ‘tails’ of the cable ties using pliers or stong scissors.
If the cut edges of the cable ties are sharp, you can melt them a little with the soldering iron to smooth them. This is so you don’t hurt yourself when handling the cage; the ‘knot’ is out of reach of the hamster.
Step Seven: Attaching the Water Bottle
You nearly have a completed bin cage!
The last thing to do (apart from tidying all your off-cuts and equipment away) is work out how you are going to provide water to your hamster.
Wherever your ventilation panels are, you can attach a water bottle inside your bin cage using sticky-back Velcro. Make sure the cage and bottle are clean and dry before fixing the Velcro. If you put the scratchy part of the Velcro on the cage (and the furry part on the bottle), it is easier to remove substrate from during cage cleanings than if you do it the other way around.
If your ventilation panels are on the sides, you can attach a water bottle to the outside by cutting a hole for the spout in the mesh with the pliers. A bottle spring or wire then holds the bottle in place. You could cut holes in the box itself for the spout and spring/wire, but this provides an area where plastic can be chewed.
If your ventilation panel is on the lid, you can hang a water bottle roof from the using wire. This can allow deeper burrowing, but may be difficult to reach if the hamster moves the substrate under the spout.
There are alternatives to bottles, such as bowls or gravity-fed water fountains (non-electric). These need to be raised above the substrate so they are not knocked over or buried.
Finishing Your Bin Cage
Clean any dust or plastic bits from the inside of the box, then pat yourself on the back for a bin cage (or several) well made.
Now for the fun bit, setting the cage up for it’s small furry resident! Mesh panels offer different opportunities for cage enrichment, such as an elevated sand bath in a side panel or hanging a kebab toy from a roof panel.
Some types of plastic box have accessories designed for them. I love my bin cage stacks on wheels!