Building an Enclosure (by Darren Whittaker)


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This is a basic instruction sheet on building a simple enclosure. Hopefully by the end of reading this you will be able to buy the necessary material and build your own. The design is based on a 1200x600x600mm (4ftx2ftx2ft) melamine enclosure. Obviously this can be changed in dimensions to give you a unit that will suit your needs whether it is for a vertical enclosure, a larger enclosure or a smaller one. As long as you have equal dimensions you can make it any shape or size.

First things first, timber and accessories. For ease of convenience I will be using Bunnings as the hardware shop for all the necessary supplies. Yes, you can get it cheaper elsewhere if you have the time to look around and have other hardware shops that will actually cut the timber for you, if not Bunnings will do it all.

You can purchase melamine in all sorts of shapes and sizes at Bunnings but, to save a few dollars, buying a full sheet (2400x1200x16mm) is the cheapest option. If you are unable to rip (cut) up the sheet Bunnings will do it for you at quite a cheap price.

[h="2"]Buying what you need[/h]
Buying list:

  • 2400x1200x16mm melamine sheet
  • Off-cut of melamine or a piece of pine 1200x70x19
  • 1200 long glass track
  • Vent to suit your animals needs
  • White iron on edging
  • White screw caps
  • White sikaflex
  • Buildex chipboard screws, 8-10g x 32mm
  • PVA glue
  • Small nails – 20mm x 1.25mm

You go to Bunnings, (all exited like I get when I go there – LOL), you select a nice sheet of melamine (2400x1200x16mm) and if you ask nicely someone will help you carry it out to where they cut the material.

Getting it cut. The great thing about Bunnings is they will cut up material to your required sizes. This is especially handy for those who do not have the appropriate tools at home. It is important to know the actual size of the sheet before cutting for 1 main reason - if it is exactly 2400x1200 and you cut it to 1200x600 pieces you are in trouble. Why? I hear you ask - because you have to allow for the thickness of the blade when cutting which can be up to 5mm. So 4 cuts and you have one piece that won’t fit. So you have to start again. However, if the sheet is larger than the actual represented size, then you may be in luck, so measure the sheet first. I always stick to these measurements, just for safety even if the sheet is over size. I cut 3-1200x595 and 2-563x595.

  1. Cut to exactly 1200 wide, generally they are about 1220 wide, You don’t have to trim it if you don’t want to,but I do to keep all the units equal. In other words you could make your unit 1220mm wide instead of 1200mm wide.
  2. Cut 3 pieces into 1200x595 sheets, these will act as your backing, top and bottom.
  3. Cut the left over piece into 2 x 595x563mm pieces for your sides. The 563 measurement comes from the difference in height. You get 563mm from subtracting 32mm (the doubled thickness of the board) from 595mm (the overall height), as the cabinet will have an overall dimension of 1200x595x595.

After you have your sheeting cut and on a trolley, you need a piece of timber for the bottom of your cabinet to mount the glass track on and also to keep in your substrate. To do this, see if they have any scrap bits of melamine about as you need a strip 1200x50mm (min), preferably 1200x70 or larger is ideal - up to about 100mm depending on substrate. If you cannot get a piece, you can either buy some and get them to cut which may be a bit expensive, or just buy a piece of pine (1200x70x19) keeping in mind that the pine will need to be sealed and painted or stained (which can be done in a variety of colours) and lacquered depending on the look you want. I find it much easier with melamine off cuts. You can even modify the dimension of the cabinet to incorporate this piece in the cut list. This gives you some options, although it will mean a smaller enclosure for you.

Now, that you have all your timber, there is just a couple more things to get. Let’s start with your glass track, buy a 1200 long track to suit your tank, it will suit 4 or 5mm glass. You can get a variety of vents from Bunnings, so pick one you prefer. They come in a range of styles and sizes. I personally use metal flyscreen wire or mouse wire (has a 5mm square hole in it) as it is quite thick and can be cut to suit whatever size you want. I guess it comes to personal choice really. You then need to get some white iron on edging (available in small rolls), some white screw caps to cover the holes and some white sikaflex for sealing the joints. Small nails for the glass track, a pack of Buildex chipboard screws 8-10g x 32mm and some PVA glue.

The only other thing you may like to buy is a sliding glass track lock. I don’t find it necessary, but for piece of mind they are a great thing.

Tools Required:

  • Electric or cordless drill, helps if you have both, cordless for screwing and electric for drilling.
  • Jigsaw
  • Hacksaw
  • Handsaw – although a drop saw is straighter and quicker
  • Drill bits
  • Screwdriver bit for your cordless
  • Ruler
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Paper – to work out measurements and/or draw up your plans
  • Work horses or bench of some sort on which to build your cabinet
  • Iron
  • File

When assembling the unit, it is best to pre-drill and screw all joints to keep it together longer and to withstand the knocks and bumps it may get from moving and from its inhabitants. I don’t find glue necessary for this part of the assembly.

It is more comfortable if you set up your workbench at waist height. You could do this with a couple of work horses or set up a couple of chairs or even an outdoor table. Cover your table if you are worried about damaging it.

Start of with your bottom piece and one sidepiece. Ensure the side is matched correctly with the bottom, i.e. 595 to 595mm edges.

It is vitally important to make sure you have all the edges nice and close (flush), and when you run a finger across the joint you should not feel anything. Start off with one edge and pre-drill your first hole. Screw in your screw and make sure it is countersunk so you can attach plastic covers when completed. After tightening the first screw, work your way along the unit until you have about 4 screws in it. These two pieces should now be locked nice and solid together, however, when moving, always support your cabinet just to be safe. You can now attach the other side the same way.

Now that the sides are done, place the cabinet on its base and sit the top on it (1200x595). Ensure that all corners are a close fit because if they aren’t, it may end up crooked. This is why it is important to make sure all corners are square and all edges are flush. Pre-drill and screw together. Once finished you should now have the resemblance of a box.

Flip your box forward so the back is now facing you (although it doesn’t really matter, as it will all be the same). The backing now should fit almost perfectly on top. If it is slightly out of alignment then just move the box to suit. Make sure that all the edges and corners are neatly lined up. Pick a square edge of your backing and start from there keeping all else in alignment. Pre-drill and screw on your backing. You now have a box. Well done.

[h="2"]The Fiddly Bits[/h]
Get your piece of timber for the glass track to sit on and cut this to suit the gap at the bottom front of the enclosure. If you have a strip of melamine, that’s great, if not, and you have pine, then it must be sealed. You now have a couple of options. You can either paint it, which means you need a primer sealer and then some oil base paint to keep out any moisture, or you can stain and lacquer the piece giving it a timber look at the bottom. This is up to you.

Align the timber with the face edge of your cabinet and pre drill and screw it in as you have done with everything else. Making sure you put 2 screws in at each end and 5 or 6 underneath screwing up from the bottom of the enclosure into the strip. See diag 5

Now the glass track is to be fitted. Cut the glass track to suit the enclosure, ensuring the thicker one goes at the top. This is to allow for the glass to slide in and sit down on the bottom track and locate in place. I find it easiest to cut with a hacksaw, as it is only plastic. I take a tiny drill bit, slightly smaller than the nails you are using and predrill the holes in the track. Glue (PVA) and nail in your glass tracks. Start at one end and make sure it is flush at the front edge. Tap your nails down and then countersink them, very gently, with a small nail punch. Your track is now done.

We need to fit some vents now, I always like to have my vents at the opposite end of the heat lights at the top of the enclosure, so pick where you want to put the vents and start measuring. I allow a 50mm gap from the top and side edges before I measure where to cut. Just makes it a bit easier. Once you have picked and carefully marked the location of the vent, get a drill bit big enough to allow a jigsaw blade through the whole and drill anywhere in the space to be cut out. Cut out with jigsaw, making sure you keep your edges nice and straight for the vent. Once cut out, clean up the edges and test the vent. Better to cut less and have to cut more than to cut too much and have to get another vent to fit the bigger hole. I now use some PVA glue to help seal up the cut out melamine, but if you wish, you can cut some strips of iron on edging and use that. This will help seal it and looks quite nice, but in saying that, when was the last time you looked at someone’s vents. LOL. Predrill and screw in your vent/s. Be sure to use small screws and do not drill through the melamine to the other side.

You can now apply the iron on edging, it is very easy to do. You need a nice clean iron, so it doesn’t dirty the edging. Line up the edging nice and flush with one end and one edge. Apply heat to the edging and it will melt the glue already on it and allow it to stick to the timber. If you make a slight error, just heat it back up and move it. Do this to all your bare edges. Once done you can then scrape the edges. Where the stripping overhangs the edge, you take your file and come down on the top of the edging in a forceful way and the edging will just scrape off, it should make little pig tails when done right. The file should be held vertical to the edge you are scraping and only push against the edging, do not pull back as you will cause the edging to come off. Screw caps can now be placed over the screws. I use a little bit of PVA glue to hold them in place although it is not necessary.

Now that you have it all complete the last thing to do is to seal it. This is where I like to use Sikaflex, it is the same stuff they put around your car windscreen so it is flexible, can stand heat changes and is water proof. Cutting the tip of the tube on an angle and squeezing it along all the edges, top, bottom, sides, front, back, everywhere. Do it section at a time and I prefer to use my finger and just run it along the edges. This will smooth it out and get rid of the excess which can be spread to other joints in your cabinet. Do not move the cabinet for 4 hours as it takes this long for sikaflex to dry off. It will take a total of 24 hours to fully cure. After doing this I leave the cabinet open for at least a week for all smells to disappear and even longer if necessary.

There you go, your cabinet is finished as far as you are concerned. Give yourself a pat on the back and you can now crack open the last beer in the case and wonder why it is crooked. LOL. All you have to do now is take the tank up to your local glacier and have them cut a sheet of glass to suit the enclosure and then have an electrician wire it up for you.

[h="2"]Wiring it up[/h]
There are many options for wiring up a unit like this, it is really up to your imagination and how much you have to spend. The wiring you fit should meet the requirements of the animal you wish to house, as it will need to get hotter with monitors than it would with alpine-blotched blue tongues.

I am a big believer in UV lights and supply them in all my enclosures, not only are they good for your animals but they also highlight your enclosure making it look bright and interesting. However, the choice is yours. All of these should be run on thermostat to prevent overheating. Here are some examples of lighting combinations you can use.

  1. Just a normal bayonet fitting with a 60/75/100 watt globe, fitted in the centre of one end, will provide a basking spot as it comes on and off with the thermostat. Globe size depends on what you are housing.
  2. Ceramic ES fitting, light globe as above or you can use a ceramic heat element. This will also keep temps at night if you want.
  3. Ceramic ES fitting and Ozbright UV, will provide excellent heat and UV but can’t be run on a thermostat, needs a timer.
  4. No. 1 or 2 with a single batten 2ft fluoro fitting and a normal fluorescent light tube (no UV), Reptistar, ZooMed, etc. UV lights. This will provide lighting for the tank all day with very little heat and will also produce UV if using one of the UV producing fluorescent lights.
  5. 1 or 2 with a double batten 2ft fluoro fitted with an NEC T10 Blacklight and a NEC 6700K Tri-phosphor globe. These together provide the best amount of UV while looking like daylight, better than any other fluoro on the market. Nothing comes close to the UV output of the NEC T10 globe.

You also have the options of putting a heat matt in the bottom for night-time warmth if you like on another thermostat, it all comes to how much money and how elaborate you want your electrical system. All in all there is a heap of ways you can fit out your enclosure and everyone has a different idea. It’s a matter of personal opinion, but these are just a couple of things that I know work. Please make sure you have a qualified electrician do the wiring as you could kill your animal/s, or even worse, burn down your house.

I hope I have given you some good ideas. It is a simple enclosure and I’m sure you won’t find it too hard to build.



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