Fake Rock Enclosure (Image Heavy) **Update 10/01/2009** - Reptile Forums

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Old 16-08-2008, 01:49 AM
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Default Fake Rock Enclosure (Image Heavy) **Update 10/01/2009**

As I'm not breeding any beardies this summer, I decided to put all of the free time to good use and build a new display cage. I wanted to test out some ideas I'd had for vivarium control systems (more about that later) and general design ideas. It's still not finished, but I will be updating this thread as I go - all being well it should be finished in the next couple of weeks. A lot of the design / construction principles are the same as the ones I use for large rodent cages - there's a thread about them here:

http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/other...cages-how.html

Overall, the cage itself is just over 5' x 2' x 2'; the actual unit is quite a bit larger than this because of the shelves underneath - it's almost 6' total height.


First up I built the frame for the cage. It's a pretty standard design, with two skins top, bottom and sides, and a single skin at the back. The front will eventually be covered with the same decorative cladding that will form the outer skin of the sides (not yet assembled). This is the unit just as I'm starting the wiring:




One of the ideas I wanted to test was a ventilation system. This will be linked to a thermostat, with the idea being that if the cage gets too hot the system dumps all of the hot air out the cage, thus cooling it. As the cage will be lit by an MVB (which can only be on / off stat'd), I wanted to try out an alternative heat regulation system. It also means that the temperature of the cage will track room temperature - it will be warmer in summer and cooler in winter, whilst still being safe and providing a cool end to retreat to if needed. As well as being linked to a stat, the fan also has a timer override, so it will come on a few times each day for a couple of minutes to freshen the cage up and get a bit of a breeze passing through.

This is the ventilation chimney - as well as a couple of 75mm vents that go straight out of the cage, there is an intake that enters a vent running between the two skins that form the top of the cage. This vent runs along the top to the right hand side, down the chimney into a fan house, where the fan blows the air out of the cage through an exhaust vent that will be built into the outer cladding:




This is the fan - I couldn't find a 230v computer-type fan in the UK, so I had this one shipped from Hungary. It attaches with 4 screws; the diamond cutout means it can be removed if needed (servicing / replacement etc). Once fitted, the cutouts around the fan are covered over with duct tape to prevent air from cycling:




Currently there are 3 lights in the cage, all individually controlled and timed. This will allow me to vary the light levels and temperature depending on the time of day, which should hopefully give Spyro a more realistic photoperiod. First thing in the morning, a 40W bulb will come on to illuminate the left hand side (the warm end) of the cage, providing enough light to wake him up, but not too much in the way of heat; the cage should be just above room temperature. After a couple of hours, the 40W turns off to be replaced by a MegaRay MVB on the warm side, and a low energy spotlight that brightens up the cool side. Around lunchtime, the 40W comes back on, trained on the basking spot, to make that area very hot and bright. The idea is that Spyro will now have to go and seek shade to avoid the midday sun, as wild beardies would.

At around 2pm, the 40W turns off again, leaving just the MVB and low-energy bulb to provide "afternoon sun". The fan comes on a little later for a few minutes to put a gentle afternoon breeze through the cage and drop the temperature in preparation for the evening. At around 6pm, the MVB and low energy lights turn off, to be replaced by the 40W which will provide a little evening heat and light, but not much. Over the next hour or two the cage should cool down in preparation for nighttime. I'm still running testing on the timing system, so I don't yet have photos of all the different stages / light levels.


For the interior of the cage I wanted to do some fake rock.

I started out by cutting up and loose-fitting some insulation foam to form a basic layout. This was then carved and extra pieces were added to give it 3-D form. Unfortunately I got carried away carving and didn't take any photos until I had the basic shapes in place:




As the cage is being designed to encourage Spyro to hide at midday, he would need somewhere to hide. Using the insulation foam, I made a cave for him in the cool end. Worn sandstone pillars are one of those clichés that immediately spring to mind when I think of desert regions; I couldn't resist adding one in:




The paler surfaces are expanding foam that I used to fill gaps and to give me extra depth to the rock. Here's how it was looking after I'd almost finished the carving:




With the layout finished and glued in place, it was time to turn foam into rock. I used several thin layers of grout to achieve this. The first couple of layers were pretty watered down to make sure the grout got into every single crack in the foam. The first couple of layers were dark (still wet in the photo):



Followed by a few lighter layers:



The final layer was pure white, to give me a good surface to paint onto. I slowly built up the texture on the grout. Because I was planning to give the rocks several layers of paint, I had to exaggerate any textures slightly, as the paint has a slight smoothing effect:



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Old 16-08-2008, 01:49 AM
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Due to lack of suitably coloured (non-calci) sand for the substrate, I decided to go for more of a brown-honey-coloured rock, rather than the stereotypical red Aussie sandstone look. It also means the cage is more flexible in what it houses - I'm sure a group of Collared lizards would do alright in it with a few minor adjustments, for example.

The basecoat I chose was a dark crimson-red. By starting out with a red colour and building up highlights over it, the rocks will end up with a slight reddish tint to them, especially in shadowed areas:



Most of the basecoat was then highlighed to an orangey-brown. Red was left only in deep cracks and recesses:



I then started building up a honey-coloured highlight. As the paint is still very wet in this photo, the colour is distorted slightly:




Overall the cage had 10 or so different layers of paint on it, each one a slight step towards the final colour that I wanted. By using thinner and drier coats, you can get paint to build up more on raised surfaces than recessed ones, to give you texture. These photos are taken part-way through the painting to show how the highlights are slowly building up:










As Spyro currently spends most of his time standing up at the glass head bobbing at things in the room, I decided to make a few perches along the front of this cage for him to sit on and watch what's going on in the room. These were grouted and painted in the same way as the rest of the cage:



This is a closeup of the side of the basking area, showing the texture, shapes and highlighting. As with most of these photos, the paint hasn't fully cured and still has a sheen to it. Once it's properly dried out and the cage has some sand in, the sheen will disappear:




This is the interior almost finished. I didn't paint over the first coat that I put on the floor (it will be covered with substrate) so you can see the contrast between the basecoat and the final colour:




These are a couple of close-ups of the final colour and texture:






Still to do:

- Cut and fit glass runners / glass
- Cladding for sides and front
- Frame for front
- Finish electrical testing
- Some long grasses to give the grotto a bit more shelter
- Exhaust vent for the ventilation system
- Outer skin for the top
- Varnishing / sealing
- Temperature testing


All being well the cage will be up and running sometime next week, and totally finished in a week or so. I'll then have to wait for sealants / varnishes etc to totally dry before Spyro can move in.

Updates to follow...
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Old 16-08-2008, 07:54 AM
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wow!!!!!! that is very impressive. I wish i had the talent to do something like that. Cant wait to see the end result.
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Old 16-08-2008, 08:51 AM
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stunning
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Old 16-08-2008, 08:53 AM
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looking good Andy, i am planning on something similar myself in septmeber . I am getting quite good at the whole fake rock thing now. I have been using a sandstone colour grout to give me the background colour and adding highlights on top of that. Its amazing what you can do isnt it! what will you be sealing the paint with?

I am very curious as to how you plan to control the lights on an automated sytem. I already use a mix of MVB and low wattage lights for illumination. i love the idea of creating a natural rise and fall of temps over the day but havent been too sure how to go about it on an automated level. How will you be doing it? will it be a circuit that you have made yourself or have you found an alternative way? I would find it very useful, not only for my beardies but also for my leopard tortoises. theyhave very similar requirements but on a MUCH bigger scale.
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Old 16-08-2008, 08:56 AM
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Thats brilliant! I'd love to have the time to make something like that.
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Old 16-08-2008, 11:30 AM
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Same question as above, what are you gonna be using to seal the paint?
Looks really good, hope mine looks that good when i get it done!
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Old 16-08-2008, 11:35 AM
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im acctaully making my beardies basking spot as we speak i have a bowl of grout and polystirene next to me, lol. wish me luck. he is watching me make it now.

that is veryimpresive and i can only hope mine comes out half as good
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Old 16-08-2008, 11:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zemon View Post
as we speak i have a bowl of grout and polystirene next to me, lol. wish me luck.
Grout + computer = baaaaaad idea


Cheers everyone - I've not decided exactly which sealant I'm going to use. The strength of the UV rules most out, so I may end up trying to find some sort of clear matt sealant intended for external marine use that has a decent UV filter. Something like epoxy isn't UV resistant and will degrade at high UV levels; PVA and suchlike wouldn't give me the finish I'm after. I'm going to wait for the paint to dry to see how resilient it is (and how much protection it's likely to need), then phone around some marine paint manufacturers to get their ideas.

To give you an idea of the strength of the UV, the bulb-basking spot distance is around 14"; over that distance a ReptiSun 10% would be giving you just under 30uW/cm2; I'm expecting mine to be up around 300uW/cm2 (equivalent of ~10-12 RS10s), hence the reason for needing to put hides in. To compare that to nature, Alice Springs has been recorded as having 300-350uW/cm2 at mid-morning and up to 500uW/cm2 at midday. In their summer (December-time), the UV intensity passes 30uW/cm2 at around 7am, hence why captive beardies don't get enough UV to produce sufficient D3. My cage isn't going to be totally "full-strength", but it's getting towards it - hopefully it should be sufficient to convince him not to spend all day out in the open.

With that strength of UV, he shouldn't really need a D3 supplement - possibly something like Dragon Dust a couple of times a week in addition to pure calcium, rather than something stronger like Nutrobal. I will need to compare the levels of other vitamins / minerals in the two though and adjust / modify accordingly...
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Old 20-08-2008, 07:23 AM
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That looks absolutely stunning. Can I ask what kind of foam it is that you use for a project like this, where you buy it from (and an approximate cost) please? I'm just looking to finish my beardies enclosure this week as I pick him up in the next week or two, and something like this (although I'm not so sure I could pull something off at quite that scale so maybe i'll try something a bit smaller) would look fantastic.

Thanks.

I hope yours is coming along well now.
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