Making a Bin Cage
A bin cage is a plastic storage box that has been converted into a hamster cage. It can be adapted to your individual needs in terms of layout and colour and is especially useful if there are not many suitable cages available near you in shops. 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!
I use a soldering iron to 'cut' the holes in the plastic storage box so will focus on this method. Other approaches can be used, but all should be done with care by an adult.
- Plastic storage box to be turned into the cage
- Mesh (10-12mm for Syrians, 6mm for dwarves or babies or Syrian bar chewers)
- Something to fix the mesh to the box, e.g. cable ties (for dwarves) or nuts, washers and bolts (better for Syrians)
- A strong pair of scissors or pliers for cutting the mesh
- Something to cut the hole in the box, e.g. soldering iron, hack saw, Dremel drill (if you borrow a soldering iron, ensure the owner knows what you're using it for - apparently molten plastic residue can make it unsuitable for proper soldering in future!)
The first step is to find a plastic storage box. As well as finding one that has the floor space required by your hamster, check the inside of the box for indentations or plastic ridges that could be a starting point for chewing. Two brands of boxes I have used and liked are Really Useful Boxes and Wham boxes, both of which have nice smooth insides. It’s also worth checking the boxes are deep enough to fit the toys or wheels you want to use and will fit in the planned space.
Placing and Cutting the Ventilation Holes
Next you need to decide where to put the ventilation panels in your cage.
Placing them on the roof will give a nice deep area for filling with substrate, 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.
I choose to put the ventilation panels on the side of the box. I put two panels in so I can hang toys between them and to provide better ventilation than just meshing the small side that faces out of the shelves.
Remember to leave a good amount of plastic remaining at the bottom so the substrate doesn’t get kicked all over the floor! If you prefer, you can mark where you wish to cut using a felt tip pen.
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.
I would recommend working with the soldering iron facing away from you, and going slowly and carefully as burns from soldering irons are very painful. 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.
While I am cutting the ventilation holes, I also make smaller holes around the edge the width of the soldering iron tip with which to attach the mesh .
Meshing the Cage
After cutting the holes, I cut the mesh panels. I use mesh with 6mm squares as it is harder for hamsters to chew and small hamsters to escape through, but 13mm can be used for Syrians.
I hold the large mesh panel up to the hole I have made in the box and mark out where to cut - making sure it is a centimetre or two larger than the hole so you can later attach it.
Strong scissors can cut through the 6mm mesh (take care of pointy ends and make sure to sweep up any loose bits of metal promptly), 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. I place the mesh panel on the inside of the cage to protect the edges of the hole from hamster teeth.
First I attach cable ties at the four corners - this can be tricky with just one person.
I tie the cable ties so the ‘knot’ is on the outside of the cage and away from small teeth.
I then put cable ties in the rest of the holes I made until the mesh is firmly attached close to the plastic.
When all the ties are in place, I trim the excess ‘tails’ of the cable ties using my scissors or pliers so it looks neater.
After cleaning any dust or plastic bits from the inside of the bin, pat yourself on the back for a bin cage (or four) well made. Now for the fun bit, setting the cage up for it’s small furry resident.
I attach water bottles using strong sticky-back velcro, though they could be attached through the mesh using wire depending on the size of the holes.
Mesh panels in the walls also offer different opportunities for cage enrighment, such as an elevated sand bath ideal for Chinese hamsters.