Note: these examples do not provide adequate ventilation. The rest of the lid will also need to be meshed.
HOW TO MAKE A BIN CAGE
Not the most highly recommended habitats here in SA due to our weather conditions and, unlike other countries, the lack of appropriate size bins available here. Once you add up the cost for two bins, wide connector/s, mesh and tape, it may actually be best to invest in a proper solid habitat specially designed for hamsters.
However, a bin cage can tide you over until you can acquire a proper habitat, or as a decent size travel/holiday cage.
WATCH SOME TUTORIALS ON YOUTUBE FIRST to get an idea of techniques, which you can adapt according to your own bin and where you want to put ventilation.
VENTILATION is very important so, if you have deep bins, one or two openings on the side/front are advisable, not just on the lid. If you have a hamster that has been prone to bar-chewing, you may want to consider placing the ventilation openings higher up so the mesh is out of reach and less tempting. The project can be re-visited at a later stage, when you are sure that the habit is well-&-truly broken, and the gaps can be extended lower if you want.
These first two tutorials are good ideas to start with. You can always add another bin alongside it at a later stage, as you can afford.
And if you don’t have a jigsaw…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etlwlUj_rog
A double story bin cage is great to provide extra space…you could even use a smaller bin for the top story but, please, never compromise on the minimum size of unbroken floor space with the bottom bin (e.g. if you can only find a 60cm bin, do not make a double story….you will need to have the two bins side-by-side connected close to the bottom with a wide gap/pipe so that it’s almost like one large bin). Unfortunately, we do not get large enough bins here in SA to make one single level in the correct size of floor space.
This set-up also makes clever use of a dismantled small cage instead of mesh.
This one is also quite a good one to watch (unfortunately not in English but you'll get the gist of it, and there are some sub-titles).
Always take your tape measure with you when going to purchase bins. Floor space measurements need to be taken at the bottom of the bin if it has slanted sides.
MINIMUM UNBROKEN GROUND FLOOR SPACE REQUIREMENTS
PLEASE MEASURE THE BASE OF THE BIN (LENGTH x WIDTH = cm2) - LEVELS/SHELVES AND HEIGHT DO NOT COUNT.
Be aware that connecting two small bins one on top of the other DOES NOT equate to unbroken floor space. At least one bin needs to meet the minimum dimensions.
SYRIAN hamsters –
MINIMUM 5000 - 7500 cm2 (e.g. 100/150cm x 50cm) or larger
DWARF hamsters –
RECOMMENDED MINIMUM 4000 - 5000 cm2 (e.g. 80/100cm x 50cm)
[ABSOLUTE MINIMUM 3150cm2 (e.g. 75cm x 42cm) - only if you have an older hamster that has been living in a small cage all it's life]
(an additional low shelf is convenient to keep food & water out of the substrates)
NOTE that it may not be cheaper or easier to simply build the absolute minimum size.
If your hamster starts showing signs of frustration as it grows up (mesh-chewing, constant clambering, aggression, etc.)
you will most likely have to upgrade and make it a larger size anyway.
Good thing is that you can add another bin, but you may as well start with providing the recommended size to save yourself the time.
PLEASE NOTE THAT JOINING TWO UNDERSIZED BINS TOGETHER VIA STANDARD HAMSTER TUBES DOES NOT EQUATE TO UNBROKEN FLOOR SPACE.
In SA, finding one main bin large enough is incredibly difficult, and you will therefore need to join at least two large bins side-by-side as follows (the second bin can be a different size to the main bin, as long as the two combined floor spaces amount to the minimum requirement....but bigger is always better):
Bins can be joined side-by-side lengthwise, widthwise or in an L-shape, by using a WIDE connector towards the bottom of the bins. This method will increase floor space nicely, if you cannot find a main bin that meets the minimum unbroken floor space dimensions.
(A) Toilet pipes cost approximately R100 in the plumbing sections of hardware stores (simply remove the rubber seals and sand the edges down with sandpaper to make smooth); OR (B) Any large square container with the back cut off, and rough edges sanded smooth, can also be used as a large connecting tube. Try to cut the container to size as flush as possible with the inside of the two bins.
Warning: Do not use soft plastic and cardboard tubes, particularly with ridges, on the exterior of the habby or as connectors. Too easy for the hamster to gnaw through and escape. Hard PVC pipes and acrylic hamster tubes are hardier.
A STORAGE BIN/s – check the minimum recommended size for your species of hamster, but bigger is always better. You can use a solid colour bin IF you are going to have at least one large window at the front, and definitely the full lid, to ensure that the hamster does have some kind of a view and recognition between day and night.
STRONG WIRE MESH/GRID – available from hardware stores. An old hamster/bird cage can be dismantled (simply check that the bar-spacing is not too wide); or cake cooling racks can be used.
NUTS, BOLTS, WASHERS or CABLE TIES (note that cable ties can be chewed broken if in reach of the hamster)
DUCT TAPE OR WIDE MASKING TAPE
WIRE CUTTERS (you can also use the wire cutter part of your standard pliers)
CARPET KNIFE – the big type…your little craft knife won’t be strong enough.
Obviously, POWER TOOLS will make the job easier (DRILL, JIGSAW, SOLDERING IRON) but you can also do without these. A soldering iron definitely makes the job easier as it melts through the plastic neatly, like a hot knife. It can also be used in place of a drill to make holes.
SANDPAPER (you’ll need to sand down all rough edges where you cut)
Patience and a few hours. DON’T BE AFRAID…IT’S GONNA BE FUN!
PLASTICS WHOLESALERS (Mambo’s, Plasticland, Crazy Plastics, Westrand Packaging, West Pack, etc.) appear to be the cheapest, but Game, Makro and Builders Warehouse also stock some. Take your tape measure with you to check the dimensions and CHECK THE MEASUREMENT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BIN. Usually two bins will need to be joined side-by-side to make an excellent habby for a Syrian or a dwarf. Always keep in mind the minimum recommended sizes for unbroken floor space for each type of hamster. ONLY ADD AN EXTRA BIN AT THE TOP ONCE YOU HAVE THE CORRECT UNBROKEN SPACE SET UP AT GROUND LEVEL.
Ranging from R200 to R500
Ideally, you do not want one that is too shallow since deep-enough bedding and a wheel still have to fit but, if you have to, you can get two and flip the one upside down on top of the other and use it as a lid (find an ideal fastening method so that it does not slip off).
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU USE A SOLID (NON-TRANSPARENT) BIN, YOU NEED TO HAVE A LARGE "WINDOW" IN THE FRONT, in addition to the fully meshed lid.
YOUR HAMSTER CANNOT LIVE IN A "DARK HOLE" and needs to have some kind of a view and recognition between day and night.
****TRY NOT TO CHOOSE BLACK BINS **** It has been noted that these often stress the hamsters out.
These MAGYVER CRATES are fantastic. The straight sides should make them easy to work with and to connect neatly side-by-side.
60cm x 40cm – they are seriously economical, but note that you will need at least two joined together for a dwarf, and three for a Syrian.
The lids cost extra but apparently don’t fit all that well. However, you can always fashion a cover from galvanized grid/mesh by simply bending the edges to fit over the top snuggly, and a loose bolt through a hole in each corner to secure it from lifting.
The ADDIS 100L EXTRA LARGE is mainly available at Westpack. The measurements state 89x46 (4094cm2), which would be ideal for a dwarf hamster but PLEASE MEASURE THEM YOURSELF in the shop! Some people have checked and they are just under 4000cm2, while others measure them and they are only 2660 cm2! So please check!
ALERT: If the lid does not fasten really tightly, it is advisable to invest in a few bulldog clips to secure it to the lip. An experienced owner's hamster managed to use the water bottle as leverage to reach up to the top and sadly got its head stuck in the loose gap and suffocated. Bulldog clips will also help prevent the hamster lifting a lightweight lid.
PLEASE GET THE LID! Many people decide to leave the lid off because they couldn't be bothered to cut and mesh for ventilation. This is really not a safe move! Besides the risk of other pets (and the neighbourhood cat) from gaining access to your hamster, NEVER EVER underestimate a hamster's ability to hatch an escape plan.
*** DRILLED HOLES DO NOT PROVIDE ADEQUATE VENTILATION, NO MATTER HOW MANY YOU DRILL! ***
You need to imagine that the lid and front window is completely open, but the only way to do this and keep the hamster inside is to use mesh/bars!
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN CUTTING OUT THE VENTILATION SPACES:
Keep in mind the space at the bottom of the bin – bedding substrate still needs to go in, so don’t go too low or you’ll have it spilling out!
If your hamster is currently a bar-chewer, you may want to consider making the spaces higher up where s/he can’t reach. Once you think the habit is broken, you can always return to the project and extend the hole lower.
Another point to remember about chewing is that some hamsters will insist on hatching an escape plan and may start chewing on the edges of your cutout. It is therefore important to ensure that your wire ventilation extends as far beyond the cutout as possible, particularly at the bottom edge. If you notice chewing, you should reinforce these edges with something… half-round edging strips from your hardware store, willow branches, etc....or use a similar method to the "Plugging up gaps" in the Tips section (below) to line the edges.
THE LID IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF VENTILATION. Ammonia rises to the top, even from a sand potty, and can build up to dangerous levels within the habitat. If you are making a stacked double story setup, make sure the bottom bin has plenty of ventilation around the tops of the sides, in order for any ammonia to escape.... and have the front well ventilated too.
EXAMPLES OF VENTILATION MATERIALS THAT CAN BE USED:
Note: NEVER USE PLASTIC MESH...your hamster will gnaw through if he can reach it!
NEVER USE MOSQUITO / FLY SCREEN ...not only can your hamster also rip this open,
but it is too fine to allow proper airflow and ventilation, and the habby will become stuffy.
**** IF YOU CANNOT FIND SUITABLE MESH, OR ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS BELOW, THIS PLACE IN KEMPTON PARK SELLS ALL DIFFERENT KINDS FOR BIRD AVIARIES: https://meshforbirds.co.za/mesh_price_list/ (THEY WILL ALSO DELIVER VIA COURIER) ****
An OLD/UNDERSIZED WIRE CAGE can easily be dismantled for the wire sides to be used as ventilation space grids. A side/top that has a hatch or door can be very convenient for easy access from the front of the future bin!
Charity and second hand/junk shops often sell these old used things at really low prices – they’re usually horrible cages, so you’ll be doing some future hamster a favour by taking it out of circulation!
If the wire is slightly rusty, here is some info on how to de-rust/refurb:
CAKE COOLING RACKS are obviously available from just about any
supermarket or Crazy Store and can be convenient as ventilation
space grids. Do check the bar spacing and get the narrowest.
GALVANISED WELDED MESH/GRID wiring is incredibly strong. It’s about 1.5m wide and Builders Warehouse sells it by the running meter. 1m would give you plenty for the lid and side panels. Be sure to choose the finest mesh.
CHICKEN WIRE/MESH will be cheaper although maybe not as sturdy, but will work just as well. Choose the finest mesh you can find. Not sure how this will stand up to incessant “bar-chewers” so do keep an eye out for any damages over time and replace immediately to prevent injuries.
EXPANDED METAL MENTLATHE (MESH/SHEET) (GALV) is great!
Not as hard to cut as galvanised wire, and not as flimsy & difficult as chicken mesh. The mesh gaps are also a perfect size!
Found at Buco Hardware Tokai in 2.5m (L) x 60cm (W) rolls for about R105/roll (as at Sep'21).
DISPOSABLE BRAAI's have really great sturdy grids inside them! Please be careful though...the edges of these grids are really sharp, so don't cut yourself!
Reasonable price and sold at Spars, hardware stores, and most supermarkets.
A METAL SIEVE could also work well for side/front ventilation in place of ordinary mesh. Simply use a hot glue gun to attach the rim over the cutout (glue all the way around to ensure that it's really secure).
OTHER HANDY & IMPORTANT TIPS!
If your BIN IS TOO SHALLOW FOR A TALL WHEEL
(particularly in the case of large Syrian wheels), be sure to plan for this before cutting the entire lid for ventilation, as you may want to leave a section where you can attach a raised piece of mesh to accommodate this.
Alternatives to these two examples, which may be easier:
A smaller plastic container with a ventilation grid on the base and then attached upside down to that section of the main lid.
An old small cage with the tray discarded and fasten to that section of the main lid.
The BIN CAN CRACK QUITE EASILY if you apply too much immediate pressure, so do go slowly when making the cutouts. For minor cracks, use clear packaging tape to cover them, which sticks really well and flat.
DON’T FORGET TO SAND DOWN ALL ROUGH EDGES WHERE YOU’VE CUT HOLES INTO THE PLASTIC – rough edges are very sharp and can cut your hamster quite badly! Alternatively, line the cutouts with wooden slats from a tomato crate, rods, half-round edging strips (really cheap at hardware stores), willow branches, hard plastic paper binders, etc. You can fasten these with metal zip ties or screws (sharp ends on the outside of the cage).
WIRE MESH IS VERY SHARP, so it’s best to place it on the outside of the bin to prevent injury to the hamster, and cover the sharp edges with duct or masking tape on the outside to prevent snagging yourself. We get some lovely patterned duct tapes nowadays (Builders Warehouse/Express), to add some funk to your bin cage.
If you’re using cable ties instead, do keep the fastening and sharp cut-off bits on the outside.
Nuts ‘n bolts…make sure the flatter parts are on the inside.
PLUGGING UP GAPS where you haven't managed to cut out very neatly, like a round hole for a round connector, simply use non-toxic silicone sealer. Then press some clean pebbles, marbles, glass beads, etc. into any blobs that your hamster may think of nibbling.
An option if the height won't fit your wheel. Note that these two examples do not provide adequate ventilation. The rest of the lid needs to be meshed too.
INSIDE THE BIN
You may want to create hideys and shelves, etc. inside the cage. See the DIY STUFF page for a few ideas that you can make yourself.
Otherwise, larger pet shops & online shops will have a variety of accessories.
Don’t forget to check out rabbit/g.pig and reptile sections too).
HOT KNIFE HACK
TURN A SOLDERING ROD/IRON INTO A HOT KNIFE
A hot knife will make it easier to cut through the bin, reducing the risk of cracking the plastic. Cheap soldering irons can be found at China Town. Try to find one with the highest wattage and that has a screw to replace the soldering tip.
(The hot knife hack is about 3.15 minutes into the video)
TRAVEL SYSTEM FROM SMALLER BINS
One of these could also be useful as a holding bin for when the main habby is being cleaned if the little one has to do an overnighter at the vet.
There are 100's of great examples on Google Images: