I Made a Rabbit Hutch

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Last year, my dear old bunny-friend Stanley passed on to the great timothy grass pasture in the sky.  Through her and her life companion Alfalfa, I learned the immeasurable joys of house rabbits.  Being a bunny momma became a part of my identity, a reason to get up in the morning.  Since Stanley’s passing, I settled into a new house, traveled here and there, and planned for the day I’d be a bunny momma again.

I’d resolved that with new bunnies would come new, fantastic lagomorph living quarters.  Stanley and Alfalfa seemed quite content in their wire-cage chambers, but being the creative fashionista I pretend to be, I wanted something snazzier, more integrated into my decor, and –most importantly– something that would save space in my tiny bedroom.  After careful internet research and conversations with maker friends, I settled on the transformation of existing furniture, such as this entertainment center:

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$40 entertainment center from Craigslist

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inside, pre-gutting

I was processing difficult emotional trauma as I began to work on this project. The initial gutting, tearing, and breaking, combined with power tools and the presence of my friend’s large dogs, provided much needed relief for a healing soul. Working in an unheated garage in Wisconsin winter proved how tough we were (although I owe much to my insulated canvas work suit).  My friend worked on her own carpentry project at the same time, and our “Build ‘n’ Bitch” sessions made the winter quite bearable.

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shelving and one wall gutted, doors removed

I drafted a basic build plan after the initial gutting, during the long breaks between workdays.  I purchased about $50 in materials, such as grout, tile adhesive, latches, and carpet scraps.  Other hardware either my friend or I had laying around from prior building endeavors. The entire project took roughly 30 hours from start to finish, including sewing, painting, and other post-construction details.

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jagged jigsaw fun: hole between two floors of rabbit hutch

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busting out door panels

I decided to leave one section of the lower compartment separate from rabbit access.  This would be a shelf in which to store food, treats, extra chew sticks, and other rabbit supplies.

I used hardware cloth (which is not cloth at all, but a wire mesh) to replace the wood panels on the entertainment center’s doors.  If we didn’t already have this laying around, I probably would have used something a little less fine.

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after nailing on the hardware cloth using small staples; DIFFICULT with plywood

I added smaller ceramic tile to the floors of the hutch for basic water-proofing, easy cleaning, and the cuteness factor.  I’d seen this done with other furniture-hutch conversions online and made many trips to the ReStore searching for the coolest tile.  Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to install the tile, nothing awesome had been donated. Stuck with common beige, ah well!

Not having ever worked with ceramic tile before, and not owning fancy (and relatively expensive) tile-cutting tools, I played it by ear for this part.  Since the tiles were for a rabbit hutch and not human weight or aesthetics, I was okay with the risks of trial and error, which ended up being a handful of useless tile shards. That’s why I bought plenty of extra!

For bits of floor where a full tile would not fit, I needed smaller tile pieces to fill the space.  For the top floor, I was able to break enough tiles in half to look mostly rectangular.  I tried this first by setting tiles over a wire hanger and slamming down on it with the heel of my shoe.  That didn’t work great.  I did find, however, that placing the tiles in a bench vice and smacking them sideways with a hammer seemed to do the trick well enough!  (Wear your safety glasses, folks!) I ended up with several bits of odd-shaped tile in the process, some which I used for the bottom floor edge, mosaic-style.

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laying out the tile indoors, as adhesive & grouting needs above-freezing temperatures to set

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bottom floor mosaic edge, post-adhesion, pre-grout

For grouting, I followed the instructions that came with the product and watched a few You-Tube videos for technique.  I won’t share the particulars about this because I probably did it wrong!  (I also cut myself rather deeply on edge tiles; wear gloves, folks!)

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my first grouting experience; looks decent, don’t it?

I attached a carpeted ramp between floors using a hinge.  The hinge system will come in handy if I have two rabbits who need to be separated for a short period of time, or a single territorial rabbit I need to block off as I clean the hutch. I’m able to fold up the ramp and attach it with a hook to the bottom floor’s ceiling, effectively quarantining the two floors.

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measuring & cutting carpet to glue to the wooden ramp between floors

stairway to heaven... or at least the hay loft; note the hinge attachment for potential floor separation

stairway to heaven… or at least the hay loft; note the hinge attachment for potential floor separation

I understand that my rabbits may tear this carpet apart and gnaw on the ramp, so I will need to watch them carefully their first days in the hutch.  I plan to provide them with all kinds of toys to chew and dig, so my hope is that they’ll leave this part alone.  If you’re thinking of building something similar, untreated pine is perfectly safe for rabbits to gnaw & digest.

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re-attaching doors using the same hardware I saved upon gutting

To keep the doors secure from rabbit escape, I attached silver latches to each set of doors.  Silly me didn’t realize that said latches would not work on the bottom doors, which fold outward in the middle.  I added a metal bracket inside the doors to prevent them from folding, but the latch is still rather weak. I will fix this eventually, but in the meantime, an elastic hair tie around the door knobs works just fine.

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Whoops, this latch will not work with outward-folding doors! Doh!

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completed hutch, pre-decoration

I decided early in the process that my hutch’s “theme” would be Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A partner and I often spoke of naming our future bonded rabbits after characters Quark and Odo as we watched DS9 and snuck popcorn treats to Stanley.  Due to time, budget, and ability constraints, the theme morphed to a more general “space.” I still painted wormholes on the door knobs and snuck in a Cardassian space station and Starfleet’s USS Enterprise into the starscape that became the hutch’s ceiling.

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painting wormholes, like you do

I wanted my decor to be both stylish and safe for bunnies.  A cloth backdrop suspended from a spring-loaded curtain rod decorates the back wall with planets and moons.  I’m sure this will be nibbled at some point, but it is not deathly toxic.  To provide lighting in the dark hutch, I installed holiday lights through holes poked in a large piece of space cardboard (cardboard painted to look like space, nothing fancy).  The entertainment center was designed with various openings at the back wall for ventilation and plugs, so it was easy for me to slide the string of lights back to an outlet, all out of a bunny’s reach.  An old bike basket became a hay loft, from which a rabbit can pull out hay for snacktime.

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Fini!

So there you have it!  I look forward to watching bunny and/or bunnies test my work.  I’m sure there will be some improvements and changes as those adorable lagomorphs settle in and make a happy mess of the joint.  ‘Til then, I’m preparing with plenty of chew sticks, timothy hay mats, toys, and bunny puzzles.

I Made a Basket

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Geekery can take on many forms.  I participate in tabletop role-playing games, draw science-fiction and fantasy fanart, and analyze the utopian worlds of cartoon ponies, as some examples.  I’ve come to realize that my itinerant obsessions with arts, crafts, and do-it-yourself projects probably fit into the general “nerd” category as well, especially when much of my creation is inspired by geek-related things.  The weird looks I get when I explain to people that, yes, I scrapbook, remind me that some arts & crafts are just a few neurons’ links away from pocket protectors, thick glasses, and pants worn high on the hips.

Today’s arts & crafts geek-out: HAND-MADE BASKETS!

Last summer I became enthralled by the prospect of making baskets.  Don’t ask me how or why; I need not explain these things.  I borrowed basket-making books from the library, scrolled through instructions and tips online, and chatted with a basket-maker at the local Renaissance Faire.  Alas, winter hit before I could get through everything that came first on my project list, and the thought of weaving wet reeds with chapped hands in my frigid apartment [ahem] chilled me to the bone.

What surprised me when I finally picked up the project after a long hibernation was how fast and easy it was.  I wove an intermediate-level basket in about 5 hours, with perhaps 2 hours of prep time and another 2 of staining and hardware installation.  Like many arts & crafts, I found the experience calming, satisfying, and fun.

How does one make a basket, you ask?  Well, you’ve come to the right place!

I began by purchasing instructions and materials online from Baskets of Joy.  I knew I wanted to make a picnic basket as a [very-belated] wedding gift, which is why my first basket was intermediate level.  Turns out the risk paid off!  (Whew!)  The bulk materials were shipped to me in a dubiously damaged box barely containing some loose contents, but I was otherwise pleased with the quality of supplies received.

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Once I had cut bulk reeds to the lengths designated by the pattern, it was time to soak ’em in a tub of water.  I gathered a sharp pair of scissors, a marking pencil, a tape measure, clothespins, and flat-head screwdriver.  I used an illustrated how-to book to make sense of the intermediate-level instructions. The first steps were to weave the bottom of the basket on each side of the handle using two sizes of flat reed, like so:

WP_20140702_002Once the bottom of the basket was complete, I repositioned the reeds, aiming for specific dimensions.  Thin, round reed was used to bind the bottom of the basket.  This helps build a foundation from which to build upwards with fresh flat reed:

WP_20140702_003I periodically wet the pre-soaked reed with more water using a sponge, especially before bending up the reeds that would make the foundation of the sides of the basket.  Water-soaked reeds bend and flex, whereas dried reeds crack and break:

WP_20140702_005After a few rows, I bent, tucked, and trimmed some of the thinner reeds that had made up the bottom of the basket, as the instructions dictated:

WP_20140702_006Eventually, I wove my way to the top, finishing the edge by cutting the tops of every other spoke and tucking the others down into the interior of the basket.  A flat-head screwdriver makes a handy pushing/wedging tool in weaving:

WP_20140702_007To finish the rim of the basket, I carefully placed thick oval reed on the interior and exterior of the basket, round sides facing away from the rim.  These were held in place with clothespins, with a thick piece of seagrass tucked between the two layers to finish the very top of the rim:

WP_20140703_002Using a thin reed, I snaked around the rim reeds and the reeds at the top of the basket.  Here’s where the screwdriver really came in handy.  I pulled the reed very tight and wet it periodically:

WP_20140703_003After criss-crossing around the handle and tucking in the extra bits, voila!, my first basket was nearly complete:

WP_20140703_005The follow-up involved trimming all the flyaway bits of reed from the basket, staining and sealing it using Danish oil from the hardware store, and trimming it a second time.  Then came the hardware:

WP_20140710_001A bit of drilling and a smattering of phillips-head screwdriver action, as per instructions:

WP_20140710_002And here it is!  The final product:

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