plastic storage bins

Storage bin cages for gerbils

Pet stores typically offer poor quality, much too small, overpriced housing for gerbils. You can make your own quite easily and inexpensively with only a few tools and basic do-it-yourself skills.

We heard about making gerbil tanks out of storage bins, but couldn't find good instructions. Our early attempts looked pretty crude. A few dozen bins later, they started looking much more attractive and we're much better at building them. We hope you find these instructions helpful.

Here's what you need:

Updated June 3, 2014

1. Plastic storage bin

    plastic storage bin
  • large semi-transparent storage bin, tote, tub, plastic box with lid, whatever you'd prefer to call it. Rubbermaid and Sterilite make a variety of good ones;
  • Get the biggest you can fit in the space you have available, 90 liters or more is ideal for two gerbils, but a bare minimum of 70 liters in size to give them enough space to play. Height needs to be at least 30 - 45 cm (12 - 18 inches) so the gerbils can tunnel properly. Try to get a good amount of floor area; length is more important than height;
  • do not use opaque, solid colour bins, as it will be dark inside and you won't be able to see your gerbils. Semi-transparent bins that are colour tinted don't work well either. Gerbils seem to find it easier to chew through them;
  • the lid can be solid colour or semi-transparent like the bin. Both types work. Solid colour lids are more pliable, stronger and easier to cut though. Semi-transparent lids are hard, brittle plastic that will require extra care it so it doesn't shatter. Lay it flat on a solid surface when cutting;
  • check inside bin for corners or edges that can be chewed through. Bins with wheels often are not safe due to chewable corners;
  • plastic storage bins are available at places like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, Peavey Mart, Real Canadian Superstore, Loblaws, Canadian Tire and many more. Check flyers for sales as they're frequently marked down.

2. Hardware cloth

hardware cloth
  • 1/4" galvanized 22 gauge steel wire mesh works well and is relatively easy to cut (watch for sharp edges though). 1/2" hardware cloth comes in a heavier gauge wire. If you plan to stick your water bottle through the lid, 1/2" works better. If you want to use 1/2" hardware cloth to build a split cage divider, you may need a double divider to prevent the gerbils from biting each other through the holes;
  • available at most hardware stores and farm supply retail outlets;
  • often sold in rolls of various sizes, but some smaller stores sell hardware cloth by the foot;
  • if you buy a whole roll, the whole roll may be bound together with wire that you can use for attaching the hardware cloth to the bin;
  • other gerbil-related uses for hardware cloth include making split cage dividers and playpens and to prevent water bottles from being chewed up.

3. Wire

stainless steel wire
  • if your roll of hardware cloth comes wrapped in wire, you can use that;
  • stainless steel wire is found with the fasteners at home improvement stores;
  • choose 20 - 22 gauge wire (22 gauge may be easier to work with depending on the type of steel). Gerbils are unlikely to chew through it;

4. Tools

  1. Utility knife
  2. Tin snips (also called aviation snips)
  3. Power drill OR heavy duty hole punch

putting it together

Updated October 11, 2011

If you have a bin with a solid colour lid, latch the lid securely onto the plastic storage bin. Then clamp it onto a table or workbench or have someone hold the bin in place so it doesn't slide around while you work.

If you have a semi-transparent, hard plastic lid, place it on a hard surface. Make sure no one minds if that surface gets some extra scratches on it! Be careful to keep the lid from bending as you cut.

Many bins have a pattern on the lid; following the outline of the pattern will help you cut in a straight line and make for a neat final product. Make sure you leave enough space around the edges of the hole for attaching the hardware cloth securely.

1. cut a hole in the lid

Use a SHARP utility knife

Use a SHARP utility knife (make sure it's sharp or this will not be fun) to cut a good sized hole into the lid. You only need a couple of inches left around the edges for attaching the hardware cloth and to keep the top stable.

Done cutting hole

It's also possible to cut the hole using tin snips if your lid is soft plastic. If you happen to get a bin with a really thick lid, you might prefer to use a Roto-Zip or a jigsaw.

2. cut hardware cloth

use aviation snips to cut hardware cloth to size hardware cloth with wire

Use tin snips (aviation snips) to cut a piece of hardware cloth an inch or two bigger than the hole. Careful, the edges will be sharp as you cut. If the squares on your hardware cloth are lined up in a straight line, you can cut along the outside edge of a row so that you won't have any sharp edges once the piece is cut.

If you bought a whole roll of hardware cloth and it's tied together with wire, use the wire for securing the hardware cloth to the lid. It's just the right size.

3. make holes in lid for attaching hardware cloth

drill holes around edges of hole in lid

The hardware cloth must be tightly secured onto the lid with no gaps appearing even if you press down on the hardware cloth. We like to make holes in sets of two, about an inch apart, at regular intervals around the hole. Three or four sets of holes on the long sides, and two sets on the short sides are usually enough for most bins (see below).

Make sure the lid is on the bin and the bin is secure so it doesn't slide around the table as you try to cut. Use a drill or a heavy duty hole punch to make the holes. The bit must be slightly bigger than the wire you're using so you can thread the wire through the holes easily. Make three sets of holes on the long sides, and two sets on the short sides of the lid

4. attach wires

twist each of the wire alternately around each other wire threaded correctly through the hardware cloth working end and standing end

Now lay your lid upside down. Line up the hardware cloth over your hole. It should overlap well on all sides. If there are any projections in the lid, wrap the hardware cloth around them so your gerbils can't chew through them.

Thread the working end of the wire through the hardware cloth, through a hole in the lid, then back up through the lid and the hardware cloth. The trick to making a secure lid is to use the NEXT hole in the hardware cloth past the hole, rather than the hole that lines up over the hole in the lid. The wire should be tight against the wires on the hardware cloth.

Once you have about an extra inch of wire threaded through, twist the two ends together repeatedly. First, twist the working end around the standing end (the standing end is the part still attached to the roll of wire). Then the standing end around the working end. Keep alternating until all of the working end is used up. Then snip the standing end, and press the knot down flat. First one is done. Repeat for all sets of holes in the lid.

complete lid, from underneath completed underside of a lid completed inside corner of a lid wire twisted around itself completes the tie
finished bin cage finished bin cage finished bin cage

You're done!