My project over the holidays this year was to build a new 15 quart tub rack. My hatchling Ball Pythons are quickly outgrowing their 6 quart tubs, and my 15 quart rack is currently occupied by colubrids. Time to expand! The 15 quart rack I have now is an eight slot Boaphile, it was the first rack I ordered a few years ago. It is a great rack, came in fully assembled with tubs and all ready to plug and play, but it sells for almost four hundred dollars and I figure to build one for about $150. The new rack will sit right where the Boaphile currently sits, tucked in the comer next to the three enclosures there. The Boaphile will stack on top on the new rack.
A little bit about what else is going on in the snake room: The 6 quart hatchling rack is on the far left, the aquarium on top of the rack houses a friends Corn Snake. He is currently living in an apartment that doesn't allow snakes (sure he can have a dog or cat, with all the hair, dandruff, noise, smell, and potential property damage that comes along with such pets, but not a silent, odorless, hypoallergenic Corn Snake. Makes a lot of sense eh) so I've been babysitting for better than a year now. I really hate the enclosure, but it is his animal and set up so what are you gunna do. The aquarium next to the hatchling rack is a Walstad style ten gallon that has been running for some five years with no input from me other than to feed the fish and occasionally remove overgrown plants. It is stagnant, lit with a small florescent light, and stocked with small, self-regulating breeding colonies of Mosquito Fish, Ghost Shrimp, three species of aquatic Snails, and countless microfauna. It is stuffed with Anubias, Crypts, Java Ferns, Java Moss, Four Leaf Clover (Marsilea hirsuta), and Dwarf Water Lettuce. I used to have a high light, Co2 injected 50 gallon, but holy cow was that thing a lot of work to maintain. As pretty as it was to look at I was relieved to shut it down. I recently acquired a 40 gallon breeder, hopefully I'll have time this spring to build a stand for it and get it running. It will be a Walstad style much like the ten gallon, only larger and with much more biodiversity. Once the 40 gallon is set up, it will be in the living room, I'll transfer everything in the 10 gallon to the 40 gallon and rearrange the snake room, as everything is currently placed around the tank. Next to the fish tank are three enclosures I built last year, a fourth is in the works. Then the 15 quart Boaphile that will sit on top of the new rack. On the right wall is a 28 quart Boaphile rack, a 28 quart plywood rack, and a 41 quart plywood rack. Near future projects include another 41 quart plywood rack and some electrical work to bring in more power to the snake room, which means I get to spend time crawling around in my cramped little attic. Because that is just so much fun. I re-insulated my attic years ago, I really do not want to spend any more time up there. But the additional power will be needed for what I have planned over the next few years. Side note, the Sullen poster was left there by a former roommate many years ago. I'd like to have some herp related posters and what have you to decorate the walls, but it seems silly to spend money on pictures that could be spent on snakes and equipment. Maybe one of these days.
The whole rack can be cut from a single 4x8 foot sheet of plywood! How convenient. Make sure to account for the width of the saw blade when drawing out your cuts or things can get wacky. I forgot to keep this in mind when I built my first individual enclosures, but I was able to make adjustments during assembly to accommodate the poorly cut pieces. Racks would not be so forgiving, what with the tight clearances necessary to fit the tubs properly. The lines are drawn 1/16" thick to accommodate the hollow ground, 7 1/4" x 140 tooth plywood blade on my circular saw. The first couple of cuts here are a bit tricky because you need to get the dividers out of the way, but everything after that is just straight through cuts. After the third cut start splitting the individual parts and trimming them as necessary. Measurements are in inches. The dividers are a bit tall so they can be sanded down to a perfect fit. If you have a nice table saw, or more skill with a circular saw than I do, you may be able to get away with cutting them closer. Just remember you can always remove more material later, but you can't add any back. The final gap for the tubs needs to be around 5 5/16".
One 4x8 foot, 3/4 inch thick sheet of plywood. I use Birch, you can use Maple or Oak if you'd like to get a bit fancier.
One quart Minwax water based polyurethane. You can get really fancy with stains and what have you if you'd like, but I keep it simple.
One 75 count box of 1.5 inch #8 wood screws
Eight 15 quart Rubbermaid sweater boxes
10.5 feet of three inch heat tape
Two heat tape connectors
One small extension cord
Silicon to tack the heat tape down
And, of course, you'll need a thermostat to regulate the heat tape
Some of the pieces laid out on my little old pool table to dry after a coat of polyurethane. Two coats, a light sanding, and one final coat does the trick. You can see the shallow channels cut with a router to lay the heat tape in. The channel starts about three inches from the back of the shelves (3 3/4" from the back of the base) and is about three and a half inches wide. The base (closest to the camera) is routered to about 3/4 of an inch on each side, the sides (the two pieces in the middle) are routered all the way from the bottom to about one inch from the top, and the three shelves (one shelf is at the far end of the table) are routered all the way across.
Construction in progress! I first attached the dividers to the base and three shelves using three screws each (use a 1/8" bit to drill pilot holes for all screws). Then attached the sides to the base, again using three screws each, and began stacking the shelves in place one by one, carefully test fitting tubs and making adjustments as necessary. Three screws through both sides into each shelf and the top, and the primary assembly is complete.
Once all the shelves are in place it is time to install the heat tape. Lots of guides are available online on working with heat tape so I wont go into too much detail. Basically I cut the head off of a small extension cord, attached a heat tape connector to each lead with a bit of solder, attached the connectors to the heat tape (I don't have the fancy specialty heat tape connector crimping pliers, so I just crimp them with regular pliers then place them on a hard surface and tap them with a hammer until I'm satisfied they're well set), then seal everything up with electrical tape. For this application I cut the leads to different lengths so it is easy to run the wire out the back of the rack. Here the heat tape is in place and weighed down as the silicon sets.
Detail of the heat tape wire installation, you can see how the different length leads allow the wire to be easily run through the back of the rack. The wire is held in place with silicon, I use masking tape to hold the wire in place while the silicon sets.
The last piece of this puzzle is the back. I wait until the heat tape is installed to cut the slot for the wire, gives me maximum flexibility while installing the heat tape. You also need to drill a hole just big enough for the thermostats probe to slip through. A 1/4 inch bit does the trick in this case. A couple quick coats of polyurethane to seal the freshly exposed wood and you're ready to install the back and fire up the heat tape.
The new rack tucked away in its place. Once the temperatures stabilized the critters were moved in. On to the next project!