Assembling Your Chameleon Cage

Assembling Your Chameleon Cage

Assembling standard chameleon cages is usually straight forward. They are six sided objects so there are no hidden tricks! Each cage will come with its own set of instructions, but here is an inside look at assembling screen cages.

 

Screen cages are actually quite the clever invention. We have been able to borrow materials from another industry and create a lightweight, but strong structure that gives us anywhere from 0 to essentially 100% ventilation depending on what panels are used. While a common complaint is that screen cages are “flimsy”, they actually form a surprisingly strong shape when they are screwed together. You will not be able to stand on one, but they are more than sufficient to hold a chameleon. Their lightweight nature makes them easy to assemble and move around. They do not need to be any stronger for the purpose of holding a chameleon!

As with everything, once you put together a number of these cages there are certain tricks that come out and I will share them with you in this module. Here are some high level points to consider before starting

  1. Go through the planning module in this course before assembling your cage. Assembling the cage with the end result in mind ensures the Dragon Ledges and Misting Mounts are placed in the best location.
  2. Important! Do all assembly on a hard, flat surface. You are screwing panels together and when screws go in at angles they tweak the entire cage a very small amount. To ensure they go in as straight as possible make sure the cage itself is straight from the beginning. You will be able to “shift” the cage when it is built, but we want to do a minimum of this.
  3. Empty bags of screws into a bowl. Those screws will roll away very quickly and can be accidentally brushed under packing material. Going through the effort of getting a bowl will pay off in reduced stress and aggravation later!
  4. Identify which side is inside. Stickers are usually used to identify the parts, but figure out ahead of time whether the stickers are on the inside or outside. Although, the true indicator of inside or outside is that the side of the frame where the screen is splined in is on the inside of the cage. The “spline” is the rubber strand that is pushed into a groove to hold the screening to the frame. The floor panel is the only exception where the spline side is the bottom of the cage.

Tips for Success!

chameleon cage plan

1-Plan out your cage first!

hard surface

2-Use a hard, flat surface!

bowl of chameleon cage screws

3-Put screws straight in a bowl

Chameleon cage spline

4-Spline side is on the inside

(except for floor panel)

The Skill of Screwing into Aluminum Framing

Most chameleon cages are assembled by using screws to hold the panels together. There are other methods which include magnets and fitting PVC couplings. The most common, and robust, are the screw and aluminum frames.

Important points:

  1. Have the pieces to be assembled on a flat hard surface
  2. Screw in firmly and slowly. It is very easy to slip with the screw driver if you go too fast. This is how screen panels get holes in them!
  3. Do not strip the hole. When driving in the screw only twist it in until the head of the screw is tight against the framing. If the screw is twisted, but is no longer going forward the twisting will widen the hole and lose its grip. This is called “stripping” the hole. There is no way to fix this and another hole must be started. Fortunately, this is a pretty simple process and leaves only a small, empty hole on the frame as evidence of what happened.

When we drive a screw into the framing we are usually doing it through pre-drilled holes which guide us to connect the framing pieces correctly. Because this is a dynamic process where the screw is creating a custom hole there is a limit to how many times a screw can be removed and then driven back in. The connection will not be as strong the more times it is done. It is safe to assume you can drive the screw in about three times before the connection starts getting loose. (Cage Hack: If you end up with a loose connection, for whatever reason, it is quite simple to make a new hole. Either drill a starter hole at half the diameter of the screw or just force drive the screw in)

In some instances, such as with Dragon Ledges and Misting Mounts, we will be using self-tapping screws and drive it directly into the frame creating a new hole from scratch.

In the case of self-tapping you have the option to mark the location where the screw will go and drilling a hole that is half the screw diameter or else just drive it in without the pilot hole. You want the screw to bite into the aluminum and create itself own hole as it goes in so make the pilot hole about half the diameter of the screw. If you elect to just drive the screw into the framing without a pilot hole then it is best done on a flat surface. Firmly and slowly drive the screw into the framing. Once it breeches the aluminum it will continue in easily. You want to go in as straight as possible as any “wobbling” while driving in the screw will loosen the hole.


How To Drive In A Screw (Without Stripping The Hole)

chameleon cage on table

1-Cage pieces or cage assembly is on flat, solid ground

screwing in chameleon cage

2-Turn screwdriver in firm, slow strokes

screw head

3-Twist screw in until screw head is tight against frame. And then stop!


Steps to Assemble A Standard Chameleon Cage

Each cage manufacturer will have their own instruction sheet to follow. My favorite method is to attach the top and bottom panels to the back panel. This then provides an easy structure to add side panels and finally the front panels. But check the instructions that come with the cage. There are different approaches.

The important elements in every cage is to do it on a flat surface. Do not assemble the cage on carpet.

One industry trick is to screw in the framing screws 3/4 the way in and then, when the cage is fully assembled, stand it up straight (carefully because it does not yet have its “structure”). Have a friend hold it in place so the door swings freely open and closed and then tighten all the screws in. You are locking the cage in the proper place.

Frequently Asked Questions

The problem with using an automatic screw driver is that you do not get that feeling for when the screw is tight enough and when to stop. It is very easy to strip the hole when using an automatic screw driver. You can use an automatic drill with a philips head screw bit, but do so with extreme caution.

This is different for each cage manufacturer. The best way to determine inside is that the side of the frame where the screen is splined on is on the inside of the cage.

Rivets are often used in the manufacturing of these cages. If you hear a rattling inside the frame that is a piece of the rivet process and is nothing to worry about. It will not affect cage function.

All cages look good when they are assembled, but most will have parts that can rust. Even companies that say they use components that do not rust will fail the magent test. A quick sweep with a magnet shows rusting components present in parts such as the screws or the door hinge pins.  Dragon Strand cages are, presently, the only cages that are completely rust proof.

Stickers can be removed. If you prefer a cage that does not have stickers on the frames then merely peal them off once you know where the piece goes. If the sticker is not coming off in one piece then a small amount of Goo Gone or WD-40 on a paper towel will remove the remaining adhesive.


Step 1: Find a hard, flat surface to assemble your chameleon cage

One of the biggest problems in assembling screen cages is that the cage is assembled at angles. The screws go in at different angles and the cage frame pieces are forced into shape by other panels. Most of the time all of this cancels out and the cage ends up being straight. But, occasionally, the different angles add up and form a “lean” to the cage. This shows its self in the cage door not sitting perfectly in the door space. Most often it is the door hitting on the top of the Service Door on the bottom of the cage (if your cage has a flip up service door). Although, this is functionally not an issue as it is a simple matter of lifting the door up to close it. But it will become and issue if the door slips down when you flip up the Service Door and you close the Service door without lifting the main door. The main door will be forced against the lower door latch and damage the latch.


Step 2: Unpack and verify all contents are present and undamaged

Unpack the box and verify that all the pieces are present. Do not open bags unless you have bowls to put screws. There will be an instruction sheet. Find this and look for the contents list. Go down the list and verify each piece is there and is not damaged. Damage can happen in shipping even with thick cardboard boxes, much less flimsy retail boxes that were not meant to be shipped. The most common damage is bent framing.

If there is damage take pictures of the damage, the sticker on the damaged piece (for positive ID), and any damage of the box. There may or may not be visible damage on the box as some blunt hits will not rip or crush the box if it is not on the edges. Notify the company that sold you the cage and they will give you instructions. Send all the pictures. Any company that ships cages has dealt with this. It is frustrating, but there should be no problem with resolution.


Step 3: Install Dragon Ledges

If you have purchased a Dragon Strand cage or the Dragon Ledge kit for your particular cage, this is the perfect time to install the Dragon Ledges. They may be installed on cages that are already built, but takes a little more effort.

Lay the panel on a hard, flat surface with the screen side down. The screen side is the side that has the spline. You are going to be installing the Back Brace of the Dragon Ledge to the outside of the cage. The standard configuration is two Dragon Ledges per side panel and one for the back panel except for a few of the wide format cages.

If you are not sure where to place the Dragon Ledges then you can just place two of them on the side panel so they cut the cage in thirds. The exact placement is not critical if you are using them to attach structural branches. But make sure your placement does not cover any predrilled screw holes or cage hardware.

The back panel Dragon Ledge can be placed across the middle.

Follow the instructions included with the Dragon Ledges as to the actual installation.

An important note is to support hardware when pressing down to screw in the back brace. When you place the screen panel on a flat surface to install the Back Brace verify that the panel truly lays flat. If some hardware, such as hinges or door latches, gets in the way of the panel laying flat place something under the frame so that the pressure of you driving a screw into the frame is taken by the support, not the hardware. For example, With a Dragon Strand cage there are hinges riveted on some side panels. These prevent the panel from laying flat with the outside facing up. By using one of the Spacer pieces (that comes with the Dragon Ledges) under the frame by the hinges, the frame is supported and takes all the pressure.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dragon Ledges

Yes, three holes are necessary to install the hardware which will take the weight from the inside of the cage and transfer it to the frame. Dragon Ledges are designed to be a permanent addition to the cage and there should be no reason to remove them while the cage is in active use.

The Dragon Ledge hardware will completely cover the holes and they will not be noticeable once the installation is complete.

The Dragon Ledges were not designed to support weight in that direction. Although this has been done before, it is not advised and is outside the official uses of this product.

When two strong vertical branches are attached to two horizontal Dragon Ledges to form a grid the assembly can hold about 10lbs, or three one gallon potted plants.

Some keepers like to keep the floor clear, but still have potted plants on the bottom. A number of creative keepers have mounted their Dragon Ledges low and then rested a platform across them which became a plant shelf.

This is not an intended use for the Dragon Ledges, though it has been done. The Dragon Ledges probably won’t break, but if there is too much weight there can be some torquing in the Dragon Ledge assembly.

DragonLedges to outside of cage

Attach the Dragon Ledge Back Brace to the outside of the screen panel.

Two Dragon Ledges per side

Place two horizontal Dragon Ledges on the side panels. Exact placement is not critical.

One Dragon Ledge

For most cages you place one Dragon Ledge across the back.

Dragon Ledges hinge support

Support hinges or any other hardware when installing Dragon Ledges. Note the Spacer piece of the Dragon Ledges is used as a support under the frame by the hinges while the Back Brace is being screwed on. So the Spacer piece takes the downward pressure, not the hinges.

making a Dragon Ledge hole

Creating the three small holes for the Dragon Ledge assembly is a simple process of pushing through an included screw through the screen or, as shown here, the Clearside PVC side.

Dragon Ledges

The Dragon Ledge assembly consists of a metal core and takes the weight from the inside of the cage and brings it to the frame with no stress to the screen wall.

Dragon Ledges grid

By using two horizontal Dragon Ledges and two vertical branches you can create a strong grid to mount plants and branches.

Medium Tall Clearside Atrium

A floating garden style cage interior is perfect for chameleons and is what Dragon Ledges were invented to give us!


Step 3: Install Misting Mount

Each country will have their own misting system manufacturers. There are both above cage and inside cage strategies. If the misting nozzle is meant to go inside the cage then there will be some hardware to allow the mounting of the misting nozzle. This is the time to mount that hardware as you will be able to do it against a hard floor backing. They can be installed while the cage is up and being used, but that is a slightly miserable process.

If the mist system manufacturer uses plastic mounts that attach to the top frame then flip the top panel so the inside (spline side) is facing up. Mist King and Cli-Mist have Misting Nozzle Mounts that attach in the corners. Dragon Strand offers a Hydration Mount which can attach anywhere along the inside top frame. This is needed because of the wide format cages that Dragon Strand offers and more mounting flexibility is needed.

If a misting system is being used that requires 1/4″ tubing to go into the cage then you will have to make a judgement as to when you would like to do the installation. If you are getting your 1/4″ tubing inside the cage using the Dragon Strand Hydration Mount then now is the time to install the Hydration Mount.

Working With Misting Mounts

corner misting mount

Misting nozzle mounts are installed on the inside of the cage so they are flush with the screen.

misting mount in corner

Misting mounts from companies like Mist King or Cli-Mist are installed in the corners.

Dragon Strand Hydration Mount

The Hydration Mount from Dragon Strand mounts anywhere along the inside top panel frame.

Installing a Misting Mount

installing hydration mount

To install a misting mount, attach it to the appropriate location by driving self-tapping screws directly into the aluminum frame. If you are installing a Dragon Strand Hydration Mount and intend to use the 1/4″ tubing input then remove the 1/4″ grommet from the hole.

Cut a hole for the misting nozzle. The misting nozzle is considered a permanent addition to the cage and the frayed edge of screen will be covered.

remove misting nozzle nut

There is a nut on the threaded part of the misting nozzle. Remove this

insert misting nozzle

Insert the misting nozzle from the inside of the cage for the threaded section to go through the top of the cage and to stick out.

Screw the nut tightly down the threaded shaft. This will keep the mist nozzle firmly anchored and will hide the frayed screen edge.

misting nozzle ready to go

Your misting nozzle is ready to go!

Installing 1/4" Tubing

Dragon Strand Hydration Mount

The Dragon Strand Hydration Mount supports Mist King and Cli-Mist misting nozzles, but also has a 1/4″ tubing entry point for Exo-Terra Monsoon mister or plant drip system. Remove the 1/4″ entry grommet before installing on cage.

Cut a hole for the 1/4″ tubing entry point as you did for the misting nozzle.

tubing installed

Put the 1/4″ tubing through the grommet and then into the 1/4″ tubing entry hole of the Hydration Mount. You will have to forcibly push and shove the grommet through the hole until it comes out the other side and provides a tight seal around the tubing. The frayed screw edge will be hidden by this grommet.

tubing for drip system

Use the 1/4″ tubing to either attach an Ex-Terra Monsoon misting nozzle or a network of drippers to keep your plants watered.


Step 3: Install any other hardware

Vine Holder Install

Different cages may have different hardware additions. Check to see what your particular cage may come with. Installing before assembly is always easier! An exception may be door handles, but you judge your situation and what features your cage has. The point is that you take a look at everything will be going on this cage and consider whether any of it would be easier to install before the cage was assembled.


Step 6: Assemble the cage

Once you have the hardware attached to the panels and any stickers removed that you’d like to remove it is time to put together the actual cage.

Each cage manufacturer will have their own instruction sheet to follow. My favorite method is to attach the top and bottom panels to the back panel. This then provides an easy structure to add side panels and finally the front panels. But check the instructions that come with the cage. There are different approaches.

The important elements in any cage you build is to do it on a flat surface. Do not assemble the cage on carpet!

Step 7: Adjusting the cage

When the cage is fully assembled take a look at it and try the doors.

You want to make sure you have a cage that isn’t leaning in any direction. Any sort of lean can make the door extra tight or hit the framing.

There are limitations to the materials used. The larger the door the more the door may sag when it is open. Often this will be a small amount and the door will have to be lifted slightly to have it rest in place. A certain tightness when the door is closed is within expectations, but you should not have to jerk the door open.

The sag is important to recognize if you plan on using the Service Door. The Service Door is the flip up bottom front panel that most commercial cages have as a feature. This is the door that allows us to remove the floor panel for cleaning without bothering the chameleon by opening the main cage door. If you open the Service Door and the main cage door falls into the space below so much that closing the Service Door pushed the Main Door out then you should try to adjust the cage. The danger with this is that this can push put or break the door latch mechanisms. So it is worth fixing. The alternative is that you remember to lift the Main Door out of the way every time you close the Service Door.

To fix this loopsided-ness of the cage place the cage on a hard, flat surface (you may be getting the idea that there is no valid use case that includes anything but a hard flat surface with cages). Slightly loosen the screws holding the side panels to the top, back, and bottom panels. Loosen them just enough that there is some back and forth play and you can adjust how straight the cage stands. You are then going to move the top of the cage to the right and the left until you find that perfect point where the door opens and closes smoothly. Once you find that point, hold the cage there and then tighten all the screws. This is where it would be useful to have a friend help so one of you can hold the cage in place and the other can tighten the screws. Make sure you have done this alignment before you start adding components to the inside. If there is an issue you need to discuss with your cage manufacturer do so before you set the cage up.

This also let’s you know if something you did in the cage set-up tweaked the cage. If that happened then it is as simple to find which branch connection pulled the cage and correct it. Zipties are common culprits. When we lay a branch in the cage and ziptie it to the Dragon Ledges, we winch the ziptie tight. This can pull walls together and throw the alignment off. The solution, which we will go over when we talk about branching is to  ensure that “ziptying” is done in a way that does not mess up cage alignment.


Now It Is Time To Get To The Fun Part!

With your cage assembled it is now time to explore how we can bring our chameleon’s home alive with plants! Live plants can be intimidating for some people, but, with a little guidance, anyone should be able to create a living chameleon environment. An awesome chameleon environment will be an awesome plant environment and we are on our way to creating an awesome chameleon environment! So, click on over to the next module and let’s learn about plants for our chameleon cage!


Navigation

This module is part of a class on Setting Up Your Chameleon’s Cage where you learn how to build up a complete chameleon environment from start to finish. From this point you can either go back to the home room and see the other modules in this class or go on to the next module where we dive into how to use plants in the chameleon cage!

"Setting Up Your Chameleon's Cage" Home Room

panther chameleon in big cage

Next Module: Branching the Chameleon Cage

chameleon perching branch