My name is Pandora. I'm dictating this from the landing that leads to the loft of my Palace. There are many ways to build nice homes for the guinea pigs who live with you, but Xena and I like my Palace best. We decided to tell you how it is built so you can make one for your piggies too.
We started out to give you the guided tour and construction plans all in one lens, but our first readers said that was too much at once. We now have one article just for the home tour. We are making separate articles so you can make a Palace similar to ours for your piggies. If you want to build a loft to go with the base described here, this link will take you to instructions for building the loft.
This article tells you how to build the base, which you need to make first. A pair of piggies can live well in it while you build the loft and ramp. Even if you build the base and loft in one project, we suggest that you finish the base before putting the loft together. That gives you a chance to double check everything about the loft before driving screws.
Reminders: Although we live in England now and our Palace was built here, we did not start out here. Some of the materials used to build our Palace came from the United States. If you do not live in the States, you may have to find local substitutes for some of those materials.
Please bear in mind that our Palace does not have a roof. It is only suitable for indoor use where there are no predators such as dogs or cats to threaten your guinea pigs.
Some of the small pictures here will open to a big version if you click on them.
If You Build a Piggy Palace
The base is the first part of the Palace to build. If you do build one, please post a comment to let us know how it went for you!
Basic Construction Outline
This is a longitudinal view of the loft without any of our towels, hideys, litter boxes or other paraphernalia. The loft and base are built on the same general principles, although their dimensions are different. The wood frame for our base is painted (although only where we can't inadvertently eat any of the paint) because Xena loves pretty colors. The wood frame for the loft is all natural.
For the base, the basic frame is built of 1 1/4" x 7/8" wood and attached to a thin plywood floor. For the loft, the frame is built of 1 1/4" x 3/4" wood, and the glass is thinner. We wanted the loft to be a little lighter and we had learned that the base did not need the full thickness of wood and glass that we gave it.
Our landing and ramp are built separately and attach to the loft. That assembly is removable. With its door blocked off, the loft can be used separately as a downsized cage. We wouldn't want to live that way long term, but it would do for a while. If you will never want to remove the landing and ramp, you can simplify construction by building the loft and landing as a single unit with the ramp attached. That is the way we are presenting our construction guide. Making the loft detachable was a lot of extra work and we have found it wasn't necessary.
Sheet vinyl flooring is installed for the base, loft, landing and ramp. The flooring for the loft is left overhanging the edge of the plywood slightly so it overlaps the floor of our removable landing by about half an inch (1 cm)–with a permanently attached landing, you do not need to bother about that. The flooring for the ramp wraps around the bottom of the ramp and extends about an inch (2.5 cm) up the underside of the ramp. This protects the bottom of the ramp against wicking up moisture into the wood in case anybody pees in the vicinity. Xena and I are too civilized to behave that way, but not all piggies are so well mannered.
After the flooring is in place, glass panels are mounted to the frame. The white strips you see where the glass meets the floor are 90 degree plastic edge protector, cut and mitered to fit and set in place with clear silicon caulk for a fluid-proof seal all the way around.
The base also uses edge protectors vertically in the corners. The loft only uses clear caulk in the corners. Either way works nicely, so whether to use edge protector in the corners is a matter of taste–unless you are uncertain about the precision of the cutting for your glass panels. Edge protector in the corners allows you to undercut the glass a little for an easy fit while still getting a good seal and neat appearance.
On top of each side of the wood frame for the base and loft, we have a metal channel. It is attached with screws through holes drilled near each end and a couple of holes evenly spaced along the span. This can stop three or four inches short of the corners, especially on the base. The base is made with 1/4" aluminum C-channel from the States. The loft is made with similar sized British steel C-channel. Metal grids from "organize-it" kits rest in the C-channel and are attached to each other at the top. Each metal grid square measures 14" on each side. The grid kits are from a Target store in the USA and cost about $20 or so per kit. If you use something else, you may need to adjust the dimensions of your Palace to suite the materials you use for your grid.
We couldn't find any in the UK when we moved here and still can't find any in shops, but people in Britain can order them online (see below for links).
For the base, most of the metal grid squares are attached at the top with the plastic connectors that came in the kits. For the loft, most of the grid squares are attached with plastic cable ties. The loft cannot tolerate much extra space between grid squares, whereas the base is sized to need the space imposed by the plastic connectors between grid squares.
Metal Grid Squares Help a Lot
The Palace is designed to let you use metal grid squares for the upper walls and for access panels. Making a Palace would be a lot harder without them! Guinea pigs see and appreciate color, so if you want colors more interesting than white or black or grey, your piggies will thank you for it.
If you are in the USA, the grids are easy to get at such stores as Target. You can also order them, and order extra parts for the grid kits, from Amazon:
Seville Classics 4-Cube Storage Set, Assorted Colors
Whitmor 6071-1723 Four Storage Cubes, White
Wire Cube Plastic Connector Set Black
If you are in the UK, they are not in the shops. You can get them from Amazon UK or eBay UK. The eBay sellers change frequently which makes it hard for us to provide a link for you. Amazon has a more stable offering, so Britons can get the grids here:
One Step at a Time
This isn't as hard as it looks. One step at a time, and you'll get it done!
Cutting Pieces for the Base
These are the pieces of wood and glass you need to cut for the base level of the Palace. If your wood comes in different dimensions–say, 1 1/4" x 3/4" instead of what we used–or if you substitute something in place of the "organize-it" kits we used for the metal grid squares (and your substitute has different dimensions), you'll need to adjust the lengths of pieces appropriately.
Base Pieces: Wood
- (A) Quarter inch thick plywood, 30" x 59"
- (B) Two pieces 1 1/4" x 7/8" x 56 1/2" long
- (C) Two pieces 1 1/4" x 7/8" x 27 1/2" long
- (D) Two pieces 1 1/4" x 7/8" x 3" long
- (E) Four pieces 1 1/4" x 1 1/4" x 4 1/4"
- (F) Two pieces 1 1/4" x 7/8" x 59" long (on the longest side), cut at a 45 degree angle at each end
- (G) Two pieces 1 1/4" x 7/8" x 30" long (on the longest side), cut at a 45 degree angle at each end
Base Pieces: Glass
Build the frame for the base before cutting the glass (or plastic) panels. If you use plastic, or glass of a different thickness from ours, or somehow end up with a slight variance between the dimensions of your Palace and ours… the size we used for our glass panels might not work for you. Remember, the glass cuts are straight, not mitered. We chose to make the short glass panels reach across the entire width of the base, and the long glass panels fit in the remaining space on the long sides.
- Two glass panels 5" x 56 7/8"
- Two glass panels 5" x 28 3/8"
Fittings and Such
We showed the main pieces in our diagram, but not trim and fittings. You will also need:
- Three pieces of quarter inch C-channel that are 6 feet long. Cut two of these so you have two pieces of C-channel that are each 2 feet long, and two pieces that are 4 feet long. Cut the third piece in half so you have two pieces that are each 3 feet long.
- Vinyl flooring. Cheap flooring will do.
- 90 degree plastic corner protector, which we recommend cutting to fit after the flooring and glass panels are in place.
- Flooring adhesive for installing the vinyl flooring.
- General purpose DIY adhesive for gluing the glass panels in place.
- Clear caulk.
- A dozen 1" self adhesive felt pads.
- Flathead screws. Most will be #6 or #8, length 3/4" or 1" and length 1 1/2" or 1 3/4" depending upon how sturdy you want your Palace to be. A few will be tiny, with heads small enough to fit inside the C-channel. These can be as short as 1/4", no more than 1/2".
- Plastic cable fasteners from the electric department at a DIY store. In the very first photo at the top of this lens, you can see one near the top right corner holding glass in place. You will use wire cutters to clip off the curled-around end of the plastic, leaving only a flat plastic tongue to extend over the glass. Make sure the post of the cable fasteners is the same height as the thickness of your glass or plastic.
Base Construction, Part 1
Place the pieces on floor A first to make sure everything fits correctly. Especially make sure the notches in the posts do not allow some of the posts to intrude into the floor space more than the side pieces. Then attach the pieces by driving 1" screws through floor A into the pieces, and driving 1 3/4" screws through the posts into the side pieces.
Plan the locations of your screws near the corners so screws don't run into each other.
Make sure you do not drive a screw through the long sides in the center of the span. In the next step, you will need to drive two screws through within an inch of that point on each long side.
Base Construction, Part 2
Place the pieces F and G on top of the posts first, and slip braces D between pieces B and F at the midpoint of the span, to make sure everything fits correctly. Make sure the notches in the posts do not allow some of the posts to intrude into the floor space more than the side pieces F and G. Then attach the pieces F and G by driving screws as shown. You will need 1" screws to hold the mitered ends of pieces F and G together, and 1 3/4" screws down through the tops of pieces F and G into the posts.
Plan the locations of your screws so screws don't run into each other.
After that is done, fasten braces D into position between pieces B and F at the midpoint of each long side. You will need two 1 3/4" screws through the bottom of the base, and two downward through pieces F. After the base is finished, you will find the braces are helpful when moving the base, especially when carrying it tilted vertically through doorways. You can hook fingers under them without putting strain on glass panels and without bending the frame.
Drill holes through the two 2 foot long pieces of C channel and two 4 foot long pieces of C channel for the very small screws that will hold those pieces in place. For each piece of C channel, you will need a hole near each end and at the center. For the long pieces, the center hole will allow you to fasten the C channel between the two screws that hold the brace in place. For the long pieces, also drill holes midway between the center hole and each end hole. Attach each piece of C channel centered on an appropriate top rail F or G.
Base Construction, Part 3
It's best not to get the glass (or plastic) side panels H and I until now. Measure, measure, measure! Remember to allow for the thickness of the side panels, and subtract a small fraction of an inch from the length you measure just in case. (We subtracted 1/8".)
If you want to paint the external portions of the frame, it is easier to do that before side panels are in place than it will be after you finish the base. Remember that none of the paint should be accessible to your piggies. It needs to be outside the glass and outside the line defined by the outermost edges of the C channel. Look closely at the photo and you can see where the paint ends.
You can also see several other details in this photo: how a modified cable clip holds the top of a side panel in place, how metal grid squares rest in the C channel, how plastic corner protector dresses the seam from the floor to a side panel and between side panels at a corner.
Install Vinyl Flooring
Apply flooring adhesive or general purpose construction adhesive on the floor of the base. Use a notched trowel to spread it evenly. Install vinyl flooring and smooth it down flat. Wait until the adhesive has set.
Install Side Panels
Put your side panels in place to make sure they fit and leave no sharp edges exposed along their top edges that could hurt your piggies. Then remove the panels again. Using wire cutters, snip off the curled ends off the cable clips that are going to hold the top edges of your side panels.
Apply general purpose adhesive to the inner portion of the wood frame for the bottom and sides of each panel opening, and only the 1/4" of the frame above each panel opening. Put the panels in place again and carefully press their edges to the glue. Gently nail the cable clips in place to hold the tops of the side panels. Wait until the adhesive holding your side panels has set.
Cut 90 degree plastic corner guard to fit the junction between your side panels and flooring, as shown. The picture shows a corner that has been left not quite clean so you can see where the cuts were made. The piece of vertical corner protector where side panels meet is optional. If you have a good fit, the vertical piece is purely an aesthetic choice.
Use clear silicon caulk to put the corner guard pieces in place, taking care to make a leakproof seal all the way around. We also ran a thin bead of clear caulk along the top of our glass panels, but that is optional. Getting the glass edges smoothed by the glass shop is not optional. We stand up on our hind legs sometimes and lean against the walls with our front paws, so we'll be injured if the edges are sharp.
Apply Felt Pads
When the caulk has firmed up, attach one piece of self-adhesive felt to the underside of each corner of the base. Attach the rest of the felt pads to the underside in a distributed pattern. These felt pads provide a cushion between the plywood base and the table where you keep your Palace. If any screw heads on the underside protrude slightly, the space allowed by the felt pads will keep your table from being scratched.
Make an Access Panel
Use something (a little cardboard or felt will do) to provide about 1/4" or so of spacing between two metal grid squares. Use tape (electrical tape works fine) and/or cable ties to firmly fasten the two grid squares together with the spacers trapped between them. Fit one edge of the two-square panel into the three foot long piece of C channel, centered. Use tape and/or cable ties to fasten the grid squares into the C channel. This is your access panel for the base. (See below for a section about the access panel.)
Install Metal Grid Squares
Place metal grid squares in the C channel and attach the tops using the plastic connectors that came in the "organize-it" kit–except omit the two grid squares for the center of the long side you want to use to access the base of the Palace. Put your access panel there, with the C channel at the top of the access panel fitted over the tops of the grids at each end of the long side.
Base Ready for Use
The base of your Palace is now finished. You can line it with a beach towel (we have a layer of synthetic fleece on top of the towel), then put your piggies' furnishings, litter boxes, food and water in there. We have a pad of bricks in one corner of our base, and our water bottles are above that pad. Getting onto the bricks every time we take a drink helps us go longer between claw trimmings because it wears down our claws. Standing on the bricks is also a handy height for getting our humans to feed us goodies or choice pieces of hay through the grid.
Let your piggies enjoy the base while you start working on their loft. They'll love it!
You Need One for the Base and One for the Loft
The two central grid squares on one long side of each floor of the Palace are attached to each other in the middle, and to a length of C-channel across the top and extending a few inches beyond the grids on each side. The extensions rest neatly over the top of the adjacent grid squares. The result is a two-square panel that easily lifts off to give humans access for Palace cleaning, and can be refitted with one hand if a human removes the panel to take one of us out of the Palace.
The loft access panel needs only enough padding between its two metal grid squares to prevent them from squeaking against each other when jostled. The base access panel needs 1/4" to 1/2" of spacing between its two grid squares, which we accomplished with cardboard and white electrical tape.