The Rabbit Hutch – Part 1

My kids have two rabbits.  Fifi and Coco.  How they came to be named as though they were two french call girls, I have no idea, but there we are.  Their current hutch is a commercially purchased piece of junk that is, bit-by-bit, falling apart.  After tinkering in the shop for most of the summer and restoring a bunch of planes, it was time to start a new woodworking project.  My wife and kids asked that it be a rabbit hutch, so here we go.

I am, more and more, coming to the realization that I am going to have to learn to use some sort of design software.  I think that not having a complete plan prior to commencing a project might be holding me back a little.  My normal method for building something goes a little like this:

  1. Search google images for some ideas and inspiration.
  2. Determine that none of the above designs are sufficient, but identify key elements or parts of other plans that I can blend into something of my own.
  3. Start making a sketch or plan of the part that needs to be built first.
  4. Start building.
  5. Figure the rest out as I go.

This method has its pros and cons.  Once I have a fairly good idea of where I’m going, it does get me building sooner.  Often, my best ideas for parts of a project only materialize once the build is underway and I’m looking at actual tangible parts.  The setbacks are that I also occasionally find myself in a pickle and think “If I had only done X five steps ago…”  Since I am quite a fair way into this project already, I can tell you that I’ve found a few of these mistakes already.

Right now, sketch-up is still like Greek to me, so I went with what I know, and designed the hutch using Microsoft Excel.  The best way I have found to do this is to set all the row heights and column widths to be quite small and make all the cells square.  Pick your own scale.  Since this project is large I went with 1 cell equals ½”.  If making something as small as a box you might choose 1 cell equals 1/16″.  Once the cells are formatted, you can start drawing, adding borders to cells, and filling them with color.

I decided that I wanted a double level hutch with wooden sides on the top and wire sides on the bottom.  It will have a ramp inside for the rabbits to go up and down, four doors, and a pull out poop tray on each level.  To give you an idea of size, the design is about 63 inches wide, by 54 inches tall, by 30 inches deep.   For strength and longevity, it will be built with mortise and tenon and bridal joinery.

The front facade and side views, drawn using microsoft excel.

The front facade and side views, drawn using Microsoft Excel.

With a rough design in mind, I had to turn my attention to what material to use.  Living in the damp and rainy pacific northwest, I wanted something that would be somewhat rot resistant, but not pressure treated (who wants to woodwork with that stuff).  In a world where money didn’t matter, teak would be perfect, but that’s not happening.  I planned on using cedar and headed to the building supply center.  Wow… cedar is way more expensive than I realized.  3 or 4 times the price of the equivalent sized Douglas Fir.  So, Douglas Fir it is.  I will have to take other steps (like a very good exterior paint, and metal feet) to keep the moisture at bay.

My design was made with the intention of starting with 2″ x 6″s and milling / ripping them into 1 ½” x 2 ½” parts.  At the building supply center I bought nine 2″ x 6″ x 12′ boards.

2" x 6" x 12' Douglas Fir bought for making the rabbit hutch.

2″ x 6″ x 12′ Douglas Fir bought for making the rabbit hutch.

My local place gets some really nice construction lumber and they don’t mind me picking through the stacks to find the ones I want.  I always leave the stacks tidier that I found them, and I think this buys a bit of goodwill.  This time I really lucked out.  Some of these 12 foot boards were perfectly clear (nice grain and not a single knot).  A couple of the boards had a little wain, but this can be removed by milling, and I saved them for the thinner material needed later.

Jointed, planed, and ripped into 1 ½" x 2 ½" pieces.

Jointed, planed, and ripped into 1 ½” x 2 ½” pieces.

I started by making two frames that will hold the doors.  The corners are made with bridal joints, and the central style is joined to the upper and lower rails with a mortise and tenon joint.

Tenons / bridal joints cut into the long members of the front frames.

Tenons / bridal joints cut into the long members of the front frames.

The tenon part of the bridal joints were left 1″ longer than needed.  These will serve as tenons and will later mortise into the legs/sides.  Since the rails are about 64″ long, I couldn’t cut the tenons vertically on the table saw.  I didn’t have enough overhead vertical clearance and was hitting the ceiling.  So, I laid out the joints with a  knife and cut them all by hand.  One was a little ugly (pigs ears aren’t in it), but it will never be seen once inside its mortice.

All the material needed to make both the front frames and all the doors.

All the material needed to make both the front frames and all the doors.

I cut the mortise portion of the bridal joints at the table saw.

Testing the setup for the other half of the bridal joints.

Testing the setup for the other half of the bridal joints.

The central dividing styles will attach to the rails with a mortise and tendon joint.

The central dividing styles will attach to the rails with a mortise and tenon joint.

I laid out the mortises and chopped them with an old English chisel.  I really like this part.  I seem to enjoy chopping mortises much more than cutting tenons.

After some chopping.

After some chopping.

Cutting the tenons.

Cutting the tenons.

With the parts all cut, I assembled them to see how I had done.  The upper frame (pictured below) is 25″ high and the lower frame (not pictured) is 18″.

Dry fitting the first frame.

Dry fitting the first frame.

Once satisfied with the fit, I glued the frames together.  While they were drying, I decided to peg the joints.  I found some scrap madrone in the fire pile and ripped some ⅜” x ⅜” strips on the bandsaw.  I used a v-notch in a piece of MDF to hold the strips while I planed them into an octagonal shape.

Making pegs from scrap madrone.

Making pegs from scrap madrone.

I used a Stanley No. 220 that I have just finished restoring.

Squares quickly became octagons.

Squares quickly became octagonal.

rabbit-hutch-13

Once octagonal, I cross-cut the pegs.

I tapered the ends with a mora knife.   A dowel plate would be very useful right now, but I don’t have one.

A bunch of pegs.

A bunch of pegs.

Holes drilled.

Holes drilled.

Both frames glued and pegged.

Both frames glued and pegged.

Time to turn my attention to the doors.  Four doors means 16 joints, and I’m not about to cut all those bridal joints by hand.  I milled the stock for the doors slightly thinner than the frame, so I had to re adjust the bridal joint set up at the table saw.

Cutting the shoulder lines for all the bridal joints.

Cutting the shoulder lines for all the bridal joints.

The door construction was pretty simple.

The door construction was pretty simple.

A decent joint. That hairline will close up with glue and clamping.

A decent joint. That hairline will close up with glue and clamping.

Each of the four doors was glued up like this.

Each of the four doors was glued up like this.

C-clamps (or G-cramps for those of you in England) closed up the bridal joints beautifully.

C-clamps (or G-cramps for those of you in England) closed up the bridal joints beautifully.

Once dry, I sanded the doors and rounded the edges with a ⅛” round over bit.

Sanding the door frames and rounding over the edges.

Sanding the door frames and rounding over the edges.

I wanted some stops to prevent the doors from pushing into the hutch and damaging the hinges. I cut them to size, and nibbled away the middle on the cross-cut sled.  The height of the removed area corresponds to the difference in thickness between the frame and doors.

Door stops, made on the crosscut sled.

Door stops, made on the crosscut sled.

The same ⅛-inch round over. Before below, after above.

The same ⅛-inch round over. Before below, after above.

Door stops are glued to the central style, at both the top and bottom.

Door stops are glued to the central style, at both the top and bottom.

These prevent the door from swinging too far inwards and damaging the hinges.

These prevent the door from swinging too far inwards and damaging the hinges.

Next, I installed the hinges on the doors.  This is something that I would normally do with a knife and chisel, but 16 identical hinge mortises, make a routing jig seem a little more sensible.

A quick jig for routing the hinge mortises.

A quick jig for routing the hinge mortises.

The routing jig in action.

The routing jig in action.

I installed all the hinges on the doors and then transferred the hinge location to the frames.

I shimmed the door in place in the frame.

I shimmed the door in place in the frame.

Transferring the door hinge location with a marking knife.

Transferring the door hinge location with a marking knife.

I'll use these marks to align the router jig.

I’ll use these marks to align the router jig.

The same jig allowed me to route the hinge mortises in the frame.

The same jig allowed me to route the hinge mortises in the frame.

I routed all of the hinge mortises in the frames, but didn’t install the doors yet.  I’ll wait to do that until the hutch is assembled.  The frames will get too heavy and unwieldy if I install doors now.

The doors are going to be covered with hardware cloth which is a galvanized wire mesh.  I need a super shallow rabbet to install the wire into.

The back side of the doors need a very shallow rabbet to accept the hardware cloth (wire mesh).

The back side of the doors need a very shallow rabbet to accept the hardware cloth (wire mesh).

I cleaned up the rabbet and squared the corners with a chisel.

I cleaned up the rabbet and squared the corners with a chisel.

I cut hardware cloth to fit the opening and stapled it in place.

I cut hardware cloth to fit the opening and stapled it in place.

I milled some pieces of wood to cover the rabbet and wire staples, and rounded over the edges.

I milled some pieces of wood to cover the rabbet, wire, and  staples, and rounded over the edges.

I mitered the corners for a neat appearance.

I mitered the corners for a neat appearance.

I drilled and counter sunk holes for screws to attach these covers.

I drilled and counter-sunk holes for screws to attach these covers.

This covers the wire nicely.

This covers the wire nicely.

As I said earlier, I want this hutch to be well protected from water and decay.  Since these parts will likely get exposed to water, and can’t be painted once assembled, I gave them a lick of paint prior to assembly.

Painting prior to assembly to prevent water damage later.

Painting prior to assembly to prevent water damage later.

Screwed in place with some brass screws that I had on hand.

Screwed in place with some brass screws that I had on hand.

 

Well, that’s the two frames and four doors that will make up the front of the hutch.  In the next post, I will build the two sides and start thinking about the back.

More soon.

 

– Jonathan White

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don’t build enough – I need help!

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11 Responses to The Rabbit Hutch – Part 1

  1. Very envious of how clean your DF mortises came out. Mine are always stringy, torn out, and look like I hacked them out with a butter knife.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Ralph,

      Thanks, Doug Fir can be a pain to chisel. The alternating hard/soft growth rings eat up sharp edges. I’ve found that frequently touching up the edge on the polishing stone helps.

      Jonathan

  2. Gavin says:

    Hi Jonathan, it was a good job the cedar was too dear . I just went through a very roundabout construction of a hutch/tractor type cage for our guinea pig and got hit with all the info of what you should avoid. Overall aromatic timbers like cedar and some pines for instance can apparently damage their lungs! Don’t get started on bedding – far out . Anyway as per usual it’s looking damn nice and I understand the methodology you are looking at. My build used up any suitable cutoffs/ scrap around the place but certainly presented some challenges in itself. Then the exterior grade paintwork. An evil necessity . All the best .
    Gavin

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Gavin,

      Thanks. I’d heard that cedar might not be best for animals for the same reasons that you mentioned. I was planning to paint the wood and reduce/eliminate the effects of any aromatics. I was concerned though that since cedar is so soft, the rabbits might like chewing on it. Knowing what Doug Fir does to chisels, I don’t think that the rabbits will want to sink their teeth into it.

      I couldn’t believe that $25 was the going rate for a cedar 2x6x12. I paid $7.30 for each doug fir 2x6x12 and those were nearly flawless.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

      • erikhinkston says:

        I’ve built many hutches out of Doug Fir, my rabbits chew everything. It’s expected, so I build it with replaceable parts and throw a 2×4 in every cage to try to distract them from the cage. I sell the commercially available hutches and get them free occasionally when they have a small defect. You’re best to build them yourself, they are not built to last as you have discovered.

        • Jonathan says:

          So far, the rabbits haven’t chewed on any of their existing hutch. That’s good, because it is falling apart on its own accord, without any help from the rabbits. I like your idea of putting some sacrificial wood in the hutch to distract them should they start being destructive. The new one should be a hundred fold improvement over the old.

          All the best,

          Jonathan

  3. Marshal says:

    Great post. I built a hutch last winter for Fluffy. 3 pound rabbit and a 300 pound hutch! Little over engineered. Had to laugh I used the exact same hinges! I used Doug Fir salvaged from a grainary grandpa built in 1953 with hand tools. I love the look of DF but it is difficult to work with those dense hard rings.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Marshal,

      That sounds fantastic. I love over-engineered projects. You are right about Douglas Fir. Those dense, hard rings are really tough on sharp edges.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  4. Pingback: The Rabbit Hutch - Part 2 | The Bench Blog

  5. Pingback: The Rabbit Hutch - Part 3 | The Bench Blog

  6. Pingback: The Rabbit Hutch - Part 4 | The Bench Blog

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