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:
- Search google images for some ideas and inspiration.
- 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.
- Start making a sketch or plan of the part that needs to be built first.
- Start building.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I cut the mortise portion of the bridal joints at the table saw.
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.
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″.
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.
I used a Stanley No. 220 that I have just finished restoring.
I tapered the ends with a mora knife. A dowel plate would be very useful right now, but I don’t have one.
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.
Once dry, I sanded the doors and rounded the edges with a ⅛” round over bit.
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.
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.
I installed all the hinges on the doors and then transferred the hinge location to the frames.
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.
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.
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.
– Jonathan White