The procedure for building a back wall is similar to the procedure for building a cave, and the same materials are used, so we simply combine both here and would like to describe step by step how to make such a thing. However, for a project like this, you should have plenty of time, some manual dexterity, creativity, and most importantly, a high tolerance for frustration. ;D
Materials and tools for building a back wall yourself
- old curtain remnants or (plaster) binding or something comparable
- Deep ground
- Colors with the Blue Angel symbol
- Terrarium sand
- Clear coat spray (for children’s toys!)
- Styrofoam glue
- Cutter knife
- Brush and bowl
- a dark thick pen and paper
- spatula and a tablespoon
Building instructions to build yourself
Step I: Cut and glue styrofoam
For a back wall, styrofoam parts are cut to size and glued with styrofoam glue to create so-called squeeze gaps, according to taste and preference. On the one hand, the ledges are then used for climbing around and on the other hand, the crevices serve as a safety and small hiding place for the leopard gecko.
For the cave castle, partition walls made of Styrofoam are now being glued in place for the "ground floor", so to speak. These should be about 4 to 5 cm high, because leopard geckos feel very comfortable in narrow hiding places, which they can also touch with their backs.
To help, you can also use a dark thick pen to draw the shape of the partitions to be created on the base plate, trace the lines on paper, cut out the paper and use it as a template to transfer it to a 4 to 5cm thick styrofoam plate.
Then another plate is cut to size. It should be the ground of the "1. floor" and must NOT be glued with the rest. For those who want the floors to end with the entrance holes, it is recommended to paint the edges of the lower partitions with paint, put the plate over it and press lightly, remove and then some of this paint also sticks to the plate and then you can cut the plate to size along the printed color line.
Now cut out again 4 to 5cm high partitions with the cutter knife. They’ll be stuck on the plate. Depending on how high the cave castle is to be, you can add as many floors as you like and insert them to fit exactly, but do not glue them on. Towards the top – at least in our castle – the footprint of the floors becomes smaller.
As a roof of the cave, a styrofoam plate is now placed on the partitions of the "upper floor" and pasted with styrofoam remnants. To make it look good later, the styrofoam remnants at the top should be flush with the back wall from the height. Now let the glued parts dry properly. This can be done quite quickly with styrofoam glue.
Now the basic framework is ready and the floors can be taken out individually.
Work step II : modeling with plaster
The styrofoam elements (tiers and base plate with the back and side wall) are now individually modeled with plaster, so that nothing of the styrofoam can be seen at any point. To do this, in a bowl, stir the plaster thinly with cold! water and then rapidly processes it. You can pour the plaster thinly into the separate spaces and then spread it evenly with the back of a spoon or with a brush. For large smooth planes, it is recommended to use a spatula to smooth out the poured plaster.
You should always mix only small amounts, because the plaster mass thickens rather quickly and then solidifies. Then you must not add any more water to it, because it will not bind well and will become unusable. So plaster that has set in the bowl needs to be thrown away and the bowl washed out before mixing a batch again.
To prevent the plaster from cracking as it dries out, a mesh must be incorporated into the plaster. This has something to do with the different expansion of different materials (styrofoam, plaster) with increasing temperature. For our purposes, old curtains are quite sufficient. However, you can just as well use bandages or plaster bandages or a similar meshed fabric. The fabric is cut into pieces for better processing.
If you want the cave or the back wall to look very natural, you should apply the plaster in a somewhat rustic way, i.e. do not paint everything flat and smooth, but as with rock or a cliff, make joints, crevices, protrusions, etc. model.
The parts of the cave that have now been modeled must then dry and harden well for a few days and then become much lighter again. Normally, after drying, no cracks should have appeared. If it does, it can be rubbed with a damp sponge; in the case of larger cracks, it is necessary to mix a little plaster once again in order to seal them up. But what also works well is, if you simply smear some styrofoam glue into the bigger cracks and let it dry. Very small cracks do not bother, so do not need to be repaired ..
Before you move on to the next step, check once again that the cave parts still fit together well. If necessary, you can use a sanding sponge to remove some plaster from a few corners and correct them.
Step III: Painting with deep primer
Once the plaster is properly dry, now take a thick brush and generously coat each of the cave parts with deep primer from all sides. This is important before painting, because the plaster is so dry that if it is not pretreated or sealed with deep primer, it would immediately extract the water from the paint. This then leads to the paint cracking as it dries, cracking, bulging slightly and then peeling off easily. Also before painting with 2in1 varnish, i.e. colored varnish with primer, depth primer is absolutely necessary. In addition, it has the good side effect that small cracks in the plaster are smeared by the moisture when applying the depth primer with the brush.
Step IV: Apply the paint
Half a day later, after you have applied deep primer, you can now paint the back wall according to your ideas. paint the parts of the cave castle all around with colored paint. Matt, silk matt paints are recommended. Glossy colors look unnatural. Low-pollutant, water-based paints are marked with a symbol, the Blue Angel. Only these may be used for such purposes. There are many different paint colors available in the hardware store. Unfortunately, but hardly any natural paints in spray cans (suitable for children’s toys; so also reduced pollutants and saliva resistant). This would make it much faster, but again, in the sprayed paint the sand does not stick to it as well.
Step V: Sprinkle with sand
As long as the paint is still wet – you can only paint small areas and have to work quickly – you sprinkle sand over it. This sticks to the paint and gives the object a look that is very close to nature. You can also sprinkle sand in different colors, for example light sand on protrusions and dark sand in crevices, joints and recesses. Theoretically, you can also skip this step if you like the color alone. This is a matter of taste. However, with sand the surface texture of the cave walls or the back wall is more advantageous for climbing for the leopard geckos. So they have more grip, so better grip. If you like, you can apply thicker color blotches in a few places and press pebbles into them, put some sand over it, done. This looks really great afterwards! By the way, it may only terrarium sand, aquarium sand or. You can also use gravel or play sand, because the grains are fine enough or have been rounded off so that there is no risk of injury from sharp-edged sand grains.
Step VI: Seal with clear lacquer spray
Finally, after the sand with the paint had dried well, we sealed everything with a colorless top coat from the spray can (only use spray paints that are reduced in harmful substances / solvents; suitable for children’s toys). Overall, this additionally protects the made from moisture and it can be cleaned carefree. The spaces inside the cave, which we have not sprinkled with sand, can then be cleaned with a damp cloth.
Here you can also vary the sequence of the work steps. For example, after the paint has dried, you could also use clear varnish for painting instead of spraying to seal the whole thing, and then sprinkle the sand on top of the still-wet topcoat. For a cave or a back wall for a rainforest terrarium or even a back wall for an aquarium it is indispensable to use epoxy resin / casting resin for sealing instead of clear varnish. This resin stinks a lot during processing (it is better to do this outside in the air), but when applied completely and all around, it protects and insulates the structure from water.
Step VII: Gluing in the back wall
When the clear varnish is completely dry, the back panel can be painted. in our case the base part of the cave (i.e. the bottom plate with the connected back and side wall) can be glued into the terrarium with silicone. By the way, silicone is not only available transparent, but also in a few different shades of brown in hardware stores. Gluing the cave castle in place has less to do with keeping it in place, and more to do with sealing all the gaps where the feeding insects would otherwise crawl into.
Finally finished: Assembling the parts
Now all you have to do is put the floors of the cave together and the little masterpiece is finished. The fact that you can take the cave castle apart, has two advantages: on the one hand, the easy cleaning and thereby enabling the greatest possible hygiene and on the other hand, you can remove the leopard geckos from their hiding places, if, for example, a vet visit is pending or a clutch is suspected in the cave.
We wish you maximum success and good luck!
Reading Tip: A very interesting article on the subject of hamster cage build yourself has written Stefan. In these he explains in detail what you have to consider when building a hamster cage yourself.
5 thoughts on" Build cave / back wall yourself"
- Anne Franke7. March 2014 at 21:51
What kind of terrarium plants did you use? I am just looking for ideas on how to set up my terrarium for my bearded dragons. In the process, I came across a forum on the instructions from you. I find your construction manual really great and you have written very beautifully.
- Nancy Jahn7. March 2014 at 23:02
Thank you so much for your positive feedback on the tutorial&&&
Plants, ehm…yes, no idea how they are all called exactly. I think succulents. Just look in a hardware store. There are species of cacti without spines or otherwise. You can take these without hesitation, leave them in the pot for better care and dig it with sand a little into the terrarium substrate. Otherwise, we also have artificial plants in the terrarium…
Good luck with the setup and design of your terrarium!
I have now already set up several terrariums, but your building instructions I find particularly good. I have also not yet seen something like this to buy. Especially your detailed pictures show me that you must have worked on it for a long time.. How did you get the structures with black and white so gigantic?
The picture with the shopping list, are these the real costs? Or just about?
How much styrofoam plates have you used?
Otherwise great description, keep up the good work… This is rarely seen on various terrarium websites… Even in forums this is not found. You really put a lot of creative ideas here…
- Nancy Jahn8. March 2014 at 00:30
Thank you very much for your positive feedback on the instructions, we are very happy that the work is appreciated! &&&
And yes, it was a mad work, I think three weekends have sat on it and have cursed a lot ;D I have not seen something like that to buy and if, you would certainly pay stupid and silly.
This is really the cost. So, if something cost 4.95 EUR now, I just put down 5 EUR. Can of course also be that in nem other hardware store things are a little cheaper or a little more expensive…
About this project cost 70 EUR (tools we already had everything there); expensive, if you consider how many hours of work are in there, but that is then at least tailor-made for the Leos, lasts forever, can be cleaned well, is totally light in weight, etc. And you still have access to the animals, if bspw. a visit to the vet is imminent, without having to tear down the cave and disassemble half the terrarium to collect the animals.
About the color gradient: I always first painted smaller areas thickly with the base color and then immediately drew a few broad strokes or blots with a thin brush with two other, darker colors (the color may run properly)!), then immediately sprinkle a lot of white terrarium sand over it, angle the painted area so that the paint runs a bit, cover it with dark sand, then let the paint run again and cover it again with white sand. This is how these structures were created.
I had four styrofoam plates in different thicknesses (think each an area of 1mx0.5m). There are some small leftover pieces, but the boards are so cheap…
I hope I was able to help. Have a nice weekend and thanks again for your nice comment!