How to make a vivarium

Now that you have read through the requirements for a bearded dragon's enclosure, you may wish to build it yourself. Here is a step by step guide, with pictures of our viv as we were building it, including top tips we wish we had been told before we began to build ours!

Kit list

  • Wood
  • Glass
  • Runners
  • Air vents
  • Clear Sealant
  • Wood adhesive
  • Screws (countersunk)
  • Hooks (for hanging the heat source and UV light)
  • Tools - Screwdriver, electric drill, wood saw, sealant gun, spirit level, measuring tape, pencil
  • Backing
  • Habistat
  • Heat source (e.g. ceramic heat lamp with fitting)
  • UV light
  • Substrate
  • Timer (to regulate night and day on UV light)

Planning the vivarium

Making a viv is simple with the right preparation. There are a number of materials you can use from plywood and MDF to Contiboard, depending on your budget.

You should also take into account what the wood is going to be used for. An animal will live in this wooden box you are about to make and will go to the toilet in this, and also make a mess when in his/her water bowl. MDF soaks up water and will warp in time. It is a cheaper option but may be false economy in the end.

Contiboard also known as furniture board is a great product but can be on the pricy side. It is big and sturdy and has an attractive look to it. You can get this from places like B&Q and comes in a variety of different colours for you to choose from. The other positive about buying it from somewhere like B&Q, is that they will cut it to size for you saving you a tricky job when you get home. B&Q will cut the board for free up to 4 cuts and then charges you the small amount of 50p per cut. A price I'd be willing to pay to save myself a lot of aggravation, plus you will get a straight line which is something you will obviously need.

When buying Contiboard also look out for an edging roll. You iron this on to the corners after where the edging is not covered by the 'fablon type coating'.

Once you have decided on what you are going to buy you need to consider the measurements.

For a 4ft x 2ft x 2ft vivarium you will need to have 2 pieces of wood 4ft x 2 ft, and 2 pieced of wood 2 ft x 2ft. In order to ensure straight edges use a store such as B&Q for the wood as they will provide a cutting service and will cut the wood to your required measurements. You may need to smooth the edges afterwards.

Making the vivarium frame

To make this into a box shape, stand the pieces of wood up on the floor together in the shape of the box, resting each edge against each other. This will give you an indication of if the edges are smooth enough. If not perform any necessary sanding to smooth the edges.

Whilst these pieces are in the shape of your vivarium, you should mark where you wish to drill your holes for fixing the pieces together. Use a spirit level to ensure straight edges. This may require an extra pair of hands, especially if the vivarium you are building is large. Alternatively measure and mark equal spaces for each hole.

Drill atleast a hole in each corner (1cm in minimum) and one in the middle to ensure stability of the frame. Fix the parts of the frame in place with countersunk screws of suitable length.

Vivarium frame

Depending on the length of your vivarium, it may be necessary to add extra support to the back of the vivarium. Grab a piece of wood to be used at the back of the vivarium for extra support. Take some measurements to be sure of the centre of the vivarium and fix the backing support in the same way as we fixed the frame earlier.

Extra vivarium support

For the backing I recommend using Hardwood or Plywood. Take some measurements of the remaining space at each side of the back of the vivarium and cut the Hardwood or Plywood to size.

I would recommend cutting the holes for the vents before fixing the backing to the vivarium. Cut the holes so that the vents you are using fix snugly and then nail the wood to the vivarium. Insert nails at even spaces to firmly attach the backing. Then push the vents into place gluing them for extra stability.

Finally for the frame, we attached 2 more strips of Contiboard along the top and bottom of the front of the vivarium. These will be used to attach the runners to later.

Measure the required length and height (depending on how much of the front of the vivarium you wish to be glass) of each strip of wood. Cut the wood and smooth down edges where necessary. Measure and mark out screw holes equally along the vivarium and then fix the wood using countersunk screws of a suitable length.

Vivarium backing and ventilation

Fixing the vivarium background

There are many different vivarium background options to choose from. You can make your own or purchase one.

We used the fabulous Exo Terra Rock Terrarium backgrounds for our vivarium. These come in multiple sizes. We needed to use 3 to completely cover our vivarium backing. If you take accurate measurements of the vivarium backing you could get a background that fits perfectly. If not these backgrounds can easily be cut the the required size.

Adding the glass

Before inserting the glass we need to fix the runners. Runners can be bought quite cheaply for long strips that can then be cut to size and smoothed off with sanding paper. You will need to buy one runner larger than the other. The larger runner goes along the top and the smaller runner along the bottom. Fix the runners using a wood adhesive such as 'No More Nails'.

You will need to take accurate measurements for the glass. Measure from the bottom of the top runner (highest point) to the top of the bottom runner (highest point) for the height of the glass. Remember the glass will be inserted inside the runners and will also need some space so they are easy to slide along. For the width of the glass, measure the space left for it at the front of the vivarium and add another 4-8 cms (depending on the size of the vivarium) for overlap. We added 3 cms to each piece of glass making a 6 cm overlap for our vivarium.

The glass is possibly the biggest expense of this project and is not one to cut costs on. We recommend ordering toughened glass. This can be an additional £20 and ensures that should your dragon bang the glass, it will not shatter and potentially hurt your beardie. We also ordered handles to be cut into the glass making opening and closing doors easy. Stick on handles can be bought, but we found this did not work very well.

When inserting the glass place it into the top runner first. The glass should easily slide between the runners.

Inserting the glass

Vivarium interior

Attach the hooks for the UV light and heat lamp into the ceiling of the vivarium. Tape the wires to the ceiling and pull them out of a gap in the backing. You may want to drill and hole into the back to pull your your wiring through making a neat appearance and ensuring safety for your beardie. Ensure the hole is not big enough for locusts or crickets to escape.

Settle the substrate of your choice along the vivarium floor and place all decorations such as your hides, rocks, food and water bowl inside.

Vivarium interior

Completed product

The vivarium is completed. Set the vivarium on something strong enough to support it and as near to your height as you can.

Finished vivarium

Let your dragon loose to discover their new surroundings.

Happy lizard

Watch your dragon happily explore his new environment.

Exploring his new home

But he remains more interested in what we are doing.

Happy lizard