The Iguana Cage Page

Building With Wood

Most custom cages are made, at least in part, of wood. Even laminated cages have plywood or particle board underneath. Wood offers many different style options. You can build cages using minimal tools (a hand saw, a hammer, and nails) and wind up with a functional design, or you can go for the gusto and build furniture-grade iguana condominiums using such power tools as table saws, routers, random orbital sanders, planers, and compound miter saws. (Guess what I've spent a lot of time building!)

The frame is typically made out of wood, and glass or wire is used to flesh out the cage. The exact frame design is up to you, but here I want to address different types of wood, tools, and techniques that you might want to consider before building your own wooden cage.


Hard wood such as oak, birch, cherry, walnut, and mahogany, is the type of wood which is typically used to build furniture. It is heavy, resists wear, and expensive. Oak and birch are two of the most affordable hard woods, costing between $1 and $2 per board foot. It is virtually impossible to build a large iguana enclosure using hard wood for less than several hundreds of dollars.

Pine is the soft wood of choice, and is the most common solid wood choice among cage builders. It is light and it is available in many grades. Knotty pine is the least expensive grade, but as its name implies, it can be a bit gnarly. A well-finished knotty pine cage, however, can look quite nice, especially if you hand-pick the boards used. Clear pine is the nicest grade, meaning that it is the smoothest available. It is more expensive than knotty pine, but is still more affordable than oak. Being light, it is easy to work with, but it is also susceptible to knicks and dents.

Plywood is a good choice for large cage panels, such as the top, bottom, back, and sides. Plywood is available in many thicknesses and grades, and the standard size is 4' x 8'. I recommend buying the thinnest plywood you can get away with, but remember that thin plywood will bend and bow if not sufficiently supported. Plywood can also be used for cage shelves and ramps. To save on cost, you can buy plywood that is laminated with a nice grade of wood on one side, and knotty on the other. Particle board is another choice for large panels, but it tends to be thicker and heavier than plywood.

Tools: (or, Jen slips into Tim Taylor mode)

I do not recommend building very large cages without a power tool of some kind. I would only tackle the most basic large cage (four posts stuck into the ground wrapped with wire) if the only saw at my disposal was a hand saw. Sawing through wood is time consuming, labor-intensive, and quite imprecise. However, if you take $100 and invest in a circular saw, a wealth of opportunity will be within your reach. Circular saws quickly reveal precise, clean cuts, and can also be used to slice grooves in wood (which you can use to hold wire or glass). Life in general is much sweeter when it is spent in the company of a circular saw.

Another power tool that nobody should live without is a power drill. I generally recommend using screws rather than nails for large projects because screws are more reliable. A power drill will help you in two ways: you can first drill a small hole where you want the screw to be, and then you can use a screwdriver bit to drive the screw into the wood. Power drills are relatively inexpensive. I don't understand the purpose of electric screwdrivers when power drills accomplish the same thing and so much more.

If you care about the appearance of your cage at all, I recommend buying some sandpaper. If the wood portion of your cage isn't very large, a simple block of wood wrapped with sandpaper will work wonders. If you are going for the sleek look of furniture, or if you have a very large amount of wood in your cage, a small sander would be a wonderful investment. My sander of choice is a random orbital sander. Very small, very easy to use, yet very effective. If you are building a rough cage for outdoor use, for instance, you may not care to worry about the look or feel of the wood.

If you're really into it, you can use a router to make your cage the best it can be. I use routers on all of my cages to create grooves for wire, and to round over the corners. Routers are only for the truly obsessive.

Wood Finishing:

I recommend finishing ALL wood cages. If not for aesthetic purposes, at least for protective ones. Wood, of course, is extremely pourous and will absorb water and wastes if left untreated. I generally recommend one of two finishing products: polyurethane or exterior paint. Polyurethane is like varnish. Two to three coats on bare wood will protect that wood forever. It is a clear coating, available in various tints. Alternately, if you prefer the look of paint, or if the wood is unsightly, use an exterior paint. Exterior paint is more resilient than interior paint. Both polyurethane and exterior paint is non-toxic when completely dry. Unless you really don't care about how your cage looks at all, sand your cage before you apply paint or polyurethane.