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Shoebox Rack Construction

Racks are a great way to house several snakes in an effecient manner, especially hatchlings.
Building a rack is not as difficult as many might think. The most important things to remember are make your cuts square, and keep an exact tolerance with the shelves to prevent gaps that would allow escape.

The rack constructed in this example holds 20 rubbermaid shoeboxes. I needed the rack this size to set on top of a sweaterbox rack I already have.
Keep in mind that racks are built to hold specific boxes. If you are using boxes identical to mine, then you can use the same measurements, but if you have different boxes then you will have to calculate your own measurements to fit those boxes. The boxes I am currently using measure 13.25" long, 8 1/8" wide, and 4" tall. They are the current size shoe boxes stocked at Wal-Mart in my area.
The same design and construction method can be used no matter what size box you are using.
Total cost of this rack including the flexwatt came to $45.

Click on the pictures on this page to see a larger version.

Materials

This rack worked out very well material wise. You will need one 4x8 sheet of 3/4" melamine. This should run about $25 at Lowe's or Home Depot.
You will need a total of:

To get this out of a single sheet, cut three 13.5" wide pieces the full length of the sheet.
Out of each 8' piece, cut two 35" long pieces, to give you a total of six.
Take two of the leftover pieces from these cuts and cut them to 25".

This will be all the pieces of melamine you will need. The two 25" pieces will be the sides, and the six 35" pieces will be the shelves.

Assembly of the Rack

I used 1 5/8" drywall screws to put this rack together, just because I had a box of them handy. The screw holes must be pre-drilled, or else you won't get the exact tolerance needed for the boxes.
Start by drilling three holes in the end of each 25" side piece.
 

For the best finished look, countersink the holes, as shown in the second picture. This will allow the screws to set flush in the wood and not stick out.

Now you will install the first shelf. Don't get in a hurry putting the shelves in, make sure each is positioned perfectly before securing it. I suggest you only drill one screw hole at a time, then tighten that screw before doing the next one. This may seem like the hard way to do it, having to constantly switch between the drill bit and the screwdriver bit, but I have found it to be much easier to maintain the shelf tolerance doing it this way.



 
I install the first shelf in this position. The holes are drilled and countersunk in the sides already for this shelf. Start with one corner, and position the shelf so it is flush with both the front edge and the end of the side piece.
Drill the first pilot hole in the shelf by putting the bit through the hole in the side and drilling into the shelf. Tighten this screw, and then drill the pilot hole for the next one.

Once the shelf is secure, set the unit upright for the instalation of the remaining levels.

Now set 4 of the shoeboxes on the shelf you just put in. This will give you the proper spacing for the next shelf.

Now set the next shelf on top of the boxes. With a pencil make a mark on the sides along the top edge of the shelf.

 
 
Take the shelf out and drill your pilot holes in the sides about 3/8" below the lines, then countersink them.
Now put the shelf back in and line it up evenly with the front edge of the unit.
Check the shelf tolerance before drilling your first pilot hole. Make sure the shelf is close enough to the boxes to make a snug fit, but not binding the boxes making them hard to slide.
Once you're satisfied with the position, drill and tighten the first screw, then do one on the other side to keep the shelf from pulling.
Contine this same procedure with the rest of the shelves. Take your time and make sure each one is positioned properly.
 
 
Here is the finished rack before the heaters and trim are added. Next we will install the flexwatt heat tape.

Lay the rack down on it's front. Slide in the boxes on some of the shelves as shown to use as a guide to place the flexwatt.
I initially was going to use 4" flexwatt, but the 4" I have can only be cut in one foot increments. I had some 3" on hand that can be cut to any length, and I decided to use it since two feet would be one inch shorter than what I needed.
I chose to solder the connections for the flexwatt, so I cut 4 pieces 25" long, and removed the plastic coating to prepare it for the solder before I attached the heaters to the rack.
For a more detailed description of this look at my Flexwatt Wiring Page.
 


 
Next I tacked the flexwatt to the rack. Oscar the Schnauzer came up to supervise. He expressed his approval of my work and retired with a barbeque rib bone.
The flexwatt is tacked with wire nails through the edge to each shelf. This serves two purposes. First it keeps the heaters close to the boxes, and second it creates a stop to keep the boxes from sliding too far back and leaving a gap through which a hatchling snake could escape.
If you chose to either not heat the rack, or to heat it differently, you will need to put a back on the rack or at least 4 wood strips to stop the boxes from sliding too far back.

Once the heaters are attached, we can move on to wiring them. You can wire them before attaching them, but I have found it much easier to do it this way.


I wired the heaters in series so that only one plug is needed to heat the entire rack.
Start by attaching the electrical cord to the top of one of the end pieces. Then you will run two wires from the metal strips on the bottom of that piece to the metal strips on the bottom of the second.
Continue this by wiring the top of the second to the top of the third, then the bottom o fthe third to the botom of the fourth.
Once completed, when you plug in the cord the electricity will be transferred through each piece to the next heating them all.
Just for reference, I connected the heaters together with 12 guage stranded wire I happened to have a spool of.
The 3" heat tape uses 10 watts per foot, so the entire rack which houses 20 hatchlings will use only 80 watts of electricity.
 


The contacts were taped for strength and to keep someone from accidentially touching them.


I would like to add a footnote to these rack plans. The most common question I receive concerns the placement of the flexwatt on the rack. I'll address that here.
My racks sit in a heated herp room, and that is the reason this method of heating works for me. If your racks will not be in such a room, use under box heating instead.
I have checked the temperature in the boxes with a Raytec heat gun and the temps were as follows:
Base of the back wall - 92F
Rear floor 2-3 inches from back wall - 84-85F
Front floor - 74-76F
These temperatures are achieved with the flexwatt running at it's maximum output. Even though this method does work for me, in the future I will return to using the under box method of heating racks. Heating from the rear is ineffecient, and I prefer not to have to run the tape at full power to maintain the temperatures I want.
So if you are building a rack I would recommend you go ahead and run the heat tape under the boxes. I will be building another rack using two different sizes of boxes and will make a second rack construction page for it. That one will use the under box method of heating and will be detailed there.


2001-2010
Clay Davenport
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