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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just finished building a cage for my pet chameleon. It is my first attempt at builing anything out of wood. I usually sculpt alot of stuff out of foam, which I made the rock wall out of. The cage will be mounted on a table in order to make it stand higher. I was going to make a cabinet table for it, but I ran out of money :( I'll add that in later. 1st pic is my plans. 2nd pic is the finished product



 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the support. The foam is really easy to work with. I use the same type of foam that those cheap 99 cent coolers are made out of. You can buy it in 8 x 4 sheets at dry wall construction supply stores. Don't buy foam at craft stores in less you really need it or if it is a special type. Craft stores overprice everything. Here is the materials I used to sculpt the rock wall.

-Foam sheets (as described)
-quick set tile mortar (used as a hardener)
-concrete dye (use as a base color)
-various colors of laytex paints (what ever color you choose. Usually lighter than the base color)
-concrete acrylic fortifier (used to help the bond and make it more waterproof)
-big sponge
-A bunch of old house paint brushes
-Hot knife or anything like it
-kitchen steak knife
-various grades of sand paper and a sanding block

1)lay/draw out the shapes of the rocks on a foam sheet with a sharpie marker
2) Use the hot knife or steak knife to cut out the rock shapes.
(remember where everything fits. It will be like a giant puzzle)
I also prefer to use the hot knife because it cuts through foam like butter. With the steak knife, you need to score the foam and snap it off. If you want a smooth edge, you need to sand it down.
3) take a rock shape that you just cut and bevel the edges so they are not so square/flat. You can also use a wood burning tool to create grooves into the foam etc.
4)use a sanding block to sand down any sharp corners and smooth out cuts
5)reapeat steps 3-4 until all rocks are done
6)glue all peices down to another solid foam sheet and put it together how it was originally laid out. I used a foam to wood glue and a caulking gun.
7) mix tile mortar with just the right amount of acrylic fortifier in order to get it to a paintable thickness. You don't want it to be drippy though. (I don't remember how much I used, so you need to use your best judgement)
8) mix in concrete dye with the mortar mix in order to get your base color in.
9) Grab a paintbrush and start covering all the nooks and crannies of the foam rocks. Completly cover it, but don't make it too thick. Before the mortar dries, pat it down with the big foam sponge in order to get rid of the paint strokes. The strokes will really show up later on if you don't do this. Allow mortar to dry overnight and repeat at least 2 more times.
10) Next take a lighter color compared to the base color and use a dry brush technique to paint over the rocks. This technique is typically used in hobby painting, model railroad, sculpture etc. What you do is get a little bit of paint on the end of a large flat house paint brush and wipe it off on a paper towel. You want the paint to be practically dry. Then you gently brush over the surface of the rock. You don't want to cover all the cracks and fine details of the rock. You are merley brushing the surface. This will bring out all of the features that you carved out. I would suggest not using a color that is really close to the base color. I would go with something that is about 4-5 shades lighter. You want it to contrast. Start lightly and apply more coats if you think it is still too dark.
11)Do the same as step 10 if you want a third color. Usually the lightest color and it is applied very lightly.
12) After everything is painted, fill up a spray bottle with the concrete acrylic fortifier and soak/spray the entire rock wall. Let it dry and repeat as nessecary.

That's basically it. I wish I took pics during the process. Next time I do this I will take pics of my progress. Remember to use laytex house paint. You can also use acrylic and certain enemal paints. Spray paint will melt the foam. Some people use acidtone or torches to melt the foam away because it is faster. I don't recommend doing this because you have no control over what form the foam will take. Also remember to gather as much visual reference that you can. I looked at about 50 different rock walls and tried to mimic them in mine. Make sure that it doesn't look man made. That means, no perfect square, triangle, circular, or straight shapes.Hope this helps.

 

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Thanks a million for that description! I want to build a waterfall for my pond. I was considering using real rocks but its hard to do it in a way to control the water flow. Do you know how this type of foam would hold up outdoors and with water flowing over it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
This type of foam is water proof and mold proof. People also use it for fireplaces. There are foam cutting companies everywhere. If you can find one near you, they might sell you pre cut blocks of foam or custom cut peices that you need. The foam cutting companies usually work for construction sites and know how to coat the foam for specific applications. Last time I went there, they where making a bunch of fireplace mantles out of foam. The side wall at my house is made of foam sheets that where screwed against the original wood gate in panels. Then we sprayed it down with a product called permacrete.(http://www.permacrete.com/) It is like concrete, but way stronger. The finished wall looks exactly like a concrete wall. We had it for five years and there hasn't been any problems with it. The sprinkler water hasn'st caused any damage either. At the PermaCrete headquarters, they have a waterfall/koi pond that they made out of foam and permacrete.
 

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Hey Marc, thanks for the great info! I have to pic your brain a bit more. Let me give you some quick background info...we have a 2 story stick frame home, about 20 y/o. It has bad windows and faded dented aluminum siding. Some of our neighbors have done what I thought was stucco, but after looking at pictures on that permacrete.com, I think thats what they had done. Anyway, my wife and I have loved the look of the "stucco" houses since people started doing them around here but were leary about doing it. Now that I think this permacrete is what they are doing, I am really interested in talking to someone who does this, or if it is a DIY type project. Are you a permacrete installer? Did you find a local installer? How much per square foot is permacrete, installed on an exterior wall? I filled out their "find a local dealer" form and am waiting on a response. Thanks again!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I'm not a permacrete installer. But I know someone who is a certified installer/dealer. That is how I was able to try it out at my house. We experimented with different types of patterns and applications. As far as the thickness on my wall, the permacrete layer was probably as thick as a quarter.(coin) The stuff is supposed to be stronger than concrete. That is why we didn't need to put it on so thick. So far it is holding up with no visible cracks. As far as pricing, I don't know how much it costs. Since I agreed to help the guy out on some projects as long as he paid for the material. But I think the stuff is expensive because he made sure we didn't waste any of it or spill it on the ground. Your probably better off talking to the permacrete dealers if you want to know more about it. But as far as DIY. It is a fun and simple project, depending on how complicated you make it. If you do try it. Be careful because the stuff dries really fast. (in a matter of minutes). To apply it on the wall, I loaded a sprayer with a big hopper with permacrete and sprayed it on and someone else knocked it down to add the texture. It is a 2 man project because of the fast drying time.
 

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Thanks man! I am hoping they get back to me. I cant find a whole lot of info on the web, except whats on their site. I dont expect it to be cheap, I realise that its a big job, I'm just trying to get an idea and compare to stucco and sunthetic stucco.
 

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side question - are all those materials compatible with your chameleon? Did you seal the final project before putting him in there with something that won't harm him?

I only ask because I remember the insane trouble I had sourcing proper materials to custom build a rock sculpture in my moray eel's tank. Maybe that application just needed way more inert materials since they were submerged in saltwater, dunno
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
JoeBoy,

I made sure everything I used was 100% safe for my chameleon. It is all painted in laytex paint and I sealed it off with acrylic fortifier. The fortifier is harmful when you first apply it and you have to wear gloves. But after it dries, it makes everything like it was plastic. It gives it a water tight clear coat that you won't even be able to tell it was there. I made sure it dried out for two weeks before introducing my lizard to the cage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I've been researching how to sculpt some stuff for a fish tank too. I think because of the salt water, you would have to use some heavy duty materials or the salt water will tear it up. Someone else recommended using epoxy putty to sculpt stuff for tanks. Here is another link that I'm reasearching. It is of a company that sells different epoxy putties and materials to sculpt zoo exhibits. But I'm not sure how well it stands up to a salt water tank. http://www.polygem.com/zoo/zoopoxy.php
 

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I actually found a kind of cement I believe it was (almost positive, maybe a concrete) that was used by a large aquarium, so I sourced it out and used that. I used saltwater safe plastic piping, and had to cure the thing forever before it stopped spiking ph levels.

Here's what it looked like. There's actually 2 sculptures i made in there, one is a bunch of tufa rocks joined together, the larger triangle one is the one I made with cement / plastic pipes.
 

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I'm not sure if he ('killer', my 2.5' purple mouth moray) was in the tank in that shot, but the way they curl up/hide behind stuff I wouldn't be surprised if he is. Here he is, and some other species I had in that tank (after killer got bigger. He was supposedly full grown when I got him, and was a mis-labled species. His true species is very rare (nothing special about that, as there's tons of rare species of eels that pop up in stores), so it took a while for me to finally ID him when I realized that he was getting bigger. The store let me swap him since they sold him to me as a different name/told me he was full grown. The next inhabitants were a clown triggerfish and clownfish. (I knew they weren't compatible, unfortunately I never got to see the clown trigger mature enough to get vicious and kill the clownfish. The tank was sold before I moved cross country.)
 

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this is another tank I had before I moved, this one was totally not worth keeping though. It's a mini/nano/pico/etc tank (whatever buzz word they're currently going by haha). It was about half a gallon, it was so gorgeous. Corals, 1 tiny fish, plants, 3 phase lighting (daylight, dusk (which was awesome blue actinics), and moonlight). Everything was all custom rigged up, the filtration, lighting, and the shell, which I made from a sheet of rigid aluminum. Thing was sooo pretty, but was insanely hard to keep stable due to the minimal water volume. Evaporation was controlled by an IV drip unit, it was a real pita. Literally half an hour a day needed on that tank, just wasn't worth the time. I would only need to spend that much time a week on killer's tank, and the waste levels in there were a million times higher.
 

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Thanks a lot!

I'm pretty obsessed with fish, but I just moved from MA to FL, and have no current tank. I've made a deal with myself that I won't get another tank til I can comfortably afford my dream fish (Green moray eel - they get about 6' though, so tanks need to be over 1,000 gallons for them to be comfortable. That'll be thousands, so in a few years hopefully I'll be in the fish game again!)


What kinds of fish do you keep?
 

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Very nice. I've been thinking about doing something like this in my turtle's tank. I was thinking to make some small caves for her food to hide in; hopefully the fish will last longer that way. I was also thinking about building in some places to put plants.

How slick is it when finished? Will moss adhere to it?
 
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