Friday, 19 July 2013

OOO, THE SWEETEST THING :-)

The simple fact, that Nutka has fallen in love with her new clay house, makes me burst with joy. I can watch her take care of it every day. Every day she leaves the nest to collect some new bedding material and hoard a little bit of food. I've noticed that parsley, apple slices and broccoli pieces are being most desired :-)





Isn't she lovely...? She really makes my day, you know. And it gives me pleasure to think out new improvements for her cage. I hope only the best awaits her :-)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

EXTREME MAKEOVERS BY NUTKA

Well, to be honest, my design didn't last so long... Don't get me wrong, I really loved the results when I removed the protective foil even though my burrow was a little bit lopsided. Quickly I put it into the cage for the Nutks'a review...


...which came in days: the little tenant didn't seem to be entirely pleased with the look of her new apartment and decided to rearrange the space in her own hamster way almost giving me a heart attack when I saw this upgrade by her:



Well, it seems like she needed just a couple of additional doors and windows ;---) It's a miracle this house is still standing after such a transformation LOL


THE LITTLE CULPRIT LURKING IN THE SHADOWS

Friday, 5 July 2013

THE CLAY NEST PROJECT

Dear fellow hamster amatours, today I'm going to share with you my way of building a fancy clay nest big enough to be suitable for an adult sirian hamster.


Depending on your creativity there are many different ways of achieving similar effect, therefore, I'll just describe what I did and why. You may follow my steps or just do it your way and remember: not everything always goes right, so be patient and keep on trying until you succeed. Just to encourage you, here's an example of my first attempt (more like a cannon than a burrow LOL):


It was a spectacular failure, to be honest: this 'gun' fell apart as soon as I took away the books and the rest of it was so ugly I couldn't look at it ;-) So I thought the whole idea over, changed it entirely and tried once again to finally succeed.


TO BUILD SUCH A CLAY NEST YOU MAY NEED:

- a damn good project (blueprints)
- 2,5 - 3 kg of self hardening clay (f.e. JOVI Terracotta, Fimo)*
- bowl with a little bit of tap water
- cutting tool (f.e. blunt knife, line)
- ruler
- big board (any that can be washed up later)
- big rolling-pin
- some forms to shape the clay on (f.e. old cage tubes, vases etc.)
- foil
- disposable gloves if you're alergic to clay (dirt), otherwise I recommend using bare hands 'cause not many things compare to the feeling of smooth, wet terracotta under your fingers ;-)  

* There are many different products on the market nowadays. Make sure the one you choose is non-toxic and animal friendly. In general, what's good for small children, won't hurt a hamster.


STEP ONE
 BLUEPRINTS

Think of what you're going to build: how it's supposed to work and look like in practice. Since I decided to make a burrow that consists of 3 removable parts (to allow easy cleaning), I badly needed a good plan to make it work and not to waste too much of the material again (which is not that cheep). That's why I made a few sketches even before buying the clay and chose the one I liked best.

At this point it was also crutial to plan the job and decide which sections will be done firstly and which - secondary. Wise planning may save you some material and effort. Of course, if you feel confident in the later stage of work, you don't have to stick to the blueprints. You may modify your plan a bit, to make it more  practical and interesting to an eye. As you can see, that's exactly what I've done.


STEP TWO
PREPARATION

It's very important to find oneself a free space to work undisturbed and prepare all the materials and tools needed, not to distract yourself later seeking them during the sculpting when your hands are dirty and your project is in progress.

 
As you can see in the picture above, not having one big wooden board I used two smaller ones. At this point I also decided that I prefer a curved tube (not the straight one like in the blueprints) to form the entrance tunnel. For shaping the main chamber I chose a huge vase (glass is good: the clay do not stick to it).


STEP THREE
 SCULPTING THE ENTRANCE TUNNEL

I knew I'm going to start my work from the element I considered to be the most complicated and potentially most tricky so the entrance tunnel it was. I measured and mixed two kinds of clay together (I wanted my burrow to be two tonned, but you may choose otherwise) just kneading it as if I kneaded pastry.



Than I used my rolling-pin to roll down this 'clay pastry' into thin layer, as if I was going to bake some cookies ;-) It has to be made slowly and carefully (you'll get the trick in time) not to tear the clay. The rolled down clay should be cohesive, firm and aproximately 1 cm thick looking like a huge, thick pancake.


As you can see, using this method one is able to create some fancy patterns as the two tones of clay mix together smoothly giving this interesting, marble - like effect. After I had my 'pancake' rolled down, I measured and cut the desired shape of a rectangle big enough to cover the cage tube (my mold) and freely reach the ground with both it's ends. One need to be very gentle while forming.





The pictures show I helped myself with two little glasses: I put the whole construction on them since I needed the tube just to provide this curved shape of my tunnel. There's also one detail you may be interested in: do you see this small something on the top of the tunnel...? Well, this is the joint part that will fit an adequate hole of the main chamber section. See, how smart you can get?



When I considered the tunnel section finished I left it to rest since the air drying clay needs few hours to harden itself. Keep in mind, that during this process, the clay (always!) shrinks a bit loosing it's capacity. So, what's next...?



STEP FOUR
SCULPTING THE MAIN CHAMBER

This is the core part of the project because we came to the element in which our little fuzzy friend will spend most of it's life hoarding, eating, sleeping, grooming and God only knows what else doing ;-) So it has to be big enough to become a comfortable hamster home. To get it done, firstly you have to act exactly the same way as in the tunnel case: measure and mix the clay (huge amount this time), than roll it down with the rolling-pin to get this 'pastry' texture. You can make it even thicker this time (more than 1 cm) since this is the main element of the whole construction keeping all the other parts in place.


Once again you need to cut the desired rectangle and wrap it around some huge tube (I used a glass vase) just to form it (sorry for no pictures, I totally forgot about them while wrapping LOL). Having the main chamber formed you may now gently remove your mold from the inside, cut the entrance and form it's shape just to make it fit to the premade tunnel section. Use the foil to cover it.


After you make a sufficient connection, shaping the clay all around the foiled tunnel and inside the main chamber (if the clay dries too fast you may help yourself by dipping your fingertips in the water), leave the whole construction like this until it hardens itself in the open air. It should look anything like this: 



It really doesn't matter that much whether it's straight or not. Just try to keep it as neat as you can, your hamster will enjoy it anyway ;-) In the meantime, while it's drying, you can make the last part of the burrow: the main chamber cover.


STEP FIVE
SCULPTING THE REMOVABLE LID

Since it's the last part, you may get crazy a bit and use all the clay that's left in the sculpting process ;-) Take all the steps like: measuring, mixing, rolling down and cutting the clay to get the desired lid shape (it may be round, but it may be rectangular as well, the sky is the limit). I chose a common circle and added three 'blobs' of clay in it's down side making an additional edging to keep the lid in place better but they're not necessary (Nutka ate them anyway LOL).



Having the lid hardened I realised that I'm not pleased with it's look. I got plenty of clay left so I used it to upgrade the lid and make it look like a real cover (I even added a little heart on the top of it, LOL). It took some effort (wet sculpting all around the edges mainly) and needed additional forming directly on the main chamber section protected with the foil, but it was totally worth it.



The construction was left like this untouched for next three days to let it dry definately. I wanted to make sure that all the parts harden properly before I put the burrow into the cage and leave it to the beasts ;-) The lid cracked a bit during this process (the clay shrinking, remember...?) but I didn't mind: it was like a scar on Harry Potter's forehead LOL, the visible sign of love bursting from my clay heart on the top of the lid ;-) Nothing left do be done but cleaning.