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Fake Rock Instructional for a Reptile Enclosure

Updated on March 29, 2010
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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises and other exotics since 2003

Making Fake Rock

Making a fake rock background for your reptile's enclosure can add not only aesthetic pleasure for your, but entertainment for your reptile. By added ledges and a second story, you have expanded the amount of room that your reptile has to roam greatly.

I've created this fairly simple instructional on how to create your own fake rock background below.

Supplies:

(most items can be purchased at a hardware store such as Lowes or Home Depot.)

* Polystyrene foam- comes in one large sheet or a pack of smaller sheets

* Foam in a can- there are 2 kinds, make sure to get the kind that hardens. The can should say.

* Liquid nails- use this as the glue to stick the polystyrene together.

* Grout- comes in many colors

* Grout sealer- make sure it's acrylic or water based. I used aqua-mix

Step By Step Guide to Fake Rock

Making Polystyrene Fake Rock

Other Supplies:

* Poster board- to create a 3-d model

* Box cutter- to cut the polystyrene foam into a basic shape

* Dremel tool- to cut the polystyrene foam into a more curved shape

* Sand paper- to even out the polystyrene foam when cut

* Paint brush- to apply the sealer

* Latex or dish gloves- to apply grout and work with foam in a can (can get messy and a pain to remove from your hands!)

* Sand- to add a more realistic feel

* Brown paper- to cover the floor (I would recommend something put on the floor because this project can get messy.)


Directions

1. Draw out your design on paper. (Optional)

2. Take your 'blueprint' and cut poster board to create a 3-D model to the size of the tank.

3. Trace the sides of the tank onto a sheet of polystyrene foam and cut them out.

4. Use the dremel tool to shape the sides. With each cut, make sure to check to make sure it would fit inside your tank.

5. Glue the sides together and checked to make sure it would fit inside your tank.

6. Use excess foam to creat ledges, if your plans call for them.

7. Cutting the sides of the hides. Make changes as you go along.

(If the pieces aren't perfect right now, that's fine. It can be fixed later with foam in a can and grout.)

8. Shake up the foam in a can, and proceed to use it on the ledges and steps, which serves a duel purpose, making them durable and adding visual appeal.

11. After letting the foam sit for at least an hour, you can create a more rounded look by using your finger to add just a little bit of foam. This also filled in any gaps between the polystyrene and the foam in a can.

12. Add foam in a can to the hides so that they wouldn't look quite as square.

13. Once the foam in a can had fully dried and hardened, glue the hides to the back piece. Although there were some gaps, the foam in a can can correct the imperfections.

14. Once all the foam in a can was hardened, it was time to grout. It takes about an hour for the foam to dry, but I waited much longer to make sure it was settled. Make sure that the first layer of grout you add is a watery layer, this serves as the base coat.

15. Let the grout sit for 24 hours before adding the second coat. Make the second layer of grout less watery than the first layer. I'd call it a medium consistency.

16. Wait 24 hours for the grout to fully cure before adding the third coat. Make the consistency of this layer very thick. If you choose to add sand to the fake rock, do so on this layer. I took handfuls and dropped on the wet grout.

17. Shake the excess sand off, I used a paint brush to apply the first coat of sealer.

18.The sealer dries in about thirty minutes. Add a second coat.

19. Just to make sure I added a third coat of sealer to the entire fake wall piece.

20. I let the piece sit outside for a day before bringing it into my room just to make sure all the fumes where gone.

Misc. Fake Rock

You can use this basic fake rock design however you wish. I've made humid hides, regular hides, calcium dish holders, and decrative rocks. You can come up with various projects for your reptiles. I even created a large ledge to put in my bearded dragon enclosure so that my beardies can get closer to the UV rays. It, also, ads more space to the enclosure by having more than one level.

Cleaning Fake Rock

When cleaning the fake rock, you want to use a mild soap to gently wash off the surfaces. Thoroughly rinse the entire background, or small pieces afterwards.

You may want to reseal the piece after cleaning, just to make sure that none of the grout will flake off.

Fake Rock

You can choose from a variety of different grout colors for your polystyrene rock. The color in the above pictures is gray, as it was the only color available at the time. Many times grout will come in white, rust, brown, tan, amongst a few other other colors.

If you choose to paint the grout, you may want to choose a white, or light color. Choose any color you want of the acrylic paints. You want to stick with acrylic or water based products when building something for your reptiles.

Always, let the fumes air out before placing anything into your reptile's enclosure. You don't want to harm your pet.

Fake Rock Enclosure

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      ryancarlsonr 7 weeks ago

      cool

    • profile image

      Steph 5 years ago

      Thank you for this post! I used your techniques to make a cave for our Sunday School class. It looks awesome! So realistic! I've had such fun creating this. My question is that I applied the first layer of grout (really watery). It has dried completely and started to crack! Will these cracks go away when I add layer 2 and 3? Or will they get worse?

    • profile image

      thomas 5 years ago

      can the grout be substituded with plaster of paris i'm wanting to build one for my two bearded dragons and i'm using styrofoam packing from when i bought a crib for my daughter and liqiud nail and plaster of paris from crafts at walmart like the owner of my local pet store said to use and a few site too but i keep reading grout is better or can either be used?

    • profile image

      Clapton 6 years ago

      Your instructions are perfect!!! I was able to customize everything to my specification. Much better than the hides at pet stores. Although a bit more expensive. Thank you very much for this post!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 6 years ago from Georgia

      The items in instructional above are all safe for reptiles. I have used the above products for both bearded dragons, fat tail geckos, and leopard geckos

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      Sky  6 years ago

      Hey there I just had a quick question. I am about to make a wall for me geckos and I wanted to know if any of this stuff will hurt my gecko, Is there any after affects?

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 6 years ago from Georgia

      I wouldn't suggest it.

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      skyline82 6 years ago

      Hi,I was wondering if it would be ok to use this as a floor with a heat mat and would the polystyrene hold heat?

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      Jarryd 7 years ago

      I'm using something I found at home depot called TileLab Matte Sealer and Finish. It's acrylic/water based and the matte finish should be perfect. I'm not far enough along to actually use it yet though.

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      Yes, that should be fine. It's what I used.

      I'm not sure what polycrylic is.

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      Thomas 7 years ago

      Can the polystyrene boards be bought at Home Depot and/or Lowes as well? Also a similar method suggests using water based polycrylic. Would that be as safe?

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      Acrylic or water based is fine. I mented a brand at the top that I used and was great.

      I'd reseal maybe every 6 months or so. I'm not really sure if there's an exact time frame. It just depends on how much usage the pieces will get.

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      bearded dragon owner 7 years ago

      We are at the final stages of our new habitat and are concerned about which sealer to use. We have made faux everything, three sides and the floor with caves, rocks, stairs, etc. Our biggest concern is that we use the right type of sealer for this that does NOT harm our bearded dragon, and that is going to last when he poops and pees on it. :) (we already clean that up with clorox/water solution)

      Do you use an acrylic base, water base, or silicone base sealer? Great job as well. How often have you had to reseal?

    • profile image

      zoe 8 years ago

      we tried to make a water fall it does not work no matter what you try to seal it all with we still got leaks but works great for all other features

    • fritteritter profile image

      fritteritter 8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Very good tutorial, I wanted to do this for my hermit crabs but instead I bought several bricks of that green foam which is used for floral arrangements. It was easy and fun to combine the bricks and hollow out realistic rock caves but unfortunately it was VERY messy (green dust galore) and more expensive than your method. I have a ton of polystyrene sitting in our storage shed, so I'm definitely bookmarking this hub for my next hermit crabitat revision!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      I wouldn't recommend it for hamster.

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      Hamster Crazy 8 years ago

      I was wondering if I could do this for my hamsters. If they chewed it, would it hurt them? If so, is there anything I can do to make it okay?

      Great hub!

      Thanks!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      It shouldn't really crack off. Just apply the second coat and see if it helps. Make sure that the second coat is thicker than the first, which should have been soupy.

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      scott 8 years ago

      I have put the first thin layer of grout on and now that it is dry, it seems that everywhere that I touch, the grout falls off. Will it stop falling off after the third layer? Thanks.

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      foam in a can is relatively inexpensive. the overall project can get pricey depending on how large a a piece you make. I think grout is usually like $10, $10-$20 sealer, $5-$10 for styrofoam boards, $5 glue, $5 foam in a can. All HIGHLY estimated pices as it's been years since I've purchased any of these products. You'll probably get out around $50-$75+

    • mayyam profile image

      mayyam 8 years ago

      wow! this is wonderful.

      i really want to make something like this for my leopard gecko and i was wondering approximatly how much this would cost.

      I'm a college student, so i'm on a pretty tight budget, and when i googled foam in a can all i got was really expensive (like 90$ things).

    • profile image

      Rav 8 years ago

      im doing mine now ive been researching for ages and i found most peeps start the grouting really thin like Whit but apply 6 coats- not to say get really thick with the grout but each time do it a lil thicker

      nice job though whit ill post mine soon

    • profile image

      lankie 8 years ago

      man whitney bad a idea never thought of doing that going to have to set up a rock wall an hi die hole tomorrow for my savannha monitor thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      I don't think that it would matter, as long as you properly seal it.

    • profile image

      cameron 8 years ago

      hey is this sanded or unsanded grout? does it matter really?

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      If you have the extra grout, it wouldn't hurt to do the third layer anyway. It's better that it's there, especially as he first layer should have been pretty soupy and thin.

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      cameron 8 years ago

      Hey, I am on the second coat of grout for my background and was wondering does there have to be 3 coats? i made my first coat super thick so i dont know if its neccisary for a 3rd coat.

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      cameron 8 years ago

      thanks a lot! very helpful because of you i decided to make a background for my bearded dragons cage. all 40 gallons of it bacck and both sides lol........... its taking a TON of grout but it will be worth it in the end.great work on this guide

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      I dont think that the damp sponge would work in its entirety but you could try. What you're trying to do is get rid of the excess fumes, not the sealant.

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      Grace 8 years ago

      Alright then I guess I over did it with the sealant. Sorry, last question, do you think a damp sponge would take off any excess sealant?

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      No. It's supposed to be a solid feel, pretty smooth. Not waxy.

    • profile image

      Grace 8 years ago

      Is the sealant supposed to feel a bit waxy?

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      I wouldn't suggest putting it in the oven. I would try to just air it out some more.

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      Grace 8 years ago

      I've made a fake rock for my families pet leapord gecko. I found a water based grout sealer. I left the rock to vent fumes for about 48+ hours. However I found especially when I put in in her tank, the heat lamp seems to have activated more of the fumes because it smells strong of the sealer once I have the heat lamp over it. I'm debating on putting the whole thing in the oven, warm it up to the lowest heat, thurn it off, let it cool a few minutes and then put in the rock. I'm guessing it's possible that the heat is releasing what moisture is left. Not sure what else I can do...

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      reptihabitat 8 years ago

      I have been building these for years and i use them in all different types of enclosures. For snakes, my beardie, in a monitor cage, in a fresh water fishtank. BUT I use vinly patch cement or fiberglass cement. It is a hell of a lot stronger, holds up to water better and looks and feels better. Everything that I glue on is also held with nails and wires. anything that is big like a ledge I use supporting braces under it too.

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      You'll want to use liquid nails to glue the polystyrene. If you use the foam in a can, it won't be very stable.

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      Luke 8 years ago

      what did you glue the polystyrene with as ive heard superglue destroys it completely. Prick stick would work at all. could u just use the foam from the can and then slice it of at the edges?

      thanks luke

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      it is possible. You would want to purchase thicker styrofoam boards and make sure that you put a good stable last layer of grout, following the instructions ab with the 1st layer waterery, 2nd less watery, and 3rd pretty thick. Otherwise, the wood would be a good idea as well. You'll just want to make sure to use wood glue and maybe even nails, but make sure to cover any sharp points and fill in any holes. The grout would be a neat additive to make the wood more realistic if you do want the rocky look. I think that the support of the foam would depend on how long the cat sat in the same spot. Definitely consider the wood, as an alternative.

      I'm glad that the instructions have been able to help you.

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      Gen 8 years ago

      I'm looking for information on building a rocky crevice, but I want it for my cat. She's part bobcat, so she has this horrid obsession with den-like things. Is there any chance that this method of faux rock could support a 15-20lb weight? What I want to do is build up a base rock of about 8-10" tall by stacking up foam, and then build sides and a back of about 2" thick and 6-8" tall, and then lay a thick roof over top, maybe 6" or something. I think foam might give out if she jumps on top, and I might need a wood frame and then do the foam-shape-grout-seal trick on that. But this would be easier, so I thought I might ask if you happen to already know that it will or won't work for a heavy critter. The pics are really helpful, by the way... I've seen these directions four times now in my search, and this is the first time they all make sense!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      The grout gives the rock a realistic feel, it holds the styrofoam, and it makes the piece more sturday.

      The sealant protects the grout from falling appart and crumbing, as well as from water.

    • profile image

      Bob for Apples 8 years ago

      What purpose does the grout provide? Does it help hold it together, sealent against water, or keep the gecko safe from toxins? It is not crucial but I would like to know.

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      i wouldn't recommend it, but i'm sure that it is possible. you would need to seal the fake rock frequently, i would think, but I'm not 100%.

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      james b 8 years ago

      can you make water falls out of that, and will it hold the water

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      I'm really not sure. You would need to carefully seal it with a waterproof sealer probably.

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      Jman 8 years ago

      can these fake rocks be used underwater as well? say in a acutal aqarium?

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      beca shine 8 years ago

      awesome your instuctions are so simple and i love the pictures you added. thank and my bearded dragons will love this!

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      I would stick with new grout just to be sure. You will want to make sure to cover the grout with an acryllic sealer and let it dry for at least 24 hours before putting it in the tank

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      Tommy 9 years ago

      Can it be any old grout because i have some in the garde but it can cause eye irratations

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      I'm not 100% about carpet python enclosures. I assume if you made something simple, you would be fine. Just make sure to let it fully air out before you put it in the enclosure.

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      Does it matter? LOL! ;) 9 years ago

      Hey, awesome background. Do you thnk it would be ok for me to make a much larger one to cover the back of my jungle carpet pythons enclosure? It is a very BIG enclosure so, yeah. THANX!! ;)

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      adam 9 years ago

      do you think it will be hard to make a much larger scale one for my iguanas tank its 5ft tall and 3 ft wide lol

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      Dylan  9 years ago

      Thanks that looks so AWESOME! I'm going to build one in my leos new enclosure. Thanks again

    • Whitney05 profile image
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      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      I guess you don't have to. I did mine in an outdoor padio. You just want to watch out for the fumes. I think outdoors would be better, so you're not catching all the fumes and because of the mess. But you could do it indoors, if you chose. Just watch the mess and the fumes.

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      Danielle 9 years ago

      Thanx a lot! I am so going to make something like that. So you have to do it outside?

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