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How To Make A Picture Frame Grout Formicarium With Advanced Hydration

grout formicarium guide tutorial crystals advanced hydration chamois cloth picture frame

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#1 Offline Crystals - Posted October 14 2015 - 7:26 AM

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Many will remember my first tutorial, which was how to create a grout formicarium. 
Well, after several years I have changed how I do it.  It is much simpler and has superior hydration abilities.
 
Materials:
Picture frame with glass (cheap at the dollar store)
Un-sanded grout
Sand
Water
mixing cup & stir stick  (I use a disposable cup and skewer)
Chamois cloth
A mold to keep grout from escaping (I used a wood frame, but cardboard or lego work)
Cooking oil
Paintbrush
Glass cutter and sand paper
Tubing
2 part epoxy
Oil based clay (or any type of never drying clay)
Acrylic paint (optional)
 

 
 
How to make a picture frame formicarium with advanced hydration
 
 
Preparing And Pouring The Grout
 
Find a picture frame with glass.  Dollar stores and garage sales are excellent places to start.  Use care when handling the glass, the edges are very sharp.  I used a 5"x7" picture frame in this example
Take the glass out of frame and place the glass on a piece of paper so you don't scratch it.  Put the frame to the side, it won't be needed until the end.
 

I use Craftsmart Plastalina modeling clay from Michaels.  It is $3 and works very well.  If you microwave it, or leave it in hot sun for a while, it gets softer and much easier to handle.  I often work a few dabs of vaseline into it to ensure the grout won't stick to the clay (works wonderfully, but it is an optional step).
 
Take your clay and make a design.  I tend to prefer natural tunnel-like nests, but it is completely up to you.  Leave at least 2cm (1/2) between the tunnels and edge of the glass.

At this point, I advise putting everything on a flat tray or a larger picture frame, so it can be safely moved if needed and helps with cleanup.
 
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Make a frame around the outside of the glass.  I use a wood frame, but cardboard or lego work just fine.  This will contain the liquid grout.  This will ensure that your formicarium is the exact same size as your glass and the picture frame.  So try to ensure the frame is snug around the edges of the glass.
 
I have found a lazy way to make the perfect size hole for tubing - cast a small piece of tubing in the mold.  Cut a small piece of tubing and wedge it between the clay and the mold.  Use a bit of extra clay to block the opening if it is large.  It doesn't need to be a tight seal, grout doesn't flow very well into small spaces.  (Yes, you can skip this step and just drill a hole with the right size drill bit). 
I prefer to have at least 2 entrances, so it is easier to move a colony later.
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Brush on some cooking oil, I prefer olive oil, but any type works.  Ensure you get the glass, clay, tubing, and the sides of the molding frame.  This will help keep the grout from sticking later.
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Take a pinch of sand and make a small hill on top of the highest point of your water chamber.
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Now it is time to mix up some grout!  Ensure you are wearing clothes you don't care about, grout is corrosive to clothing over time and will eat holes in it if left several days before being washed.  I wear a leather apron, as I got tired of destroying shirts.
 
Take your disposable cup, fill it about 1/3 full of water. 
Add enough grout until it is a consistency a bit thicker than pancake syrup, but not as thick as ketchup.  Something close to golden syrup.  Add sand to it, to a rough ratio of 1:5  sand:grout powder.  Mix it in.  Keep in mind the grout will thicken quite quickly for the first 10min, so you can't go get a cup of coffee while mixing grout.
 
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We are going to spread this over the clay form, let the grout run ahead of itself as this will help avoid trapped air bubbles.  We are going to try to get about 1cm (3/8") of grout over the tunnels.  But we are going to prevent the grout from going on top of the sand pile on the watering tunnel.  We can add more sand to the pile if we need to (I tend to make my water tunnel clay form a lot taller than its neighbors).
 
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Take your chamois cloth.  Cut several strips of it and wet them, then squeeze them as dry as you can.  We want them faintly damp.
Take another pinch of sand and create a wider patch of sand above our previous sand pile.  Then put a piece of chamois down.  Add a small tunnel of sand down most of its length.  Add a few more pieces and layers.  Ensure that you do NOT cover more than 1/2 of the grout surface with chamois.  (If you do not have chamois cloth, you can use sand to make several thick branches, once everything dries, you can shake out the sand and have a long water tunnel where the sand once sat.  Doesn't work quite as well, but it still helps.)
 
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Mix up another batch of grout, a bit thicker than the last batch - it won't need to be able to form around tunnels.  (If you have some of the previous batch and it is still able to flow, you can use it first).  This batch does not need to meet any special requirements, it doesn't even need sand.  It will be the bottom of the formicarium.  If you want a lighter nest, or one with a bit more airflow, you can add some perlite or sand to this layer.  If you are making many nests, or a large nest, you can use sanded grout.  It is much harder once cured and cheaper to buy.  It is also quite water resistant (it won't work for the layer against the tunnels, but will work fine for the back).
 
Pour it over the chamois, go carefully so nothing shifts.  You want at least 1.5cm (1/2") of grout on top of the previous batch of grout.
 
Use a skewer to gently poke though both layers of grout around the edges where you know there are no tunnels and no chamois, this will ensure a secure bond.  You don't really want to stir, but to get some transfer between the two layers.
 
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You can use the skewer to level the grout, or shake it lightly side to side.
 
If you want the nest to sit at an angle once done, you can raise one edge of the formicarium.  The side of the nest that will be the top will be the lowest point, once dry it will angle the nest towards you.  This is another good reason to have a tray or larger base.
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Let the nest dry for a day or two.  It depends on the temperature and humidity for how long it takes to cure enough to handle.  It won't fully cure for about a week, once fully cured it is quite hard and not easy to remove the glass or carve the grout.

Edited by Crystals, August 9 2017 - 7:19 PM.

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#2 Offline Crystals - Posted October 14 2015 - 7:30 AM

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Once Your Grout is Dry

 

Carefully remove the mold framing.  If the grout is firm and has no give, carefully flip it over and lift the glass off.  Go slowly, lift one corner 2mm and then go to each of the other corners.  You will probably see the air appearing between the glass and grout.  Patience is key in this spot, you will likely have to go to each corner numerous times especially if it is more cured.  You don't want to break the glass.  For stubborn ones I pry one corner of the glass just a little bit and stick something between the glass and grout, a thin 1mm piece of plastic or a shaved down toothpick.  Then just let the object sit there while the suction slowly disappears.  Then move it in further.
 
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Often the clay will stick to the glass as the back of the clay was oiled and prevented the grout from sticking.  In my case the clay stuck to the glass, I have used this mold many times and will wrap it in plastic for future use as well.  I just grab another picture frame for some glass.
 
For the first 2-5 days the grout is somewhat soft and crumbly, like plaster - stable, but easily carved or smoothed.  When you are not working with the nest, try to keep it face down as much as possible until it is fully cured.
 
Pull the pieces of tubing out, grout may have come between the glass and the tubing.  Pull them straight out of the side and they usually come out quite easily when pulled with pliers.  You can choose whether or not you want to leave the surface grout intact.  I used a wood nail to scrape the grout away, create a nice ramp, and smooth the edges.  Use a skewer or nail to loosen the damp sand in the watering tunnel, then turn the nest upside down to let it fall it. 
You should be able to see the chamois cloth.  More sand will dry later and fall out - this is no problem, a few days later turn the nest upside down and see if more comes out.  (If you used sand instead of chamois cloth, use a pipe cleaner to try to loosen as much sand as you can and let it fall out).
 
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If you want, you can silicone a page protector to the back of the nest to slow water evaporation, or you can spray it with a rubber sealant (In the past, I have used a car rubber guard for a rocker panel).  Or you can leave it as it is for better air flow in the nest, with the chamois allowing water to penetrate deeper with little effort, drying out is less of a concern.
 
I like to add those little coaster feet to keep the nest off of any surfaces.  You can find them cheap at dollar stores, or make your own by siliconing some thicker pieces of plastic or rubber foam on.  I often end up siliconing/epoxying the feet on.
 
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Cut your tubing to size and use a 2 part epoxy to secure it.  Check that your tubing fits first.  Silicone is not rigid enough for a long term secure bond.  Add epoxy to the tunnel and to the outside edge of the grout where the tubing enters.  I tend to press down on the tubing until it hardens (takes about 3-5min), just to prevent the inside piece of tubing from lifting due to the "see-saw" action of the outside longer piece of tubing.
 
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You can use acrylic paint on the parts of grout that will touch the glass (Krylon paint is water proof and works very well).  Don't paint the tunnels.  (You can skip the painting step if you want).  (Yeah, I know, I painted mine before adding the tubing.  It is amazing how much dust I can smudge on the new paint job while adding the tubing.  Honest, add tubing first, then paint). Use epoxy on the outer edge of the joint as well.
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Take your glass and set it on top of your formicarium.  Mark where the edge of your water chamber is.  Place the glass on a stable surface and use a glass cutter to cut the corner off (Or if you have a diamond tipped drill bit and a drill press, you can drill a hole).  I use a ruler to run one line on one side, then flip it over and run a line on the other side.  I find it cuts easier this way.
Use sand paper to sand the edge down that you just cut.  You don't want to cut yourself later.  The original edges will be hidden under the frame later, so you can ignore them.
 
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Lay the glass on the nest with the frame on top, check if you can water it easily.  Also check to see if the glass is laying flat or if it is rocking a bit.  If it is rocking, check to see if a something is on top of the nest, like a piece of grout or sand.
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Clean the glass very carefully, ensure there is no dust or finger prints.  This will be the last time you will get to clean this side of the glass.
 
Run a bead of aquarium silicone along the edges and around the water chamber.  Carefully place the glass on and push it firmly down making sure that the edge of the glass lines up with the edge of the grout.  Turn the nest upside down and put a weight on the back and let it dry for 24 hours.  Ensure the glass does not move while doing this.  (You can use any 100% silicone with no additives, but I find aquarium silicone best handles the hydrating and drying if you store your nest for any length of time)
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You can silicone the frame on now.  Pull out any pins that hold the backing on. 
You may need to carve, dremel, chisel, or drill an edge of the frame so the tubing isn't in the way.  Use a marker so you know where your tubing is.  (When pouring grout you can move the tubing away from the glass so it will be below the edge of the frame once dry)
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Let everything dry for at least a week in a well ventilated area.  Then you can hydrate it and add ants.

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Edited by Crystals, August 9 2017 - 7:49 PM.

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#3 Offline Crystals - Posted October 14 2015 - 7:32 AM

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Alternate Method Of Fastening The Glass So It Is Removable:
 
I know how much some people like to be able to remove the glass and clean it in between uses.  It is possible to include 2 magnets in the grout casting, but I have 2 cats and I don't trust that method.
 
I don't have pictures of the actual method, but here is an idea.
The most secure way to have removable glass is to use bolts that are fastened to the picture frame.  (Looks a bit tacky unless painted, but if the frame is strong, the bolts will hold.)
Drill 4 holes - 2 on 2 parallel sides, just down from the corner (turn the frame upside down, you want the holes about 3cm (1") from the corner).  Get 2 flat straight pieces of metal (or some waterproof strong material) and drill two holes in the end.  These will stretch across the back of your grout nest.  The bolts will go in the front of the frame and join to the bars behind. The bolts do not touch the glass (which is good).  The glass is held by the frame, and if your grout nest is close in size to the glass, it will also fit into the frame indentation and will not move.   (If you want, you can epoxy the bars to the back of the nest once you have them positioned so they never move - my nests are almost the exact size of the frame so they can't go anywhere). 
This allows you to avoid silicone and easily clean your glass in the future.
 
(This was just a demo, in reality the bolt would go through a hole drilled in the front)
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Common Questions & Problems And Solutions:
 
Grout is cracking as it is drying.     Either the nest is drying too fast or an incorrect type of clay is being used.  When I tried to use homemade plasticine all my nests cracked.
 
Can grout mold?     No, grout does not mold.  Food or organic matter inside the nest may mold, but not the grout itself.
 
For Large nests, do I need to add extra support?      For an 8x10" or larger nest, I highly suggest buying a floor tile and once you have poured the grout, run several lines of silicone on the wet grout and place the tile on top.  It will take much longer for the grout to dry, but it will have a stable base to support the weight of the nest without risk of the grout cracking.
 
Will I need more water chambers in a large nest?     For a 5x7" nest with chamois cloth, one water chamber is fine.  For longer or larger nests it can pay to have more water chambers, each with their own chamois system so you can control which parts of the nest get damper.
 

Do you have any other tutorials?      I have many other tutorials and guides in the List of Handy Links (http://www.formicult...of-handy-links/) Which is pinned in the General Section.


Edited by Crystals, August 9 2017 - 7:59 PM.

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#4 Offline drtrmiller - Posted October 14 2015 - 7:40 AM

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Dynamite tutorial!



#5 Offline ctantkeeper - Posted October 14 2015 - 8:25 AM

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this winter, i might buy one of these if you sell them and i have the money. love the tutorial :)



#6 Offline specimen24-6 - Posted October 14 2015 - 8:46 AM

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well done, very well done   :good2:



#7 Offline Crystals - Posted October 14 2015 - 11:02 AM

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Dynamite tutorial!

Thanks!  Quite the commendation, coming from someone who designs so many different things.  :D

 

this winter, i might buy one of these if you sell them and i have the money. love the tutorial :)

I do have some for sale in the Marketplace section

 

well done, very well done   :good2:

Thanks!


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#8 Offline NightsWebs - Posted October 14 2015 - 11:28 AM

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Crystal thanks again for an amazingly easy tutorial.  I like the wicking method for hydration of the nest area.  I hadn't thought about it actually.  The magnet idea I like as well because you can drill/dremel the hole for the magnets and set the magnet with epoxy in the mold and the locking magnets should work on the outside of the glass.  You could also drill the frame so the magnets loosely fit, just for alignment, to make them fit together seamlessly and not scratching up the frame. Just some ideas!


Current Colonies;

Acromyrmex Versicolor

Dorymyrmex Bicolor

Pogonomyrmex Californicus
Pogonomyrmex Rugosus

Pogonomyrmex Tenuispinus
Novomessor Cockerelli
Myrmecocystus Mexicanus

 

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#9 Offline Crystals - Posted October 14 2015 - 11:43 AM

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It is easier to wrap 2 magnets in suran wrap and include them when pouring your grout.  :D

Then once everything is dry, peel them out, epoxy one in the bottom of the hole and epoxy the second one to the glass.

 

I suppose you could cut all 4 corners of the glass and adhere the magnet to the frame itself.  Not sure I would trust that though - too big a risk that someone would pick up the nest by the frame to get a better look at it or move it to the side for a second.

 

Personally, I would go with the silicone or the bolt system.  I have taken some of these nests to schools and science labs in my area - I would never trust magnets.  I need a more fool proof method - but if magnets work for someone, they can go right ahead and use them.  :D


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#10 Offline dermy - Posted October 14 2015 - 12:37 PM

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Really nice guide, excellent Idea to use the cloth to help with Hydration :D .



#11 Offline Huch - Posted October 14 2015 - 12:45 PM

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Good work.

#12 Offline klawfran3 - Posted October 15 2015 - 9:07 AM

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These look great! I'm going to adapt it with hydrostone and use magnets to hold the front on. Thanks for the good tutorial!


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#13 Offline Crystals - Posted October 15 2015 - 9:26 AM

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These look great! I'm going to adapt it with hydrostone and use magnets to hold the front on. Thanks for the good tutorial!

 

Take pictures, you can make a detailed hydrostone tutorial (something like mine).  :D

I have not been able to find hydrostone in my area, and I have yet to see a good detailed tutorial on how to make ant nests with it.  Although I hear it is somewhat like pouring plaster (or grout in some aspects).  Except hydrostone expands when curing.

 

Here is a link to Pros and cons of various building materials.

Not sure if it will help or not.


"Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astound the rest." -- Samuel Clemens

 

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#14 Offline klawfran3 - Posted October 15 2015 - 11:21 AM

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These look great! I'm going to adapt it with hydrostone and use magnets to hold the front on. Thanks for the good tutorial!

 

Take pictures, you can make a detailed hydrostone tutorial (something like mine).  :D

I have not been able to find hydrostone in my area, and I have yet to see a good detailed tutorial on how to make ant nests with it.  Although I hear it is somewhat like pouring plaster (or grout in some aspects).  Except hydrostone expands when curing.

 

Here is a link to Pros and cons of various building materials.

Not sure if it will help or not.

 

Sure thing. Once the magnets arrive in the mail I'll be sure to do a tutorial on it.


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#15 Offline antmaniac - Posted October 15 2015 - 2:13 PM

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Very good guide, craft at finest.



#16 Offline SaintDrake - Posted August 28 2016 - 8:23 PM

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I used this to build my first ever formicarium this weekend and it went great. The instructions and pictures here are so clear and helpful.


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#17 Offline KBant - Posted August 9 2017 - 11:00 AM

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Crystal, i was reading your tutorial but i can't see the pics to see what you're describing. is there any way to salvage these pics?

 

Thank you 

KB



#18 Offline Crystals - Posted August 9 2017 - 8:00 PM

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Crystal, i was reading your tutorial but i can't see the pics to see what you're describing. is there any way to salvage these pics?

 

Thank you 

KB

I have to upload them to a new provider and update the links.

I have updated them and they should be visible once more.


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#19 Offline KBant - Posted August 9 2017 - 8:42 PM

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THANK YOU! i did later see your youtube video too. very nice!

 

 

And i love the detailed step by step. I think i will make one with hydrostone too, and if i can't find it, ill use grout. ill plan to make mine a bit bigger, maybe 12 x 12, and maybe add opened up and straightened out paperclips to act as rebar for strength.

 

have you tried adding more depth to the chambers without compromised structural integrity? i think that would better allow for vertical nests if one wanted to go that route as well as add surface area to the chambers. cutting up some 2x4s and maybe wrapping them in saran wrap and spraying with vegetable oil can partially replace the clay to act as the mold! so essentially the 2x4, maybe 2x3, wood will be the chambers and the clay can be what connects the chambers. 

 

I think a good idea to add would be to add a single tunnel, maybe 2 for bigger nests, that runs the length of the tunnels either horizontally or vertically through which a heating cable can be inserted from the outside, going through a tunnel, thus warming up the nest and exiting through the other side. ooh i think I'm on to something. this should be fun!

 

i also love the idea of the connectors to connect future nests or outworlds. 

 

Chamois idea is great. any issues with mold growing in that little chamois tunnel?

 

also thanks for the idea of using a picture frame. i was thinking about getting custom cut glass, haha talk about pricy!

 

Also! to save time and expand the nest as your colony grows without having to make a brand new one, you can make the nest as big as you want!!!! all you have to do is tie some dental floss around a cotton ball, maybe add some glue to the cotton to keep it really round and secure. then plug up the nest halfway, or even 3/4th of the way so the ants only have access to 25% of the nest. it doesn't have to be cotton, it can be an old t-shirt square wrapped around steel wool in the center, connected to floss- imagine a balloon with a string. the dental floss will exit out of a tube that can later be used to connect an outworld or another nest. So when you want, you can pull the cotton ball out by simply pulling the floss and cotton through the hole and give your ants 100% access to the nest. Of course test it out a few times before you silicone that glass shut. you can even make it so that you can incrementally increase the space available to your ants. just don't pull the cotton ball out all the way and plug it further down along the way. so this would only work essentially if a main road connected all the chambers. imagine a main st./ blvd. with only dead-end streets attached, just block the main st. further down along the street eventually letting the ants into all the dead end roads. 

 

 

-KB (btw this is my first post ever)   :D


Edited by KBant, August 9 2017 - 10:28 PM.






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