How to Build A Tortoise Table: A Beginner-Friendly Guide

A tortoise table is an enclosure type with an open top providing more airflow and a more open environment. A tortoise table is one of the most adopted enclosures due to its open space and airy atmosphere. The table is made to provide a living area for a tortoise mimicking its natural habitat. This type of enclosure is the best option for an indoor enclosure allowing the tortoise to get healthy airflow and do other activities, including basking under the heat lamp. However, using an open-top tortoise table can be tricky in an area with unstable weather because it can be challenging to control the temperature. 

You can find a tortoise table easily online, but you can also make a tortoise table DIY for a custom table that better suits your tortoise needs. Building a homemade indoor tortoise enclosure is easy when you have all the materials needed. This article will guide you to build your own tortoise table with less hassle.

Size and Materials

how to build a tortoise table

The size of a tortoise table varies depending on the tortoise size. Ideally, it should be at least four times the length and twice the width of the tortoise. However, it will be better to make the table larger to provide a spacious area for your tortoise to roam and do its daily activities. You may also make a tortoise that is large enough so it can still be suitable when your tortoise grows into a bigger size. 

Generally, a tortoise table is made of wood or plastic. You need to ensure the material is solid and sturdy enough to hold the tortoise in case they try to break the table. The material should also be safe for the tortoise’s health and doesn’t produce any debris that can be dangerous for their respiratory system.

What are some eco-friendly materials that can be used to build a tortoise table?

By using these eco-friendly materials, you can create a tortoise table that is both sustainable and safe for the tortoise. Several eco-friendly materials can be used to build a tortoise table, such as:

  • Reclaimed Wood

The repurposed old wood material reduces the demand for new lumber, making it a better material option that is good for the environment. Reclaimed wood is also solid and sturdy as a tortoise table material.

  • Bamboo

Bamboo grows quickly and makes a durable material. It can be used to construct the frame of the tortoise table.

  • Cork

A renewable material harvested from the bark of cork oak trees. It can be used as a flooring material for the tortoise table.

  • Recycled Plastic

You can use recycled plastic to construct the tortoise table. By using recycled plastic, you help reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment.

  • Natural Stone

Natural stone can be used to construct the tortoise table. It is a durable, eco-friendly material that can help mimic the tortoise’s natural habitat.

How big should a tortoise table be for one or two tortoises?

As mentioned above, the size of a tortoise table depends on each tortoise’s size. The general rule is to provide a table at least four times the tortoise’s length and twice the tortoise’s width. You should double the size to place two tortoises on the same table. And if you keep more than two tortoises on the same table, you can add 50% of the table size for each extra tortoise. This will provide a spacious area for each individual to explore, interact, and hide in their individual hiding spots when needed.

Design The Frame

how to build a tortoise table

Designing a tortoise table frame depends on your tortoise’s needs, available area, personal taste, and the materials you plan to use. Here are some general steps to follow when designing a tortoise table frame:

  • Determine the size of the frame

Based on the size and number of tortoises you plan to keep, determine the size needed. Ensure you get the correct measurement since the frame will make the general base and shape of the table.

  • Choose the material

There are several materials you can use for the frame, including wood, bamboo, or PVC pipes. Choose a material that is sturdy and able to withstand the tortoise’s weight.

  • Cut the pieces to size

Using a saw or other cutting tool, cut the parts of the frame to the appropriate size. Consult an experienced woodworker if you need to.

  • Assemble the frame

Using screws, nails, or other connectors, assemble the pieces of the frame together. You can use a level to ensure the structure is even and stable.

  • Attach the legs

If you plan to elevate the tortoise table, attach the legs to the bottom of the frame. Make sure the legs are sturdy and stable.

  • Sand and finish the frame

Sand the rough edges of the structure and finish with a coat of sealant or paint to protect it from moisture.

Is It Possible to Build a Tortoise Table that Can Be Expanded as My Tortoise Grows?

how to build a tortoise table

Yes, building a tortoise table that can be expanded as your tortoise grows is possible. Here are some ways to achieve it

  • Modular design

You can design the tortoise table modular, with individual sections that can be added or removed as needed. This allows you to adjust the size of the tortoise table as your tortoise grows.

  • Adjustable legs

You can build the tortoise table with adjustable legs, allowing you to raise or lower the height of the table as needed. This can help accommodate a growing tortoise or changes in the substrate.

  • Removable walls

You can build the tortoise table with removable walls, creating a customizable living space for your tortoise. You can remove barriers to create a larger living space as your tortoise grows.

  • Expandable materials

Expandable materials, such as mesh or netting can be used, to create a flexible living space for your tortoise. As your tortoise grows, you can expand the enclosure by adding more materials.

Create The Base

how to build a tortoise table

The base is an essential part of a tortoise table. Here are some steps to follow when creating the tortoise table base:

  • Choose the material

The base of the tortoise table should be made from a sturdy and durable material, such as plywood or particleboard. Ensure the material can support the weight of the substrate, decorations, and the tortoise’s body weight.

  • Measure and cut the base

Measure the dimensions of the tortoise table frame and cut the base to the appropriate size. The base should fit snugly within the frame without any gaps that can trap the tortoise.

  • Sand the edges

Sand the edges of the base to smooth out any rough spots or splinters to prevent your tortoise from getting injured.

  • Seal the base

Apply a coat of sealant or paint to protect it from moisture and wear. A sealant also helps make the base easier to clean.

What Special Features Can I Include in A Tortoise Table for A Specific Tortoise Species?

how to build a tortoise table

You can include several features to ensure the habitat meets the needs of the particular species. Here are a few examples:

  • Lighting

Tortoises require UVB lighting to produce vitamin D3, essential for bone health. Ensure that the lighting system is appropriate for the species you are keeping and that the bulbs are replaced every 6-12 months.

  • Hiding spots

Tortoises like to hide, so provide ample hiding spots in the enclosure. This can include rocks, wooden logs, or plants.

  • Climbing spots

Some species, such as Russian and African tortoises, are good climbers. Make sure you add several climbing spots made of rocks and wooden logs.

Add a Ramp

how to build a tortoise table

To create a suitable environment similar to the natural habitat, you must design the area with different elevation levels. For example, the basking area is usually higher than the base level, so the tortoise can get closer to the basking light. Add a ramp and a sloped surface connecting the higher and lower area to provide the tortoise with easy access to the different levels. 

The ramp provides the tortoise with easier access and encourages them to move. Use a sturdy material that can hold the weight of the tortoise, and make sure that the surface is not slippery to avoid them from falling.

Basking Lamp

how to build a tortoise table

A basking lamp is essential to maintain the tortoise’s body temperature and overall health. No matter what kind of tortoise you keep, be sure to provide a proper basking lamp. The temperature varies depending on the species and individual needs. Do your research to know the correct temperature of the tortoise you keep. 

What Type of Lighting and Heat Source Should I Include in A Tortoise Table?

The type of lighting and heat sources also varies for each species. Below are general guidelines on the lights and heat sources you should include in a tortoise table.

  • UVB light

All tortoises require UVB lighting access to help synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for proper bone health. The lighting should be on for 10-12 hours per day.

  • Basking light

In the wild, tortoises bask in the sun to raise their body temperature, which helps them digest their food and stay healthy. In captivity, providing a basking light allows tortoises to simulate this natural behavior and receive the necessary heat to thrive.

  • Heat emitter

A heat emitter is crucial in keeping the enclosure within the appropriate temperature range. It will differ for each tortoise’s needs, so you have to research and adjust the heat for their specific needs. 

  • Heat pad

Sometimes, during the winter, the tortoise will need additional heat during the night to prevent them from getting too cold. You can install the heat pad on the base under the substrate to create a properly warm environment, especially during the night when the basking light is off.

Add Substrate

how to build a tortoise table

A substrate is an essential part of a tortoise environment. Tortoises love to dig in the wild, and some species love to burrow. Provide the substrates that are suitable for your specific tortoise type. The best way is by getting a substrate made specifically for tortoises. The substrate should be free from harmful chemicals because some tortoises may accidentally swallow it. Be mindful of the substrate type and sizes. Some tortoises love to nibble and some types of substrates such as sand can easily get eaten and clog their digestive system. You also need to ensure the substrate is free of sharp edges so the tortoise doesn’t get hurt.

How Should I Set Up The Substrate in A Tortoise Table?

There are a few things to keep in mind when setting up the substrate in a tortoise table below:

  • The substrate should be deep enough to allow the tortoise to dig and burrow if desired. The depth of the substrate should be at least 2-3 inches, with several areas being higher and deeper for a more natural look.
  • The substrate should be kept clean and free of mold or bacteria. Remove feces or uneaten food daily, and replace the substrate every 1-2 months.
  • If using a natural substrate like topsoil and sand, you may need to sterilize it before use to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria or parasites.
  • Some tortoise species are prone to impaction, which can occur when they ingest substrate while eating. If you are concerned about impaction, consider using a substrate like a coconut coir that is less likely to cause problems.

Can I Build a Tortoise Table with Multiple Levels?

how to build a tortoise table

Yes. Building a multi-level tortoise table is even recommended to provide more areas with different temperatures to explore. You could connect different levels with ramps, platforms, or even small stairs. Make sure that any ramps or stairs are not too steep, as tortoises can have difficulty climbing steep inclines. Ensure that the ramp and higher level of the table are strong and stable since a wobbly ramp can be dangerous for the tortoise.


how to build a tortoise table

When decorating a tortoise table, it should meet the tortoise’s needs to explore, feed, bask, and do other activities. First, do research regarding your tortoise and its natural environment. The decorations should be inspired by their natural habitat. For example, tortoises originating from arid and deserted areas may need more rocks in their enclosure, while tropical tortoises may need more moss and various plants.

What Kind of Decorations Can I Include in A Tortoise Table?

Here are some suggestions for decorations that could enhance your tortoise’s living space:

  • Rocks and Logs

Adding stones and logs to your tortoise’s enclosure can provide hiding places, climbing opportunities, and even a surface for basking.

  • Plants

Tortoises enjoy nibbling on plants, so consider adding some edible plants to their enclosure, such as dandelion, clover, or hibiscus. Just ensure that the plants you choose are safe for your tortoise to eat.

  • Hiding caves

Tortoises like to have a place to retreat when they feel stressed or threatened. You can create hiding caves using rocks, logs, or hollowed coconut shells.

  • Small hills

when placing the substrate, you can make it not just flat but with different heights and even create small hills for the tortoise to climb.

Create a Hiding Place

how to build a tortoise table

Creating a hiding place for your tortoise is important to give them a safe and comfortable space to retreat when they feel stressed or threatened. Here are some steps to create a hiding place for your tortoise:

  • You can use various materials to create a hiding place for your tortoise, such as a hollowed-out coconut shell, a clay pot, or a hollowed wooden log. Just ensure the material is safe for your tortoise and won’t cause any harm if ingested.
  • The hiding place should be large enough for your tortoise to fit inside comfortably. As a general rule of thumb, the hiding place should be at least 1.5 times the length of your tortoise.
  • Create an entrance for your tortoise to access the hiding place. You can use a hollowed wooden log or cut a hole in the side of the coconut shell.
  • Add some substrate to the bottom of the hiding place to keep the hiding space comfortable and allow the tortoise to dig or burrow when needed.
  • Place it in a suitable place, usually in the cooler area of the table.

Add a Water Dish

how to build a tortoise table

Tortoises need a shallow water dish to soak in and drink from. The water dish should be large enough for the tortoise but not too deep so they can soak comfortably while keeping their heads above water. You can make the water more interesting by adding some smooth rocks or interesting water features such as a small fountain. Make sure to keep the water fresh and clean by changing it daily.

How can I make the tortoise table easy to clean and maintain?

how to build a tortoise table

There are several ways you can do to make the tortoise table easy to clean below: 

  • Choose the suitable materials

Some materials are easier to clean and maintain. For example, plastic or melamine is easier to wipe down and sanitize, while wood may be more challenging to clean and may absorb odors.

  • Use padding under the substrate

Paddings such as newspaper, paper towels, or rubber mats made for reptile housing under the substrate can make cleaning your tortoise table much easier.

  • Provide a designated feeding area

Feeding your tortoise in a designated spot can help you manage the mess and make it easier to clean up. You can use a plastic or ceramic dish that is easy to clean and sanitize.

3 Best DIY Tortoise Table Ideas

To help you get started, here are our top picks of the best indoor tortoise table ideas to inspire you:

1. Tiered Tortoise Table

how to build a tortoise table

A tiered tortoise table is a great way to give your tortoise more space without taking up too much floor space in your home. The table has multiple levels or tiers connected by ramps or steps. Each story can be customized with different substrates, hides, and basking areas.

2. Terrarium Tortoise Table

how to build a tortoise table

A terrarium tortoise table is a unique option that allows you to create a lush and natural-looking habitat for your tortoise. The table has a glass or acrylic front and can be decorated with live plants, rocks, and other natural elements. A heat lamp and UVB bulb can be installed inside the terrarium to provide the necessary heat and light for your tortoise.

3. Rock Wall Tortoise Table

how to build a tortoise table

A rock wall tortoise table is a creative way to incorporate a climbing feature into your tortoise’s habitat. The table is built with a back wall made of rocks or stones, arranged to create ledges and crevices for your tortoise to climb on. The rest of the table can be customized with hides, basking areas, and substrate to create a comfortable living space for your tortoise.


Providing a suitable habitat is every pet owner’s responsibility. A tortoise table is something you may want to consider making yourself. Not only can you provide an environment specifically for your tortoise’s needs, but it is also a fun activity to do in your free time. You can channel your creativity, have fun decorating the enclosure, and add different features to create the ultimate custom tortoise home. It takes woodworking skills as well as creativity. If you are a beginner, you can first learn about basic woodworking and construction skills so you can build a tortoise table that is strong and sturdy, making it a safe environment for your tortoise to live in.

Are there any safety considerations to consider when building a tortoise table?

Yes, there are several safety considerations to keep in mind when building a tortoise table to ensure the health and safety of your tortoise. Choose non-toxic and safe materials for your tortoise in case they accidentally chew on or ingest. The tortoise table should be large enough to accommodate your tortoise’s size and allow for comfortable movement. The table should also be escape-proof with no holes or gaps since tortoises like trying to escape.

How can I incorporate live plants into a tortoise table?

If you make an indoor tortoise table, plant the plants in pots instead of directly in the substrate. This way, you can clean the table and change the substrate easier. You can even take the pot out to get water and sunshine during cleaning. Make sure the plants are non-toxic for the tortoise in case they chew on them. The plants should also get adequate light and water to grow healthily.

How can I make sure the tortoise table is escape-proof?

For starters, you should choose a sturdy material that won’t be easily knocked down by the tortoise’s power. You should also make a solid frame to hold the substrates, decorations, and the tortoise’s weight. Be sure to seal gaps or holes to prevent the tortoise from getting out. Also, keep other animals away so they don’t contribute to ruining the table.

Can I build an easily movable tortoise table?

Yes, you can make a tortoise table that is easily movable in case you need to relocate the table or want to give the tortoise another view. Use a lightweight material such as PVC or light wood, but ensure it is still strong enough to provide a safe enclosure. For small and medium tables, you can attach handles on the side so you can lift it easier. For a large indoor table, consider attaching wheels so you can slide the table when needed. But you have to lock the wheels when unnecessary to prevent the table from sliding accidentally.

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