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Build a Live Trap

January 9, 2017

Live traps, or box traps as they are sometimes called, are one of the easiest traps to build in your shop or garage.  They can be used to catch and relocate nuisance animals, or they can be used to catch food.


The construction of box traps requires minimal tools.  A tape measure, a square, a pencil, a saw, a hammer, a drill with a few bits, and a sheet of sand paper are all you need.  The building materials needed are an 8 foot long piece of 1” x 10” lumber (actual dimensions are ¾” x 9 ½ “), an 18” by 2 foot piece of ¼ inch hardware cloth, a few nails, 4 small screw-eyes, and some string.

We’ll start out by building the box and door first, and when that’s done we’ll build the trigger and set the trap.  Incidentally, the dimensions I’m using here will build a medium size box trap; good for squirrels, rabbits, possums, small coons, feral cats, and (unfortunately) skunks.   So let’s cut out the pieces for the box and the door from our ¾” lumber.

You will need to cut the following:

2 pieces   24” x 7” for top and bottom

1 piece     8 ½” x 8 ½” for the back

2 pieces   4” x 8 ½” for the back sides

2 pieces   6” x 8 ½” for the front sides

1 piece     7” x 8 ½” for the door

2 pieces   ¾” x ½” x 7” for the inner door guides

2 pieces   ¾” x ½” x 8 ½” for the outer door guides

You will also need to cut two strips of hardware cloth 8 ½” high by 22” long for the sides.

Now we’ll assemble the box:

First, nail the back piece to the top and bottom.  The top of the back piece should be flush with the top of the top piece and the bottom of the back should be flush with the bottom of the bottom piece.  The back piece should stick out ¾” on each side of the top piece and the bottom piece.  That sounds a little confusing, but if you’ll look at the picture below you’ll see what I mean.


Now we’re going to nail our hardware cloth onto the sides of the box.  I have found that short roofing nails are good for this job but you can use carpet tacks, small u nails, or even heavy staples.  Just make sure that the hardware cloth is secure enough to hold a trapped animal.  The hardware cloth should butt up against the back and be flush with the top of the top and the bottom of the bottom.  Again, confusing but look at the picture.


Next step is to nail on the back side pieces.  Easy enough.


The front side pieces are next, but before you nail them on, take your sand paper and sand the insides of them smooth.  This is to reduce friction so that the door will fall quickly and completely into place.


When you’ve finished sanding, nail the front side pieces on so that 1 ¾” of them (the part that’s sanded) extends out in front of the top and bottom pieces.


Now it’s time to nail on the door guides.  Before nailing we want sand the edges of the guides where the door will be sliding along them.  Smooth guides mean a faster and cleaner drop of the door.


When the guides are smoothed out we’ll first nail on the short, inner guides.  You want to position these so that they are flush with the edge of the top and bottom pieces.  I used some old paneling nails to attach the guides.


Next we’ll do the outer guides.  You want to place the outer guides so that the distance between them and the inner guides is about an 1/8 inch wider than the thickness of your door.


With the guides all nailed in place it’s time to sand the edges of the door smooth.  Round the edges and corners a little to help keep them from binding when the door drops.


Slide the door down between the guides and check to see that everything fits and slides easily.


If everything checks out, it’s time to build the trigger.  The way this trigger works is pretty simple.  The actual trigger sticks down into the inside of the box.  The trigger is attached to the back end of a rocker arm that is supported by an upright on top of the box.  The front of the rocker arm is attached to the top of the door.  When the trap is set, the trigger stick is down in the box and the rocker arm holds the door up.  When an animal enters the trap and hits the trigger stick it releases the rocker arm and the door drops closed.

So the first thing that we need to do is drill two holes in the top of the box.  The first hole will be 8 inches from the back of the box and is 1 inch in diameter.  This is the hole that the trigger will fit down into.  The second hole is 16 inches from the back of the box and is ¾ inch in diameter.  We will use this hole to mount the upright that supports the rocker arm.  So let’s drill holes.


Once the holes are drilled we’ll make the trigger stick.  The trigger stick is made of a ¾” x ¾” piece of wood cut 9 inches long.   Round off the edges and give the stick a light sanding so that it will slide easily. Cut a notch in the stick that is ¼” deep with the bottom of the notch 2 inches from the top of the stick and then screw a small screw-eye into the top.


The trigger stick should fit easily into the 1 inch hole and the notch should catch on the underside of the board.  When the notch is engaged, the trigger stick should not touch the bottom of the trap.


Now for the upright that will support the rocker arm.  Cut a piece of your ¾” lumber that is one foot long and  1¾” wide.


On one end cut  away wood on each side to leave a ¾” wide by ¾” long tab in the middle.  Use a knife or wood rasp to round off this tab so that it forms a peg that will fit easily into the ¾” hole in the top of the trap.


On the other end of the upright we are going to cut a slot that is  ¾” wide and 3 inches long.  The easiest way to do this is to use your drill and ¾” bit and drill a hole three inches down from the top, then use a saw to cut down to each side of the hole.


When you’re finished with the upright it should look like this.



The rocker arm is just a ¾” x ½” stick that is cut to 20 inches long.


Lay the rocker arm down so that one of the ¾” sides is facing up at you and drill a 3/16” hole in the center of it (10 inches from each end).  When this is done, drill a 3/16” hole through the slotted end of the upright.  The hole should be one inch from the top of the upright.  When the rocker arm sits in the slot of the upright it should look like this.


You should now be able to mount the upright into the hole on the top of the box, line up the rocker arm, and stick a nail through the holes in the upright and rocker arm.  The rocker arm should pivot freely.


We’re almost done.  All that remains is to screw a small screw-eye about ½” from each end of the rocker arm and another screw-eye into the top of the door.  Tie a piece of string from the trigger stick to the back end of the rocker arm so that there is about 5 inches between them.  Lastly, tie the front of the rocker to the top of the door so that there is, again, about 5 inches between them.  When you are finished, the set-up should look like this.


One little thing that I like to do instead of tying the string to the door is to make a little wire hook an tie it onto the end of the string that hooks to the door.  This makes it easier to disassemble the trap for transportation or storage.



Well there’s your live trap.  To set it just place your bait in the back.  I like to use a slice of apple with some peanut butter smeared on it or a sardine, but just about anything will do.  Sometimes it helps to put a small piece of bait out in front of the trap.  If the critter gets a taste, they are less reluctant to go on into the trap for more.  Set the trigger and wait.  When the animal goes into the trap they will hit the trigger stick while trying to get to the bait.  The trigger goes up, the door goes down, and, boom, you’ve got him.  Once you’ve set the trap be sure to check it every day so that you don’t leave an animal confined for too long.


Happy hunting.

From → Trapping

  1. Great blog I enjoyyed reading

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  1. How to Build Your Own Small Animal Trap | The Homestead Survival

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