Monday, July 14, 2014

DIY Tin Can Lanterns

There are some crafts that stay on my brain and refuse to go away. "Tin Can Lanterns" is one of those crafts. I also seemed to constantly have trouble getting everything to come together so I could make them.

I knew I had to collect cans, so I started with that. Before I knew it, I had cans overflowing my recycle bin.

But then it was winter. I hadn't planned to make these indoors so I decided to wait until Spring.

When Spring came, it was raining...and snowing...and raining again. Then it was the end of the school year so I had other things to do. Then I didn't have a pattern ready.

Then one day, I ran out of excuses. I froze water in a can, printed out my pattern, attached it to the can, walked outside with my can, a hammer and a finishing nail and started punching holes.

Before I knew it, I was done and ready to move on to the next one!

Yes, it was messy. Yes, it was pretty rough looking (it WAS my first one) and I still had to paint it, but the hard part was done!

So stop making excuses! Here are some helpful tips for making your own Tin Can Lanterns...

Finding Patterns:

You can search the internet and find all sorts of patterns for Tin Can Punch Patterns.

There is also a nice selection on Pinterest for inspiration (Pin-spiration?).

I found several nice stencils available for download at This Old House also had a few simple fall themed stencils available. I created a few wrap-around patterns myself.

You can, of course, simply trace an object or draw a pattern directly onto your can with a permanent marker. This is the easiest, fastest and least messy method. If you plan to paint your can later, the paint will cover up any marks made with your marker.


It seems most people agree the easiest way to fill your can (to avoid bends and dents in the metal from banging with the hammer and nail) is to fill the empty can with ice and then freeze it solid. This helps the can retain its shape.

The first can I tried this in had a little bulge at the bottom where the ice pushed against it as it froze.

I was able to bang it back into place with a hammer after my pattern was punched out but the bottom was still a little warped looking.

For the next can , I tried this tip that I found by a reader in some comments on and it worked:
To prevent bulges at the bottom, put a bit of water (half an inch or so) in the cans and freeze. Then fill it the rest of the way and refreeze. The bit you put in first will freeze without bulging out the bottom and keep the rest from pushing against it later.
WikiHow also suggests filling the tin can up to 3/4 of its length with sand before filling with water. I didn't have any sand on hand at the time so I didn't try this.

Some suggestions for making your own tin can lanterns:

  • Start at the top of the design and work your way around before moving down the pattern. That way, in case you have to stop in the middle of the project (for kids, pets, phone, dinner, etc) you can just put the can back in the freezer and not have melted water pouring out of the lower holes.
  • If you are using water to fill you can, you will have a wet mess. This is not an ideal indoor activity unless you have a lot of towels and don't mind ice chips and water on your floor.
  • Although it is not ideal, it may be less messy to do this activity outdoors in the middle of freezing temperatures. Again, not ideal, but your water will take longer to melt and may actually stay somewhat frozen.
  • Paper templates WILL get wet. A wet template will also tear or just start to fall apart. Even covering the entire template with packing tape won't stop it from happening (I tried). Expect it to happen. Then you won't be TOO upset when it does happen. In fact, the more elaborate the pattern, the longer it takes to punch out and the more I would recommend drawing the pattern directly onto the can.
Pattern drawn directly on the can

The "+" was made using a flat head screwdriver.

  • Try the pattern using different tools. Different sized nails, screws, screwdrivers, chisels and ice picks will all give you a different looking hole punch. This Broncos Logo was made with a flat head screwdriver (except for the "eye" which was made with a nail): 

  • Bigger holes make for a brighter light. You will need lots of tiny nail holes to equal a few large nail holes or one large screwdriver hole.
  • If you plan to add a hanger to your can, punch holes for the hanger with something large (like a Phillips screwdriver) before you punch any other holes. These will be on opposite sides of the very top of the can just below the rim. I found it easier to make a starter hole with a nail and finish the hole with a screwdriver.
  • If you are painting your can, stuff paper towels or crumpled paper into your can before spray painting the outside.
  • Fill the base of the cans with sand to hold your votive candle or tea light steady. For this reason, I kept the patterns a little higher up from the base so sand won't leak out the bottom. You can also place a clear glass votive candle holder in each can but this is entirely optional.
  • Don't try to do too many in one day. I got 2 done the first day. Only 2. If you have several people making them, you may only need one day to make all the cans you require. If it's just you pounding away at the cans, give yourself a lot of time.
More Ideas For Tin Punched Cans:

The internet is full of inspiration for Tin Can Lanterns. Here is a handful of them. Note: I've tried to give proper credit for photos but original sources can be hard to find at times.

1. Make several cans with hangers and hang them around your patio area. (This would be fabulous for a rustic wedding!)

Outdoor Lighting
(photo source: Design Sponge)

2. Make a hanger for your can out of pretty beads!

Beaded Handle/Hanger for Tin Can Lanterns
(photo source: All About You)

3. Group several sizes together for table decorations.

4. Paint the cans multiple colors on the outside...

July 4th Luminaries
(photo and idea source: Karen at Crafts For All Seasons)

5. Paint a bright color on the inside and a dark or black color on the outside. (The cans in the photo are actually lined with paper and painted gold)

DIY Tin Can Table Numbers
(photo and idea source: 100 Layer Cake)

6. Forgo the candle. Make the can design upside down.  Punch a hole in the base of the can and use the cans as "light covers" for outdoor Christmas lights.

Tin Can Garden Lights
(photo source: - originally from Viva Terra)

7. Leave the outside unpainted and allow them to weather for a rusty, rustic look.

Jack-O-Lantern made from a recycled gallon paint can (this is adorable!)
(photo source: Fun In The Making)

8. Turn a large can into an awesome lamp shade!

Tin Can Lamp Shade
(photo source: Mariposa Avenue on Etsy)

9. Attach the punched tin can lanterns to the tops of stakes and place around sidewalks or patios (poor man's solar lighting).

Landscape Lighting
(photo and idea source: All You)

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Ramona said...

Awesome ideas! I can’t wait to try some of these. I want to hang them from my arbor as I decorate our patio. Thanks!