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Craft Time: Tin Can Lanterns

Categories: Crafts


I have always been envious of people I know who are able to do fabulous crafts with their kids. Though I am an artist, and have the paper in my basement to prove it, I seem to be lacking the crafting gene. My kids, like most kids, love to do crafts. I think this is because they feel as though they are contributing to the decor of the house, and don’t think of it as one more macaroni covered piece of clutter.

When you think about it, how much of what is in your home was actually picked out by them?

The holidays are the perfect time to make time for crafts. They are seasonal, which means you don’t have to feel bad when you “store” them at the town dump. It is a nice way to spend a cold stormy day when everyone is trapped in the house and about to tear each other’s throats out. And since it is a holiday, you can drink eggnog and eat cookies while you do it.

This week we made tin can lanterns.


Step One:


Get some cans. Making chili is always a good way to get lots of cans. Just be sure you tell your significant other not to take the recycling to the dump. Because even though there are weeks upon weeks worth of recycling sitting in the bins next to the garbage, this will be the week that he decides to go. That is after you have painstakingly washed the cans, removed the labels, and stacked the cans neatly on the counter.

Then you will be stuck standing in front of your cabinets muttering, “Now what can we eat that comes from cans?”

Step 2:


Fill your can with water, allowing room at the top for expansion, and put the can in freezer. Or if you are very lucky like me, just put the water filled can outside. The warning for this step is to make sure you tell the beloved fruit of your loins to not knock them all over and let the water spill on the steps leading to the back door. Because they will do this. And then deny they did.

Step 3:


Gather your supplies. The now frozen tin can, a towel, a big pointy nail, a hammer, a pencil, the label from the can, and a set of child hands.

Step 4: Using the backside of the label that you lovingly and painstakingly removed from the can, draw a pattern. it could be a snowflake, a star, a tree, or just a design.


The wearing of festive jewelry, sometimes also referred to as Christmas tree decorations, is optional, though highly recommended.

Step 5:

After the pattern is drawn on the back of the label, tape the label onto the can making sure that the design does not go over the seam of the can. Place the can on a folded towel to protect the table. Hammer your nail into the can. It doesn’t require much effort to pierce the can. So even the littlest ones can do this craft with help.

Not like this though


Unless you have a spare finger.


My 4 and 7 yr olds were able to do it pretty independently. They took turns helping each other hold the can when it threatened to roll away.

Not pictured, is the extra special fun of scooping up the ice chips as they shoot out of the can before your siblings can get to them. This turns lantern making into a contact sport. And what better way to say Merry Christmas to your siblings than a sucker punch in the arm, all while your mother says, “Have you children never seen ice before?”

Step 6:


When you are done, the cans will look like this. You can spray paint them if you want with some high heat spray paint, which would be nice touch. But I was going for the recycled can look. Yes, I was. No, really.

Step 7:


Put a little candle inside the can.


Arrange the cans on a windowsill with some garland, or as a centerpiece on the table, maybe even a mantle.

Step 8:

Stand back, turn down the lights, and ooooh and ahhhhh.


When I first began thinking of this craft I planned on drilling a hole in the bottom of each can and attaching the cans to a string of lights, with the lightbulbs going into each individual can and illuminating it. And then hanging this entire string of tin can lanterns up in my screened sun porch. But after we began the project I realized that I only had 20ft long light strings which would probably be about 15 ft too long.

Also, I started to think that maybe this wouldn’t be as shabby chic as I originally thought and perhaps screamed double wide instead. What do you think?

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27 comments so far...

  • I love the cans on the window sill, with the garland. It’s beautiful.

    She Likes Purple  |  December 13th, 2007 at 6:34 pm

  • [...] would really love to make these tin-can lanterns. Really love. But I [...]

    Excruciating Minutiae » Wouldn’t this be fun?  |  December 13th, 2007 at 7:43 pm

  • Lucky Kids!
    All this time I thought I wanted to be like you, now I realize I want to be one of your children! …Please? :)

    kasey  |  December 13th, 2007 at 8:47 pm

  • Aha! I’ve tried to make lanterns like that, but didn’t think of the ice so they’ve just dented and I’ve given up. Thanks for the tutorial, and I think the string of lights would have ticked the ’shabby chic’ box.

    Jane  |  December 13th, 2007 at 9:43 pm

  • I like them, but most especially the non-ridged cans. (That makes them look more like uber modern light fixtures, and doesn’t tick the ‘oh yeah, recycling’ switch in my brain the way the ridged ones might.)

    I think I’d be into the strung idea, but 20 feet is a LOT of cans. But there’d be less likelihood of accidentally burning myself on a hot can that way, too.

    If I can make my way through enough cans of el pato salsa, I’d love to try it with those little cans. However, I don’t know how much spiciness our family can take!

    alice  |  December 13th, 2007 at 10:04 pm

  • alice,

    I like the non ridged cans the best also. All future canned purchases will be based on whether or not the can is smooth :-)
    I think there must be smaller strings of lights out there for sale somewhere.

    chrisjordan  |  December 13th, 2007 at 11:26 pm

  • I am totally going to try this with my kids, though I am a leetle bit scared about the point nail part when considered in conjunction with my wooden table. And the kids’ fingers. But hey, that’s why they have 10 fingers, right? Spares?

    No, really. I’m asking my husband the chili-guru to make some soon…

    Lylah  |  December 14th, 2007 at 4:40 am

  • I love them. All shining and bright.

    We were going to try and do some luminaria bags for our front sidewalk, but I am thinking this project might be a bit more safe and less of a “set the house on fire for Christmas” project.

    jody  |  December 14th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

  • What cool idea. Chili for dinner it is!

    On a totally unrelated note…It’s a Gymbo sighting!…I have that dress for my youngest (sadly…in every size from 4 up to 7…with matching leggings…and curly loops) Did I mention how much I love it?

    Carolyn  |  December 14th, 2007 at 3:04 pm

  • I see I am the first to ask this but I think I’ll go ahead anyway. What’s the purpose of freezing the water in the cans?? Does it make it easier to nail? Can you omit that step? Sorry if there is some obvious answer to this.

    the not so crafty momma

    Chris says: If you try to nail through the can without having the frozen water inside, the can will bend before the nail goes through. So don’t omit this step!

    Chandra  |  December 14th, 2007 at 3:05 pm

  • We did this last year and set them all along the wheelchair ramp to the from door. They looked great!

    Jennifer  |  December 14th, 2007 at 7:29 pm

  • how very crafty. nice!

    cristen  |  December 14th, 2007 at 8:37 pm

  • I love this craft! I have done it before, but I believe I will be pulling this one out again after seeing your creations on display:)

    When I did this before, I punch two holes at the top of each can and attached a piece of wire strung with beads so they could hang if you wanted.

    ashlee  |  December 14th, 2007 at 10:27 pm

  • So, what comes in smooth cans? I don’t think I have any. Though I guess I could just go to the store and start feeling cans. Which is probably not as kinky as is sounds, though I might get some weird looks.

    (by the way, I think they look really nice.)

    Chris says: Well after my husband threw away all my cans I opened up to make chili, I was forced to use some random canned goods. So it was either the coconut milk, canned fruit, or corn. Just for the record, I did NOT mix these together into one meal.

    Karen  |  December 14th, 2007 at 10:43 pm

  • I love this idea! Now I know what we’ll be doing next week after school is out for the holidays! Thanks for a great idea.

    hokgardner  |  December 15th, 2007 at 2:29 am

  • Beautiful idea. Think I’ll try this with the grandkids! Hmmmmm. . . . smooth cans . .. . now that’s a challenge!

    CaliforniaGrammy  |  December 15th, 2007 at 4:11 am

  • Chris, How do you remove the glue from the tins which held the label on?

    Chris says: Hmmm, my cans only had tiny dots of glue along the edge of the label and it just came right off.

    t in hd  |  December 15th, 2007 at 9:51 pm

  • I love this idea!!!.. Now excuse me while I go feel up all of my cans ;)

    Heather  |  December 15th, 2007 at 9:55 pm

  • They also have those LED candles at Target which might make it more child, husband, cat, dog, and drunken partygoer proof. Another excuse for why we should all go to Target right now.

    Chris says: Like I need an excuse. ;-) I saw those at Halloween, but haven’t seen any recently. So clearly I have not been looking at my Target aisles closely enough and must go back. Now. Maybe I can hop a ride with the snowplow.

    Cary  |  December 16th, 2007 at 1:12 pm

  • Awesome! I have a collection of these for Halloween — they’re painted orange colors and have pumpkins, cats, etc. punched out. I use them to line the porch or driveway in the fall.

    kelli  |  December 17th, 2007 at 12:16 am

  • [...] Greenery. Probably best for 4 year olds and older.  But a fun one the kids can work together on.  This post describes it so well (with lots of cool pictures!) so I’m just going to send you there. But [...]

    Ice Candle or Tin Can Lanterns « MOPS On The Hill  |  December 21st, 2007 at 12:06 pm

  • FYI: For those cans with an over-exuberant amount of glue holding the labels on, leave the glue on, fill up the cans with water and freeze them, then, before attaching the label with the design you want to pound out, use the nail and hammer to chip away the frozen glue. Comes off quite nicely, so I’ve discovered.

    Another tip: We found it easier to pound the design into the can while sitting on the floor, with the cans on a towel on an area rug.

    This craft was a big hit in our house. Even the husband was participating!

    t in hd  |  December 23rd, 2007 at 2:51 pm

  • Speaking as a mom who is defintely more of the nuts & bolts skillset than the beads and glue skillset, this sounds GREAT. I am thinking #10 cans from the school or local nursing homes. I advise an EarlyAct group (Rotary sponsored youth group for kids ages 5-13) and this sounds like the perfect activity. We will definitely be putting this on our To Do List.
    Also sounds like a safer option for churches, etc - rather than open flamed pillar candles - especially if you use the new LED tea lites.

    Pammy  |  January 10th, 2008 at 3:08 pm

  • Thanks so much for this instructions! They were the inspiration for centerpieces for my husband’s restaurant. I actually ended up modifying your directions a bit to make more complex designs:

    I have a lion’s face and a woman’s face I need to picture. Which were a little more involved than the one pictured above.

    My modified instructions if you care to share them or try them yourself:

    Thanks again. People have made lots of comments on the lanterns. I’ve yet to find completely smooth cans, but my baker says her condensed milk cans might be smooth.

    Happy Holidays!

    june  |  November 29th, 2008 at 9:30 pm

  • We are doing this for our “Natural Christmas” event this year. We are using the ‘ice’ method but my husband said why not get a rounded piece of wood - we decided that the nail would be hard to remove. I use a Phillips screwdriver instead of a nail. More area for the hammer to hit!

    I love the idea of the smooth cans.

    Carol Schuster  |  November 9th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

  • It’s gorgeours light for the Christmas. Great!

    montreal florist  |  July 12th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

  • what a great item. Things for sharing this. We are making these for Christmas Gifts due to money. It means so much more to have a hand made item to give. Thanks again. We are adding some paint to them, also.

    BA Harrison  |  December 16th, 2012 at 12:07 pm