Upcycle Your Tin Cans Into Fun and Functional Projects
These four tin cans were plain metal cans in a former life. I've given them a tin can makeover in order to reuse them as "caddies" for all sorts of household and craft items. I can use them here at home or even give some as inexpensive Christmas gifts to friends and family.
These decorated cans are perfect for holding pens and pencils. But you can use them for many more items. We use one can each for scissors, rulers, x-acto knives, dry erase markers, paint brushes and highlighters. It helps me (as a mom and crafter) keep items organized so I can find them easily.
Preparing the Tin Cans
A couple of tips
- Clean the cans with warm soapy water (right after you empty them).
- Rinse and dry them right away.
- Do not put them in the dishwasher. They will rust.
Almost all cans have a thin metal rim around the top and bottom. You need those rims! The paper (or fabric) goes right to the edge of them. Every once in a while a can doesn't have a bottom rim. Check to make sure your cans have top and bottom rims.
Cover with Paper or Fabric?
With this recycling project, you have 2 options for covering the cans: paper or fabric. There are examples and instructions for both on this page. If you are working with kids, I recommend using paper. Fabric is a little trickier to work with and is more exacting.
There are limitless papers and fabrics available from craft stores. If you are recycling tin cans into gifts, it's easy to match themed papers and fabrics to the interests of the gift recipient. For a boy, there are lots of sports themes and for girls there are lots of princess patterns. You can find almost any theme you can think of.
- Pick out 2 coordinating papers. I'm choosing these bright papers because I know my daughter will like them.
- Measure the height of your can exactly between the metal rims. You can use a ruler, or just mark the height on a slip of paper like I did here.
- Mark the height of the can on your paper and cut it out. Then wrap it around the can and measure for the length. Add 1/2 inch for the paper to overlap onto itself.
- Cut out a piece of paper for the inside too. It should be about 1/4 inch shorter than the outside piece, but measure it to make sure.
- Carefully roll up the piece for the inside of the can(with the pattern facing in) and put it down into the can. Press the paper firmly against the inside of the can and secure it in place with a piece of tape at the seam.
- Finally, add the outside piece of paper. You can use a small piece of tape to hold the first end of the paper to the can if needed. Now secure the tag end with a gluestick. If the paper is thick, double-wrap a few rubber bands around it until the glue holds and dries.
Complete tin can makeover!
- "Rough up" the surface of the can around the rims with a scouring pad. This will help the paint to stick. Then wipe with a damp paper towel to remove any debris and let dry.
- Paint the edges (will take 3 coats of paint). Let paint dry between each coat. You don't need to paint the whole can. Just paint about 1/4 inch down from the top, up from the bottom and on the inside of the top rim.
- Cut out papers and attach as described above. Here you can see the inside and outside of the can.
Another recycled tin can.
- Choose your fabric and iron it. I found this scrap of fabric with a baseball pattern in my fabric box.
- Measure the exact height of your can between the rims and cut out your fabric piece to the correct height. It's best to measure off of the selvage edge (if possible) to keep your fabric good and "squared up" and with the grain of the fabric. Use a rotary cutter for cutting the fabric if at all possible. Cutting with scissors will be tricky since it needs to be very straight.
- Measure around the can to get the length and add 1/2 inch. Cut the fabric to length with pinking shears. This will help with any possible raveling.
- Spray a thin layer of spray mount on the back of the fabric. You will want to do this outside. If you aren't familiar with spray mount be sure to read the back of the can. You'll need good ventilation. This product is very sticky so it may take some getting used to.
- Instead of painting the edges, this time I used a Sharpie marker. Although it was quicker, it did not cover as well as the paint. Measure, cut and attach paper to the inside of the can (not shown).
- Carefully get the fabric started around the can as straight as possible. You'll probably need to adjust it, unwrapping and rewrapping as you go (since it needs to stay perfectly centered). Wrap the fabric all the way around the can and smooth it down with your hands.
More Fabric-Covered Tin Cans
These larger cans were, at one time, full of baby formula powder. I've had these cans a LONG time! To my knowledge, formula powder no longer comes in cans (but I could be wrong). I actually covered the outside AND inside of the cans with fabric. I don't recommend using fabric on the inside of the can since the spray mount sticks to itself and can be very tricky to handle.
Tip: Notice that I added narrow ribbon to the top and bottom edges of some of the cans. This is a good way to "hide" any fabric edges that aren't exactly straight.
More Awesome Tin Can Crafts to Try
I've just been out scouring the internet for more of the very best tin can crafts. Enjoy!
- How to make kid stilts from cans
A craft kids will love to make AND play with. This old idea is a kid's favorite.
- Make a bank from a coffee can
Perfect for a kid's project.
- Tin Can Lantern
Ooh oh oh don't miss this one! I forgot about this one til I saw this page.
- Music Box from a tin can
Yes, you heard me right. Here you'll see how Music Boxes are made from tin cans. Notice how the crafter "hinged" the lid. Great idea.
How to Use the Kuhn Rikon Can Opener
This can opener is my favorite kitchen gadget. From one of the Amazon reviews, I learned I wasn't the only one who couldn't figure it out right away.
Please let me know you stopped by - I appreciate your comments
alfonsogomea on January 19, 2014:
Very nice tips for recycling the cans :) ... i'll sÂ¡
Vicki from USA on July 02, 2013:
Thank you for sharing your ideas on tin can crafts and for all the step-by-step instructions on painting cans and covering them with paper and fabric! I have some large cans I want to paint or cover, but they were pop-top cans and now have a very sharp edge inside. I am searching for the best way to get rid of the sharp edge. Great lens -- liked and bookmarked!
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on March 12, 2013:
I love this! We used to decorate cans and reuse them when my kids were little. I'm going to pass the page along to my best friend, who loves to do crafty projects with her grandkids. Btw, it would help my ancient eyes if all the pictures were as big as some of them. My daughter has one of these Kuhn can openers, and I can never figure out how to get it to work, so I'm going to see if I can find that video on YouTube. (It disappeared when I tried to watch it here--three times!) Thanks for a fun, crafty page that keeps cans from the landfill a while longer.
lesliesinclair on March 10, 2013:
This is such a simple, yet worthwhile craft project. Green wishes to you.
RoadMonkey on March 07, 2013:
Great way of recycling cans AND for providing storage at little cost. Thanks.
Yvette Munro on March 06, 2013:
What an awesome lens. You've got my creative mind working overtime.
Jawill on March 06, 2013:
I remember doing this when I was a kid. It's a cool thing to share.
Brandi from Maryland on March 06, 2013:
My daughter just made a pen/pencil can with a Pringles empty. We spray painted it matte black and then she added star stickers with glitter glue creating trails off the stars. She kept the lid, so it's more of a storage can than a desk top holder like yours, but it turned out really cute. She's going to give it to her little friend.
I love how you used fabric on some of these and painted the rim. I now have some great ideas for my own desk! Thanks! :)
soaringsis on March 06, 2013:
Great idea. Thanks for sharing.
imagia77 on November 10, 2012:
Wanted to let you know you are a featured lens on my Gifts for Crafty Children lens :) Love your ideas!
anonymous on June 04, 2012:
Great explanation, very clear =)
anonymous on May 01, 2012:
Great idea. I have a lot of tin cans in my home. I will try your idea.
jimmyworldstar on February 03, 2012:
I have a couple tin cans lying around to hold pens and pencils. I don't know why anyone would actually buy a holder specifically.
cr00059n on January 03, 2012:
Cool and innovative. Tin Can Recycling is good.
Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on November 04, 2011:
I'm always on the lookout for new ways to reuse and re-purpose common items that are typically tossed away, and this lens demonstrates several creative tin can crafts. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, and the photos really showcase the results.
Mona from Iowa on October 06, 2011:
This is such a great idea. My gallery cat is forever breaking my pottery mugs that I keep my brushes in. This seems like the perfect solution. :)
Jeanette from Australia on September 27, 2011:
Just returning to add a little angel blessing and let you know that this lens has been added to my Upcycling Ideas lens.
puzzlerpaige (author) on August 13, 2011:
@anonymous: I wouldn't recommend a wet one. A brand new, dry pad will work best. I usually cut my scouring pads into several pieces since one big pad is kinda hard to use.
anonymous on August 13, 2011:
Is it ok if when using the scouring pad it is wet? Haha, it's from our kitchen sink!
Frankie Kangas from California on July 25, 2011:
Love this creative lens. I love art and crafts and this is just a fun way to recycle and to save money at the same time. Great job. Bear hugs, Frankster
JJNW from USA on July 24, 2011:
*** Blessed *** by a Craft Ideas SquidAngel because I love your great photos and how-to instructions. I wondered about that sharp can edge. Thanks for the good info!
Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on July 09, 2011:
Very nice lens, I love any lens that can recycle junk and use it in a creative way.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on April 28, 2011:
These are cute and really useful. I love recycling things and this project will use up some of my decorative paper stash. I have some ribbons that I might use too.
LensSeller on April 18, 2011:
A great way for crafters and for kids to recycle and have fun. Well done.
Muzzie4848 on April 16, 2011:
Thanks for your great lens. Some great ideas and even the kids can get involved.
Lee Hansen from Vermont on March 31, 2011:
My favorite crafts always seem to be made with recycled "stuff" from the house or repurposed tools and ephemera from the garage or barn. I plant pansies in last year's work boots and stack flowers on old ladders ... my family is always amused. Love this lens and am adding it to my Earth Day crafts lens. w00t! Green is the new hip ... it's about time.
jackieb99 on March 01, 2011:
Love the site! Did you know you can make a camping stove out of pop cans?
ShamanicShift on February 06, 2011:
Beautiful and fun!
Moe Wood from Eastern Ontario on January 26, 2011:
Great ideas for both recycling and organizing! :D
anonymous on January 23, 2011:
This is a really awesome craft! Thank you for sharing! I love crafts!
anonymous on December 28, 2010:
This is really awesome! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel on 12/28/2010. Have a great day! Really nice lens!
manndtp on November 12, 2010:
Give me a way to "repurpose" cans. Awesome lens.
Asinka Fields from Los Angeles, CA on November 08, 2010:
Love this lens! Gave me all sorts of creative ideas to make my own pen holders.
anonymous on October 25, 2010:
Great idea with excellent illustration. Nice lens.
poutine on October 22, 2010:
Excellent description of this craft.
ohcaroline on October 03, 2010:
I thought I was the only one who recycled cans and used them for storage. Nice demonstrations here.
Obscure_Treasures on July 30, 2010:
You have lots of good ideas here!I love all your recommendations!
hlkljgk from Western Mass on July 22, 2010:
i just love upcycling - thanks for the ideas!
anonymous on July 03, 2010:
Interesting lens you have here! Keep it up!
Jeanette from Australia on May 02, 2010:
Great recycling idea! Lovely clear directions and photos.
totalhealth on March 23, 2010:
nice lens, i used to make these crafts before, another idea is to use tribal or abstract designs then follow the pattern with transparent glue, it adds texture to your tin cans.
Canela Ajena from Houston on March 18, 2010:
This great. I have a collection of tin can cleaned and ready to reuse but I had no idea how to redecorate them so they look nice like these. Great lens! Very detailed. Thank you. I am lensrolling this and blessing.
puzzlerpaige (author) on January 23, 2010:
@anonymous: Hi Dawn,
I would love to see a photo of your wedding themed tin can pen holder. You can contact me through the "Contact Me" button when you click on "puzzlemaker" top right of this page. Or if you have a blog and write a post about it, let me know and I'll link to it from here. Thanks for stopping by.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on January 20, 2010:
This is absolutely wonderful and you have certainly given excellent step by step instructions and photos! I love it! This would be such a cute addition in any room! Totally awesome! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.
anonymous on January 13, 2010:
Hi i Loved your craft ideas especially the tin can pen holder. I am thinking of making one to match my guest book at my wedding, we have a few artists in the family and this way I'm hoping to get some colourful and creative entries from family and friends!Thank u for the inspiration and the easy to follow how to stepsxx
Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on December 25, 2009:
Hi, I am back again to let you know that we just made one of these and I have featured this lens at By Kids 4 Kids - A Group of Squidoo Lenses for Kids. I have sprinkled some angel dust (you can add a link to my angel lens if you want).
puzzlerpaige (author) on December 10, 2009:
Thanks for stopping by. If you take a picture of your project I'd love to feature it here on this article. You can contact me through the "contact me" button by clicking on "puzzlemaker" in the upper right corner. Merry Christmas!
anonymous on December 10, 2009:
I plan to make tin candle holders for small office Christmas gifts.Thanks and Merry Christmas.
anonymous on November 04, 2009:
This is a brilliant idea for using old cans and the layout is excellent. A great step by step guide! SquidAngel Blessings for you!
Seeking Pearls from Pueblo West on October 11, 2009:
Wonderful and comprehensive lens. You are a fabulous teacher. Love this lens.
tandemonimom lm on October 03, 2009:
What cute cans! We did one, one year, where we hot-glued candy canes (still wrapped) all around the can, with the hooks at the top and facing out. It was very festive!
missbat on September 20, 2009:
What a cute idea! Certainly something everyone can use. Great job!
Joan4 on September 20, 2009:
I like the idea of painting the edges especially. I had never considered that! Great instructions, super idea! Blessed by a SquidAngel!
Michey LM on September 20, 2009:
Wow! this is so funny, and detailed, you are a great teacher .
I enjoy your lens.
Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on September 20, 2009:
great ideas. we make these every winter season when we come to the South Island for winter. We never painted the upper edge. What a great idea. I added this lens to the plexo on Arts and Crafts resources
JanieceTobey on September 17, 2009:
I remember making these as a child, but had forgotten all about them! We could use some more of these now, so thanks for the reminder!! I loved your very clear and exact directions and photos!
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 17, 2009:
You have some good paint brushes in that super can. I love this Craft Idea and in fact was thinking about it recently and will sure be coming back here for these great instructions on the Best Tin Can Recycling Craft.