Best Tin Can Recycling Craft

Recycle your tin cans into holders for pens, pencils and more

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.

On this page you'll find step-by-step instructions for turning tin cans into works of art. And don't miss the list of other ideas (links provided) for more incredible tin can crafts.

Information on materials

Tin cans will get a complete makeover
Tin cans will get a complete makeover

Preparing the Tin Cans

A couple of tips

Clean the cans with warm soapy water (right after you empty them). And 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.

NOTE: I use a can opener that does NOT leave any sharp edges on the can. I've included information about it and a video of how to use it near the bottom of this page.

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.

Example #1

Covering the cans with paper.

Very simple!

1. Pick out 2 coordinating papers. I'm choosing these bright papers because I know my daughter will like them.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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!

Complete tin can makeover!
Complete tin can makeover!


Some cans look best when the metal rims are painted.

Here's how to do it:

1. "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.

2. 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.

3. Cut out papers and attach as described above. Here you can see the inside and outside of the can.

Another recycled tin can.

Another recycled tin can.
Another recycled tin can.

Example #2

How to cover a can with fabric.

1. Choose your fabric and iron it. I found this scrap of fabric with a baseball pattern in my fabric box.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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).

6. 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.

Tin Can covered in baseball fabric

Tin Can covered in baseball fabric
Tin Can covered in baseball fabric
baby formula can recycling craft
baby formula can recycling craft

More fabric covered tin cans

And a tip

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.

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.

Are tin cans really made of tin?

"Tin cans" are no longer made primarily of tinplate steel. Most cans are now made of aluminum with tops made of tinplate. I think the name "tin can" will always be around no matter the material.

More awesome tin can crafts

I've just been out scouring the internet for more of the very best tin can crafts. I've chosen how-to webpages with pictures and good instructions. Enjoy!

Here's the can opener I mentioned - it's my favorite kitchen gadget - How to use the Kuhn Rikon Can Opener

This can opener is available from Amazon. I'm going to add a link below in case you want to read more about it. From one of the Amazon reviews I learned I wasn't the only one who couldn't figure it out right away.

Leaves NO sharp edges

This is the can opener I use on all of my tin cans. Click on the link below for more information and availability. At the time this article was published there were 42 customer reviews so check those out if you are interested.

More by this Author

Please let me know you stopped by - I appreciate your comments 57 comments

OhMe profile image

OhMe 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

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.

JanieceTobey profile image

JanieceTobey 7 years ago

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!

RhondaAlbom profile image

RhondaAlbom 7 years ago from New Zealand

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

Michey LM profile image

Michey LM 7 years ago

Wow! this is so funny, and detailed, you are a great teacher .

I enjoy your lens.



Joan4 7 years ago

I like the idea of painting the edges especially. I had never considered that! Great instructions, super idea! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

missbat profile image

missbat 7 years ago

What a cute idea! Certainly something everyone can use. Great job!

tandemonimom lm profile image

tandemonimom lm 7 years ago

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!

KOrazem profile image

KOrazem 7 years ago from Pueblo West

Wonderful and comprehensive lens. You are a fabulous teacher. Love this lens.

anonymous 6 years ago

This is a brilliant idea for using old cans and the layout is excellent. A great step by step guide! SquidAngel Blessings for you!

anonymous 6 years ago

I plan to make tin candle holders for small office Christmas gifts.Thanks and Merry Christmas.

puzzlerpaige profile image

puzzlerpaige 6 years ago Author

@anonymous: Lisa,

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!

RhondaAlbom profile image

RhondaAlbom 6 years ago from New Zealand

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).

anonymous 6 years ago

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

Sylvestermouse profile image

Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

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.

puzzlerpaige profile image

puzzlerpaige 6 years ago Author

@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.

Ecolicious LM profile image

Ecolicious LM 6 years ago

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.

totalhealth 6 years ago

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.

GonnaFly profile image

GonnaFly 6 years ago from Australia

Great recycling idea! Lovely clear directions and photos.

anonymous 6 years ago

Interesting lens you have here! Keep it up!

hlkljgk profile image

hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

i just love upcycling - thanks for the ideas!

Obscure_Treasures 6 years ago

You have lots of good ideas here!I love all your recommendations!

ohcaroline 6 years ago

I thought I was the only one who recycled cans and used them for storage. Nice demonstrations here.

poutine 6 years ago

Excellent description of this craft.

Well done.

anonymous 5 years ago

Great idea with excellent illustration. Nice lens.

Asinka profile image

Asinka 5 years ago

Love this lens! Gave me all sorts of creative ideas to make my own pen holders.

manndtp 5 years ago

Give me a way to "repurpose" cans. Awesome lens.

anonymous 5 years ago

This is really awesome! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel on 12/28/2010. Have a great day! Really nice lens!

anonymous 5 years ago

This is a really awesome craft! Thank you for sharing! I love crafts!

PromptWriter profile image

PromptWriter 5 years ago from Eastern Ontario

Great ideas for both recycling and organizing! :D

ShamanicShift 5 years ago

Beautiful and fun!

jackieb99 profile image

jackieb99 5 years ago

Love the site! Did you know you can make a camping stove out of pop cans?

Lee Hansen profile image

Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

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.

Muzzie4848 profile image

Muzzie4848 5 years ago

Thanks for your great lens. Some great ideas and even the kids can get involved.

LensSeller 5 years ago

A great way for crafters and for kids to recycle and have fun. Well done.

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

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.

Elsie Hagley profile image

Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

Very nice lens, I love any lens that can recycle junk and use it in a creative way.

JJNW profile image

JJNW 5 years ago from USA

*** 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!

Franksterk profile image

Franksterk 5 years ago from California

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

anonymous 5 years ago

Is it ok if when using the scouring pad it is wet? Haha, it's from our kitchen sink!

puzzlerpaige profile image

puzzlerpaige 5 years ago Author

@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.

GonnaFly profile image

GonnaFly 5 years ago from Australia

Just returning to add a little angel blessing and let you know that this lens has been added to my Upcycling Ideas lens.

WildFacesGallery profile image

WildFacesGallery 5 years ago from Iowa

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. :)

Anthony Altorenna profile image

Anthony Altorenna 4 years ago from Connecticut

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.

cr00059n 4 years ago

Cool and innovative. Tin Can Recycling is good.

jimmyworldstar 4 years ago

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.

anonymous 4 years ago

Great idea. I have a lot of tin cans in my home. I will try your idea.

anonymous 4 years ago

Great explanation, very clear =)

imagia77 profile image

imagia77 3 years ago

Wanted to let you know you are a featured lens on my Gifts for Crafty Children lens :) Love your ideas!

soaringsis 3 years ago

Great idea. Thanks for sharing.

Brandi Bush profile image

Brandi Bush 3 years ago from Maryland

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! :)

Jawill profile image

Jawill 3 years ago

I remember doing this when I was a kid. It's a cool thing to share.

Yvette Munro profile image

Yvette Munro 3 years ago

What an awesome lens. You've got my creative mind working overtime.

RoadMonkey profile image

RoadMonkey 3 years ago

Great way of recycling cans AND for providing storage at little cost. Thanks.

lesliesinclair profile image

lesliesinclair 3 years ago

This is such a simple, yet worthwhile craft project. Green wishes to you.

ecogranny profile image

ecogranny 3 years ago from San Francisco

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.

Retro Loco profile image

Retro Loco 3 years ago from USA

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!

alfonsogomea profile image

alfonsogomea 2 years ago

Very nice tips for recycling the cans :) ... i'll s¡

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