Whenever I look at the recycle pile, I see untapped potential. Little did I know that when I had an epiphany about the tuna can one day while making lunch, creating tuna can swing outs would be so addictive! I had never seen it done anywhere before, so it was quite an interesting challenge to figure out the mechanics of it.
You may have seen the two I did previously to corral hot drink supplies and to store costume jewelry. I’ve since created two new ones: for office supplies, like push pins and paper clips, and even one for a little friend to house his collection of hot wheels!
My husband and I have always been compelled to create using garbage finds and unexpected materials, so it was a natural progression to expand our blog to include crafts. We called our new craft section ‘Craft Rehab’ because our goal is to encourage others to try sustainable crafting. It’s all about the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle.
All good intentions aside, as much as we love to do our small part to divert waste, we’re also mindful that a project has to be easy to do and that the materials have to be readily available – or who’s going to want to replicate it? But it also doesn’t hurt to work in some ‘wow factor’. I think we accomplished those goals with this unique upcycle.
Along with the tuna cans, we’ve used recycled scrap paper for the labels, smoothie straws we had in the pantry, a plastic straw from a broken insulated cup, the end of a dried-up pen and leftover black iron pipe from another project. The Tuna Can Swing Out is both sustainable and practical: each can opens fully to reveal its contents then closes right up again for dust-free storage! You can use it for anything small: you’re only limited by your imagination.
We hope you use this tutorial to inspire your own sustainable craft project because, as our motto points out, good planets are hard to find!
Step 1: Watch this Brief Video
You may be a little doubtful that you can turn a tuna can into something you’d want to put on full display in the bedroom, kitchen or office, but have a look at the video (I promise, it’s quick!). This version of the storage tower is both attractive and useful – in an industrial sort of way 🙂
Step 2: Materials List
To make your own Tuna Can Swing Out, you will need:
- 4 tuna cans* and 4 lids (plus one additional lid if you want a cover on top).
- 1 rigid plastic straw (inner post). I harvested mine from a leaky cup, but they can also be purchased.
- 1 wide smoothie straw** (outer sections)
- Can opener (be sure to use one that doesn’t leave a sharp edge!)
- Hot glue or something more permanent like gorilla glue or E6000 industrial strength glue
- White glue
- White chalk (to achieve chalkboard effect or to write on labels)
- Scrap paper or the back of window envelopes to print labels. If you already have some chalk labels on-hand, you can use those instead.
- Hacksaw or bandsaw
- 3/4″ black iron pipe (whatever height you desire; I used 3.5″)
- 2 black iron flanges (note that they don’t even have to be the same circumference as long as they fit the same thread as the iron pipe)
*Keep in mind is that tuna isn’t the only thing that comes in small cans. As you can see in the picture, you can use cans of varying heights. While it’s better to use four of the same cans, you could use different heights as long as the cans are the same width and stack well together.
** I happened to have a ridgid plastic straw and a package of smoothie straws, but you can use any combination of straws as long as one fits inside the other.
Wash the cans out thoroughly with soap and water and bleach if necessary if you find there’s a lingering odour in the can. I use water-packed tuna so I find that soap and water is enough.
For demonstration purposes in the video and most of the tutorial, you’ll notice that I’m using neon-coloured smoothie straws for the outer sections so you can differentiate the pieces. To make this for actual use, I would recommend using a clear smoothie straw (if you have one) so it doesn’t clash with the colour of the tuna cans.
Step 3: The Secret to Making It Swing
To make the swing-out feature work, I used extra wide smoothie straws which need to be big enough to slip easily over a rigid plastic straw. That’s the secret to creating the pivot action: if the outer straw is too tight, the cans won’t swing easily, but if too loose they might sag – so fit is important. I even found that some of the smoothie straws within the same package were smaller than others so make sure you test them together before you glue anything onto the cans (as you’ll see later when I was experimenting)!
The rigid plastic straw that acts as the inner pivot post is the kind used in insulated cups. If you happen to have an insulated cup that leaks, like I did, you can harvest the straw from that. If not, you can also buy similar straws in a 6-pack as shown in the picture below (see the materials list for source).
Step 4: Getting Started
Save your cans as you use them. Open them with a smooth-edge can opener, (I used a Kuhn). It cuts from the side leaving the rim smooth, not sharp or jagged, which is important for safe handling and use. Measure the side of the tuna can from below the top rim to the bottom and cut four ‘sections’ of smoothie straw to that length. Mine were about 1 1/4″ long.
Although I used hot glue in the video for demonstration purposes to attach the smoothie straw sections to the side of each can, it is easily removable on the slick metal surface of the tuna can. PRO TIP: use something permanent like gorilla glue, E6000 glue, or the like, if you want it to last.
PRO TIP: Ensure the pieces are glued straight up and down. If you get them off-kilter it could interfere with the swing-out action – and will show uneven gaps.
Step 5: Measure Height for Inner Post / Cut Spacers
Now you’ll need to cut the inner straw – or post – to length. Temporarily pop the lids onto the cans so you can stack them and measure the total height. Add 1/2 and inch or so and cut the rigid plastic straw to that measurement, then set aside (I used my bandsaw to cut it, but you could also use a hacksaw).
The best way to measure for the spacers is to thread the cans onto the straw and measure the gap (mine were about 3/16″). Cut three spacers to fit in between the cans from the smoothie straw; it cuts easily with scissors.
If you don’t add the spacers, the cans won’t be well supported and the swing out function won’t work properly.
By the way, the picture above shows you what a mistake looks like: there shouldn’t be such large gaps between the cans themselves. I took this picture after I discovered the outer straw was too tight and had to start over again. It serves to show you what will happen if you don’t test the fit before you glue. PRO TIP: dry fit the two straws BEFORE you cut and glue.
PRO TIP: if you happen to use a rigid straw for the outer pieces too, the spacers in particular are small so to cut them accurately, you can mark a length of straw with 3/16″ green tape then use a mini pipe cutter to score the line around the straw. It probably won’t cut through the hard plastic, but you’ll have a line you can follow with the hacksaw.
Step 6: Labeling Options – Using Envelopes
If you like, you can make labels to identify the contents of each of your compartments. I pre-printed my own labels for the cans out of scrap paper, cut them out and glued them on with white glue. The other option is to leave the label blank so you’re not committed to what the contents will be; then you can write the label with chalk. This allows you to switch it up any time you want.
I save up all our paper misprints and even the envelopes we receive for our bills; we use them to make grocery lists. This is an ideal opportunity to use them for this project.
If using envelopes to print your labels, cut off the flap and front, leaving the back to print on.
Measure the length and width, then use those measurements to format the size of the page. Format the printer settings to the same size and specify the rear paper feed slot to print.
I used Microsoft Word as the software and found that 3 labels fit vertically on each envelope with the print margins.
PRO TIP: measure the height and width of the cans you’ll be using. As you can see in the picture below, you may have to adjust the height of the label to fit your specific can.
Step 7: Chalk It Up!
Chalk boards are every where these days and very popular, so why not give your labels a chalk-board effect too? After cutting out the labels, apply the white glue to the can and apply the label on top. Be sure NOT to get excess glue on the face of the label (the chalk won’t adhere to glue).
Once the glue is dry, rub chalk over the front of the labels.
Blend the chalk by lightly wiping with a piece of paper towel, leaving a chalky haze: instant chalk board effect!
Another option is to leave the labels blank. Instead of pre-printing text, just print the background. That way you can still glue them on and chalk in whatever you want. It will allow you to erase and re-write the label.
Step 8: Other Label Options
As you can see in the quick video above, for variation I tried out a different way to label the cans but it failed. Instead of paper, I thought it would look cool to use a self-adhesive transparent backing so the colour of the can would show through the font! I had seen a tutorial that uses tape to lift the black ink from the paper. You place the tape over the printout, burnish it with something hard like a credit card, then soak it for a minute. When the paper softens, rub it away and you’re magically left with the ink on the clear tape. The tape eventually becomes sticky again after it’s set aside to dry and can be stuck onto whatever you’re labeling. The tutorial looked too good to be true and it was to a point!
Pro Tip: What I discovered is that you can’t use an ink jet printer because it dissolves in the water and bleeds. The tape matters too; the adhesive has to be strong enough so it holds onto the ink after you soak and peel away the paper. If you have access to a laser printer and good quality clear tape, go ahead and give it try.
I went with Plan B; I printed on a sheet of clear shipping labels I had in my office supply.
As you can see below, the shade of the can comes through the transparent text and imparts a more elegant look.
Step 9: Stack ‘Em Up and Assemble
Glue the lids onto the bottom of each can. This will help them nestle properly once they are stacked onto the rigid straw.
Insert the rigid plastic straw through the smoothie straw section of the bottom can.
Follow with a spacer, the second can, another spacer, the third can, then the last spacer and can.
Step 10: Cap It Off
Once finished stacking the cans, I looked around for something to finish off the open end of the plastic straw. I unscrewed the end cap from a dried-up ball-point pen.
I inserted the cap into the top of the straight straw and it fit perfectly! Add a dab of glue to secure it.
Step 11: Make a Stand
To make a stand, I used a 3.5″ length of 3/4″ black iron pipe leftover from another project and screwed it onto a flange. I glued a second flange onto the lid of the tuna can which was then glued onto the bottom of one of the cans. This allows you to attach the stand to give the tower some height.
Test it Out
Load up the compartments and test that they all open and close properly.
However, you don’t necessarily have to use black pipe for the stand. You could also improvise with a crystal candle stick for instance – or anything else that provides a heavy enough counterbalance when all the compartments are open. Weight is important because you want the unit to be steady and not tip when it’s open in the swing out position. The stand isn’t just pretty to look at – it has a practical purpose too!
Step 12: Swing Into Action
This picture shows the Tuna Can Swing Out in the kitchen being used as a hot drink station.
In the following overhead shots, the sections swing out to reveal a costume jewelry stash / hair accessories and office supplies respectively.
Step 13: Add a Lid
If you want, you can add a lid on top. You can simply glue a small pipe clamp on it to act as a handle as in the first picture. Although I left the original lid as-is, you could paint it if you wish.
In this example, I swapped out the original tuna can lid for another recycled lid that was a better match with the gold can and without writing. I added a small brass knob.
Either way looks good; do whatever suits your taste – and use whatever you have on-hand.
Step 14: Special Theme and Decorative Variations
You can decorate your cans with paint, washi tape, duct tape or whatever you happen to have. Have fun with it! This one pictured below was made for my little friend to hold a prized collection of hot wheels. I re-sprayed old fridge magnets to spell out his name and painted the cans his favourite colours.
It took a bit of trial and error to get paint to stick to the cans. I thought that using a spray primer before painting would guarantee success but the primer didn’t work on one of the cans. As you can see from the comparison below, the can on the left did not pass the ‘scratch test’. Although the second can looks scuffed, the primer is sticking well. I actually used the exact same primer for both, but in retrospect I realized the cans came from two different manufacturers. Perhaps there was a coating on one or it was the way the metal was made.
PRO TIP: All cans are not alike so if you plan on painting and want it to last, you’ll have to do your own experiments to see what combination of primer and/or paint works! Even the pros have failures: sometimes you just can’t get away from conducting your own tests.
Step 15: Make One or Two!
This would be a great project to do with kids to teach them the value of sustainability (and they’ll get a kick out of using it too)!
The possibilities for what you can store are endless! If you enjoyed this sustainable craft project, please pin and share:
Check out some of our other sustainable craft projects on Birdz of a Feather ~ Craft Rehab and subscibe, if you haven’t already:
Last picture, from upper left to right:
- Blue Jean Planter
- Austin Powers Cardboard Portrait
- Soda Bottle Vertical Garden
- Paint Chip Portrait
- Paint Bucket Water Feature
- Craft Rehab category to explore more….
You can also find us on YouTube.