Our tin can crafts project is so unique; the swing out feature allows you to store a multitude of items like jewelry, office supplies and you can even turn it into a drink station. The possibilities are endless!
We hope you use this tutorial to inspire your own sustainable craft projects because, good planets are hard to find!
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 your home, but have a look at the video and you may just change your mind (I promise, it’s quick!).
Tin Can Crafts Materials
* [If you’re looking for some of the things we used, we’ve got you covered (disclosure): Clicking on the affiliate links below means we may receive a commission. But don’t worry, you don’t pay a cent more and it helps us make more unique crafts to share with you! Thanks for helping to support our blog!]
To make your own tin can craft, 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)
* Tuna isn’t the only thing that comes in small cans, as you see below. But keep in mind that whatever you use can’t stack higher than the length of a straw. For that reason, you may only be able to use 3 taller cans, as opposed to 4 tuna cans.
** A Note About Straws
Single use plastic straws have been banned in many places since I first wrote this post. 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. Recycle whatever works.
Tin Can Crafts Prep
Because you don’t want a lingering door, wash the cans out thoroughly with soap and water and bleach if necessary.
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. That’s so you can differentiate the pieces. When I make these for my own actual use, my personal preference is clear straws.
How to Make the Tin Can Crafts Swing
Here’s the secret to the pivot action: fit is important. The two-straw process to make the swing-out feature work requires an outer and inner straw.
For the outer straw, I use extra wide smoothie straws big enough to easily slip over a rigid plastic straw. If the outer straw is too tight, the cans won’t swing easily, but if too loose they might sag. The final component is spacers, which you’ll see further down.
I find that some of smoothie straws within the same package are smaller than others so make sure you test them together first before you glue anything onto the cans!
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, harvest the straw from that. You can also buy similar straws in a 6-pack as shown below (see the materials list for source).
Open the Cans
Open the tuna cans with a smooth-edge can opener, (I use 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 use hot glue in the video to attach the straws, that’s just for ease of demonstration. Hot glue is too easily removable on the slick metal surface of the tuna can. TIP: use a permanent glue such as gorilla glue, E6000 glue, or the like.
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.
Inner Post and 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 a 1/2″ or so and cut the rigid plastic straw to that measurement, then set aside (I use my bandsaw to cut, 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.
The picture above doesn’t have its spacers yet. That’s because 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. Again, dry fit the two straws BEFORE you cut and glue.
Labeling Your Tin Can Crafts
Since this is an excercise in upcycling, why not make use of scrap paper? We save our paper misprints and even our bill envelopes.
When printing with envelopes, cut off the flap. Then cut away the, leaving the back to print on.
Use the length and width measurements to format the size of the page in whatever software program you use (I simply use Word). Format the printer settings to the same size and specify the rear paper feed slot to print.
You’ll likely find that 3 labels will fit vertically on each envelope.
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.
Chalk It Up!
We’re imitating the look of chalkboard! After cutting out the labels, apply 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!
Alternatively, another option is to leave the labels blank. Instead of pre-printing text, just print the black background. That way you can chalk in whatever text you want, and re-write the label as you wish!
Alternate Label Options
As another option, print on a sheet of clear shipping labels.
As you can see below, the shade of the can comes through the transparent text. While the chalkboard label is rustic, doesn’t this one look elegant?
Tin Can Crafts Assembly
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.
Cap It Off
Once stacking is done, unscrew an end cap from a spent ball-point pen.
Insert the cap into the top of the straight straw and it fit perfectly! Add a dab of glue to secure it.
Elevate Tin Can Crafts
A crystal candle stick – or something that provides a heavy counterbalance when all the compartments are open – makes a great stand. Weight is important so your tin can craft doesn’t tip when it swings open.
I happen to have leftover black pipe to make a DIY stand.
Before threading on the pipe, glue one flange onto the lid of the tuna can (which is then glued onto the bottom of one of the cans).
Load up the compartments and test that they all open and close properly.
Embellishing with Paint
Before we get to the reveals, you can also paint your tin can craft. It takes 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 realize the cans came from two different manufacturers. Perhaps there is a coating on one or it’s just the way the metal is made.
TIP: All cans are not alike so if you plan on painting, do your own experiments to see what combination of primer and/or paint works!
Tin Can Crafts Projects
Swing Into Action
Use your tin can craft in the kitchen as a hot drink station.
Or it ‘can’ swing out to reveal a costume jewelry stash / hair accessories.
Office Supply Storage
Here’s another idea for office supplies!
Toy Car Storage
You can even paint one for a little friend to store his Hot Wheels!
In order to keep dust off, add a lid if you like. One idea is to glue a small pipe clamp on it as a finger pull.
Or swap out the original tuna can lid for another recycle lid to match match the gold tuna cans.
In this example a small brass knob looks pretty sharp! Use whatever you have on hand.
Sustainable Tin Can Crafts
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)!
Pin Tin Can Crafts
The possibilities for what you can store are endless! If you enjoyed this sustainable craft project, please pin and share:
Sustainable Crafts: BoF Craft Rehab
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….