Drink Can Tinwork

tinwork10.jpgSoft drink cans are easily recyclable as scrap metal, but I fancied trying something a little more direct - a simplified form of tinwork.



All that's needed for this project is a strong pair of scissors, a cork-backed table mat, a pointed object (a scriber or just a ballpoint pen), a little bit of tape and some fine abrasive paper.

Plus of course an empty aluminium drink can - this one contained 'Emerge' - an energy drink containing caffeine and taurine, with a flavour and aroma that perfectly reproduces the experience of drinking something fizzy and anonymously fruity next to a public urinal. If that puts you off the idea of emptying a can for yourself, there are probably other places you can get hold of one.

tinwork2.JPGFirst, I cut the can down one side, then cut carefully around the ends.

Extreme care is required here, as the edges of the thin metal are sharp and jagged.

tinwork3.JPGThen I opened out the side into a flattish sheet and gave it another trim to remove the worst of the jagged points.

It's always a bit surprising how much material such an apparently small cylinder yields - I think it's just not all that easy to intuitively estimate the circumference of a circle.

tinwork4.JPGI taped the metal down flat onto the cork back of a table mat, then used a piece of fine abrasive paper to remove the printing.

It isn't strictly necessary to remove the paint from the can, but it does make forming a pattern easier later on.

tinwork5.JPGThen I used the scriber (and later, an ordinary ballpoint pen) to mark out a decorative pattern on the metal.

- Pressing just hard enough to crease the material, but not hard enough to puncture or score it

tinwork6.JPGOnce the design has been pressed into the metal, it tends to prevent it recoiling back into a cylinder - the work can be removed from the cork board.

I've decorated this one with a simple pattern consisting of geometric shapes, swirls and spirals - but obviously other designs are possible.

It may even be possible, with a little care and skill, to reproduce a picture in beaten relief style.

tinwork7.JPGI cut the piece to shape with the scissors...

tinwork8.JPGThen folded in the corners, to create a box shape.

Again, great care is needed here to avoid cuts from the sharp edges.


The end result is a little metal box with an embossed pattern.


Not bad for a first effort - I'd do a few things differently next time, such as leaving an extra bit on the edge and folding it over inwards, so the box doesn't have any exposed sharp edges.

It Gets Better

tinwork10.jpgI found a way of getting the design to stand out in sharper relief.

I traced the entire design as normal, then (before any folding) flipped over the metal and using the same kind of embossing technique, traced around the raised pattern elements from the other side - following the inside and outside edges of all the raised elements.

Then I flipped it over and re-traced the original design once more. The result is a much clearer, bolder embossed design.

And Better...

tinwork11.pngIt was also pretty simple to make the box with turned-over edges that were not so sharp - by leaving an extra tab on each side

The diagonal scored lines (marked in red) are embossed from the front surface of the work - enabling the corners to be folded inwards.

The lines scored to enable the edge flaps to be finally tucked in are marked in blue on this diagram - they're embossed from the back, like most of the other work, but I found it necessary to make them from a pair of closely-spaced parallel lines - as the thin metal tends to snap if creased into a really tight fold.

And Better Still

tinwork12.jpgFinally, it's quite easy to tweak the measurements for a second box so that one fits snugly over the other.

I found that by reducing the central square region by about a quarter inch and increasing the height of the sides by a similar amount, the resulting box was just small enough to push inside the other as a base.

Remember which way up it's going to be when you're applying the designs though.

tinwork13.jpgI lined my box with a little scrap of tapestry-style fabric, held in place with all-purpose glue.

Felt or velvet would also work just as well - I think it's even possible to get self-adhesive versions of these, which would probably be ideal.



1. On Friday, August 14, 2009, 17:36 by Marisa

Fantastic idea!!! I love using old items for new creations! Keep up the good work!

2. On Sunday, August 16, 2009, 20:02 by GEZ


3. On Thursday, October 29, 2009, 14:54 by Sister Diane

This is stunningly beautiful - thanks so much for this very clear tutorial. And all the safety warnings. :-)

4. On Saturday, December 5, 2009, 19:47 by Sam

What a beautiful box. I made some embossed can Christmas cards last year, and when I stop sneezing I'll be making some more, but now I have to try this box tooThanks for the clear tutorial :-);

5. On Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 17:55 by ХУДОжnick

Hey, I like it well doneThanks for the good tutorial:);

6. On Thursday, December 10, 2009, 15:35 by Jim

I was inspired by this to make theshttp://aviary.com/creation?fguid=b73fe2b4-36ef-102d-80b9-0030488e168c;

7. On Saturday, November 6, 2010, 17:45 by Kirsty

many years ago, me and my ex-partner made spotlights from drinks cans using light fittings, corks tohold in place and wire coat hangers to form the stand for the light. this takes me back toi the seventies! yay . .

8. On Monday, November 8, 2010, 10:14 by Minnie

This is fantastic, thanks! I would have tried this immediately, except that I'm in the office right now!

9. On Thursday, November 18, 2010, 17:06 by Mixedmediastuff

Very clever!

10. On Sunday, January 23, 2011, 16:41 by Raymond

Had a great time this morning making a box myself. Plenty more soda cans left to be made into boxes :-)

11. On Sunday, January 23, 2011, 17:54 by Jennifer Ressmann

I agree! This is a fantastic reuse of materials. The box is lovely, well done and I bet anyone would love to receive as a gift. The reuse of the metal materials and taking the time to create something nice is what strikes me most!

12. On Thursday, January 27, 2011, 21:13 by Luke

I love this project! I think it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to fold the box without a number of the edges shearing off. I've had two attempts now, and no luck with either. I thought I'd pressed too hard with the pen the first t

13. On Thursday, January 27, 2011, 23:18 by Mike (For Atomic Shrimp)

Hmmm... sometimes the metal does crack on the very tight folds. A few factors that might be at playMake sure you're inscribing the lines from the correct side of the metal - the crease should be the natural start of the fold - it will crack if you cr

14. On Thursday, January 27, 2011, 23:20 by Mike (For Atomic Shrimp)

... If all else fails, you could try annealing the metal by heating it in the oven on the hottest setting, then allowing it to cool naturallyIt's also possible to anneal using a blowtorch, but carefully, because it's also easy to burn/melt the thin me

15. On Monday, March 7, 2011, 23:01 by rb0094

Just made two boxes... awesome idea and an easy to follow video ;Amazing what a few hours and four soda cans can make.;

16. On Saturday, August 27, 2011, 14:06 by hannah

from france, did want to thank you for making me enjoy this very rainy saturday- i'm working on my first box but was baking a pie 'une tarte aux mirabelles' at the same time, silly me, i did cut myself once or twice (just barely). enjoyed the easy-to-

17. On Thursday, March 15, 2012, 15:37 by Sarah

I am trying to make the tin can box but every time I do the sides tear and fall off :( I've tried with and without doing the line, inside and outside line then original line again. Do you have any suggestions ???

18. On Thursday, March 15, 2012, 23:17 by Mike (for Atomic Shrimp)

Tearing of the metal along folds is certainly a problem sometimes. Using a different brand of can might help - as not all cans are the same thickness and alloyWhat you definitely can't do is fold to crease, then unfold back (as you might if it was ma

19. On Thursday, March 15, 2012, 23:17 by Mike (for Atomic Shrimp)

If you still find the metal cracks, try heating it in an oven, then allowing to cool naturally - this should anneal the metal and make it very soft and pliable (even once cooled)

20. On Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 04:43 by Jamie B

Hi, thank you for sharing this tutorial! You are an amazing artist..it's hard to believe this is made using a energy drink can. I just finished a soda can crafts round-up and I hope that it's okay, I just couldn't resist featuring your embossed drink

21. On Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 14:46 by hypocacculus

Gread idea, but one comment... I'm afraid the average domestic oven won't reach the 300+ deg C necessary to anneal aluminium; I use the gas burner of my cooker to anneal small metal items - you need to heat them until they are glowing dull red. Steel

22. On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 18:47 by John

Please handle with care. The insides of most if not all aluminum soda cans are coated with a plastic resin made with BPA. In addition to something you likely want to be careful with touching, heating a can up could possibly release it and other harmfu

23. On Thursday, January 17, 2013, 19:41 by jas0501

Great idea! A few comments1. When cutting the metal don't cut until the tip of the scissor as this creates bumps and tears on the edge. Also you may find cutting in one direction easier than the other when trimming the top and bottom edges.2. Once cut

24. On Sunday, June 1, 2014, 17:48 by Dan

Your dishwasher will remove the paint from the cans and will save you the trouble of sanding it off.

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