Introduction: 3 Things to Make From Old License Plates

Picture of 3 Things to Make From Old License Plates

Here are three simple and useful things you can make from old license plates.

In this instructable I cover how to make:

  • a box
  • a mail and key holder
  • a pendant lamp

License plates carry a lot of nostalgia and are very interesting visually, so it's no wonder they're incredibly popular to re-make into other things. A bonus feature is that they are easy to work with using common tools!

These 3 projects were completed with basic handheld tools, such as a drill, jig saw, circular saw, clamps, screws and rivets. I hope you're inspired to make one of these things for yourself.

Thanks for taking a look!

Step 1: Get Some Plates!

Picture of Get Some Plates!

I've been keeping my old license plates ever since I sold my first car many years ago. Over the years I've also gathered a few plates from friends and family.

I soaked the whole stack of old plates in a sink full of hot, soapy water and then gave them a good scrub and rinse. All of the front plates were especially buggy, for some reason . . .

Step 2: Project #1: Simple Box

Picture of Project #1: Simple Box

This is a simple box made from two license plates. US plates are 12" wide by 6" tall, and this little box takes great advantage of these easy-to-work-with dimensions.

Materials and tools I recommend:

  • 2 license plates (one will be mostly covered, so keep that in mind)
  • ruler and marker
  • jig saw with metal cutting blade
  • clamps, scrap board, mallet or hammer
  • drill and bits
  • pop riveter and rivets (this is the cheap one I have) - alternately you could use small nuts and bolts
  • adhesive-backed felt feet

Step 3: Cut First Plate

Picture of Cut First Plate

The plate that will make up the outside of the box needs to be cut in half lengthwise.

Mark a line accordingly with a marker. I used clamps to hold the plate to a small work table, and cut it in half with a jigsaw using a fine-toothed metal cutting blade. The rough edges were gently sanded by hand with 100 grit sandpaper to remove any aluminum burs.

Now both halves were marked 3 inches in from the ends, as shown in the second photo. The second plate is marked in exactly the same way at this point - 3 inches in from each end.

Step 4: Bend First Plate

Picture of Bend First Plate

Using a scrap board to hold the plate pieces, I clamped them to my work table along the marked lines.

The plates were bent over, and then tapped with a mallet until the folds were square.

Step 5: Bend Second Plate

Picture of Bend Second Plate

The ends of the second plate were bent over just like the pieces of the first plate.

Step 6: Test Fit

Picture of Test Fit

The half plates need to fit over the bent ends of the whole plate. (I chose to have the Washington plate go entirely on the outside, but you could put the tabs internally if you wanted, so some of each plate was showing on the outside.)

Mine did not fit very well, so I pounded one side of the full plate back flat, and re-bent it so the bottom area was slightly smaller. Then the half-plates fit around it perfectly.

Step 7: Clamp, Drill, Rivet

Picture of Clamp, Drill, Rivet

One of the cool aspects of this design is that the holes line up almost perfectly!

I used a clamp to hold the pieces together, and used a 3/16" bit to ream out each pair of closely-lined-up holes as needed, then added a rivet to each spot. Then I drilled a hole and added an additional rivet to each tab as shown in the top photo.

On the inside where the drill bit exited the inner plate, there were some aluminum burs that I ground away with a grinding stone on my rotary toll. It's not absolutely necessary, but it helps make a clean connection.

Step 8: Add Some Feet

Picture of Add Some Feet

I cleaned off any exposed pen marks with a bit of solvent and added some felt feet. Done!

I love the way this little box turned out and will probably make a few more.

Step 9: Project #2: Mail & Key Holder

Picture of Project #2: Mail & Key Holder

A mail and key holder is always useful, and we've needed a decent place to hang our keys for years.

Since this is highly visible and gets daily use, I picked a plate that had some sentimental value.

Materials and tools I recommend:

  • license plate
  • scrap wood - I used a 5 1/2" wide piece of scrap pine
  • saw for cutting wood
  • sandpaper
  • spray lacquer
  • drill and bits
  • 3 small pan head screws (they need to be no longer than the scrap wood is thick)
  • some 2" nails
  • screws for fastening to wall - I used drywall anchors with suitable screws

Step 10: Cut and Finish the Wood

Picture of Cut and Finish the Wood

Cut a piece of wood that is 12 inches long. I used a circular saw, but any number of cutting tools could be used.

I used some sand paper to gently sand away some rough edges, and then sprayed the piece of wood with lacquer spray.

Step 11: Mark and Drill Mounting Holes

Picture of Mark and Drill Mounting Holes

Mark the location of the holes a the top of the plate onto the wood, and extend these marks down 3/4" inch from the top of the board.

At these 3/4-inch-down marks, I poked starting holes with a nail set tool to help the drill bit stay centered while drilling the clearance holes for the wall-mounting screws.

Drill the holes for the mounting screws so they are sized just slightly bigger than the screws that will be used to mount this to the wall. In my case these holes needed to be 3/16". The screws should slip freely through these mounting holes.

Step 12: Mark Plate and Drill Holes

Picture of Mark Plate and Drill Holes

Lay out where holes will be needed along the bottom of the license plate.

For me, I decided to mount the plate to the board with three screws, and add 6 nails as key hangers. Holes for the screws and nails were laid out and marked about 1/2" up from the bottom edge of the plate as shown in the first photo.

On the backside of the plate I made marks on both ends 1" up from the bottom edge. These will be used to help bend the plate in the next step.

On the front I now drilled 1/8" holes in all the locations I had marked. Normal woodworking bits work just fine for this.

Step 13: Bend Plate and Fasten to Board

Picture of Bend Plate and Fasten to Board

Using a pair of clamps and a scrap board I fastened the plate to my table, just covering the lower 1" section as marked in the last step.

The plate was then gently bent over by hand, until it was about 22.5 degrees. (I just eyeballed what I thought looked about half of a 45-degree angle. It doesn't have to be perfect.)

The plate was now fastened to the board. I positioned the plate over the board, and pre-drilled through the screw holes in the plate into the wood with a 3/32" bit. This is just to help the screws bite and not split the wood.

Then the three screws were fastened in place, securing the plate to the board.

Step 14: Pre-drill for the Key Hanger Nails

Picture of Pre-drill for the Key Hanger Nails

Since the key hanger nails are so close to the edge of the board, I decided to pre-drill holes for these as well using a 3/32" bit.

I propped up the board along the back edge, and held my drill as uprightly as possible and drilled down into the wood through the holes made in the plate previously. Be careful to only drill into the wood about 3/4 of the way, and not all the way through.

I put a drop of super glue into each nail hole, and then the nails were gently tapped in place.

Step 15: Mount to Wall

Picture of Mount to Wall

To mark for the locations of the drywall anchors, I put the two mounting screws in place as shown in the first photo.

Using a level, I held this against the wall where I wanted it, and pressed the screws into the wall, creating little indents precisely where I needed to drill and install my drywall anchors.

The wall was drilled and anchors installed, and then the mounting screws were used to fasten the Mail and Key Holder in place as shown.

Easy peasy!

Step 16: Project #3: Pendant Lamp

Picture of Project #3: Pendant Lamp

I made this for my mother-in-law from a pair of her old plates. I love the way it turned out though, so I may have to make one for myself.

Materials and tools I recommend:

  • 2 license plates
  • scrap wood
  • saw for cutting wood
  • hole saw, jig saw, or large spade-style drill bit sized as needed
  • sandpaper
  • lacquer or spray paint
  • pendant lamp - I used a Sekond lamp from Ikea
  • large-headed screws (I used the actual kind used to fasten plates to cars)

Step 17: Bend Plates in Half

Picture of Bend Plates in Half

Mark and bend the plates in half using the same techniques that were shown in earlier steps.

Step 18: Prepare Wood Top

Picture of Prepare Wood Top

Cut a piece of wood that is 6 inches square. I used some scrap pine that was 3/4" thick.

Mark the center of the piece of wood, and cut a hole sized to fit the lamp socket. I used a 1 3/4" hole saw, drilling half way down, and then flipping the piece over to complete the cut. The hole was slightly oversized for the light socket on my lamp, so I wrapped the socket with electrical tape until it fit snuggly.

The hole in the board can be created a number of ways, depending on what tools you have access to and the size and style of socket you are working with.

At this point, I lightly sanded and sprayed the wood with lacquer spray.

Step 19: A Trick for Fastening Wood to Plates!

Picture of A Trick for Fastening Wood to Plates!

The plates will be screwed to the wood piece through the existing holes in the plates. But the wood cannot sit flush against the top of the plates--it actually needs to sit about 1/4" below the top edge.

To help position the wood and make it easier to pre-drill the holes and fasten the screws, I first affixed the wood to the plates with double-sided foam tape (similar to this stuff). Note that this tape is not sufficient to hold long-term by itself--it's only used to aid in getting the screws in place.

Holes for the screws were drilled into the wood, and the screws fastened in place. The holes should be slightly smaller than the threaded portion of the screws. In my case for the screws I used, I drilled holes that were 3/16".

Step 20: Fasten Light, and You're Done

Picture of Fasten Light, and You're Done

To complete the lamp, the light kit was fastened in place in the new license plate shade.

Install a hook in the ceiling where you want the lamp, hang it up, and you're done!

These were fun little projects, and I hope you found something you liked.

As always, comments and feedback are encouraged. Thanks for taking a look!

Comments

VERY ARTISTIC BEAUTIFUL ART MY FRIEND!!!!

CONGRATS!!!!

: D

TheKitMurkit. (author)2016-06-21

Cool makes! And you have very beautiful planes there in US. In Europe they are too ordinary.

seamster (author)TheKitMurkit.2016-06-21

Thank you!

I had to chuckle though - I tend to like European plates. They're typically very clean looking, which I'd rather have on my car than the gaudy-looking plates some US states have! :)

3366carlos (author)2016-03-28

very nice, I recommend bending the edges of the plate first. The are too thin and can cut your skin.

Yonatan24 (author)3366carlos2016-03-30

I'm not sure, But I think they're pretty thick...

Still, They can cut you

mlawing (author)2016-03-29

Neat ideas!

funkyyoudaman (author)2016-03-28

Old plates can be used to roof a birdhouse. Bend into a V and install over wood or Styrofoam so the birdhouse does not get too hot. I have seen birdhouses made out of an old boot with a license plate roof.

I always wanted to use old plates for siding and shingles for an outhouse or an outbuilding.

Flower border, patch a squirrel entry, noisy mobil clanger for your garden.

nonderbe (author)2016-03-28

In Belgium there is no need to ever change your license plates. When you change cars, you can reuse the plates you already had on your old car. So as per default, a person would go by his whole life only owning one and the same set of plates.

It's a very economical/ecological way of thinking, but it prevents executing projects like this of course. ;-)

mtairymd (author)2016-03-27

The lamp is very cool. My state makes you turn them in :(.

NancyB42 (author)mtairymd2016-03-28

At first I thought you meant turn in the lamp, but then I realized you were talking about the plates. (#imanidiot) I don't know if you travel, but here in Iowa the auto salvage yards are full of vehicles with old plates, especially obsolete plates. (The blue ones are kind of pretty, actually.) You could probably get some inexpensively if you go out of state.

mtairymd (author)NancyB422016-03-28

I had a stack of old plates the previous owner left at my house. I know you can also ask around or purchase them online. The stack I had were vintage - another way of saying rusty, faded and bent. I gave them away to someone I thought might be able to use them.

seamster (author)mtairymd2016-03-27

Thanks! I was a bit surprised to hear that some states do that; it seems like a real bummer to me : \

mrandle (author)2016-03-28

Certain places (at least Alberta, Canada) will let you use reuse licence plates that are the same year as your classic car for registration, but you can only drive them to shows.

Chief Turtle (author)2016-03-27

It might to put an inline switch for the light kit. This addition would be safer then pulling the plug out every time you wanted to turn the light off of on.

seamster (author)Chief Turtle2016-03-28

Yes indeed, good point.

I actually added a switch, but didn't mention it in the instructions. It's a Leviton brand inline switch from home depot. Like this one:

debra.ridleyhurst (author)2016-03-28

Add to your list clocks.

Logan302 (author)2016-03-27

Great ideas

Timdevon (author)2016-03-27

I bought this for my wife a few years ago. Made by a company called Little Earth I believe. She has had many comments on it. When I saw your post I thought of sharing this to give your viewers another idea as well. Thanks for sharing your skills!

warspyder (author)Timdevon2016-03-27

Cool purse!

seamster (author)Timdevon2016-03-27

That is a really cool purse!

I really like that. Maybe I'll have to try to make one sometime. Thanks for the photos!

BrianJewett (author)2016-03-27

A word of caution about this lamp. It would be a good idea to only use fluorescent or LED bulbs in this. There's no provision made for venting and the old standard incandescent bulbs could build up enough heat to be a fire hazard over time with that wooden top plate. If you used another license plate for the top it would be safer. If you cut a square from an extra plate, rotated it 45°, and bent the corners down for attachment points, it would leave a nice opening in each corner to vent the heat.

seamster (author)BrianJewett2016-03-27

Great point. I've got an LED bulb in the lamp currently, and I'll be sure to mention your point when the lamp ends up in the hands of the person it was created for.

Thanks for the word of caution! :)

BrianJewett (author)seamster2016-03-27

It would help if you could drill/cut some large vent holes in the top but I still wouldn't use an incandescent bulb that close to wood.

dwebb5 (author)2016-03-27

I have seen a lot of Bird Houses with a License Plate as the roof !

danzo321 (author)2016-03-27

When I visited Tijuana a long time ago, they were making all sorts of things from license plates. Modern plates are much thinner and maybe not steel so we could not do the welding they did.

kohenkatz (author)2016-03-27

Note that in many states, plates must be returned to the state when they are no longer in use.

tjesse (author)kohenkatz2016-03-27

Or what will happen?

kohenkatz (author)tjesse2016-03-27

Like @SusanD77 said - they won't issue you a new one.

Technically, if you are moving out of state, and you don't plan to ever be back, you can probably get away with it. However, I heard from a friend about his friend who was fined when the police came to his apartment for a different reason and confiscated his old license plate collection as "stolen state property".

JenniferO6 (author)tjesse2016-03-27

In NY, if you don't turn your plates back in, you can't cancel your insurance... at least, not without having your license suspended and paying fees.

SusanD77 (author)tjesse2016-03-27

they won't issue you a new one.

seamster (author)kohenkatz2016-03-27

That's good to know, thanks.

PipH2 made it! (author)2016-03-27

i made it in a frame

1957Canuck (author)2016-03-27

Great Ideas!...
I can use a few of my plates that are mounted on my workshop walls...

warspyder (author)2016-03-27

I really like the second project, "Mail & Key Holder".

License plates also make good roofs for bird houses, just make sure the bird house is not in the direct sun.

Thanks for sharing!

seamster (author)warspyder2016-03-27

Thank you for the great comment. Glad you liked the key holder! That was my wife's favorite creation out of the three, as well :)

LouL8 (author)2016-03-27

Being a long time license plate collector, I call this absolute sacrilege! Appalling! It would be so much nicer to use 4 x license plates and a light timber internal frame, then screw the plates to the frame. Maintaining the original plate rather than cutting it into pieces. Conserve, preserve, not destroy.

seamster (author)LouL82016-03-27

To each his own, I guess.

I understand your sentiment, though, as I feel the same about certain things. I'll note that my little projects here are far less destructive than most license plate crafts! ;)

ShakeTheFuture (author)2016-03-25

Very nice, especially the lamp!

Now I am interested in getting a US license plates :)

seamster (author)ShakeTheFuture2016-03-25

Hey, thanks!

And thank you very much for creating your "3 Things" format that I am very blatantly imitating here.

I had a handful of license plate projects in the works, and it just seemed silly to separate them into individual posts. So the best option was an all-in-one instructable, similar to the ones you've done. Hope you don't mind! ;)

ShakeTheFuture (author)seamster2016-03-26

No, I don't mind. It's not like I am the only one using this format :)

Thanks!

Makerneer (author)2016-03-26

Cool project!

Creativeman (author)2016-03-26

Good job Mr. Seamster!

Yonatan24 (author)2016-03-26

Awesome! They all look great, But my favorite one was the lamp

parisusa (author)2016-03-25

The Registry in my state always makes me give my old plate back. Hmmm. But I have fond memories of my uncle's garage wall adorned with dozens of plates! Neat ideas and well done!

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