Introduction: Tin Can Art

Picture of Tin Can Art

I knew a real Tin Man, his name was Bobby Hansson. Not only did he write the definitive work on the tin can (The Fine Art of the Tin Can), but he was an accomplished photographer, sculptor, blacksmith, musician and maker of musical instruments; a true Renaissance Artist. He died in 2015. I wrote this 'ible a few years ago but have just now edited it to reflect Bobby's life in the past tense. Very sad to change the "is" to "was", the "know" to "knew", and I think of him every day still. To pay a bit of tribute for all the wonderful artwork and humor he has added to the world here is a Valentine appropriate in style to honor him, but easy enough for anyone to make something quite similar for someone they love.

Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies
  • A variety of cans
  • A frame or a bracelet
  • Tins snips
  • Cotter pins
  • Gorilla glue, super and reguar
  • Drill, drill bits
  • A photo of your Valentine
  • Some glass or plastic to put the photo behind
  • Something to act as a heart, I used a cookie mold but anything at all may be used
  • Plastic doll arms
  • Folding ruler
Many of these items are optional as you may find that glue alone is enough to secure your "person", or you may want to simply mount your photo on some posterboard and set it on top with maybe a tab cut into the "body" can to hold it in place.

Step 2: Pick a Can for the Body

Picture of Pick a Can for the Body

Picking out a can that will be the body will help direct all the rest of your work. Make sure your body can has a lid, that is really important for attaching a head. The can should also have a bottom as this will make attaching the legs easier than without.

The size of the body will determine how big the legs will need to be, the face, arms, etc. But all bodies and body parts are very open to exaggeration. You can have really long arms or legs, every thing can be totally out of real proportion, your own eyes will guide you as we tend to see the human body in all sorts of things that are not even human.

Position whatever you are going to use for arms so you will know at what angle to cut holes or slits. You may put arms on one at a time with a rivet gun and rivets, or chose as I did to let the ruler stay in one piece to create stability.

Step 3: Arms

Picture of Arms

I used some folding rulers and doll hands for the arms, they were in proportion to the can I had picked out to be the body. I had the hands hold the heart and see where they need to be positioned to be able to do that, then cut the body can accordingly.

Step 4: Legs, Feet and a Base

Picture of Legs, Feet and a Base

It's trial and error to find cans that end up being the same height when stacked, you may end up just using some more ruler pieces. But whatever you use, try to make sure you end up with some feet, the feet can then be secured to a base and then your Valentine will look that much better and be more stable. An added plus to a base that is another tin can, is that you may fill it with rocks to weigh it down if your Valentine is a bit top heavy or prone to tipping over. The bottom tin can is also a great hiding place for money or jewelry.

Step 5: Attach the Legs to the Body

Picture of Attach the Legs to the Body

If this was a larger Valentine project I would use a rivet gun and rivets, but with such small tin cans you will easily get away with just using glue. I added some felt pads to give the top of the legs a surface to be glued to the bottom of the body tin can, but you may use cardboard or wood pieces from your ruler.

Felt pads will make things a tad wobbly if they are too thick, but if you need a bit of flex they are perfect, cardboard will create a stiffer "join".

Step 6: The Head

Picture of The Head

Chose a photo of your sweetie and encase it in something like a small picture frame, or cut out a head shape from some tin cans. I had a funny magnifier that fit well inside the bracelet I was using as a frame, as with all projects that are unique, you will use what you have on hand and it will end up being great.

I added a tin can to the back of the bracelet so I had a surface to glue Bobby's head to. I used Gorilla glue here as it expands as it drys and acts like caulk in that it fills up the whole area with expanded glue. I simply peeled off the dried glue that was in places I didn't want it to be seen.

Step 7: I Love Cotter Pins

Picture of I Love Cotter Pins

They seem like a very forgotten fastener. I use them all the time though and just love them. In this case I drilled holes in the bracelet, then the lid of the body and inserted two cotter pins and that was that.

Step 8: Happy Valentines Day!

Picture of Happy Valentines Day!

Put on your lid with the head attached and you are done, your sweetie will be thrilled. You could even put a treasure inside to be found when the head is lifted off. Chocolates? A ring? Post photos of what you have made and I will send you a patch.


AlpineButterfly (author)2011-09-02

Hi Ninzerbean,
I'm taking a class here at Penland... tin art with Bobby Hanson, we were checking out instructables, and ran across your post.... It brought big smiles to the the class and Bobby in particular. Thank you for the awesome instructable and the beautiful inspiring piece!!!!

Wonderful, thank you for letting me know! Enjoy your class too.

porcupinemamma (author)2011-06-18

Looking at it again, and still think it's fabulous!!!

YOU are fabulous! Everywhere I go around this site I run into your positive comments. Thank you.

Thanks Sweetie! Right back at 'cha!!
xxoo Lynie-Poo
would you like me to send you a copy of my book?

I would love one but you mustn't. I have no little kids in my life to share it with. Thank you though.

jamere (author)2011-01-28

So freaking cool!

Ninzerbean (author)jamere2011-01-29

Thanks a freaking lot!

marcintosh (author)2011-01-27

This is stunning.  I always enjoy your work but this really shows your aesthetic bent.  This is also known as Assemblage Art and some of it's practitioners can be found here .  I appreciate this type of art a great deal and I have a great deal of respect for it.  I find it quite difficult to make appropriate/artful selections of materials, 
Thanks for the hint on the felt glue pads.  I've struggled with that before but not anymore 8-D
BTW I like the instructions and arrows on the images.  New?  I don't remember noticing that. 
Mine is a "Two Uses" family and so one of the biggest issues I have is with packaging and containers.  They usually are a one shot product.  I'd like to see an Instructables section dedicated to reuse and adaptation of packaging and this piece is a great example of why.

Again just beautiful and so evocative of Early Americana

Ninzerbean (author)marcintosh2011-01-28

Wow, thank you so much for such a wonderful compliment. I have been reluctant before to make unique pieces for Instructables because I want to everyone to easily be able to replicate what I make, but I think there is enough technique in this one to be applicable to what people have on hand.

I got into the habit of using arrows because up until a short time ago my computer and browser wouldn't let me make little yellow boxes.

When I was little I used caps from toothpaste tubes for drinking cups for my trolls, so I guess the idea of using trash for something else was always in me. Being that I collect cans to use in making other things, I found that the collection was starting to own me; the cans became too precious to turn into something else. It only took my sorting through a lifetime (97 years) of my grandmother's things to realize that you can't take it with you and it's a burden to those you leave behind because the mere fact that you owned it makes it too precious to throw out. So, making the stuff into things that the next generation would actually want to keep, frees you to cut into the "precious" object that is just a part of a collection that only means anything to you. Sorry for such a long reply here, I feel like I am just waking up to this fact and I have to start making many more things.

There is a recycle or reuse channel on Instructables, it's under "Living" I think. But you are right, a category or section on the topic would be great. Your phrase "two use" is really great and it makes me think right away of your great "ible with the bottles that water the plants.

GRANDBUNNY (author)2011-01-27

This is so very clever...and a wonderful addition to all the other fantastic creations you come up with...what a great inspiration for everyone! IASPOY !!

Creativeman (author)2011-01-27

You've done it again, NB! Incredibly creative, your imagination astounds me, continually...thanks for posting your wonderful art-work! Cman

Ninzerbean (author)Creativeman2011-01-27

Thank you for your always-positive feedback, and complimenting ME about my imagination is so funny coming from YOU.

ChrysN (author)2011-01-26

That looks really cool, nicely done!

Ninzerbean (author)ChrysN2011-01-27

Thank you!

porcupinemamma (author)2011-01-27

Exxxxxxxxxxxxxxxcellent! I have a stash of things I plan to use for a creation-you beat me to it-and wow is it ever amazing!!!!!

Great! I want to see when you are done - and thank you!

Dr. Pepper (author)2011-01-26

Amazing! I just love it.

Ninzerbean (author)Dr. Pepper2011-01-26

Thank you! That is so great.

Dr. Pepper (author)Ninzerbean2011-01-26

Sure! That's no problem. I absolutely love your work.

CameronSS (author)2011-01-26

Fantastic! I must ask, where do you collect all of those lovely old cans? Antique stores, garage sales, luck?

Ninzerbean (author)CameronSS2011-01-26

Lots and lots of garage sales, I've been collecting for 34 years... gosh that is a long time, I got my first can from a friend's attic and that started me. I still have my first and second cans.

CameronSS (author)Ninzerbean2011-01-26

It's a great use for them, I doubt that people are going to be making robots out of those silly cardboard baking powder cans with the foil tops in thirty years. :)

Ninzerbean (author)CameronSS2011-01-26

That's funny, but hey, once the cardboard is replaced by a plastic container then the cardboard one will start to look interesting.

jen7714 (author)2011-01-26

That looks really unique! Definitely a great gift :)

Ninzerbean (author)jen77142011-01-26

Thanks, it is unique but it's really do-able with the things around you I'm sure. Besides, no matter what you give someone for Valentines Day, if you made yourself they will LOVE it.

Kiteman (author)2011-01-26

I want to call it "sweet" or "cute", but then I keep glancing at that visage...

Inspirational job, though.

Ninzerbean (author)Kiteman2011-01-26

Yeah, I see what you mean. I think it is the magnifying glass thing because he is actually one of the most handsome men I have ever met, I will have to take a better photo. I am glad you are inspired - wink wink.

Kiteman (author)Ninzerbean2011-01-26

I am indeed.

mikeasaurus (author)2011-01-26

What a great and personal valentine. I love how rustic he looks.
Reminds me of some of the local folk art (which can be pricey).

Ninzerbean (author)mikeasaurus2011-01-26

Thank you, Bobby is really one of the best artists I know, he has been inspiring me for years, you won't find much about him by googling him though, he somehow missed the computer way of promotion, but he is pretty famous in small circles of other artists. He teaches at Penland School of Crafts every so often, this summer in fact.

Kiteman (author)Ninzerbean2011-01-26

Drag him "here"!

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Bio: I love to stay home as much as as I love to travel, I've been to 49 states (missing Alaska) and 31 countries. I ... More »
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