Introduction: Drink Can Tinwork

Picture of Drink Can Tinwork
How to transform an aluminium drink can into a charming little embossed metal box.

Here's the video version of the instructions:

Step 1: Clean Off the Paint

Picture of Clean Off the Paint

Using abrasive paper and/or steel wool, rub off the paint/printing on the outside the can.  This doesn't have to be perfect, as tthis will be the inner surface of the finished box.

However, skipping this step altogether makes it quite hard to see what you're doing in subsequent steps.

By far the easiest time to do this is when the can is still full and sealed, because the liquid inside will support the walls as you press on them with the abrasive.

Step 2: Cut the Can Open

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Empty out the can contents and using a sharp pair of scissors, cut around the top, down one side and around the bottom.

This should leave you with a rectangle-shaped piece of thin metal.

The edges may be incredibly sharp and jagged.  Please be really careful!

Trim off the jagged edges of the rectangle, but try not to remove too much material.

Step 3: Tape the Metal to a Slightly Springy Board

Picture of Tape the Metal to a Slightly Springy Board

Tape the metal down flat to a stiff surface that has a little bit of yield in it.  This could be a piece of stout cardboard, but I used the cork back of a dining table mat.

Step 4: Mark Out the Net of the Box

Picture of Mark Out the Net of the Box

Using a stout ballpoint pen and a straight edge, firmly inscribe lines into the metal

- starting with a two-inch square right in the middle, then a four-inch square surrounding it, followed by another (approx) 5 inch square surrounding that.

Extend the lines right off the edge of the metal in both directions - when you're done, you should end up with a quite complicated-looking grid pattern (take a look at the pictures for details).

The above dimensions are based on a tall 440ml can - if you're starting with a smaller one, you might need to scale things down to fit the available materials

Step 5: Inscribe Patterns in the Top and Sides

Picture of Inscribe Patterns in the Top and Sides

Again, using the ballpoint pen, inscribe patterns on the top and side sections of the box - you can do this freehand for curly or organic shapes, or use a straight edge or even a stencil for geometric ones.

You can even do lettering, but as this will be the inside surface of the box, you'll need to write it backwards.

Step 6: Outline the Raised Pattern

Picture of Outline the Raised Pattern

Remove the tape securing the metal - now that it's embossed, it should stay pretty nuch flat all on its own.

Turn it over so you're working on the side with the raised pattern.

Using the ballpoint pen, inscribe a line around the inside and outside edge of all the raised patterns.

This takes quite a while and seems laborious, but it's worth it in the end, so keep going...

Step 7: Re-impress the Original Embossed Pattern

Picture of Re-impress the Original Embossed Pattern

Turn the metal over again, so you're working on the inscribed side.

With the ballpoint pen, firmly retrace the entire original pattern.

This process of inscribing, outlining, then re-inscribing the pattern creates a much sharper relief for the box decoration.

Step 8: Cut Off the Waste Material

Picture of Cut Off the Waste Material

Step 9: Scribe the Corner Pieces

Picture of Scribe the Corner Pieces

Turn the metal over so you are working on the raised pattern side.

Using the ballpoint pen and a straight edge, inscribe diagonal lines into each of the corner pieces, running out radially from the centre.

Step 10: Fold Along the Creases to Form the Box

Picture of Fold Along the Creases to Form the Box

Fold the metal to start forming the box - the inscribed lines box should fold naturally in their own correct directions.

The diagonal corners fold inwards as the sides fold down.

Once the sides are folded to an angle of 90 degrees vs the top, the folded-in corner pieces can be pinched flat and pressed in pairs against the inside.

Step 11: Fold in the Tabs

Picture of Fold in the Tabs

Fold the small tabs inwards along all sides, starting with the sides against which the folded-in corner pieces had been pressed.

This performs two functions - the folded tab secures the corner pieces in place, holding the box together, but also, the folded edge means the finished box should have no exposed sharp edges.

Repeat for all four tabs and the box is finished.

Step 12: Make More Boxes

Picture of Make More Boxes

If you make another box of similar design, but a quarter inch smaller all around the top, you can fit the first one over it as a lid.

The bottom box can then be lined with fabric or felt glued into place, or self-adhesive flock.


Thejesterqueen (author)2015-11-14

Very nice!! I just started saving drink cans and now I have something to use them for!

twighahn (author)2015-11-04

Use a knitting needle to emboss

twighahn (author)2015-11-04

Use a knitting needle to emboss

twighahn (author)2015-11-04

Make great party favors or party fun

dinoflorida (author)2011-09-24

Dear Friend, there is a easy way to cut this soda can neatly.
Just fill it with water and put into freezer for a couple of hours
and you get a rock solid can to cut. Use a utility knife around

flammaefata (author)dinoflorida2012-12-03

Thanks for the tip - I tried it but it doesn't seem to work. If the top of the can is not cut off before you fill it with water then the can bursts a seam (probably because ice clogs up the drinking opening before the rest of the water is frozen). Also it took a lot more effort to cut the can with the carpet knife in this way compared to cutting it with normal scissors. So I'll keep going the can opener+scissors route.

Try a dremel tool! It's perfect for some thing like this! Check it out:

daniel.slater.artist (author)2014-10-27

Nice idea.
However, I have a question unrelated to your project.

Did you simply use steel wool to strip the can of its paint?

Vampyra65 (author)2014-03-04

I hope I can find time to do this. I'd like to make a lid for the box and give it as a gift. I never thought about making something like this. I saw your video a few days back. Thank you for showing this to us.

zamrin (author)2014-01-03

This is so cool! :D

mshysha (author)2013-06-19

great! great! great!

marcellahella (author)2013-01-04

wow! really really cool!

kep625 (author)2012-12-23

Hi- I love your work! I have tried my first drink can box and found out the hard way that you cannot use a fine tip pen to do the scoring. It falls apart when folding. So, I have two cans that are sanded and ready to go for a second go at it. I am REALLY intrigued with the star shaped box and hope that you will be uploading those instructions soon!!! What will it be called? (star-shaped box?) thanks so much for uploading this!! Kelly

Schmidty16 (author)2012-08-24

i wish i could make a sluce box out that stuff

sherrycayheyhey (author)2012-07-19

This is awesome!

god1066 (author)2012-07-16

Good tutorial though :)

god1066 (author)2012-07-16

Tried this twice and both times loads of the folds split making it impossible to fold it into a box. I got much better results using sheets of metal from a local craft shop. Cost about 50p more than a can, they are flat sheets and they don't have a design on that you have to sand off. I seriously suggest using sheets instead because I got seriously wound up after spending loads of time embossing 2 cans only for them to snap when folding into the box shape.

hiddenartist (author)2011-03-24

Great idea! Well explained and demonstrated! Thank you.

Ray from RI (author)hiddenartist2012-06-26

You use a pen that has run out of ink!

rocco (author)2011-05-02

In the USA, the biggest usable sheet I can get from a 12oz (355mL) soda can is about 3-inches by 7.75-inches.

mr2monster (author)rocco2012-02-29

Try getting a 24 oz beer can, or one of the larger Monster Energy Drink type cans... Also, Arizona Iced Tea, and a few other cans like that should yield a larger chunk of aluminum..

They're pretty available at most any convenient store/gas station.

rocco (author)mr2monster2012-02-29

Yep, those are good suggestions, but I don't drink those normally... I don't know how much a sheet of aluminum costs, but it might be cheaper than buying drinks I don't drink! :)

jediwhiz3 (author)2011-11-14

WOW! THAT IS SOOO COOL!!!! (aka have to make my own)

Hewer (author)2011-11-01

You should check out some of the many aluminum can alcohol penny stove instructables- lots of them demonstrate a much better way of quickly and accurately cutting pop cans.
Basically you can put a razor blade in the pages of a thick book with one sharp corner sticking out. You turn the can against the blade which scores the can. You then use the blade to punch all the way through the score in one spot, then gently push along the score line and the aluminum rips cleanly along the line.
Score along the top, along the bottom, then take them off and that leaves you with a clean cylinder and you can use the scissors to cut up the side to lay it flat. The edges will still be pretty sharp, but not jagged at all.

Great instructable by the way- the gears in my head are clicking away with this- steampunk, anyone?

licjames (author)2011-05-12

Hey great work!!! I am thinking about it... what about using this technic for papercraft proyects?? wouldn't be great?? well just thinking at loud... :P

nerd12 (author)licjames2011-10-31

i would work... i actually had a similar idea. you would have to print out and cut the paper then lay it out on the metal then cut it out. the alternative would be to attempt to get a roll of tin into the printers feed B-)

nerd12 (author)2011-10-31

this will be very vulnerable to crush damage. if you take some wood and make a box out of that (around a few mm thick only then put the tin around it after embossing and screw it together, it will look much better and won't bend. also if you put red velvet in the center of the box it will be like a very beautiful gift box or a storage for for something precious.

Travpena (author)2011-08-01

I've made like 8 full boxes so far, this is amazing and fun, one thing is that the cans are fragile when bending

xavec (author)2011-07-25

this is incredible. I've been looking for things to do with pop cans for ages. Thanks!

msutch (author)2011-06-28

This technique works great and comes out great. I have never made the full box, but have made flat square pieces that I have attached to my mixed media art. I will have to try and make the full box, I'm sure it will be great also.

mattthomas992003 (author)2011-06-25

@rocco he prolly used either rubbing alcohol or hair spray but if that dont work bug and tar remover should

rocco (author)2011-05-02

I see that you were using a pen with ink still in it in this example, but the finished product does not have any ink on it... how did you remove the ink?

red-king (author)2010-11-06

would it be easier to cut with an exacto knife or utility knife than with scissors?

rocco (author)red-king2011-05-02

I've had success using a box cutter. Once you are most of the way through, you have to start cutting in smaller sections, because the can looses it's support. JUST REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR THUMB OUT OF THE WAY!

Atomic Shrimp (author)red-king2010-11-06

Possibly. Or a dremel with a wheel, but as long as the scissors are sharp, it's not too bad - the main problem is just that the way the scissor blades cross makes the cut tend to swerve down the can when cutting off the top - actually, if I cut in the other direction (holding the lid in my left hand) the cut isn't quite so jagged.

alexinstruct (author)2011-04-12

Awesome upcycling! It's great when something so throwaway as a tin can can be upcycled into something so attractive and useful. I like how you made it so no soldering or pinning was needed.

nickmccullough (author)2011-02-03

great video and instructable ill be sure to give this a try

DucttapeNinja (author)2010-11-04

This project is made of win.
...also aluminum.

Haha, indeed. So awesome. I can't wait to try this on all sorts of things. I'm thinking little pieces embossed with patterns, then incorporated into wristbands or other accessories would be very cool.

I'm thinking of doing home made Christmas cards with a card-framed embossed metal front face.

Ooh, and ornaments!

I'm working on a prototype for a star-shaped box - the interesting thing is that the geometry of the internal corner on the lid causes the points to be pulled downwards, giving the thing a sort of domed shape.

naty23bb (author)Atomic Shrimp2011-01-21

Hi, I love it, nice work

Eye Poker (author)Atomic Shrimp2010-11-19

Elder Sign!

555mst555 (author)2011-01-10

Hi, i i'm gonna do this for my brother's birthday coz he likes boxes. In fact, I have already made one side of the box already ( the top part ). and the main square on it is 2 1/4". what do you think should the other side of the box be?

sikamikan (author)2010-11-26

great work man!

Monidaris (author)2010-11-26

This is a wonsderfull tutorial.Thank you so much!

edsternet (author)2010-11-04

Fantastic easy but stylish instructable. Your snowflake version on your website also needs to be checked out. Now where are those beer tins!


Atomic Shrimp (author)edsternet2010-11-04

Thanks. I'm just delighted at all the positive feedback here.

Here's the hexagonal version. More variations are also on the drawing board...

Eye Poker (author)Atomic Shrimp2010-11-19

I soooooo need the plans for this one.

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