Picture of Tiffin Box from Tuna Cans
A tiffin box is a small lunchbox used to carry a tiffin, or light meal.  The lunchbox consists of a stack of steel or ceramic compartments for each food item.  According to wikipedia, the term originated in colonial India, and today in Mumbai there exists a complex network tiffin-boxed lunch deliveries on a massive scale.

I really like the utility and look of these lunchboxes, so I wanted to try making my own.  Tuna cans seemed like the perfect compartment -- the only problem was getting them to nest nicely.  I was really impressed with how well the can-shaping jig worked.  It pulled in the bottom of the can and made a uniform ring just above it.  After that, the cans fit together really well, and all I had to do was add draw catches and sand everything...and eat the tuna.

Step 1: Make the Can-Rolling Jig

Picture of Make the Can-Rolling Jig
The can rolling jig consists of two old door hinge pins and a hose clamp.  The heads of the hinge pins nest with each other.  By applying pressure with the clamp and rolling the can, we can raise a lip on the can's side.  Check out the embedded video in the next step to see it in action.

Building the jig is very easy.  In a piece of scrap 1x1 wood, drill two holes to accomodate the hinge pin shafts.  Space these holes so the pins are roughly parallel when the heads are nested.  Slip the hose clamp over the pins and stick them in their holes.  

The top pin will stick out further than the bottom on account of the heads being nested.  If everything works out, this should be enough so you can clamp the vise grips to the top pin and turn it through a complete revolution.  You may want to trim a bit off the bottom shaft to give yourself more room to work.

Use a vise to clamp the wood and hold the whole thing steady.  You're ready to roll.
nomosoft4 years ago
This is one of the best Instructables I've seen, and the first one I've liked enough to comment on. This project really captures the spirit of DIY simplicity. The hinge pin roller is brilliant.

I'd like to see this improved to have a liquid-tight compartment for soup or a beverage. Do you think a little food-grade silicone on the rolled bottom of one can, and a ring of the same inside the can it fits into would do the trick?
For a silicon (RTV) seal.

Use petroleum jelly on the bottom can's top rim inside an out. Apply an even thin coat of food grade RTV to the bottom mating can's under/outer mating surface. Let the can sit and dry/set up till a thick skin forms. Then mate the two together with a little pressure. Enough to move the RTV but not enough to get a metal to metal contact. Let set for 24 hours. Trim excess RTV wash and enjoy water tight seal.

This is a "Perfect" fit and you will have to put the cans back together in the order and alignment you made them.
you should do an instructable on that, it would make a great addition to this one
You could also look into buying a pre-made silicone washer. Medical/ FDA grade are available. It'd be easier to clean/ replace (I run my moka pot's ring through the dishwasher with no significant breakdown after dozens of washes), and wouldn't leave you with any particles in the soup. Just make sure the clamps are quite tight!

Might be possible to rivet a ring into the bottom of the next tier. Then you wouldn't have to be too cautious about verify the seal each time. Or raise a ring on the next tier inside the circle of the seal. Or soldier a guide ring around the outside....

Great instructable!
gkern nomosoft4 years ago
Is there a Instructable on how to make the tin rollers?
yomero3 years ago
this is one of those great instructables where everyone can lettheir imaginations run and make upon it, i for one loved it,
Your 'ible was featured in Make magazine online today!
Here is the link to the article.
yoyology3 years ago
We use tiffins for our kids' lunches. Love the way you made yours. Kudos!
Appollo644 years ago
This looks great! I want to try to make one, but I'm confused of how the welding rods hook into the latches. Also, is there another way to get the cans to stay together: I don't have any way to solder metal?
Rivet them instead if you don't want to solder. Also, be careful if heating food cans to a high temperature w/ a torch - I think they may release toxic fumes (so do this in a well ventilated area).
EPOXY!!!! Just don't glue your fingers together!
calischs (author)  Appollo644 years ago
Nothing too fancy for the latches. The rods fit into holes on the sides of the draws and are bent so they don't come out. See the picture.

I'm sure there are other ways to get the cans to latch together. Some of the other commenters have good ideas.
photo (26).JPG
Thanks! The pic really helps.
megahurts4 years ago
I love the pin roller. I'm going to use this idea to create some storage pots for the 1001 loose screws, nuts and bolts rolling around the bottom of my workshop draws and tool boxes.

Regarding burning off the protective film in the bottom compartment. I'd be very careful about what sort of food you keep in there, anything slightly acidic/alkali is likely to attack the raw steel, I'd suggest a couple of coats of enamel.
I echo your idea on this mega, I'm thinking it would be a handy way to recycle cat food cans as well. They easily nest already for retail display, and a single plastic snap on lid could cover the top! You can stack them according to size, with different 'details' on each can (flat washers, lock washers, star washers, etc.) Be sure to label them when you sort.
Tip on storage: I hot glue a sample of what is in each of my coffee cans for bigger bolts and screws for quick and easy locating what I want at the moment.
feltonite4 years ago
I've always admired the tiffin boxes ever since I first saw them on tv. This is a great instructable.

I have one question, though. I'm wondering about the lead content in the solder and welding rod. Would it be safe to use in a food container?
Hey Felonite, I think I can help answer your question. In the past solder was made lead-based and would be indeed posionous, but now most solder on the market is Lead-Free and probably safe to use as listed in this 'Ible
I see no reason you wouldn't use silver plumbing solder, it's used on potable water pipes, so perfectly food safe.

I have some MIG wire that looks like that, it has a flux coating on the outside, that I wouldn't want near my food. I recommend actually getting brass rod.
rhm34 years ago
I dont know if I will ever make the tins but I will for sure use your idea for the roller !! LOL, Thanks
ibmarkib4 years ago
You could use those extra large cans, of I think chicken or tuna. This would keep the same form, which I love, and still have a way to make it larger if need be.
Cpt. Caleb4 years ago
Fantastic! All that Metal makes it look very pre-war and extremely durable.
A great 'ible and one of the best looking by far.

Well done Sir.
vigfus4 years ago
What sort of welding rod is that? It seems to have a brass-colour, I've ever only seen rods (made for gas welding) with copper- or raw-steel-colour. Also, the rods I've seen are a bit too soft for this application.
This confuses me to no end... ;)
Appollo644 years ago
Does anybody know where I can buy the hinge pins?
You can buy the entire barrel hinge / pin assembly at a hardware store, or (if you have one) check at your local castoff store / Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for used ones.
soundmotor4 years ago
I am amazed you were able to get enough down force to bead with the hose clamp so far back on the rollers. Well done!
mstrpete4 years ago
Hey, this is a great project-I'm going to adapt the method to make a small cookpot/carry case for my old Svea camping stove. One question, though-it looks as though the upper bolt on the can-roller has been ground down a bit. Was that deliberate, or did it happen as a matter of course as you worked with it?
calischs (author)  mstrpete4 years ago
Thanks, I'd love to see pictures of what you make.

You're really observant. I did grind the head on the upper hinge pin a bit to try to control the shape a bit. I didn't have much luck at this, and maintaining the rotational symmetry of the pin head was difficult. The original shape actually worked pretty well for me, as the cans "click" into place with each other.
Kalibar074 years ago
Love this Instructable.. i will definitely be making this for my packs.. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC
jerazo4 years ago
Best instructable i've ever seen
kalpavrksa14 years ago
Awesome project. I've been to India 6 times. Just recently returned this past week. I always pick up tiffins for friends here at home. One question: I am a little confused about the method for making the lid. Can you elaborate a bit?

Scolova4 years ago
Very Nice! I might try this in the future.
I remember watching the History Channel show about food packaging and delivery where they showed how effectively these carriers were used in India. Workers \ business people pay a monthly fee and locals cook the food put it in the tiffins and riders come pick them up and deliver. One great thing is the reduction of trash, i.e. packaging, these just get washed and reused over and over.
athein Scolova4 years ago
Exactly! The Dabbawallah is how they are known. The Discovery Channel did a nice photo journal on how they live and work and how tiffin lunch boxes are embedded in East Indian culture. http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/discovery-atlas-india-tiffin-boxes.html And if you don't want to make your own tiffin lunch box then they are readily available. This is my 4-tier tiffin from Happy Tiffin.
antonia274 years ago
I have an even better idea than tuna cans! I was worried about the tuna residue getting on the food (no matter how carefully you clean them), so I started looking for different containers. I was going to buy a set of metal food containers or see if an office store would have something but then I found out that my dad has a huge collection of metal tea containers from Uptown Tea. They are perfect for this project and come in a variety of sizes.
calischs (author)  antonia274 years ago
Cool! Would you be able to upload a picture of one?
Sure- first i need to gain access to a soddering iron bc mine isnt working. If u need a pic before then just go to uptown tea's website
Metallurgy4 years ago
If you could, couldn't you use soup cans that are the same size diameter as the tuna can? You can have a bigger storage compartment, instead of several smaller compartments.
duckkirk4 years ago
Hey awesome instructable, if not for food it could be used for fishing tackle workshop bit and bobs and whatever you can find
I'm amazed by people who can see some hinges as tin rollers truly inspiring might try one. Got enough time with summer holidays.
big al 10484 years ago
- wow, i am super impressed,where i live in the OUTER 'rondac's of upstate NEW YORK, it will be 4 months before i can get to the coffee can w/ 20/30 door hinge pins, but this will go on my maker list
thanx Big Al
jackfaciale4 years ago
same as nomosoft ! best i ve ever seen ... i love the final touch wich gave them this particular look
octochan4 years ago
I might not use this to hold food, but I think it would a perfect for storing small, loose things like screws, nuts, bolts, paperclips, rubberbands, hairpins, beads, buttons and suchlike. Also, the rolling jig is absolutely the most ingenious thing I've seen in a long time! but I think that you can get tuna cans already manufactured to stack neatly and stay together.
guy904 years ago
The can rolling jig could come in handy for loads of projects, thanks for the upload (Y)
calischs (author)  guy904 years ago
Thanks! If you find any good uses, post em.
tleet594 years ago
Cool project! I'd be curious about how well the sections seal, i.e. how much leakage do you get?
calischs (author)  tleet594 years ago
The sections "pop" together really tightly, so the seal is pretty good. If you fill a compartment with water and shake it, you'll get some leaks, but anything less is fine.
Great job, this is a really nice clean job. One of the upsides about the real Tiffin is that you don't have to use all of the containers. To do that, would you have to use different rods for holding it closed?
calischs (author)  Yerboogieman4 years ago
Good idea -- that seems like a do-able thing.
AlvinMaker4 years ago
This is really nice, I think i'll start mine tonight. Also this was a really well written. Thanks for the great contribution to the community.
calischs (author)  AlvinMaker4 years ago
Great, If you get a chance post some pictures!
tjesse4 years ago
Just tried the tuna with curry, thats oddly good! Thanks for the tip.
calischs (author)  tjesse4 years ago
That's what I said! No problem.
IamTheMomo4 years ago
I'm sticking with my bento boxes. The size is far more appropriate for carrying food, more comfortable to eat from, and far, far more sanitary, I think, than a few old tuna cans. Many cans will impart an unpleasant flavor to food once it sits in it after opening, even with the lining material, which I understand can contain BPA. I am only storing food in glass containers in my home now, and there are BPA-free plastics on the market. You just have to look for them. I think the "Ible" is a very nice one, but I'd store something else besides food in those cuties. The can rolling jig is ingenious, though!
Foxtrot704 years ago
Excellent Instructable! In regard to the attachment of the latches and the possible damaging of the food grade liner inside, to reduce this problem place the latch on the can, draw an outline then, take your dremel with a sanding disc and lightly buff the area. Next, pretin the can and the latch. Place the latch and then apply heat with soldering iron and quickly sweat the joint. doing this should reduce the damage to the food grade liner inside; if not try using JB Weld since both pieces will be buffed and roughed up a little the epoxy should hold, on smooth surface the epoxy is more likely to pop loose. How is the unit sealed to prevent liquid leakage? Another variation on the container would be to use a Stainless Steel storage container set and for the attaching of latches brazing or silver solder. If I am not mistaken this material has no problem with heat destroying food grade liner as SS is by nature food safe.
If your worried about damaging the food grade liner inside, consider using this tin for utensils, salt and pepper, condiments packages, etc. so you don't have to worry about leakage or food safety. Also this would allow you to avoid washing this tin too often, thus avoiding rust possibilities.

This is a fabulous instructable! Thanks for the post.

interesting aside;
(p.s.; Instructables is still caught by the spell checker as incorrect in these posts, even though it is the name of this web site(!)
You should always be concerned about a container if food is going to be transported or stored in it. Tin or steel cans used in food canning have liners to prevent contamination for a period of time usually a year or two. At the end of the storage cycle the liner will break down due to natural acids in the food. If the liner gets a scratch now you have direct metal exposure to food and contamination. As I said the stainless steel products have no liner to worry with, they can stand the heat of silver solder or brazing and, can be washed til the cows come home with no problems. An example would be to get a Stainless Steel stock pot set or a smaller sized set from Target, Harbor Freight, Walmart, etc to modify those with no food issues. This is an excellent Instructable just need to use a better container for the job.
Same thing on facebook. . .
andamas4 years ago
Brilliant! I admire your ingenuity.
rimar20004 years ago
Very good.

The Can-Rolling Jig deserves an Instructable for itself!
I totally agree. What a great solution to the problem.
DeepstBlue24 years ago
Great instuctable... only thing I would have added would be a nice brazed on carrying handle, which if you are going to the trouble of adding the catches, would be an easy addition to the lid.

Also, if you are concerned of the food safe lining, you could always coat the affected compartments in food safe epoxy.


Rayney4 years ago
Cool! These are kinda like a bento box! I collect bento boxes and I so wish I had the ability to make one of these.
keng4 years ago
Did the solder have lead in it though? I know it used to but I don't know if it still does.
Rayney keng4 years ago
Some does, but you can get lead free solder. Just check the package and it should say if it has lead or not.
axiesdad4 years ago
Nice job! Good instructions and a useful product . What I am impressed with is your rolling machine; your ability to see those garage door hinges as machine tools is a perfect example of the kind of "out of the box" thinking that I love to see and hope to emulate.
NickGriffin4 years ago
I Grew up in an area where the one hot balanced daily meal for some schoolchildren was delivered to the remote schools in larger scale versions of this! As a Child I remember there was apparently boiling water in some of the containers, which kept the nearby containerized food (mashed potatoes and cooked chicken are some things I remember) hot on the ride from the main school Kitchen 20 miles or so away from the One-Room (later 2 room) country school we attended. An old schoolbus delivered these canister stacks to several outlying simliar schools just before lunch time.

Good work! (and thanks from a 50-plus guy for putting a name on that gizmo of my youth! :-)
This is one of the most ingenious instrucables I have read. You did a really good job. I love the jig, and how you upcycled the tuna cans....
ak088204 years ago
Real tiffin boxes are not the size of tuna cans. If you start using 12 oz coffee cans - the larger 30 oz even better - you may approximate the size of a normal tiffin box.
I may be mistaken if newer designs for dieters have come around in recent years.

Also, the material of a tiffin box originally was brass (tinned inside to prevent corrosion), then st. steel and alum came along. I have never seen a steel tiffin box in my half a century of being alive.

Also, the cage that holds the cans together has a handle on top and I have seen a set of small holes in the strips of brass that makes that make the handle and cage, to insert a small padlock to or a pin depending on the security needs.

What you have is a hybrid. A metal (usually alum) lunch box with a couple of wire lid retaining clamps was a smaller replacement for a full size tiffin box (I actually used it when I worked in India)and later a second container may have been added to that design.
Eirinn4 years ago
Nice 'ible, although i'm pretty sure food shouldn't be stored in tin cans as long as there's air accessible? As i remember a lot of bad things can and will happen to food if it's stored in tin cans with air in them.
bbubbles4 years ago
Could you have shaped the lid by using the setup you had for shaping the bottom of the tins?
Really well done! If I didn't already have a couple of tiffin tins I would make this for sure.
j-bar034 years ago
I ♥ this! What a fantastic instructable.
so sweet!
SinAmos4 years ago
It really is impressive,beautiful, and simple.:)
shteef4 years ago
Lovely, I like it, it has an antique look to it. Almost a steam punk lunchbox!
Awesome project. I am certainly going to be making at least one. Great example of reusing what would normally just be thrown away.
D00M994 years ago
Nice job! I really like the rolling/bending mechanism, as well as the antiqued finish. Wonderful!
CrLz4 years ago
Awesome work! Thanks for sharing the bending mechanism. Just an awesome build.
TabLeft4 years ago
Wow... I rarely comment on instructables, but i have to say this was inspiring, its absolutely beautiful in its simplicity both in construction and design. How you managed so much with so little is amazing.... i mean seriously... door hinge pins... never in a million years would i have thought of that... Great job!
dmdsanchez4 years ago
Wow; I remember those in Puerto Rico growing up they where called "fiambreras" . Great instructable !!!
buteomont4 years ago
Great idea!
that is really cool. great instructable to, it was very easy to follow.
Question: Why do we roll the cans?
so a lip is formed and they sit in the can below and not fal lall the way in.
kenbob4 years ago
This is beautiful on so many levels - product; craftsmanship, reuse, and instructable!
Culturespy4 years ago
Well done!
m a t i a s4 years ago
awesome instructable! Really good photos and the video explain all
+5 !
What an amazing way to make use of empty tuna cans. I have a lot of them and now I can make a Tiffin Box with these great instruction-ables. Really good photos and explanation.
jrossetti4 years ago
Awesome job, and very cleverly done. I can only think of one improvement: a handle.
r-philp4 years ago
Exceptionally well done instructions! Excellent use of pictures AND video, as well as a brilliantly constructed jig for bending the cans. Did you use brass rod for the long hook on your draw catches?
Biggsy4 years ago
This is a really clever well thought out I'ble, I love how you have done it well done