Introduction: Up-Cycled Aluminum Can String Lights

About: I am a Design and Landscape Restoration student at UC Davis interested in landscape design and sustainable design. My hobbies include waterskiing, snow skiing, and SCUBA diving.

I was inspired to create these light covers when looking for decorative lights for my room. Many of the lights I found were $30 for a strand of ten lights that aren’t easily replaced, so I thought I might as well make some homemade ones using recycled materials and put them on the Christmas lights I already had.

Although this project is doable on your own, it is faster and more fun to do with friends. I recommend doing some of the more tedious steps of this project while watching a movie or listening to music. These light covers are great for decorating any space from a dorm room to an outdoor patio!

This project is 10 steps and takes about 6 hours to make 20 covers.

Step 1: Gather Materials

  • Aluminum cans (half as many as the number of light covers you want to make)
  • Print out of template provided (used recycled paper if possible)
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie (fine point)
  • Tack
  • Needle and thread (small enough to fit through a tack hole)
  • Sand paper (I used a spare sheet of aluminum oxide type paper and 100 grit)
  • Craft paint or spray paint (I used some old gold spray paint for wood and metal that I had from a previous project)
  • Wire (thin and malleable)

Step 2: Wash and Cut Cans (20 Min)

  • Rinse out all of the cans
  • Cut each can into a flat sheet of aluminum (follow along with the diagram)
    1. Place can right side up
    2. Puncture a 2 in. vertical slit into the side of the can using the knife (arrows)
    3. Cut using the scissors all they way down the side of the can from top to bottom using the slit as a starting point (dashed lines)
    4. Cut using the scissors horizontally around the can at the top and bottom to cut out the side of the can (dashed lines)
    5. Set the sheet aside and recycle the top and bottom pieces
    6. Repeat with each can

Step 3: Sand Aluminum Sheets (5 Min)

  • Lightly sand the outside (logo side) of the aluminum sheet
  • Repeat with each sheet
  • This will make the paint stick well later

Step 4: Trace the Templates and Cut Out Shape (1 Hr)

  • Print and cut templates
  • Lay out both templates on the aluminum sheet like the diagram above (I used a small roll of tape on the back to hold both down at the same time)
  • Trace around the templates using a sharpie
  • Put paper templates aside
  • Cut out the shapes
  • Repeat with each sheet of aluminum

Step 5: Draw Fold Lines on the Shapes (5 Min)

  • Follow the lines on the diagram and draw dashed lines on the outside (logo side) of the cut out
  • Repeat with each shape

Step 6: Create the Pattern on the Shapes (2.5 Hr)

  • You can follow my diagram or create whatever design you want on this step
  • Make sure to tack the holes that are colored red on the diagram since you will use them later for sewing and attaching to a light
  • Don’t worry about making the holes perfect
  • To follow my diagram, you will need a tack
  • Punch tack holes with the outside (logo side) up so that the holes are smooth on the outside of the cover

Step 7: Fold Together Shape to Create the Cover (10 Min)

  • Fold inwards on the dashed lines you drew to create an octahedron (eight sided diamond shape)

Step 8: Sew the Cover Together (1 Hr)

  • Follow the red dots on the diagram
  • Use a needle and thread to tie together the points tightly
  • Thread together in numerical order

Step 9: Paint Covers (30 Min)

  • Spray Paint
    1. Lay covers out on newspaper outside
    2. Spray from 12+ in away
    3. Turn covers over as needed after 5 min of drying to cover each side
    4. Let completely dry for 30 min
  • Craft Paint
    1. Hold cover on the inside and paint the outside
    2. Set on a sheet of newspaper to dry
    3. Let dry of 30 min

Step 10: Attach Covers to Lights (20 Min)

  • Cut a 4 in piece of wire
  • Follow the diagram to bend the wire
  • Bend in half
  • Bend each end of the wire
  • Put wire through two top holes in the center on opposite sides of the opening of the cover
  • Put cover over light and bend wire to hang over light strand

Step 11: Hang Up Your Lights!

Congrats you finished!

Make it Glow Contest 2016

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest 2016

Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest 2017