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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 9: 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

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

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

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.



    • Classroom Science Contest

      Classroom Science Contest
    • Colors of the Rainbow Contest

      Colors of the Rainbow Contest
    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest

    125 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Very cool! Thanks for sharing.


    3 years ago

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


    3 years ago

    Use a knitting needle to emboss


    3 years ago

    Use a knitting needle to emboss


    3 years ago

    Make great party favors or party fun


    7 years ago on Step 12

    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

    2 replies

    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.

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

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


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    5 years ago

    This is so cool! :D


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.