While pop cans have a deposit in my state, other canned non-carbonated drinks like lemonade do not. The recycling center is a bit out of the way from me, so I wanted to give reusing these cans a try first. There’s a lot of flexibility in materials and methods in this project, so I’ve tried to highlight substitutions as best as possible.
Note: this project involves sharp edges and cutting tools. If you are looking for a project suitable for children, consider using aluminum foil as discussed in “Substitute Materials.”
Soft metal – here, using drink cans
Cardstock or other material to form a pattern
Box cutter, exacto knife, or other tool to make initial cuts
Cutting surface -- a self-healing mat is best but cardboard could work as well
Embossing/die cut machine
Embossing folders or stylus
Sandpaper/sanding block/emery board
Rubber sheet or embossing mat
Step 1: Cut the Top and Bottom Off Your Can
The first step is to cut the can apart. If you have a soft-edge manual can opener, you can probably just use that and save yourself 90% of the effort, but for this instructable, we’re going to pierce the can a couple times around the creased portion at the top of the can.
Once pierced, use your scissors to carefully cut the top off. Again, sharp, jagged edges!
Now that the top is off, cut down the can until the bottom crease, and then cut completely around the base until you have one piece of metal.
Step 2: Flatten Out Your Piece of Metal
Once cut, the piece will still be curved. Run it in the opposite direction of the curve (inside up) against a desk, countertop, or other edge to gently remove the curve.
At this point, I recommend taking a paper trimmer or scissors to the piece to cut off particularly sharp edges. You should still be careful handling your piece for the rest of this project.
Once it is less bent, you could run it through an embossing machine, use a rolling pin, or set under a heavy set of books to completely flatten it. An embossing machine will be the quickest way, but is not required.
Depending on how much cutting you needed to do, you should end up with a piece of metal around 3.5x8.0in to 3.75x8.5in from a standard 12oz can. I like to run an emery board around the edges once done. I cut my piece down to about 3.6X5.2 to fit into the matte portion of the frame I chose.
Step 3: Create Your Design
There are a lot of things you can do with your piece of metal. We’re going to do a modified version of metal tooling here to make a piece for a picture frame, but you could also make bookmarks, card embellishments, ornaments, and much more.
If you have something with texture, like an embossing folder or plate, you can skip this step.
To create a custom design, we’re going to cut the design out twice from a medium weight cardstock and glue together. Because of the small, non-connecting pieces in my design, I’m using a back piece of cardstock to glue everything to. For your first time, try using a simple pattern. Make sure to let dry fully (unless you would like to use your pattern as a backing, see step 4)
If you have die-cuts, you could use those as well. You could also use one thin layer of cardboard, although that might be trickier to cut out.
After cutting and gluing, you might feel like this was a lot of work and wouldn’t it just be easier to use the leftover cutout version. I’ve done a side by side comparison in the next step of this way—the impression comes out crisper with the raised version, but may be appropriate for what you’re going for.
Step 4: Apply Your Design to the Metal
Using pressure, we’re going to raise portions of the metal up. The easiest way I’ve found is to place the metal on an embossing mat/rubber sheet and run through an embossing machine, but you could use a heavy set of books or the rolling pin as well here--just make sure to have something with a little bit of cushion underneath like a set of ads from the newspaper.
The key here is equal pressure across all of the image. If you find a spot didn't come out how you liked, you can do touch ups with a pen or stylus. If you decide to use the cutout only version, you could even just use that as a template and do the whole image with your stylus in a more traditional style.
OPTIONAL: Add a backing
For this type of project, I typically wouldn’t add any finish on the back. However, you could choose to gently spread an embossing paste or spackle on the back and then add cardstock or felt, or glue your design to the metal during step 4. This will help prevent the image from warping over time. Your project should last a long time regardless, but this could give it a more finished look if you decide to give as a gift.
Step 5: Substitute Materials
If you don’t have empty cans lying around, there are other materials you could use. Metal sheets and tooling foil are one commercial option. The metal sheets pictured were about 20 cents a sheet and much stronger compared to the can aluminum. Tooling foil depends on the brand and material, but is general a little weaker than the aluminum can.
As an around-the-house solution, you could also use aluminum foil. Tooling foil is about 5-10x thicker than household aluminum foil depending on brand and type, but household foil is certainly appropriate for practice, kids, or small projects that don’t need the highest quality material.
A brief overview of using aluminum foil is given on the next step.
Step 6: How to Use Aluminum Foil
The name of the game with aluminum foil is pressure and layers. Here, I’m making a little insert for an envelope, but I’ll cut a much bigger piece so I can fold over multiple times. Each new layer is adding additional support, which will help the piece stay intact once we’re finished.
The process for aluminum foil is overall similar to the process for the aluminum can:
- Flatten piece similar to step 2. Piece will be weaker and more prone to wrinkling.
- Fold the flattened piece over using a bone folder if available. Try to fold at least 4 times, although more is preferable.
- Flatten piece again.
- Apply your pattern. Here, I'm using an embossing folder.
- I then put it in a little piece of plastic and adhered to the inside of an envelope for a card with an appropriate theme.