The first part of this 'ible shows some completed projects just to show off some of my tins & boxes, the second part is a step by step set of instructions for two fairly simple tins made on request.
A year ago this week my creative life stalled, a split from my partner and the resulting change of home meant I lost my not exactly huge but quite flexible workshop, I no longer had a place I could construct large projects and using power tools was simply out of the question so even if I had been inclined to make anything I really wasn't able to.
Once I had spent a few months getting myself sorted out, finding and adapting furniture to make the most of my new much smaller living arrangements dealing with some health problems and generally setting down to a new life I decided it was time to clear my head with some projects.
The problem was what to do, everything now has to fit onto either a three foot coffee table or my kitchen counter so my days of building beds, tables & cabinets are at least for the time being behind me
Electronics projects don't take up much space and I greatly admire the ingenuity of the projects I see on this site but I'm not really gifted with the electronics bug so that didn't really appeal to me and although I enjoy my new found freedom to draw without the distractions of a house full of people for the first time in over twenty five years it didn't really satisfy my desire to take a pile of junk and make something useful out of it as I have done in the past.
I spent a couple of months working on repairing and restoring some guitars but the end results rapidly started to fill up my home so something smaller was the order of the day.
Then one day my son Robin arrived with some things my ex wife was clearing out of her loft space she thought I should have, among all the other stuff were two storage boxes I had made about thirty years ago out of cardboard tubes covered in matchsticks, I had made them to keep incense sticks in and in spite of being made of seemingly fragile materials they were still as good as they day they were made.
The materials take up next to no space the end result is decorative and useful and it has the added bonus of being really cheap to make so after sourcing a supply of matchsticks online I made another one this time from a tin that used to contain chocolate mint sticks and some sisal twine rescued from my allotment shed.
This was just what I was looking for, it was relaxing, inexpensive, I could make a whole project on a tray on my lap and the results fitted in with the rustic look I like in furniture and decoration.
It also appeals to my reuse & recycle instincts, you can take an everyday bit of junk an old tin, retail packaging, cardboard boxes anything that takes your fancy really and turn it into something useful and interesting.
The round trinket boxes in this 'ible started life as travel sweet tins, one of the incense stick tubes once held a bottle of single malt whisky the other was a postage tube, you are only limited by your imagination.
Step 1: More Ideas and Requests.
The next project was a tobacco tin for my cousin Colin, he had been given one of the first tins I ever made over thirty years ago so it only seemed fitting that he should have one of the first of the new generation the result was the rectangular Yin Yang tin pictured here.
I took Colins tin with me a week or so later when I went round for one of our recently reinstated evenings of music and beer, I also took the sisal tin knowing that he shares my tastes, he is an artist and I thought he may like it to keep pens or brushes in.
When I arrived he I found another friend Rose was visiting as well, she liked the sisal tin so much that with my whole hearted agreement he gave it to her, it now sits on her window sill storing her tea candles. that evening I received my first two orders for round trinket boxes another Yin Yang and a CND/peace symbol I did have pictures of the peace tin but for some reason I cant find them if I do I'll add one later.
Colin also gave me a cigar box that he had been planning to paint and asked me to put a cross of St George on the top, after a little discussion we decided that a design that hinted toward a Union Jack as well would be interesting, the result was the flag with diagonally arranged matches in the four panels the flag is outlined with bamboo skewers, Colin is planning to subtly stain the panels in red white and blue.
By now Colins birthday was fast approaching so I spent a couple of days making him a tin to keep plectrums in to match (pardon the pun) his Stratocaster guitar. the guitar in question is black with a green pearlised pick guard so after some experimentation I managed to get a fairly good finish to match it with three different shades of permanent marker, the picture really doesn't do it justice, the green is an almost exact match (see I did it again) and it looks great; while I was at it I made one in black and white to go with my own black beauty Strat, Colins is a half size tobacco tin mine is a slightly larger Altoids tin.
Step 2: Some for My Son and a Couple for Me.
As Robin had kind of got all this started I decided it was time he had one too, he is into Papa Roach so he provided me with an image and a week or so later the tin with a profile of a roach was delivered into his hands, I have to say I was never really happy with this one, it looked a bit to much like a brown ink stain to me but he was happy with it and that's all that matters.
The roach tin was followed by two tins for his girlfriend Kat, she is into the band Black Veil Brides and is also a big fan of the Batman movies so she is now the very happy owner of a BVB trinket box and a quite striking batman tobacco tin.
By now I had come to the conclusion that it was time I made something for myself, as anyone who knows me will tell you I have two preferences when it comes to having a drink whether it be at home to relax with a good book or a night out in the pub I will always be seen with either a good real ale or a large dark rum.
Robin and Kat had given me a bottle of Captain Morgan for my birthday and something about the label just cried out to me so it was soaked off the bottle and dried out under a press, I varnished it with a 50/50 mix of varnish and white spirit which caused the paper to crinkle a little as it dried giving it a rather satisfying old master look like a crackled oil painting, the wood was stained to a deep dark brown quite similar to the colour of rum, I could have sold this tin many times over but I am quite fond of it so I will be staying with me.
I have always been fascinated with ancient Egyptian religion and mythology and having gone through a good deal of personal strife and no small amount of health problems in recent months I chose an Eye of Horus as my next design to ward off evil and promote good health, I figured if it was good enough for Pharaohs it was good enough for me. This one was deliberately made to look old and used as if it could have nestled in the pocket on Imhotep himself as he oversaw the building of the pyramid of Djoser, I also used a stepped triangular pattern in the background of the top and on the base as a nod toward the image of the pyramids.
Step 3: Two Tins From Scratch.
Ok so that's enough showing off the things I've already done its time to make some new ones.
What you will need.
Matches. This really goes without saying but after seeing a couple of the comments I thought it worth adding to this list, you used to be able to buy matches in many hobby & craft shops, at least where I live that is no longer the case so you may have to look online, I pay around £2.00 for 2000 which should be enough to do four or five baccy type tins. However it does not have to be matches, you could easily use toothpicks (cocktail sticks) bamboo skewers or even those disposable chopsticks you get with takeaway meals, experiment with patterns and textures.
Tobacco tins. I don't know about other countries but in the UK these tins were part of life for decades, for many years if you bought two ounces of hand rolling tobacco it would come in one of these tins they became so much a part of everyday life particularly for working class men that even today something like twenty years after tobacco companies stopped using them for cost reasons they are still referred to even by kids as "Baccy Tins", if you look around sheds and storerooms in homes all over the country you will find these tins filled with drill bits, allen keys, nails, screws and pretty much anything that men that make and fix things can fit into them, engineering workshops had metal racks on benches and walls made specifically to hold twenty, thirty or forty of these tins. They have held drills and cutting tools for lathes & mills for well over seventy years and doubtless made their small contribution to every bit of classic British engineering from WWII aircraft and ships through the Vincent and all the other British motorcycles, Rolls Royce and Lotus cars, small and large armaments and anything else you can think of. At some point in all these developments there would have been guys at machines who kept their tools in these tins. These days you can pick them up in discount stores on market stalls or anywhere that sells hand rolling supplies, if you get really stuck for them you can always look online, I buy them in a local discount shop called UK Discount (or something like that).
Card. I use card from retail packaging such as cereal boxes for the backing to my match tiles, I also occasionally construct boxes of my own when I need something of a specific size or shape.
Decorators Filler. Pretty much without exception every baccy tin I have ever seen has had a recess in the top and base, this is of course a bit of a pain when it comes to covering them so you will want to fill it in, you don't need anything special but avoid using silicone fillers.
Craft knives. I get mine from Poundland, they do the job perfectly well for me, you get a small variety of blades and they are cheap.It goes without saying really but please be careful with these, it would be a shame to spend hours assembling and sanding your tin just to leak blood all over it.
Cutting board. I usually use an old large kitchen cutting board for these projects, a tray sized sheet of plywood would do the job just as well.
PVA glue. This I don't get from Poundland as theirs isn't really much good for anything more than making greetings cards; however you don't have to spend a fortune on the stuff either, I buy mine form Wilcos for about £5.00 for half a litre it still isn't the best on the market but I have used it for all sorts of furniture projects over the years and I haven't had a table collapse yet.
Sandpaper. Lets be honest about this we are talking about match wood, you will not be getting a silky smooth finish on the stuff so a cheap pack of three grades of paper are all you will ever need here.
Varnish or aerosol clear coat. Depending on your project you may find clear coat is a better option than varnish, I have found that some paints don't react well to varnishes likewise printer inks, if in doubt try a test piece.
White spirit. Use this to thin your first coats of varnish.
Carbon paper. unless you are working to a freehand design you will need to transfer your image on to a tile of matches to cut it out.
A carpenters / engineers square. I find a square makes marking off the centres much easier, if you have one that is marked off in metric or imperial that is even better.
A steel rule or tape. If your square isn't marked with measurements you'll need to measure for your centres with this.
Instant coffee and tea bags. I'll come to that later.
Double sided tape. Any cheap double sided tape will do it only used as a temporary fixing.
Things for pattern or texture. I've used all kinds of things to add interesting elements to my tins and boxes in the past, strips of leather, all kinds of twine cord and rope, copper wire, cork and probably other things I have long forgotten. there are no rules to this, if you are making something for yourself and you like it then it's right.
A steel scraper. I prefer to use this to spending a lot of time sanding down filler.
Computer and printer. I often draw the designs freehand but if you are not too confident doing this or want a particular image a computer with appropriate software to manipulate and resize pictures and a printer are a godsend.
Soldering iron or pyrography kit. Patterns or images burned into your work can look fantastic but please be carefulnot to burn bits you don't want to such as tables clothes or body parts.
Blowtorch, candle or cigarette lighter. great for creating patterns with burned tips of matches or adding a bit of character to your tin. Again please be careful not to burn anything you don't want to especially if it is attached to you.
Emery boards. I often cut these into smaller strips to use for sanding detailed areas or to add a little contouring.
Wood stains. You can always find alternatives to expensive wood stains if you use your imagination and are prepared to experiment but if you really want to spend the money then by all means do so.
Step 4: Strip It Fill It and Flatten It.
There is a good chance your tin will have a sticker of some kind on it, while you can just fill right over it I usually strip them off.
Once this is done give a generous squirt of filler over the top & bottom of the tin and smooth it down, as most filler shrinks a little when drying don't try to skip a step and get it flat right away as you will only end up having to do it a second time just leave it a little proud of the edge of the tin & leave it for a while to dry.
Once the filler has set you need to level it off, one way is to lay a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface and run the tin face down across the paper until you have got it flat, this method works well enough but its messy and noisy.
Personally I prefer to hold the tin over a sink or take it outside and use a steel scraper to level it off, I've found it to be less messy and quicker, if you do use this method please be careful not to cut your fingers with the scraper.
Step 5: Get All Spiritual. Or, It Is Time to Find Your Centre.
Most designs will look better if you try to keep things symmetrical, with this in mind it helps if you know roughly where the centre lines of your tin are. I use three or four different background layouts for the top & bottom of my tins some are simple horizontal or vertical lines others are zigzag or triangular, as I fill and mark out a few tins at a time often long before I actually start a project I seldom know which layout I am going to be using so I mark them out with guidelines to suit any of them.
Don't stress too much about getting this absolutely spot on accurate it isn't the end of the world if it is a little off as long as you keep everything straight as you work.
Step 6: Time to Start Sticking Things On.
So now you have a nice flat surface and you know where the middle is.
Its now time to start covering your tin, for these tins I chose to use a simple lateral layout, it looks good and isn't too busy so won't draw the eye away from the pattern you will add to it later.
Start from the centre line with your first match with it's tip at the edge of the tin, lay the second end on with this one then do the same above these ones from the other side of the tin, do this alternating above and below until the whole tin is covered, you will end up with a comb effect at each side of the tin, once you have done the top put it to one side and do the same with the bottom.
With the tins and matches I use the next step is done with matches snapped in half you may find other tins or matches are different sizes to mine, fill the gaps in the comb so the tin is now entirely covered top and bottom.
The pictures do a much better job of showing this than my description just follow those.
For the next step you want your PVA glue to be well & truly set so leave it alone & go and have a coffee, beer, glass of wine, walk the dog, play with the kids or pop round to visit an elderly neighbour for a chat, do what you like but leave it for an hour or two.
Step 7: Just a Quick Trim Round the Sides.
Now your glue is good and dry you need to trim off the matches around the sides, I usually do this on a cutting board, just hold the tin down firmly and trim off the match ends one at a time, don't worry if the odd one comes loose you can always glue it back in and don't try to cut it too close to the tin once you are done you can sand it back to tidy it up.
Once it is done you may find you have a couple of empty spots at the edges, you can fill these in once the sides are covered it is far easier to do this that trying to glue small pieces in and trim them.
Step 8: Now We Go Round the Sides and Get It Smooth.
Now you need to get the sides done.
The sides are done in a similar way to the top & bottom, using the matches already on the tin as a guide fill the sides of both the lid and base of the tin let them set for an hour od two then trim off the ends.
Once that is done you can fill the curves corners with sections of matches running up the tin, hold them in place with rubber bands and leave them to dry before trimming off.
Once you have trimmed off all the excess bits of matches it is time to sand your tin down, as I said earlier you wont get a high grade finish on them so really its a matter of deciding how textured you want you tin to be, matches are mode out of cheap softwood but don't think they are all the same, trust me they are not.
To start with because they have never actually been taken to their normal state of being made into a match complete with sulphur head they haven't been sorted through a machine that rejects all the twisted, bent or splintered ones so along with all the ones you will by now have discarded as simply not usable there will be all those borderline cases that managed to make it onto your tin, this is the point where you find all the gaps & high spots, don't worry about them the smaller ones will be all but unnoticeable after you have varnished your tin & the larger ones are easy to fill with slivers of match or those occasional very thin ones you will also have found by now.
They also vary wildly in density, some will be so soft they all but disintegrate in you fingers others will be as hard as nails, this will of course mean that you will never get your tin truly flat and even, sand it down until you are happy with the texture, some tins all I do is give it a quick rub down to remove the loose stuff and leave it with a finish a bit like bark, others I get as smooth as I can it really depends on the project.
Step 9: Add a Bit of Colour.
matchwood doesn't tend to be the most inspiring colour in fact its usually the colour of balsa so you will more than likely want to add a bit of colour to it, for this project I wanted the background to stand out quite strongly so dark was the order of the day.
As i mentioned earlier you can buy wood stains for this but they can be quite expensive and if you are only going to make one or two tins it may cost more for the stain that ell the rest of the materials put together, if you want more than one colour of shade it could cost a lot to buy something you may never use again, there are however other ways to satin your tins and this is where the instant coffee and tea bags come in.
Find a tea plate or saucer and put a little warm (NOT HOT) water in it then add a couple of teaspoons of coffee to it, don't stir it or try to dissolve it you want a relatively thick consistency, then either with your fingers a brush or cotton pad gradually work the mixture over your tin until you get the colour you want; don't get things too wet, at this stage your matches are very absorbent it is all too easy to soften the PVA glue and have all your work fall apart in your hands, if in doubt do a little all over the tin leave it to dry for a while then do another coat until you reach the desired shade.
Step 10: Time to Make a Tile.
The first of my two tins was made for a workmate of Robins, he had shown her the ones I made for Kat and pictures of some of the others and asked if I could make her a Yin Yang one like Colins.
The symbol is cut from a tile of matches so to start with you need a sheet of card a little larger than your symbol the easy way for this one was simply to outline the tin lid on the card and using a similar method to the top fill the tile, once it is finished you need to restrict the amount of curving that will inevitably occur as it dries, my preferred method is to lay a sheet of cling film over the tile then leave it under something heavy for about an hour, I have a toughened glass place mat that serves the purpose very well; after an hour or so take it out & removes the cling film ten leave it to finish drying, it will still curl a little but usually not enough to cause problems.
Now you have your tile you will need to smooth it down a bit before you can transfer your pattern, I usually do this by putting a couple of strips of double sided tape on the back & sticking it onto a block of wood I then lay a sheet of sandpaper on a tray or flat surface and run the tile across it until I am happy it is flat enough for the next step,
Step 11: Mark It, Cut It and Remove the Backing..
The tile is now ready to have the image transferred on to it, you can of course freehand this if you wish for the benefit of anyone who isn't confident about doing this I will show my preferred alternative method.
First job is to select your image size it print it and cut it out to a convenient size, you can tape down your tile then tape the image and carbon paper over it if you wish I usually just form the paper around the tile so it doesn't slip too easily, in any event place a peice of carbon paper over your tile with the image on top & carefully draw around it.
Once this is done using a sharp craft knife trim away the unwanted material, take your time with this, don't panic too much of the odd part comes out or even if they become detached it is going to be glued firmly onto your tin soon you can always tidy it up during this process.
Once it is cut out you need to remove some of the card backing, you don't want the card showing under your applied pattern it looks unsightly and its easy to get rid of.
Take your saucer and put a little warm water in it then carefully dampen the card backing and rub away at least half of it, not so much that you go all the way to the wood just enough so it wont show, I usually leave a paper thin layer, when you have finished leave it to dry out for a while.
Once it has dried take either some small strips of fine sandpaper folded to stiffen them of some strips of emery board and sand down inside and outside of your pattern to finish it off.
Step 12: Stick It Down and Varnish It.
Now you have your finished pattern it's time to stick it on to your tin, apply PVA to it and carefully centre it on the tin.
Take place a weight on it an d leave it to set for an hour or so.
Once it has dried you can once again rub it down on a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface, be sure to keep it flat to avoid sanding the background areas.
When you are happy you have got rid of all the carbon paper marks and it is thin enough for you blow or brush away the dust and it is ready for varnishing.
As I have already mentioned match wood is very soft, it will soak up your first coat or two of varnish like a sponge this is good because it also serves to harden the wood, I usually make a 50/50 mix of varnish and white spirit leaving a couple of hours at least between coats, I use this for two or three coats then move to a thicker 75/25 mix then finally a cost of neat varnish. this leaves you with a good strong attractive glossy surface.
If you prefer you can use aerosol clear coat but be warned it will take several coats before you get the same finish and I have found that some clear coat does not really harden too well on wood, again if in doubt try it out on a test piece first.
When the varnish has set which will take a few hours or several days depending on the varnish you use give it a good polish and you are done.
Step 13: Tin Two.
The second of my tins was a gift for Robins friend Adam, he is a big fan of the Assassins Creed games.
Robin wanted a tin for him that look old and battle worn so rather than go for as smooth a finish as I could get I chose to leave a quite rough texture to the surface and added a few burns with a blow torch, I also simulated wear and tear by adding a few scratches to the surface and hitting it a few times with a chain, this doesnt show up well in the pictures but does look quite effective.
Step 14: Assassins Logo to Finish It.
The logo was provided by Robin, I printed it on glossy photo paper and cut it out with craft knife deliberately using several cuts to each line to give a slightly ragged edge.
The pieces were then stuck lightly to a piece of card with double sided tape and painted with a silver aerosol, unfortunately I was running a bit behind time with this one and forgot to take pictures but I think you will get the idea.
When the paint had dried I peeled the individual pieces off of the tape and using PVA glue arranged them on the tin and weighted it while the glue set.
Once they were on I distressed the surface of the pieces a little and gave it several coats of aerosol clear coat.
The finished tin is not nearly as glossy as the first but it certainly looked aged which is what I was looking for and Adam was very happy with it.
Step 15: Will It Last?
There is no reason why your tins and boxes shouldn't last for many years to come.
These are the incense tubes I mentioned at the start of this 'ible along with a box I made around thirty two years ago, the box has been used daily ever since, I used to keep my wallet & watch in it on my night stand these days it holds my everyday multi tool a pocket knife and a few other things I need handy.
.You can use pretty much any container as a base for a box, I have made them with all manner of retail packaging the box pictured here for example started life holding tea bags, it was chopped about a bit to get the size I wanted but nonetheless its a tea bag box.
There are many of patterns you can create using whole or cut matches you can also form them around things fairly easily which I plan to do as soon as the new heating element for my steamer arrives, you can also use multi coloured pre-stained matches to get spectacular effects, these are especially fun for kids to make things with.
I hope you have found my first 'ible in a long time interesting, I look forward to ideas and comments.
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