Make a punched tin lantern with recycled steel cans and pop rivets. I made this one as a Valentines day present.
Punched metal used to be used a lot for lanterns and in cupboards, to provide ventilation without letting flies in. This project costs <$5 once you have the tools.
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Step 1: Tools
A bunch of empty steel cans
Nails (2 sizes - smaller ones for holes, and some that match the size of the rivets)
Scraps of wood
Masking tape or glue
A large metal ring (should be big enough to put your hand in comfortably)
Step 2: Flattening & Cutting Cans
Be really careful- it's easy to create little steel wires if you back up a cut. They hurt a lot. The cut edges are quite sharp, so make sure to disinfect/bandage cuts as needed.
You can use corrugated or flat cans. Flat ones are harder to find. The thickness of the metal varies by the size - I found coffee cans difficult to work with, but 28 oz ones were just right.
For the four sides, I recommend four or five cans of the same size. You need extra to practice on, especially for cutting the door. It saves a lot of time making them the same size. You need extra to join everything together, but the size of those cans isn't. I used the bottom of a coffee can for the base of the lantern.
Step 3: Making a Design
You'll need a design for the image you're going to punch into the metal. I chose a William Morris design, since my girlfriend likes these patterns.
Print out an image at an appropriate size, and place the transparency paper over it. Mark dots where they make sense, then hold the transparency paper up to see if it looks like the design. You're constrained by the size of nails you're using to punch the holes - you need space between them or the metal will tear. I prefer small holes, but you could vary their shapes and sizes.
Once you get the transparency right, make a photocopy. Make sure it will fit one the metal with a half inch margin on either side, and scale as needed.
Step 4: Punching the Design - Jig
Attach the pattern to a piece of wood. I taped my pattern but it tore up so I'd recommend glue. Put a second piece of wood beneath, and drill holes as marked. Make two holes off to the side- this allows you to align the pieces of wood later. The holes should be slightly larger than the nail you're using to make holes.
The jig helps deal with the corrugation - without it you don't have control where your holes go, as they end up in the valleys. The jig also prevents hammering your thumbs :).
Put the metal between the two pieces of wood and punch the holes through with a nail. As you do this, you may find that some of the wood disintegrates - mine fell apart on the last panel, but it still saved a lot of time. When it's all done, fill in any missing holes by hand.
Make sure you put the painted side down if your cans are painted inside. This ensures you get the shiny side on the outside with the poky parts inwards. If you didn't get the ends cleanly off the can, this will put the sharp leftovers inside the lantern.
Do three of the four sides - the fourth one needs to have the door attached before you punch holes in it.
Step 5: Using the Rivets
You can get 1/8" or 3/16" rivets (this is the size of the mandrel), steel or aluminum. I got a variety pack of 100 1/8" ones for about $5. The diameter nail you use should match the thicker part of the rivet.
You only need plain rivets, but it is possible to get colored ones and ones that plug holes and are water-tight. You can get them at hardware stores and sometimes dollar stores.
Stick the long thin part into the hole on the rivet tool. Pulling the handle yanks on that makes it flare out until the mandrel snaps off. You'll need holes just big enough for the chubby part of the rivet to fit through.
When you make a hole for a rivet, flatten it out with pliers. Otherwise the metal sticks out and the pieces may be loose. The rivet will hold them together, but it won't flatten things.
The part of the rivet that touches the tool is the part that will be flat, so these should go one the outside. You don't need to be able to reach both sides of the things, which makes it nice for this, since you can't reach inside.
If you need to remove a rivet, you can use a file on flat part.
Varied length rivets help because sometimes you'll have several layers of metal.
Step 6: Assembling the Candle Holder
The bottom of a coffee can is the right size. Make sure you fold it fairly square. If you fold one edge, use a side piece as a reference to fold the opposite side.
To make the candleholder, measure a piece of metal long enough to wrap around the candle. It needs some slack, because the rivet pokes inside and takes up some space.
Make sure to fold over sharp edges so no one cuts themselves. Use one rivet to hold the piece in a loop.
Make cuts 1/4" apart on the bottom edge fold the tabs out. There are more tabs than necessary, so remove all but four or five. Put holes in these and rivet to the bottom of the lantern.
Step 7: Door and Hinge
Make a hole in the fourth panel a little smaller than you want to door to be.
Leave extra to overlap the hole. The tabs need to be much bigger than on other things to fold twice - this hides any sharp edges.
I used a thin rod bent in a loop for the hinge. Make a long V-shaped piece to attach each side of the hinge. Make it wide enough to accomodate rivet holes. Fold the outer edges in to the middle, then fold in half - sharp edges on the inside. Put it together, then punch holes and rivet together.
You can put the fourth panel together and then punch holes in it with your jig. You can punch through all the layers, it's just a little harder.
Step 8: Assembling the Pieces
Fold up the bottom edges of the side panel to hide sharp edges.
You'll need long rectangular pieces to pull everthing together. Fold these like the hinge pieces to hide sharp edges. Give yourself plenty of space for rivet holes. You're wrapping a thick layer of metal around an imperfect corner, so it may not be as wide as you'd think when you're done.
Cut the top parts of the sides into triangle shapes and make creases. Fold the points down - this lets heat out of the lamp and hides the sharp points. You'll need holes in two opposite sides to attach the handle.
Put holes in the side panels and the joining piece. Just do one hole at a time - because the metal isn't flat to begin with, it's not worth trying to measure the holes at once. As you attach the L shaped piece, the side panels will straighten. Once the whole thing is together, you'd never know that you started with a sheet of lumpy metal.
Making the top pyramid of the lantern is essentially the same process as you did on the sides.
To attach the fourth side, it will be necessary to pre-punch the last few holes. If you use a piece of wood as a backing, just leave the nails in to hold everything in place until you have all the holes.
To attach the bottom, push it into the lantern and make holes through the sides. You can attach the bottom as you put on the sides if you like.
Step 9: Attach the Handle and Light the Candle!
To attach the handle, make a short rectangular piece. Rivet one side to the holes you made up top, then put the metal ring on and rivet the other part down.
Put the candle inside and light it up!