Our 2.5 yo son LOVES trains, and unsurprisingly, he decided to dress as a train engineer for Halloween. I decided to make a railroad "lantern" that he could use as his goodie basket for trick-or-treating. This is my first Instructable, so please let me know if anything seems to be missing. Happy Halloween!
Step 1: Bill of Materials
1. One 48 oz pinch-grip square plastic food container (I used a salsa container). Other container sizes and shapes will work too, I just use what I happened to have on hand.
2. Some olive oil (for removing glue residue from the food container).
3. Masking tape.
4. 220 grit sand paper.
5. Acrylic gesso.
6. Acrylic paint (I used some prussian blue and some titanium white).
7. Acrylic matte medium (alternatively, a couple tablespoons of white glue mixed with a couple drops of dish soap would work too, as explained below).
8. A couple paint brushes.
9. One wire coat hanger.
10. a pocket knife.
11. pliers with integrated wire cutter.
12. a rubber band.
13. a 4" glow stick.
14. a dust mask (for sanding).
Step 2: Step 1: Prep the Container
Clean the food container with soap and water. Remove the label as best you can. If you have trouble removing the label glue residue, try coating the sticky surface with some olive oil and let it sit for 20-30 minutes, the adhesive residue should then wipe off without too much difficulty.
Once the label residue is off, clean the container again thoroughly with soap and water, and let dry completely.
Step 3: Prepping the Surface
Apply masking tape to cover the part of the food containers that will form the "windows" on your lantern. I taped in rectangular windows about half an inch in from the edge of each side.
Once your windows are masked, lightly sand the exposed surfaces with very fine sand paper (I used 220 grit; I experimented with 150 grit but found it left too much of a 'grain' in the plastic). Wear a dust mask; you don't want to inhale the plastic particulates.
I drilled the holes where the lantern handle would go at this stage (since the next stage is painting, and I didn't want to screw up the paint job when i went to drill the holes). I just used a pocket knife; a punch or awl or nail would also do the trick. I put the point of the blade against the plastic and twisted it back and forth until I (slowly) drilled a hole through the plastic.
Step 4: Prime and Paint
Paint the sanded surfaces. I first put down a coat of acrylic gesso; it is a white primer that dries quickly and creates a nice surface for the paint to bond with. I then put down a coat of dark blue (prussian blue lightened with some titanium white); any color will do, though. Let dry thoroughly. (Acrylic typically is a fast-drying paint, but because the underlying surface is non-porous, I found it took a full day for this application to dry completely.)
Step 5: Frosting the Lantern Windows
Once you're finished painting, remove the masking tape. If there is any glue residue, daub it lightly with olive oil, let sit a few minutes, then wipe clean, taking care to avoid the painted surfaces. Wipe down all the lantern windows with a wet paper towel to get clean, again taking care to avoid the sections you painted.
To frost the windows, you have a couple options. I painted the windows with an acrylic matte medium, which goes on smoothly and dries to a nice translucent look.
If you don't have an acrylic matte medium laying around, you can mix a couple tablespoons of white glue (Elmer's, Mod Podge, or similar) with a few drops of liquid dish soap. I read about this technique somewhere on the Internet (thanks, Internet!) and tried it on plastic water bottle; it basically created the same frosted look. The big downside to this approach is that it is even less waterproof than the acrylic medium, which isn't very waterproof.
Step 6: The Lantern Handle
I used a wire coat hanger for the handle. Using wire cutters, cut off the crook of the hanger and straighten the remaining wire. Sand the wire to remove paint. Bend the wire into a square-bottomed "U" in a dimension that fits your hand. (I bent a handle that is about 4 inches at the handle part, with 7 inch "arms" on either side.) Bend the bottom inch of each "arm" in to form the portion of the handle that will feed through the holes on either side of the top of the lantern.
Feed the handle ends through the holes in the lantern. Using your needle-nose pliers, crimp the ends around to form a loop (this is harder to explain than to show; see the accompanying pictures). I put "washers" on the handle so that it would not rub off the paint too badly (I used bits of electrical tape for this), but that step is probably optional.
Step 7: The Light
I used a glow stick to "light" the lantern. String a rubber band between the two crimped ends of the handle and hang the glow stick there. The advantage to this approach is that it keeps the glow stick up off the bottom of the lantern, so that it doesn't get buried as candy gets added. The disadvantage to this approach is that the light bounces around like crazy.
There are other ways to do this (e.g., using some mounting putty to stick the glue stick to the bottom of the lantern), but this way worked for me.
Step 8: That's It!
That's all there is to it - take the lid off to put goodies in, put lid back on to keep goodies from falling out.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!