Wednesday, May 2, 2012

365 DoC - Day 2: Tin Can Lanterns

The first tin can lantern I made was back when my sister was creating some metal punched art to sell during a time when tin and brass punched art was very popular among the colonial decor crowd.  I encountered the craft again when I moved to Arizona in the early eighties, where tin can lanterns and paper bag luminarios reflected the southwestern desert culture.

The craft is seeing a resurgence again, so I thought I'd share my own process for taking just about any size can and repurposing it into a beautiful and useful patio or landscape decor item. Of course, there's nothing that says you can't use them indoors, but there's just something magical about sitting out on the patio, mesmerized by the flickering shadows with the smell of creosote or mesquite in the air.

The real appeal of these lanterns is that the designs can reflect just about anything and everything from the current holiday to nature, constellations to Celtic knots, and everything in between. My personal favorite reflect the Southwest - cacti, lizards, Native American fetishes, etc., nature, simple freeform patterns.

What You'll Need:
  • Metal cans, labels removed, washed and rinsed with bleach
  • Waxed Paper
  • Masking tape
  • Permanent black marker
  • Sand 
  • Water
  • Towel or piece of fleece
  • Hammer 
  • Nails or an awl
  • Spray paint in white or off-white as well as colors of your choice (if you're planning on using candles rather than flameless candles, be sure to get spray paint that is suitable for exposure to high heat)
  • Wire (Only if you're planning on hanging the candles, in which case you'll want something sturdy, yet somewhat flexible.)
  • Votive candles
Now that you have the supplies you need, let's make some lanterns!

Step 1: Fill the can with sand at least 2/3 of the way, add water, and place it in the freezer. Since water expands as it freezes, the sand will allow for expansion without the risk of the can bottom bulging as the water freezes. The frozen mixture will give structure to the can and a surface against which to pound, so that you don't have to worry about reshaping a warped can.

Step 2: Prepare your pattern. If you can draw, simply freehand a pattern using the permanent marker onto a piece of waxed paper (the un-shiny side, since you'll want the shiny side right against the can to form a bit of a water barrier from condensation on the can as you're working on it). If you have trouble making a stick figure, trace the outline of a design from an actual flat object like a leaf, or a line drawing. (If you're planning on selling these, make sure that you're respecting copyright when selecting clipart to copy from!)

Step 3: Once the water in the can is completely frozen, remove the can from the freezer and wrap your pattern around the can, overlapping the ends and securing it with masking tape.

Step 4: Position the can on its side on the towel or fleece, creating a cradle of sorts to keep the can from rolling and protecting your work surface.

Step 5: Using the hammer and a nail or awl, begin punching holes along the lines of your pattern. Take care not to punch too close together, and vary the depth of the punch (and/or the diameter by using different sized nails) to lend added dimension to your pattern.  It's best to punch the very basics of the pattern first and then go back to add detail using a somewhat lighter touch to keep the holes smaller) If you're planning on hanging your lantern, now is the time to add two small holes for your wire hanger at opposite point near the open edge of the can.

Step 6:  Once you're satisfied with the punched design, remove the waxed paper, turn the can over in a bowl and let it thaw until the sand and water easily slide out. Rinse the can thoroughly taking care not to catch your fingers on the punched holes as they can be sharp.  Allow the can to dry thoroughly before the next step.  If you're in a hurry, a blow dryer will help speed the process.

Step 7:  At this point, you can either leave the can "as-is" or apply some color with the spray paint.  I prefer to put on a base coat of white primer to give a solid base color, followed by two coats of color, and any type of texture or finish I might want to add to achieve an antiqued or patina'd look.

Step 8: Once you've added any finishing touches and allowed them to set, add your wire hanger if you'll be hanging your lantern.  Otherwise, add your candle or flameless votive, and enjoy!

Just as a side note, similar lanterns can also be fashioned using a variety of plastic containers (think frosting tubs, powdered drink canisters, etc.) that have been lightly spray painted or left plain for a brighter look.  Be sure that you only use flameless votives with plastic containers tho!


Yankee Burrow Creations said...

I love this idea. I'm tired of the same old tiki torches around the pool.

Bludart said...

Great idea, and easily finished in one day (which is always a plus for me!).

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