How to Make Robots Out of Tin Cans

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Use miscellaneous odds and ends such as buttons to embellish the robot.
Use miscellaneous odds and ends such as buttons to embellish the robot. (Image: jarector/iStock/Getty Images)

Creating tin-can robots offers a purposeful playtime for young minds, as they build and play with them. Tin cans serve as durable structures for robot heads, limbs and bodies; however, thinner aluminum cans, such as those used for beverages, dent too easily. Upcycle other odds and ends from around the home to embellish the robots: plastic bottle and jar lids, pipe cleaners and bread-bag ties, craft sticks, hardware such as screws, nuts and bolts.

Getting Started

Remove paper labels from each can, and rub or scrub the remaining glue off the metal. In many cases, the glue can be picked away with a fingernail. Double-check that the cans do not have rough openings; if they do, file them down or swap them out for cans that have smooth safety tops -- this type features a plastic-like top that peels away and does not require a can opener. Wash the cans thoroughly to prevent mold, and then dry them off to prevent rust. Save an assortment of cans, collecting various sizes for your robot creation.

Gathering and Putting Together Robot Parts

Search through the recycle bin and craft-supply containers for an assortment of potential robot parts; enlist the help of kids if they are helping build the robots, turning the process into a miniature scavenger hunt. Bread ties, cotton balls, pen caps and parts from old board games no longer used are all potential pieces for robots. Twist pipe cleaners around a pen for squiggly robot hair, or make arms from flexible drinking straws. Use googly eyes or play clay for the eyes. Buttons, water-bottle caps or empty spools can make eyes as well. Adhere the pieces to the robot head with hot glue. An adult should do the hot-gluing, with the kids guiding the positioning of the pieces. Paint the robot's add-on elements ahead of time, if desired, using acrylic paints or spray paint. Use a paint designed for the surface. Spray paint outdoors or in a well-ventilated area while wearing a dust mask to avoid breathing paint fumes.

Magnetic Marvels

Turn tin cans, magnets and random odds and ends into a toy robot with an ever-changing face. A sheet magnet with sticky backing turns a plastic or metal lid into a face that holds movable features for a robot. Alternatively, hot-glue strong magnets to the backs of the eyes, nose and mouth parts for a strong hold right on the can. Magnets themselves may be features for the robot. Use doughnut-shaped magnets for eyes, nose, mouth or buttons. Paint the magnets on one side with craft paint first, to make the pieces more colorful. Use strong magnets to hold small cans to the sides of larger cans to create torso, body or neck bolts for the robot.

Marionette Robots

Make a robot marionette by building a full robot -- head, torso, arms and legs -- with cans of assorted sizes. Attach one can to the next by punching a hole through the bottom of each, and stringing a sturdy elastic through the structure. Use separate bits of elastic for each arm and leg so the limbs move freely, tying knots in the ends of the elastic to keep the robot from falling apart. Use two dowels or flat paint stirrers arranged in a cross shape to form the structure that moves the robot. Tie fishing line or a shoelace from each manipulation point, such as the ends of each limb, as well as two points on the top of the head, to a respective area of the controlling crossbar. Run the line or shoelace through holes in the robot, tying a knot inside each can to hold the string in place.

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