How to Make a Tin Can Lantern

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Lighting plays an essential role in setting the mood for any event or space. Rather than tossing your tin cans in the recyclable bin, gather them up and turn them into radiant backyard luminaries. Whether you're decorating a wedding venue or entertaining outdoors, these charming homemade lanterns are sure to create a relaxing and cozy atmosphere.

Completed tin can lanterns.
Completed tin can lanterns. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Things You'll Need

  • Tin cans
  • Sandpaper (any medium grit)
  • Stencils
  • Tape
  • Nail
  • Hammer
  • Spray paint
  • 18-gauge wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Newspaper or scrap paper (optional)
  • Pliers (optional)
Supplies for tin can lanterns.
Supplies for tin can lanterns. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 1

Lightly sand the tin cans until they are no longer glossy. This creates a rough surface to which the spray paint can adhere.

Lightly sand the cans.
Lightly sand the cans. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 2

Tape your stencil onto the can. Plastic stencils work best because they are less likely to slip once taped down, but you can also print a design from your computer, cut it out and tape that down to use as a stencil.

Tape the stencil to the can.
Tape the stencil to the can. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 3

Begin punching holes in your tin by gently tapping the nail into the tin with the hammer -- tap along the outline of the stencil. Do not hit the nail too hard or you may dent your can. In addition to your design, use the nail and hammer to puncture a hole at the top of both sides of the can. These holes will be used to attach the wires needed to hang the lanterns.

Punch holes in the tin.
Punch holes in the tin. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 4

Cover your work area with newspapers or take your cans outside and apply a thin coat of spray paint. Allow the paint to dry completely and add another thin layer of spray paint. Painting in thin, light coats prevents paint drips.

Apply a thin coat of paint to the can.
Apply a thin coat of paint to the can. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 5

To add decorative stripes to the can, cover the sections you wish to keep the original color by taping a strip of paper around the can.

Tape off a section of the can to create stripes.
Tape off a section of the can to create stripes. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 6

Apply a thin coat of the second color. Allow the paint to dry and apply a second thin coat. Let the paint dry completely before removing the paper and tape.

Apply a second paint color.
Apply a second paint color. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 7

Using your wire cutters, trim the wire to create handles for the lantern. The length of wire needed will depend on the diameter of your cans and how low you want them to hang. In general, they should be between 1-foot to 2-feet long.

Trim the wire to size.
Trim the wire to size. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 8

Thread the wire through the hole you created near the top of the tin. Pinch the wire closed with your fingers or use pliers. Shape the wire into a curved handle and thread the other end into the hole on the other side of the can, pinching it closed.

Thread the wire through the two holes at the top.
Thread the wire through the two holes at the top. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Step 9

Place candles in the center of the cans and find the perfect spot to display your new luminous lanterns.

Place candles in the tin can lanterns.
Place candles in the tin can lanterns. (Image: Kenzie Mastroe)

Tips & Warnings

  • If your tin is extra thin, fill it up with water and let it freeze overnight before punching holes in the can. The ice will keep the can from denting when you tap the nail into it.

  • Wear eye protection while sanding.

  • Spray paint in a well-ventilated room or outside if possible.
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