Altoids tins make great foundations for all kinds of projects. If you're arty and creative, you can decorate those little boxes to make cute keepsakes or to help organize those small items that always seem to be escaping, like paperclips or barrettes. For the geekier element, there are mini electronics projects such as a flashlight or a custom USB memory stick. You can even make a tiny garden that's perfect for your desk.
Polymer Clay Projects
Once you get started covering Altoids tins with brightly-colored polymer clay, the sky is the limit. You can even use your decorated tin for one of the other projects mentioned here.
Wash your tin very carefully to get rid of any fingerprints, oils or debris which could stop the clay from sticking to the box. Use a softer clay like Premo, Fimo Soft or Pardo, making sure it is very well conditioned (kneaded and worked) for softness and good adhesion. For best results, roll it out using a pasta machine on the #4 setting. If you don't have a pasta machine, roll the clay by hand and make sure the thickness is even. Apply a sheet of the clay to the bottom and the lid, then use strips of clay to cover the sides. Decorate any way you like: flowers, geometric designs, abstract patterns, even animal prints. Bake the tin according to the instructions for your clay.
The list of electronics projects using Altoids tins just keeps growing. For beginners, a small LED flashlight is a good place to start, as it is simple and requires very few parts. To make the flashlight, you'll need a 2 AAA battery holder, AAA batteries, a switch and three LEDs. The LEDs are connected in parallel (side by side), then connected to the battery holder, with the switch connected to turn the flashlight off and on. Small holes are pierced in the tin for the LEDs and the switch.
If you're a bit braver, you might want to tackle a set of mini speakers or a custom stereo mixer. Even a mini guitar amp can be constructed inside an Altoids tin.
Cooking with Altoids
For a fun novelty project, you might like to try building your very own barbecue stove in an Altoids tin, just big enough for a couple of charcoal briquettes and a single burger. Remove the lid and break up charcoal into small enough pieces to fit the tin. Place a small metal grill on top of the tin, then light the charcoal and put the food on the grill.
If you're looking for a more practical project, you can build a lightweight Altoids stove that runs on alcohol. Despite its small size, this little stove can really be used for cooking and boiling water. All you need is the tin, a small piece of wire mesh and a handful of perlite (a lightweight mineral you can buy from hardware stores and garden centers). You'll also need something to support your pan or kettle.
Cut the wire mesh to fit over the tin. Fill the tin with perlite and place the mesh on top, tucking it in at the sides. Pour a little denatured alcohol over the perlite. Your stove is now ready to go.
You can grow plants in your Altoid tins. These mini gardens are just the thing to brighten up your desk at work. They make a good conversation piece as well.
To make one, you'll need a little bit of potting compost or other suitable growing medium. Place this in the bottom of the tin, and top off with some small and attractive stones or gravel. Add one or two pebbles, glass nuggets, sea shells or other small decorative items. The best plants to use are small succulents. They are easy to find and don't mind growing in small spaces.