The Right Way To DIY Tin Can Lanterns




It’s almost the season of backyard bbqs, bonfires, and fireworks, so I thought it would be a perfect time to share! This little diy tin can lantern project was done for just that occasion! And hey, if you aren’t recycling them, you might as well reuse them, right?!

I had done this project for my scaled down 10 year anniversary party. We were married at Sunset Cliffs, awhile back, actually 2004 and had to do something along those lines. We decided on a beach bonfire where we could include our family and friends. The vision was of a rustic, wood, vintage-ish, let nature do it’s thing, kind of deal. Just fun a get together without crazy bells and whistles.

As you might know, in San Diego there is a very strict “No Glass” law, so anything that could potentially be or look like glass was a no go. The tin can candle holders were pretty much a no brainer. Oh and here’s another fun tid bit, the traditional anniversary gift for 10 years is tin which sounded too perfect to leave out!!!



I really had to bring light into the area, beyond the tiki torches and fire pit. I wanted people to see all the goodies on our table, especially the smore ingredients! The tin can lanterns added just enough light and a romantic effect. (Side note, the lanterns were so cute that a “will you go to Prom with me?” proposal along the beach’s shore had asked to borrow them! Of course I let them, but didn’t think to take a picture of it! I guess I was still too busy being surprised that kids “propose” to go to prom! Hey! Husband of mine, where was that when we went to prom!?)

Now that you got my inspiration and back story on such a tiny project, let me attempt to save you from falling into one of those Pinterest fail pits. You know those images that make you think, even without reading steps, “Well heck, that looks easy! I should totally do that!”. Well, it is really easy, but only once you figured out a trick or two. Some will say just hammer away, but let me serve as your guinea pig and share with you what I learned along the way.

Here’s the jist of what I’ve learned the hard way: Clamps aren’t required if you freeze the cans, but the gloves are a must! Philips screw drivers are unpredictable, but are still fun. Don’t worry I’ll explain in more detail below.



Each tool you can use to puncture the can will give you a different effect. I chose to use a variety of tools just because of that fact. I used my flat head, as well as nails, and a phillips screwdriver. I hammered any and all of them into my cans. The phillips made a star, but had a tendency if it was towards the top or bottom of the tin can to go really in far and just make a big hole, so the pattern was gone. Flat head was pretty true to form, not to hard to control. Nails were also easy and just added a hole to the thickness of the nail piercing. Some I used just the tip for a tiny spot and other times I let it go in further for thicker holes.

Now to get to work!


  • Of course your first step, save a bunch of cans!
  • Next, another obvious step, clean and dishwash, but note to Very Carefully clean, because even if it was a pull top tin can, the inside of the top can be very sharp! You have been warned.


  • Now that you have them all clean as can be, add water, 3/4’s full and place in the freezer overnight. The ice will easily allow you to work without the can collapsing under your hammer, and that’s why it takes place of clamps.



  • Preferably, next day, you’ll be ready to get down to work. Lay out your tools of choice on a towel onto a flat work surface. The towel should help with all the ice bits that you will be hammering out as you go. Also, the towel grips on to the icy outside so the can won’t roll around much.
  • Get your mittens on!!!


  • Good and frozen? Ready to work? Mittens are on, right!? Now take a can, one at a time, just as you are about to work on it, so it will stay completely frozen through out your artistic process. (Just in case you didn’t understand why the glove part has been repeated, they are so important in helping fingers in keeping their prints. I know this seems funny, but most of us West Coast people don’t do much with metal and ice! On that note, don’t put your tongues to the cans either, hehe.)



 As you may notice in the picture above, this can had a big slit. It happened during the freezing and expanding phase, even with 3/4’s full of water. It didn’t effect my design plan, as I was going through a random mix of patterns, or lack of, but if you need a specific look, freeze some extra just in case.

  • Once you’ve achieved the pattern or amount of punctures to your liking, flip the cans upside down, place the tins outside, let the ice melt and water some plants.
  • Obviously you noticed I left each can in its natural metallic state. I have seen many versions with paint on the outside, and that would have been done after my dry step. I didn’t do that for my aesthetic, but also some paints and fires don’t mix, so please be careful when selecting paint for finish, or just opt to use battery operated tea lights from Dollar Tree. Their light will not shine as brightly through tiny holes as the real deal candles will, but should be fine with bigger holes.


I really hope this post helps you out and who knows maybe one day I’ll do a full write up on this party. 😉



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