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Drink Can Tinwork

Embossed tinwork is sometimes used to decorate rustic style photo or mirror frames, or just to make decorative items such as Christmas tree decorations.

The metal used is usually thicker (tinplate) and is normally worked with hammered tools - I wanted to try to get a similar effect, but with a bit less effort.

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More Metalwork

If this project interested you, you might also like Lost Wax Casting

This project makes use of very thin sheet metal that is likely to have sharp, jagged edges and is prone to springing back.

Great care should be taken to avoid injury.

This project probably isn't suitable for children - and certainly not without supervision.

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Soft drink cans are easily recyclable as scrap metal, but I fancied trying something a little more direct - a simplified form of tinwork.


materials assembled for tinwork

All that's needed for this project is a strong pair of scissors, a cork-backed table mat, a pointed object (a scriber or just a ballpoint pen), a little bit of tape and some fine abrasive paper.

Plus of course an empty aluminium drink can - this one contained 'Emerge' - an energy drink containing caffeine and taurine, with a flavour and aroma that perfectly reproduces the experience of drinking something fizzy and anonymously fruity next to a public urinal. If that puts you off the idea of emptying a can for yourself, there are probably other places you can get hold of one.

cutting the can lengthways

First, I cut the can down one side, then cut carefully around the ends.

Extreme care is required here, as the edges of the thin metal are sharp and jagged.

top and bottom removed - spreading the metal out flat

Then I opened out the side into a flattish sheet and gave it another trim to remove the worst of the jagged points.

It's always a bit surprising how much material such an apparently small cylinder yields - I think it's just not all that easy to intuitively estimate the circumference of a circle.

taping the metal flat to a cork board

I taped the metal down flat onto the cork back of a table mat, then used a piece of fine abrasive paper to remove the printing.

It isn't strictly necessary to remove the paint from the can, but it does make forming a pattern easier later on.

scribing lines into the metal

Then I used the scriber (and later, an ordinary ballpoint pen) to mark out a decorative pattern on the metal.

- Pressing just hard enough to crease the material, but not hard enough to puncture or score it

box outline and pattern inscribed

Once the design has been pressed into the metal, it tends to prevent it recoiling back into a cylinder - the work can be removed from the cork board.

I've decorated this one with a simple pattern consisting of geometric shapes, swirls and spirals - but obviously other designs are possible.

It may even be possible, with a little care and skill, to reproduce a picture in beaten relief style.

cutting out the box net

I cut the piece to shape with the scissors...

folding in the corners to form the box

Then folded in the corners, to create a box shape.

Again, great care is needed here to avoid cuts from the sharp edges.


The end result is a little metal box with an embossed pattern.

the finished box

Not bad for a first effort - I'd do a few things differently next time, such as leaving an extra bit on the edge and folding it over inwards, so the box doesn't have any exposed sharp edges.

It Gets Better

box mk 2 - double-inscribed to make the pattern stand out

I found a way of getting the design to stand out in sharper relief.

I traced the entire design as normal, then (before any folding) flipped over the metal and using the same kind of embossing technique, traced around the raised pattern elements from the other side - following the inside and outside edges of all the raised elements.

Then I flipped it over and re-traced the original design once more. The result is a much clearer, bolder embossed design.

And Better...

scribing plan to allow edges to be turned in

It was also pretty simple to make the box with turned-over edges that were not so sharp - by leaving an extra tab on each side

The diagonal scored lines (marked in red) are embossed from the front surface of the work - enabling the corners to be folded inwards.

The lines scored to enable the edge flaps to be finally tucked in are marked in blue on this diagram - they're embossed from the back, like most of the other work, but I found it necessary to make them from a pair of closely-spaced parallel lines - as the thin metal tends to snap if creased into a really tight fold.

And Better Still

box mk 3 - lid and base

Finally, it's quite easy to tweak the measurements for a second box so that one fits snugly over the other.

I found that by reducing the central square region by about a quarter inch and increasing the height of the sides by a similar amount, the resulting box was just small enough to push inside the other as a base.

Remember which way up it's going to be when you're applying the designs though.

box lined with material

I lined my box with a little scrap of tapestry-style fabric, held in place with all-purpose glue.

Felt or velvet would also work just as well - I think it's even possible to get self-adhesive versions of these, which would probably be ideal.

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Your dishwasher will remove the paint from the cans and will save you the trouble of sanding it off.

Posted by Dan on Jun 1 2014 at 18:48
Great idea! A few comments:
1. When cutting the metal don't cut until the tip of the scissor as this creates bumps and tears on the edge. Also you may find cutting in one direction easier than the other when trimming the top and bottom edges.

2. Once cut, round of the corners to decrease the chance of injury, as the piece will be flipped numerous times.

3, For the tape, fold in a bit on the three outside edges of each piece. This makes peeling up the tape much easier.

Posted by jas0501 on Jan 17 2013 at 19:41
Please handle with care. The insides of most if not all aluminum soda cans are coated with a plastic resin made with BPA. In addition to something you likely want to be careful with touching, heating a can up could possibly release it and other harmful chemicals into the air that you breath. Especially bad for still developing young people and children/toddlers to be around.

That aside, this is a fantastic project...only cost you a nickel (lost deposit here in the US) and time.

Posted by John on Jan 9 2013 at 18:47
Gread idea, but one comment... I'm afraid the average domestic oven won't reach the 300+ deg C necessary to anneal aluminium; I use the gas burner of my cooker to anneal small metal items - you need to heat them until they are glowing dull red. Steel tins are less likely to split along the fold but in the UK at least are far less common in drinks cans. I've surreptitiously tested the stocks at the local supermarket with a magnet and only a couple of brands used steel.

Posted by hypocacculus on Nov 20 2012 at 14:46
Hi, thank you for sharing this tutorial! You are an amazing artist..it's hard to believe this is made using a energy drink can. I just finished a soda can crafts round-up and I hope that it's okay, I just couldn't resist featuring your embossed drink can box. You can see it here:


Thanks again for sharing this awesome little box!

Posted by Jamie B on May 1 2012 at 05:43
If you still find the metal cracks, try heating it in an oven, then allowing to cool naturally - this should anneal the metal and make it very soft and pliable (even once cooled)

Posted by Mike (for Atomic Shrimp) on Mar 15 2012 at 23:17
Tearing of the metal along folds is certainly a problem sometimes. Using a different brand of can might help - as not all cans are the same thickness and alloy.
What you definitely can't do is fold to crease, then unfold back (as you might if it was made of card). You need to aim to fold no more than absolutely necessary.

Posted by Mike (for Atomic Shrimp) on Mar 15 2012 at 23:17
I am trying to make the tin can box but every time I do the sides tear and fall off :( I've tried with and without doing the line, inside and outside line then original line again. Do you have any suggestions ???

Posted by Sarah on Mar 15 2012 at 15:37
from france, did want to thank you for making me enjoy this very rainy saturday- i'm working on my first box but was baking a pie "une tarte aux mirabelles" at the same time, silly me, i did cut myself once or twice (just barely). enjoyed the easy-to-follow video presentation, i wish i had such a fine english accent, too- thank you again, hannah

Posted by hannah on Aug 27 2011 at 15:06
Just made two boxes... awesome idea and an easy to follow video ;)

Amazing what a few hours and four soda cans can make.

Posted by rb0094 on Mar 7 2011 at 23:01
... If all else fails, you could try annealing the metal by heating it in the oven on the hottest setting, then allowing it to cool naturally.

It's also possible to anneal using a blowtorch, but carefully, because it's also easy to burn/melt the thin metal that way.

Posted by Mike (For Atomic Shrimp) on Jan 27 2011 at 23:20
Hmmm... sometimes the metal does crack on the very tight folds. A few factors that might be at play:

Make sure you're inscribing the lines from the correct side of the metal - the crease should be the natural start of the fold - it will crack if you crease it one way, then fold the other.

Make sure it is actually an aluminium can. I have no idea if this works with steel (I might have to try that)

A closely-spaced pair of lines might help, for the edge folds - see the diagram,,,tbc

Posted by Mike (For Atomic Shrimp) on Jan 27 2011 at 23:18
I love this project! I think it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to fold the box without a number of the edges shearing off. I've had two attempts now, and no luck with either. I thought I'd pressed too hard with the pen the first time, but I was much much lighter the second time and I got the same result. Any idea what I'm doing wrong? Perhaps the cans I used simply weren't as thick as those you used.

Posted by Luke on Jan 27 2011 at 21:13
I agree! This is a fantastic reuse of materials. The box is lovely, well done and I bet anyone would love to receive as a gift. The reuse of the metal materials and taking the time to create something nice is what strikes me most!

Posted by Jennifer Ressmann on Jan 23 2011 at 17:54
Had a great time this morning making a box myself. Plenty more soda cans left to be made into boxes :-)

Posted by Raymond on Jan 23 2011 at 16:41
Very clever!

Posted by Mixedmediastuff on Nov 18 2010 at 17:06
This is fantastic, thanks! I would have tried this immediately, except that I'm in the office right now!

Posted by Minnie on Nov 8 2010 at 10:14
many years ago, me and my ex-partner made spotlights from drinks cans using light fittings, corks tohold in place and wire coat hangers to form the stand for the light. this takes me back toi the seventies! yay . .

Posted by Kirsty on Nov 6 2010 at 17:45
I was inspired by this to make these

Posted by Jim on Dec 10 2009 at 15:35
Hey, I like it well done.
Thanks for the good tutorial:)

Posted by ХУДОжnick on Dec 8 2009 at 17:55
What a beautiful box. I made some embossed can Christmas cards last year, and when I stop sneezing I'll be making some more, but now I have to try this box too.

Thanks for the clear tutorial :-)

Posted by Sam on Dec 5 2009 at 19:47
This is stunningly beautiful - thanks so much for this very clear tutorial. And all the safety warnings. :-)

Posted by Sister Diane on Oct 29 2009 at 14:54

Posted by GEZ on Aug 16 2009 at 21:02
Fantastic idea!!! I love using old items for new creations! Keep up the good work!

Posted by Marisa on Aug 14 2009 at 18:36