How to Make Tin Can Lanterns


I was having some friends over for a housewarming party last week, and wanted to put out luminaries so they would know they were at the right place. I almost rushed out to buy luminary bags before I remembered a project that I could make with supplies from my recycling bin: Tin Can Lanterns.

What you’ll need to make homemade lanterns from tin cans:

  • 5 or 6 or 10 tin cans (I used Progresso soup cans. We eat a lot of their chicken soup.)
  • A “fat” nail (to punch holes big enough to easily show light)
  • A hammer
  • A freezer

Directions for how to make lanterns:

Clean cans and remove labels. Fill each tin can about three-quarters full of water and freeze them overnight. (I put mine in our chest freezer.) When frozen solid, use a sharpie to outline a shape to punch, if desired (we weren’t that organized). Tap the nail through the can, just enough to pierce through the metal. Pull it out, move it over a bit, and repeat.

My boys were fascinated by the shattering-glass sound of the ice cracking when I nailed into it. A random pattern is easier for kids or uncoordinated adults (ahem) to manage, and requires less (read: no) precision. You can put your holes on just one side of the can, or entirely around the outside. By the last one, my hands were frozen and I was bleeding all over from a sliced finger, so that one’s a little sparse on the design.

When your design is complete, rinse the can under warm water to melt the ice. The bottoms of my cans bulged with the frozen water, but I just tapped the bottoms back into place once the ice was out.

You can spray paint or glitter the outside of your tin can lanterns once you’re done, but we just left ours plain. If you’re feeling really fancy and want to hang your lanterns, just punch two holes directly across from each other at the top. Thread wire through and fashion into a handle for hanging. Light with a votive candle, then step back and admire your handiwork.

In order to keep wax from oozing everywhere, I put my candles in glass holders inside the lanterns. Like any candle-powered decoration, be sure to put them somewhere where they won’t catch your yard on fire or burn your house down.

I was particularly happy about this project because it required no purchase of supplies AND I could recycle the containers guilt-free after the party. However, I enjoyed the look of these so much that I still have them lining the driveway. I think I’ll move them to our back deck and light them up, just so I can stare at them with a glass of wine after the kids are in bed.

Anyone want to join me?


Like this ‘Reuse It’  blog post by Lisa Hensley? Reuse some of her excellent stories, like the Going Green Missoula Recycling pageBuilding an Urbanite Retaining Wall, or Repurposed Lighting.

Click here to see Lisa Hensley’s Reuse It Archive.


Lisa Hensley is a mostly-native Montanan, living in Missoula with her husband, two young boys, two cats (boys), one tiny dog (a girl!), and four fish (probably boys). She spent more than 10 years in the marketing and creative field, but is now Director of Household Operations for the Hensley group. When she’s not herding kids or doing laundry, she’s shooting photos, gardening, baking, reading, or taking classes—sometimes all at once. She serves on the Board of Directors for Home ReSource, which fits in nicely with her tendency to repurpose pretty much anything.