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How to Make a Tin-Can Lantern

Lighten up.

At this time of year, you might find yourself noticing all the lights around you. Neighbors might be hanging strings of Christmas bulbs outside their houses, or maybe they were there in early November for Diwali celebrations. Perhaps there’s a menorah in some windows. In many religions and cultures, light and fire are important symbols connected with strength, purification, truth, clarity, protection, and basic survival. And even though these days most of us can light a room with a flick of the switch, sometimes it’s nice to use candles instead. So why not make a nice lantern for them? It’s as easy as hammering a nail into a tin can!

You’ll need:

  • A tin can (like an empty coffee container)
  • A hammer
  • A nail (at least 2½ inches long)
  • A candle
  • Gloves (optional)
  • A permanent marker (optional)

1. If your can has a label on it, remove it, and then rinse the can.

2. Fill the can with water, leaving one or two inches of space at the top.

3. Put the can in the freezer. Before you can start hammering your lantern, the water has to be frozen solid. For me, this took about a day, but it depends on the size of your can. While you wait, you might want to sketch or plan the pattern for your lantern, kind of like you would if you were carving a pumpkin. The pattern (or lack thereof) is entirely up to you. When in doubt, try Google Images.

4. When the water is frozen solid, take the can out of the freezer and let the fun begin. It’s probably a good idea to do the actual hammering outside, because once you start, ice will fly out. Also, you might want to wear a pair of cheap gloves to protect your delicate hands from all that hammering.

5. You’re just going to be hammering holes into the can using your nail. If you want to sketch your pattern onto the can first, use a permanent marker (only make marks where you want the holes to be, so that the marks will disappear). You can make small holes by hitting the nail gently, and bigger ones with harder hits. If you haven’t made a lantern before, I suggest sticking with bigger holes, because the end result will be cool even if you mess up a bit. Anyway, you do this until you have achieved the desired effect.

6. To get rid of the remaining ice, put the lantern in your sink and fill it with hot water. Or just leave it in the sink to melt on its own. If the bottom of the container expanded during the freezing process, that’s OK. (You could also try hammering the edges back in.)

7. When the can is dry, put a candle in there, light it, and enjoy your very own beautiful lantern! ♦

Erin Della Mattia is a recent graduate of York University in Toronto. She’s a fantasy novelist with many beginnings but no endings. She can usually be found behind a book.


  • Megara December 19th, 2012 11:33 PM

    Will the can melt or explode because of the candle?

    • Tangerine December 20th, 2012 12:09 AM

      A candle is nowhere near hot enough to melt metal! You can’t even melt it in your oven, so don’t worry.

  • jenaimarley December 19th, 2012 11:59 PM

    This is fabulous!
    At my kindergarten (Waldorf) we would celebrate the solstice with a lantern walk where we would take lanterns we made like these and walk around singing songs in German.

  • rhymeswithorange December 20th, 2012 12:02 AM

    Oooh I can’t wait to try this! Thanks :D

  • Dylan December 20th, 2012 1:36 AM

    OOOO aaaaaa sah cuuuute!!

  • LilySew December 20th, 2012 3:20 AM

    Wahhh – this is so gorgeous. I’d love to make a few of them in different colours for my room!

  • Electra Heart December 20th, 2012 9:30 AM

    This is perfect! Rookie diys are the best. <3 :D

  • gnarlyelixir December 20th, 2012 11:16 AM

    THIS IS GREAT!! ANOTHER easy idea for last minute Christmas gift!! ^^

  • Pearl December 20th, 2012 11:24 AM

    This is so cool! I’m gonna try this for the holidays <3

  • Mary the freak December 20th, 2012 2:01 PM

    It looks like it will make a unicorn come to my house. It’s totally beautiful!

  • fox in the snow December 20th, 2012 3:35 PM

    Oh my gosh! this is so gorgeous!!

  • Tyknos93 December 20th, 2012 6:53 PM

    At my work we made constellation lamps with a little LED light tinfoil and a mason jar. It was so sweet.

  • simplebutchic December 20th, 2012 10:38 PM

    Wow that’s innovative!

  • frankenchrist December 21st, 2012 11:31 AM

    this is such a cute idea! I ‘hammered’ in hearts and moon cresents in mine, worked so much easier without the ice though!

  • insteadofanelephant December 21st, 2012 6:34 PM

    this is a great idea! i eat so much soup and always felt bad throwing out the cans because i’m a hoarder and now i have an excuse! yes.

    blog: instead of an elephant
    Creative Director: Thread Magazine

  • smellissa December 24th, 2012 11:22 PM

    gonna paint my can after putting holes in it! :)

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 11th, 2013 7:03 AM

    In fifth grade we were learning about the pioneers at school and all the girls had to sew a skirt and bonnet, and the boys got to make tin can lanterns!! Since then I’ve always wanted to make one and now I can, so thank you very very much :)