26. How to Make a Lantern From a Can

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

This episode is subtitled: ‘Here comes the summer…’

We all know the score; summer arrives, but not necessarily the sun. The long light evenings should be perfect for an outdoor gathering of friends but the weather is so unpredictable you never know whether you’re going to need your wellies or your sunglasses.

Kim and I decided we’d take a chance last Saturday evening and we invited the girls from work and their partners for an informal do in the garden. My garden? Well, I offered but Kim wanted to try out her new fire pit so she was keen to host it at hers. It was only a gesture on my part because I think we both knew that we’d struggle to fit everyone into my bijou patch of cottagey quaintness.

‘OK, I’ll provide some garden decorations,’ I said, picturing Gary’s turned up nose at the prospect of something ‘salvaged’ on his highly manicured lawn. Cue small inward chuckle from me – wouldn’t old soup cans be perfect?!

I was looking forward to meeting Jaz’s latest boyfriend on Saturday night because for the last three months there had been a steady stream of, ‘Oh, Jenny, he’s gorgeous,’ and, ‘Oh you’ll never guess what he bought me,’ and, ‘He says the sweetest things.’

As they stepped out of the house into the garden I did a double take on the striking green eyes, the unruly dark wavy hair and the strong square jaw, but was less impressed by the stocky physique and confident swagger.

‘This is Cole,’ she beamed. ‘Sorry we’re late but Cole was at the gym until seven.’

‘Yep, got to keep these boys on their toes,’ he said, slipping his jacket off one shoulder and flexing his bicep so his t-shirt nearly split. My gut reaction was to stick two fingers down my throat. Hope no one noticed.

After saying hello I decided there were other people I’d rather be talking to and made a beeline for Gillian and her boring husband Bill. I must have been so wrapped up in his stories of their latest trip to Andalusia in southern Spain that firstly, I’d forgotten that I’d ever thought him boring and secondly, I hadn’t noticed the black clouds wandering in overhead. The first inclination I had that it might rain was when the heavens opened and I realised that it was too late to avoid a soaking.

salvagebox.co.uk - Blue sittingI looked up and saw most people heading straight for the house, every man for himself, but I caught sight of Cole who, quick as a flash, slipped off his jacket, put it over Jaz’s head and shoulders to keep her dry and scooped Blue up out of the muddy grass before heading inside to join everyone else. Hmmm, maybe I was a little hasty with my original assessment… I’d better give him a second chance!

From the kitchen I watched the candles fizzle out in the rain, thinking that they would have looked a bit better in my rustic garden than Kim’s ‘show home’ but they were very effective at giving off a warm glow amongst our friends.

salvagebox.co.uk - Blue's pawThis project involves freezing some water in an empty can and tapping the holes in with a hammer and a nail, before adding a wire handle and dropping a tea light into the bottom. Here are the details of how I made them.

My cans happened to be from soup but any will do.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Before I opened the cans I cut the labels off and used my new bottle of ‘Sticky Stuff Remover’ to get rid of the glue. This stuff really is magic. Keep the labels for later.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Once emptied, the first thing you’ll need to do is wash the cans out, fill with water and stand them up in the freezer until the water is frozen. The ice prevents the can from crushing when you hammer the nail in. I left mine in for a couple of days but I expect overnight would be fine.

I kept the labels because I wanted to draw my pattern on the other side. I decided on some straight lines and some curves so I used a ruler and an old plastic dessert tub to mark out my design.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

I had a go at tapping the holes in on the other can first, using a different design, but I hadn’t marked the actual spots for the holes. It was ok but not as even as it should have been so I decided to plan this one in more detail. You may prefer, however, to get stuck straight in and not mark a pattern out at all. You can see the hammer and the size of the nail I used in this photo.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

After taping the design to the can, I put an towel in a plastic tub to support it as I worked and to catch any water drips, although the towel on its own would probably have been fine. You’ll see from this photo that when the water expanded as it froze it pushed the base out of shape. Anyone know how to avoid this?

Making the holes was much easier than I thought it would be. You’ll need just a medium level of gusto and a few taps for each one.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Don’t forget to add two holes near the top to secure the wire handle to.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Once I’d finished making the holes I discarded the label and ran the can under a hot tap to get rid of the ice. Then I had to decide which wire to use. The cheapest option was the florists’ binding wire shown here on the right but I have a number of reels of more fancy wire so I chose the spring green colour to blend better with Gary’s garden. I’m not sure what gauge it is but it’s very pliable and not very thick.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

It’s vital that the handle is secure – we don’t want any falling candles in a busy garden. For decoration as much as anything I decided to plait the handle, so I started with three pieces of wire 40cm long. The middle 20cm was for the plaited handle and the 10cm at each end were for securing it to the can.

Firstly, I wrapped one of the pieces round the other two pieces, about 10cm from one end. It was wrapped round about three times.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

I then plaited the next 20cm and again wrapped one piece round the other two when I was about 10cm from the end.

I think it’s best to feed the loose ends through the hole, over the can and through again.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Then wrap the loose ends tightly round the handle several times before snipping the wire and turning the ends in with round nosed pliers to make sure there are no sharp bits protruding.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

And here is what they looked like.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

They just need a tea light to be dropped in the bottom (and some extra long matches!).

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

As an afterthought I decided to add some beads from an old necklace.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

I know I was risking some wire congestion with my last minute additions but it was only a cosmetic risk, functionally they are sound.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

They look a lot prettier in the dark! I hung them on ‘shepherd’s crooks’ that have a spike at the bottom for driving into the ground. Alternatively, you could thread some twine through the handle and loop it over a tree branch (make sure it’s secure!). Now I’ve realised how easy they are to make, I think I’ll make some more with heart and flower designs.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Give your cans another lease of life before you recycle them! Turn them into garden lanterns for long warm summer evenings.

Tips:

  • Never leave a lit candle unattended
  • The inside of the can is spikey around the holes so drop your tea light in from the top and use a long match to light it.
  • Be conscious of where the seam of the can is when you tape your design to it (I didn’t think about this until afterwards!).
  • Add some tape across the top and bottom to minimise the chance of the label swivelling round on the icy can.
  • I really liked my lines and arches design but there was quite a bit of the can left without holes so it didn’t give off as much light as it could have done.

Salvaged Items:

  • Old food cans
  • Beads from an old necklace

So, we can now add ‘metal’ to our list of materials we’ve worked with. I hope to get a lot more use out of the lanterns in the coming weeks – as long as the rain from Saturday hasn’t made them rusty!

Hope you enjoy having a go.

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