Project tutorial

DIY Tin-Can Lanterns

Project cost
3 hours
Estimated time

Illuminate your walkway, porch or front steps with festive DIY tin-can lanterns. The warm candlelight creates an inviting ambience for trick-or-treaters and holiday visitors. Punch out designs of choice to create custom luminaries (or use our templates or make your own!) on a combination of various sized cans. Mix recycled food cans and empty, unused paint cans from the craft store—you don't want to use containers that once held flammable paints.  Make sure to fully remove the cans' labels and deodorize the insides by wiping with a damp sponge dipped in baking soda. 

(This article originally appeared in This Old House magazine. Author // Amy Roberts. Photos // Amy Rupp.)

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Download Plans


  • Metal Cans (various sizes)
  • Scrap 1 x 1s (leftover molding works too) about 10 inches long
  • A scrap 1 x 6 (at least as long as your tallest can)
  • 18- to 21-gauge wire
  • Tea Lights
Step 1

Plug Cans with Ice

Fill cans with water and freeze them. The plug of ice will keep the can firm for punching. You’ll be making holes with a hammer and an awl or a chisel, and if you just start pounding away, you’ll have a mangled mess. 

Step 2

Create a Steady Surface

Build a jig to hold the cans steady while you work. Screw scrap 1 x 1s to the long sides of a board (a 1 x 6 was used here).

Step 3

Draw Designs

Draw templates, thinking of them as reverse stencils; the lines are the negative space through which the light will shine. We provided free templates above in “download plans”.

Step 4

Punch out The Design

Clamp a frozen can to the jig, and use a marker to trace on the image. With a hammer and an awl (for dotted lines) or a chisel (for wider slits), puncture the metal. When you’re done, run the can under hot water, dump out the ice, and clean off any remaining ink.

Step 5

Attach a Handle

Snip a length of 18- to 21-gauge wire and attach it to the can through two holes punched on opposite sides near the rim. Use pliers to crimp the ends closed.

Step 6

Add Light

Place a tea light or LEDs at the bottom of each can and they’re ready for display!

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