Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tin Can Solar Lantern Tutorial

Learn how to make a recycled tin can lantern powered by a solar light.

I love the rustic charm of tin can lanterns. Budget-friendly and super simple to make, their warm light brings a relaxing ambiance to any outdoor party. While flickering candlelight is perfect for a special occasion, I really wanted tin can lanterns that glow all summer long. I quickly decided that making them solar powered was the way to go.

I've written a tutorial for anyone interested in making their own solar tin can lanterns.  Gather your supplies and follow along...

  • recycled tin can
  • solar path light
  • cordless drill and drill bits suitable for metal
  • galvanized steel wire
  • quick set epoxy adhesive
  • clear waterproof silicone caulk
  • pliers
  • black permanent marker
  • safety glasses
  • spray paint or clear acrylic sealer (optional)


Tear off the label and wash the can thoroughly. A citrus degreaser such as Goo-Gone works wonderfully on stubborn label glue.

Draw your design with a permanent marker.

Clean tin can and draw design with permanent marker.

Ready to make the holes?  Grab your power drill and don a pair of safety glasses. I found it's best to begin drilling each hole at slow speed. Increase the speed after a small dimple forms, and apply steady pressure until the drill bit breaks through the can.

One advantage of using a power drill is that you can incorporate different sized holes in your design. You may find that the larger bits don't grab well and tend to bounce around on the can. If this is the case, simply drill a pilot hole with a smaller bit first. I used a 7/64" bit to make my pilot holes.

Drill holes in can with power drill.

Disassemble the solar path light. Typically, the solar head can be disconnected from the lens by twisting it counter-clockwise.

Disassemble solar path light.

In the center of the closed end of the can, drill a hole large enough to accommodate the LED bulb.

Drill hole in center of bottom of can.

To make a handle, drill two holes on opposite sides of the closed end of the can, approximately 1/2" from the rim.  Cut a piece of steel wire to the desired handle length plus about 2".  From the outside of the can, insert the wire into one of the holes that you just drilled, and use your pliers to twist the end into a small loop. Gently bend the wire into a U-shape handle, insert the free end into the other hole, and make another loop.

Make a handle from steel wire.

At this point, you can spray paint the lantern your favorite color or preserve the shiny metal with a coat of clear acrylic spray. If you are like me and prefer a weathered finish, leave it alone and the lantern will rust over time.

Prepare the epoxy resin according to the directions on the package.  Apply a thin layer to the areas of the can that will make contact with the solar light.

Apply epoxy adhesive.

Center the solar head on the can.  Press firmly and lay a heavy book on top until the epoxy is set.

Apply pressure to solar head until epoxy is set.

When the epoxy has cured, apply a bead of clear, waterproof caulk around the edge of the solar head.

Run a bead of clear waterproof caulk around solar light.

Charge it up in the sun...

Tin can solar lantern charging in the sun.

...and wait for nightfall to see the gorgeous result.

Tin can solar lantern lit up at night.

These tin can lanterns look beautiful hung in the trees or from the ceiling of a covered deck.

Tin can solar lantern hanging over table.

And they create stunning designs of light when displayed on a table or set on the ground.

Tin can solar lantern sitting on steps.

I even found color-changing solar lights and made these fun lanterns for my children to use as night-lights.  Sitting on the windowsill, they receive plenty of sunlight to charge and glow long after the girls have fallen asleep.

Tin can lanterns lit with color-changing solar lights.

Tin can lanterns aren't just for summer either. The color-changing solar lights would make wonderful Christmas lanterns. Imagine lanterns with Jack-O-Lantern faces for Halloween, a snowflake design for winter, and hearts for Valentine's Day.  You could even spell out a holiday greeting or display your house number on the front porch.  The possibilities are endless!


  1. What a wonderful idea!!!I love it!!!

  2. Oh. My. Goodness.... Love this craft. Is this the spaghetti sized can?

    1. Thank you! It was a 46 oz pineapple juice can and the solar light is 4" in diameter.

  3. This looks really effective. I've seen people make them to put candles in before but never thought about using solar lights!

  4. love this idea, thank you! now I see a lot of possibilities :)

  5. This is a fantastic idea! I absolutely love it.

    Thanks for sharing at the Pinworthy Projects Party.

  6. You are amazing! This is a fabulous idea!! Pinning. Thanks for linking up to Tickled Pink Times Two.

  7. Congratulations! I wanted to let you know you have been featured this week at Sewlicious Home Decor!! Here is the link...http://sewlicioushomedecor.com/saturday-show-licious-craft-showcase-52/

    Marti :)

  8. This is very cute. I've been wanting to do something similar and your instructions are so clear. Thanks for sharing this project on the Show-licous Party.

  9. Tip: use colored sharpie markers to add color to the white/standard LED bulbs

  10. I LOVE this! What a great outdoor project! I'm asking bloggers to share their tin can DIYs this month and I would love to see you link up! Lindi @ Love Create Celebrate

  11. Great tutorial. I will try to make one tin can light :) I will use it beside
    my salt lamp