How to make patio can lanterns

Perfect for lighting the cottage path, these lanterns are easy to make & look great

By Catherine DohertyCatherine Doherty


Photo by Stacey Brandford

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Nothing lights up a cottage evening or helps guide our way to the lake as charmingly as patio lanterns. Patio lanterns can be used all year long and look as beautiful against a snowy background as they do lighting up the summer leaves of a birch tree. These recycled patio lanterns combine form and function to create true cottage chic. Put away your can crusher and start saving used tin cans in all shapes and sizes to make this fun project. We hung several strands of these lights up at the cottage and they quickly became a favourite with family, friends, and neighbours alike. Put your artist’s hat on and be creative with fun, unusual designs.

Step 1: Salvage

Ask friends and neighbours to start collecting cans for you, instead of sending them to the recycling depot.

Step 2: Clean

Clean all the cans thoroughly.

Step 3: Design

Secure each can in a vise and drill holes using a ¼” drill bit. You can drill random holes or mix it up by making simple designs, as we did. Shapes such as stars, moons, and trees can be sketched onto the can first, using a white grease pencil.

Step 4: Paint

Wipe off any grease pencil marks. Spray the inside of the cans first, using orange spray paint to reflect light and create a warm glow when the bulbs are on.Once the insides of the cans are dry, turn them over, open end down, and spray the outsides. Don’t worry if a bit of the outside colour ends up on the inside. You will need two coats on the outside.

Step 5: Cut top opening

Drill a hole in the bottom of the can. With metal snips or a sturdy kitchen knife, carefully cut an X about 1″ x 1″. Avoiding sharp edges, press each of the four triangles down to form a square opening at the top of your can for the bulb. You may want to wear work gloves as an extra precaution.

Step 6: Attach can to light strand

After checking that your lights are in good working order, you can start to attach your lanterns. Remove the light bulb, place the can over the socket, and screw in the light bulb. The light bulb will keep the can in place. String up your new patio lanterns.


  • Make this a family project and put away the power tools. It takes a little longer but the cans can be easily punched with a nail and a hammer. You can fill the empty cans with water and freeze them to stop the can from collapsing when nailed. You’ll still need a vise to hold the can.

This article was originally published on April 20, 2005

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Catherine Doherty