How to Etch a Candy Tin

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Re-use old candy packaging to make practical art: a recycyling craft.

Many candies these days come in tins. While they are an awfully great way to carry the candies around it's an awful waste to throw them out when the candies have been consumed.

But the good news is that you can re-use these handy containers to store things in or to assemble small kits of useful items. You can make up a tiny first aid kit in a candy tin or use one to store needles and thread. Empty mint tins have lots of uses!

I prefer such things be a bit more decorative or at least more interesting. It's good to have some way to tell all of them apart and to distinguish them from the ones that still have sweets inside, so my solution is to decorate my old candy tins by etching images or designs into them.

This lens will give you step-by-step instructions on how to etch an image or design using saltwater and electricity. It's kind of like a craft and a science project combined.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

Materials You Will Need

supplies for etching candy tins photo by Kylyssa Shay
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supplies for etching candy tins photo by Kylyssa Shay

One 6V dry cell battery

Coarse grit sandpaper

Fine grit sandpaper

Crayons

One metal candy tin

Dust mask

Eye protection

Insulated copper wire

Wire cutters and stripper

A ballpoint pen or pencil

Hairdryer

A large glass or plastic bowl

Salt

Water

Choosing a Good Container

ginger Altoids tin photo by Kylyssa Shay
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ginger Altoids tin photo by Kylyssa Shay

A good candy tin for this project is smooth rather than embossed and has enough room on the front to draw a design or image. I like to use the packages that Newman's Own and Penguin mints come in as they are free from embossing or other raised designs but any smooth tin will work just as well. Altoids boxes used to work great because they were smooth but the new ones are embossed. This old, smooth Altoids tin was a fortunate find from under my sink.

Need Some Mint Tins? - Of course you'll have to eat the candy first...

These brands are all great for etching or tin decorating projects as they have smooth surfaces.

Gerrit's Extreme Fresch Power Mints, 0.5-Ounce Tins (Pack of 12)
Gerrit's Extreme Fresch Power Mints, 0.5-Ounce Tins (Pack of 12)

These tiny tins are cute when etched and perfect for holding pins or even to serve as pillboxes after they are redecorated.

 

Be Safe!

Be sure to wear eye protection and a dust mask while working on this project!

Step One: Sand Off the Paint

coarse sandpaper used to remove paint from tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay
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coarse sandpaper used to remove paint from tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay

Starting with the coarse sandpaper, sand off the paint on the surfaces you will be using. Sand in a single direction for a smoother finish.

Step Two: Sand the Surface Smooth

fine sandpaper smoothes the tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay
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fine sandpaper smoothes the tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay

Use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth the rough surface of the tin. Again, pick a direction and sand in it to avoid a grooving or crosshatching effect.

A Blank Slate

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Now your it is ready to etch!

Step Three: Cover It with Crayon

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Use a dark colored crayon to color in the side you wish to create a design on. Any color will do because you are just going to rub it off later but dark colors provide the best contrast so you can see what you are doing.

Step Four: Melt the Crayon

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Once you've colored in the side you wish to use, heat it with a hairdryer on high until it begins to melt. While the metal is still hot, fill in any thin spots of wax using your crayon. You don't need to get perfect coverage but keep in mind that uncovered parts will get etched.

Step Five: Use a Pencil to Scratch in an Image

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Use a pencil or ball-point pen to scratch out a design or picture. Don't try to scratch into the metal, just scratch through the wax. I like trilobites so I scratched one into the wax this time. You can also lay a drawing or printed image over top and trace it, pressing hard, if you don't feel confident drawing something freehand.

Step Six: Hook the Wires to the Battery

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Cut the wires about a foot long, strip about an inch and a half (about three centimeters) of each end on each wire. Test the wires to see how you need to bend them to stay on the battery's contacts without allowing their stripped ends to touch each other or the other contact.

Step Seven: Put the Wire Into the Salt Water Bath

photo by Kylyssa Shay
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photo by Kylyssa Shay

Mix table salt into a glass or plastic bowl of warm water until you can dissolve no more in it. Remove the negative terminal's wire, leaving the positive terminal's wire attached. Lay the positive wire's end in the saltwater bath.

Step Eight: Attach the Wire to the Battery and Submerge the Tin

photo by Kylyssa Shay
See all 14 photos
photo by Kylyssa Shay

Set one stripped end of the negative wire into the saltwater bath. Then set the tin into saltwater bath so the side to be etched is in the water above the negative wire end and touching it. Then attach the negative wire to the negative battery terminal. This will make a stream of bubbles come up from the wire's tip under the tin. This is normal and desired.

The gas made is hydrogen which is flammable so perform this part of the project away from open flame and in a well ventilated area.

Allow the tin to sit there over the bubbling negative wire for five to ten minutes then remove the negative wire from the battery.

Step Ten: Remove It from the Bath and Dry It Off

photo by Kylyssa Shay
See all 14 photos
photo by Kylyssa Shay

Remove the tin from the saltwater bath and dry it off. Then scrub off the crayon wax and polish it with the fine-grit sandpaper. Wash it gently with warm water to remove any metal dust and dry it gently with a towel.

The Finished Etching

Trilobite etched into an Altoids tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay
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Trilobite etched into an Altoids tin, photo by Kylyssa Shay

You can now either coat the tin with a clear varnish or allow the natural patina of oxidation to age and enhance your etching.

Do You Re-Use Food or Product Packaging?

Do you re-use any of the durable packaging your food or household products come in?

Whether it's using margarine tubs to store leftovers, jars to store paperclips, or candy tins to make art and storage, it all helps to keep these things out of landfills. Re-using product packaging also helps the environment in other ways - it saves you from buying something else to serve the same purpose, something which would have to be manufactured from raw materials and brought to you using more fossil fuel.

Do you re-use product packaging in your home?

  • Yes, I re-use product packaging for storage purposes.
  • Yes, I use it to create art whether good for storing things in or not.
  • Yes, I re-use product packaging for something else, explained in the guestbook below.
  • No, I don't re-use product packaging.
See results without voting

Penguin Mints

Penguin mint tins are one of my favorite brands both for flavor and for the usability of their tins - and these crazy mints are sugar-free and caffeinated! I love the chocolate ones.

Do you recycle and re-use candy tins or other product packaging? What do you do with them or put in them?

 Last updated on July 20, 2014

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What Fun Things Do You Do to Turn Product Packaging Into Recycling Art? 67 comments

Heidi Vincent profile image

Heidi Vincent 6 months ago from GRENADA Level 6 Commenter

Very interesting project!


Lynda Makara profile image

Lynda Makara 7 months ago Level 1 Commenter

This is so interesting! I was expecting you to use etching cream. I've never heard of using a battery for this.


bpratt lm profile image

bpratt lm 7 months ago Level 2 Commenter

Wow this is awesome! I never knew you could do something like this :) Thanks for sharing!


ChocolateLily 9 months ago

I usually just remove the labels and use them for various types of storage. This is so neat!


Hairdresser007 profile image

Hairdresser007 10 months ago from Burbank, CA Level 2 Commenter

This is awesome! You should sell them on Etsy! Etsy Etched Tins!


burntchestnut 10 months ago

Such a neat project! Usually I reuse tins to store small items like other candy, safety pins, paper clips, etc., or I use it to hold something small I want to mail that I don't want to get crushed (put the tin inside a padded envelope).


Steph Tietjen profile image

Steph Tietjen 10 months ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

I too have done glass etching, but love this idea for tins. I love your trilobyte. Great lens!


Lee Hansen profile image

Lee Hansen 10 months ago from Vermont Level 3 Commenter

I love to recycle tins, boxes and interesting glass containers. I've experimented with glass etching but never tried this metal etch technique. Great home school lesson for a science project.


anonymous 10 months ago

Terrific lens, very creative. Congratulations on getting LotD!


ottoblotto profile image

ottoblotto 10 months ago

I use plastic coffee tubs to make easy bird houses.


Zodiacimmortal profile image

Zodiacimmortal 10 months ago from Yonkers, NY Level 2 Commenter

Ooh I LOVE this & have to figure out what lenses of mine. (def. one would be on of the journaling pages as some use the altoids tins for mini art kits & added a video there) I the smaller Altoids tins may be great for sewing needles (well the small hem & safety pins I should say) (as well as a few others including the 'poem' lens below to my Epic Ballad of Poetry lens


CrazyHomemaker profile image

CrazyHomemaker 10 months ago

Congrats on LOTD and Purple Star! Great lens! I have change in an OLD Sucrets tin and quilting pins in an Altoids tin. I love recycling containers. This will be a new project for me.


Arachnea profile image

Arachnea 10 months ago from Texas USA

this is an interesting project. i'll have to file it away for future use.


aminebombom profile image

aminebombom 10 months ago from Doha, Qatar Level 2 Commenter

great idea. just with a simple little things you managed to bring something really beautiful.well done


Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa 10 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA Hub Author

@tfsherman lm: Thank you!The battery would probably not be appropriate for littles to use and the drawing probably requires too much co-ordination. If you prepped a bunch of tins with the wax or crayon coating and let the kids etch them and did the part with the battery and saltwater bath yourself, kids as young as second or third grade could participate. The drawing part could be made easier by using some kind of image on paper as a template over the wax.


Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa 10 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA Hub Author

@Coleton LM: Thank you!It works with most kinds of tins used in food packaging and also works on copper and brass for certain. I'm not entirely sure about how it works on other metals. I remembered saltwater etching from an eighth grade science class and I was fiddling around with things I have at home that I could make crafts with. The crayon was something I had handy and I knew that anything that sealed all but the design area and wasn't water-soluble would work to mask off the area I didn't wish to etch. My hobbies of arts, crafts, and tinkering often intersect in odd ways.


MarcellaCarlton 10 months ago

I'm going to try this one out. This looks incredible, Kylyssa. Another great lens!


irminia profile image

irminia 10 months ago

Fantastic idea, thank you for showing the steps how to do it!


Faye Rutledge profile image

Faye Rutledge 10 months ago from Concord VA Level 4 Commenter

Hmmm, very interesting! Congratulations on LotD! Great tutorial.


lesliesinclair profile image

lesliesinclair 10 months ago Level 2 Commenter

Really great idea for the do-it-yourselfer. I especially like that it creates a permanent etch without using harmful products. Thanks.


tfsherman lm profile image

tfsherman lm 10 months ago

Yesterday we made arm bands out of TP rolls and tinfoil in my pre-k art class, but I don't know if I dare tackle this with a herd of youngsters. Very, very cool though, thanks!


Coleton LM profile image

Coleton LM 10 months ago

Very nice! Does this work with all metals, or just specifically the metal used in mint containers? Also, where did you come up/come across this? It's awesome!


philipcaddick 10 months ago

This was GREAT, so simple and looks fun. Thanks very much.


seahorse60 10 months ago

What a great idea, I've never seen this done before! I re-use tins and containers for storing anything from buttons to cookies, but haven't tried using them for a craft project yet.


Joan Haines profile image

Joan Haines 10 months ago

As a teacher, I need to reuse free things a lot. For instance, I use screw off caps from soda bottles as game markers or counting chips, etc. I love this project. I'll pass it along to the art teachers I know.


PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 10 months ago from Fresno CA Level 4 Commenter

Great process. Now I just have to try it for myself!


Zeross4 profile image

Zeross4 10 months ago

I use the big diaper boxes to store toys in, and my favorite change jar used to be a can of formula. This looks like a fun project!


psiloveyou1 profile image

psiloveyou1 10 months ago

That is so cool! I've used etching cream before, but I didn't know that you could do it like this. Your instructions are great as well. Congrats on LOTD.


SheGetsCreative profile image

SheGetsCreative 10 months ago from Seattle, WA Level 5 Commenter

I've made other items with Altoid tins but this is new... and cool! Pinned to my Crafty Peeps board


SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 10 months ago from Arkansas USA Level 7 Commenter

Wow, cool project! What a great personalized gift idea, too.


Happimess LM profile image

Happimess LM 10 months ago

WOW this how-to is very different from what i expected, how cool! Great combination of upcycling, art and science. Love it.


linfcor profile image

linfcor 10 months ago from Spring Hill Florida Level 2 Commenter

Wow, what a fun project. I am a huge reuser of these tins, so I will be trying this in the near future. Congrats for your LOTD


andreea22 profile image

andreea22 10 months ago

I don't use to turn product packaging into art, but I think I'm gonna start doing it now! Congratulations on LOTD - you deserve it!


tonyleather 10 months ago

Cannoy say that I really see the point to this, though it does look good!


Lynn Klobuchar profile image

Lynn Klobuchar 10 months ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota Level 3 Commenter

This is super cool! I wish I had known about it when my kids were younger --they may still think it is an interesting way to reuse tins. Congrats on LotD.


Merrci profile image

Merrci 10 months ago from Oregon's Southern Coast Level 7 Commenter

This is amazing! It's such a clever idea and came out so beautiful. Congrats on LotD! I can see why you got it. Nice, clear instructions too with great photos.


RoadMonkey profile image

RoadMonkey 10 months ago Level 3 Commenter

I try to have as little product packaging as possible, by using my own bags and asking NOT to have a bag from the shop. Any cardboard or aluminium is recycled.


groovyfind profile image

groovyfind 10 months ago from Columbia Mo

How Cool!


susan369 10 months ago

How fascinating! The battery part is a bit scary, but I might try it. Congrats on Lens of the Day - thoroughly deserved!


Corrinna-Johnson profile image

Corrinna-Johnson 10 months ago from BC, Canada Level 3 Commenter

What a great project! I must do this with my kids, maybe for a school science or art project! Very cool!


AcornOakForest profile image

AcornOakForest 15 months ago from Western Wisconsin Level 4 Commenter

I love this project! This is definitely at the top of my list of science/art projects to do with young people in the coming year. Thanks for sharing!


LiteraryMind profile image

LiteraryMind 23 months ago from Connecticut, USA

What fun. I thought we were going to be etching tins using a tool, but this is far more interesting.


GonnaFly profile image

GonnaFly 3 years ago from Australia

Oooh. I like this! This lens has been blessed on the "I Love That Word" quest and added to my Upcycling Ideas lens.


paperfacets profile image

paperfacets 3 years ago from La Verne, CA Level 3 Commenter

Kylyssa,This is a superb how to and I like the science in it. How good is this for Girl and Boy Scouts?Does the image rub off? Stays forever?Yeh, I reuse product packaging for the greeting cards I make.


kerbev profile image

kerbev 3 years ago from Upstate, NY

It looks like an sweet science experiment! I love it.


Muzzie4848 profile image

Muzzie4848 3 years ago

Thanks for your great lens. I have feastured it on my 10th wedding anniversary gift ideas. The 10th anniversary year is tin and aluminium. Thank you.


tandemonimom lm profile image

tandemonimom lm 3 years ago

LOVE IT!!! April Fool's blessings today, and featured on Blessed by Tandemonimom!


anonymous 3 years ago

can this work on any other metal?


EmmaCooper LM profile image

EmmaCooper LM 4 years ago

Ingenious :)


rgasperson lm profile image

rgasperson lm 4 years ago

I took a printmaking class in College but never thought the etching methods could go towards a mint tin. interesting.Thanks for the great information. I am going to have to try this one soon.


anonymous 4 years ago

I love this tutorial and technique! I used a variation on one that I already did and yours. I just posted a tutorial on it and linked to yours since you gave me the inspiration to use crayon as the resist. Thanks so much!http://rootsandwingsco.blogspot.com/2010/05/crayon...


VarietyWriter2 profile image

VarietyWriter2 4 years ago

Cool and fascinating. Blessed by a SquidAngel :)


Lee Hansen profile image

Lee Hansen 4 years ago from Vermont Level 3 Commenter

I collect tins of all sorts - I love the artwork and functional reuse possibilities.


enslavedbyfaeries 4 years ago

This is very cool and fascinating tutorial! My girls cover old tins in polymer clay and would be totally into the scientific process of this method. You are a fantastic artist and have done a beautiful job providing clear instructions here!


Heather426 profile image

Heather426 4 years ago from Amarillo, Texas

love it! I save tins because I like the artwork on them, but this is a cool idea!


The-Java-Gal profile image

The-Java-Gal 4 years ago

Loved your step by step tutorial! 5*s plus and faved. I save tins - candy, cookie, whatever. This has opened a whole new art form. I am thinking this would even be a great project to do with the grandkids.


jimmielanley profile image

jimmielanley 4 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

Wow! Art project and science experiment all wrapped in one activity plus a side of recycling. ABSOLUTELY perfect tutorial.


Everyday-Miracles profile image

Everyday-Miracles 4 years ago

Oh Kylyssa, this is just terrific! I absolutely love this lens and am going to add it to my favorites straight away (though they seem to have disappeared from Squidoo, so I'm going to bookmark it on Tagfoot as well lol). This is just spectacular, these would make terrific gifts!I reuse tins for storage all over the place, though I probably should just go ahead and recycle them since I wind up with so much extra "stuff" laying around that I don't need. We've got a huge carton for recyclables and take them in once there is enough of a stack to make it worth while to wait over an hour in line. What do you do with these when you're done? Are you selling them somewhere? I *love* the trilobite sketch!


Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa 4 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA Hub Author

@SoyCandleLover: I think that would work great. You might be able to mask the tin with something like clear packing tape, print or draw an image on paper, and use another piece of clear packing tape to hold it on top of the tin as you cut through it. You could probably use a thick, sharp needle to scrape away the masking, too. That would give you tighter fingertip control of the cutting tool even if you might have to go over the design more than once.


SoyCandleLover profile image

SoyCandleLover 4 years ago from Henrietta, New York

I have always save tins, nd now you've shown me something I can do to actually make them look good. You're a great sketcher, so I might have trouble with that. I might try using tape or contact paper to be the resist. That way I could probably trace a design and use a knife to cut it out. Do you think this might work?


TreasuresBrenda profile image

TreasuresBrenda 4 years ago from Canada Level 4 Commenter

Great how to lens!


RhondaAlbom profile image

RhondaAlbom 4 years ago from New Zealand Level 2 Commenter

Etching candy tins looks like an awesome project.


bdkz 4 years ago

This is very interesting and beautiful!


Danielle713 4 years ago

What a great idea! I love your step by step instructions! The only thing I do with the candy packages are sometimes save them to put small items in.


Superwife profile image

Superwife 4 years ago

this is one of the neatest hobbies I've ever seen - very cool lens


clouda9 lm profile image

clouda9 lm 4 years ago

Your steps to re-create a unique candy tin by re-using is realistic and very economical! Appreciated the time that you took to show the process. Thank you!


MsSnow4 profile image

MsSnow4 4 years ago

Wow, i never thought of using old candy tins :) cool lens

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