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DIY Lantern from a Recycled Can – Beachy Upcycled DIY Lantern Tutorial

It’s May, so that means we’re leaving for West Virginia next month!! Getting ready to visit WV always makes me think about lighting. Last summer we relied heavily on battery powered lanterns, flashlights, and a couple USB light bulbs. Unfortunately, our lanterns and spare batteries were stolen in November’s break in. This year we’re planning to start work on re-wiring the house and may have some electricity before the month is through, so I’m not keen on buying a whole new batch of lanterns. Instead, I’m thinking about getting new wicks for some kerosene lamps and lanterns that are already on site. Lighting by fire has a certain romantic appeal, doesn’t it? Thinking about lanterns made me wonder about how to make my own lanterns. This, in turn, lead to today’s project – a DIY lantern from a recycled can! This project is a bit different from other DIY lantern tutorials you’ve seen. It has a fun, beachy vibe and would look lovely on a long summer night. Fill your recycled can lantern with citronella oil to help keep bugs away outdoors, or use a cooking oil you already have at home indoors. Either way, this DIY lantern is a great way to recycle a can into something cute!

DIY lantern from a can

Although I automatically gravitate towards beachy projects, you can absolutely alter the way you decorate your lantern to match your decor. Don’t feel constrained by my choice of colors and embellishments! This project is amazingly flexible from the size of the can you choose to recycle, the oil it can burn, and even your wick material. You probably already have everything you need at home for this DIY lantern, so let’s jump right in!

Materials needed for a DIY lantern from a recycled can

  • A can! While cutting the lid, make sure to leave a tab of about an inch attached. Use a table knife to carefully lift the lid, pour out the contents, and clean the can. If you’re not ready to use the contents, just transfer them to a container and pop it in the fridge!
  • A hammer and large nail or screw -or- a drill with a smallish bit.
  • Paint. I used CeCe Caldwell’s chalk paint (I’m not an affiliate, I just love having no VOC paint on hand!), but you could also use acrylic.
  • A foam paint brush.
  • Wick material. All you need is something made from natural fibers. You can purchase lantern wicking, or you can just use whatever is around the house. A piece of jute twine, strip of cotton fabric, or another rope/twine made from a natural material will work.
  • A piece of copper wire or a metal paperclip – totally and completely optional/hopefully not needed. If you accidentally make the hole too big, you can wrap the wire around your wick to keep it from falling in the can.
  • Embellishments. Seashells, lace, twine, flowers – whatever strikes your fancy!
  • Glue.  Tacky Glue works well.
  • Oil. Olive oil burns well and cleanly, but you can also use vegetable oil or lamp oil. (I used olive oil in the example lamp!)

To make your tin can lantern:

Open your can, being sure to leave the lid attached for about an inch. Carefully lift the lid with a knife, remove the contents, and then wash the can out.

Very carefully bend the lid back so you can place it against a block of wood, work bench, or another surface you can hammer/drill against. Make a hole in the middle of the lid. Size the hole to your wick – make it large enough to insert the wick, but not so loose that the wick falls through. You can use a pair of needle nosed pliers or a file to enlarge the hole slightly, if needed.

drill hole in top of DIY lantern

Paint your can! I used three coats of chalk paint. Pro tip: wrap the head of your paint brush in plastic wrap between coats to avoid having to wash and dry it multiple times!

paint can for diy lantern

Add your embellishments! I used some burlap and lace, but use whatever you’d like. Just make sure you don’t put anything around the top that might come into contact with the flame!

Insert your wick, making sure it’s several inches longer than the can is high. I braided three strips of scrap cotton fabric to make my wick, but a simple piece of twine will work. (Quite honestly, my braided wick is cute, but a ‘real’ wick works better. If you want to use your lanterns for a wedding or party, I recommend you consider buying some thin wick material. It’s pretty inexpensive and will keep your lantern burning longer!)

Fill the can at least half way with oil.

Carefully bend the lid back down, using pliers if necessary. Please don’t cut yourself!

Allow the lantern to sit for a few minutes until the wick becomes saturated before lighting it.

DIY lantern from a recycled tin can

Enjoy! You can carefully pull the wick up with a pair of pliers, as needed, as it burns down.

upcycled DIY lantern

Wouldn’t these lanterns be super cute at a summer get together or a DIY wedding? PS – You can learn how to make the beach wedding table numbers in this post right here!

Of course, a less elaborate version of this lantern would work fantastically in a power outage! In an emergency situation, drive a nail through the center of the lid before using the can opener, open the can and toss the contents, insert a wick, and put the lantern to use.

Have you ever made an oil lantern? Are you making summer vacation plans yet?

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Marieken May 4, 2017, 00:19

    So cute! I made my own lanterns when I was studying abroad, but mine weren’t half as cute as yours are.

    • Natashalh May 4, 2017, 11:37

      Fun! Were they for candles, oil, electric bulbs, or just for fun?

  • Duni May 4, 2017, 22:45

    I love that mint color! And it looks very cute together with the lace 🙂

    • Natashalh May 5, 2017, 10:46

      Thank you! I love that paint because it has no VOCs and doesn’t smell at all (and that color is my favorite!).

  • Sarah Leonard May 5, 2017, 01:50

    Super pretty and super simple – great job!

  • Cynthia May 6, 2017, 05:53

    That is such a great, and inventive idea!

  • Julie May 7, 2017, 23:12

    Super cute! And yes, totally customizable! I’d be scared of knocking it over and the oil. But that’s just me and my clumsiness!

    • Natashalh May 8, 2017, 10:16

      I’m pretty accident-prone, but even I haven’t managed to knock over a lantern yet! Fingers crossed and all that. =)

  • Splendid Little Stars May 9, 2017, 07:07

    cute project!
    lovely color, too!

    • Natashalh May 9, 2017, 09:24

      Thank you! I painted a set of shelves the same color – they’re very cheery!

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