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 One 6V dry cell battery
Coarse grit sandpaper
Fine grit sandpaper
One metal candy tin
Dust mask
Eye protection
Insulated copper wire
Wire cutters and stripper
A ballpoint pen or pencil
A large glass or plastic bowl

Choosing a Good Container

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.

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 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 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 Now your it is ready to etch!

Step Three: Cover It with Crayon

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 product packaging in your home?

  Show the poll results

Other Projects for the Artistic Mind


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.

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

Do you recycle and re-use candy tins or other product packaging? What do you do with them or put in them?
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  • FreshStart7 Jun 01, 2014 @ 8:00 pm
    Very interesting project!
  • lyndamakaracreations Apr 25, 2014 @ 7:18 pm
    This is so interesting! I was expecting you to use etching cream. I've never heard of using a battery for this.
  • bpratt Apr 25, 2014 @ 11:17 am
    Wow this is awesome! I never knew you could do something like this :) Thanks for sharing!
  • ChocolateLily Mar 04, 2014 @ 9:10 pm
    I usually just remove the labels and use them for various types of storage. This is so neat!
  • Hairdresser007 Feb 13, 2014 @ 6:31 pm
    This is awesome! You should sell them on Etsy!

    Etsy Etched Tins!

See all comments


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