Making boxes from soda cans

This shiny little box was made from a soda can. You don’t need much to pull this off; an aluminum can, sand paper, scissors, a ballpoint pen, a straight edge, and some time. The embossing is done with the tip of the pen, but there’s a bit of a trick to it. The designs are first pressed into the metal from the underside of the aluminum. It is then flipped over and the outlines are traced, with one last tracing of the shape from the underside once that is completed. We think you’ll agree that this results in an impressive relief of the design.

This would make a nice project for that wedding ring you’ve been carrying around sans-case. Or perhaps this is just what you needed as an enclosure for your next project. You’ll find an instructional video after the break.

[via Gizmodo and Core77]

45 thoughts on “Making boxes from soda cans

  1. That is so cool and clever I might just have to have a go at it!

    -after this flu or whatever dies down, that is.
    meh

    Sent from my Haipad M701-R

  2. I feel bad saying this. Every relevant definition of ‘hack’ I have found has the word ‘technical’ in it. I think I would call this a ‘make’.

  3. @Tinker: My understanding of ‘hack’ was to take an object with a specific function and change it so that it has another function that it wasn’t originally designed for. It has nothing to do with being ‘technical’.

    With this definition, many of the things posted here are ‘makes’ if they’ve been build from scratch from raw components, while this post is pretty much a hack in my book. They’ve taken a soda can and changed it into a box.

    Just my thoughts though.

  4. @Tinker – I’ve heard “hack” defined as a clever solution to a problem. In Eric Raymond’s How to Become a Hacker, he writes, “The hacker mind-set is not confined to this software-hacker culture. There are people who apply the hacker attitude to other things, like electronics or music — actually, you can find it at the highest levels of any science or art. Software hackers recognize these kindred spirits elsewhere and may call them ‘hackers’ too — and some claim that the hacker nature is really independent of the particular medium the hacker works in.”

    So, is this a hack. I suppose that’s subjective, but I’d say yes. It’s a clever solution to keeping the can out of the landfill (assuming he’s not being a responsible upstanding citizen and recycling it appropriately).

  5. Neat, and extra points for recycling into something useful!
    Now that’s all my Christmas presents sorted for next year ;)

  6. An easy way to take the top off is with a can opener, it would probably make a neater cut too :). I know because I did this once (sort of) to make a custom fan shaft mount (with the bottom of another can being the fan and the rest for the shroud).

  7. Might I suggest soldering the seams to make it a little stronger.
    Is it a hack? I don’t know if it is a hack or a craft project but it is pretty cool and very nice looking IMHO so in the end who cares?

  8. @ lwatcdr; You might suggest soldering the seams, but that won’t make aluminum solderable by any convenient or easy method. The crimped corners here are about as nice as you can do with this material. Of course, you could do this with thin copper sheet too, and then soldering it would make a bit more sense.

  9. Is this a hack? Is an Arduino project a hack? I don’t know. So I propose we establish a panel of experts. It will consist of purists, religious fundamentalists, and right-wing ideologues. They will review all future submissions and only when the panel agrees 100% will the submissions be posted. Some of the experts we will need can be found in these very threads. Hack a Day will be a better and leaner place in the future.

  10. We used to make christmas ornaments in elementary school using the exact same method. This isn’t hacky, its crafty. Though the box did come out really nice, I kind of want to make one now.

    1. Wow. Ever hear of gloves? Hackaday has a post on how you can hack a pair to be worn on yer hands to keep your fingers safe from getting cut on the tin can.

  11. Soda can liners are made from epoxy and that epoxy almost invariably contains Bisphenol-A (BPA) – a fairly toxic endocrine disruptor, even in small doses.

    Scraping it or embossing it is very likely to transfer it to your skin (setting aside the concerns with it dissolving into your acidic beverage of choice).

    Love the technique, don’t love the choice of materials.

  12. Once one gets the can into a flat peice, a paper cutter might be the best tool to clean up the edges with. Lifes too short to sweat the small sheet, a lot of it’s the small sheet anyway. Does it really matter if’s a cracft, hack, or a make? Besides everything prented here is a make.

    I”m D_. and I approve of this post to HaD. For me there are too many oh Sheet! need to start over, places for me too attempt. I’d be drinking so much beer to get the raw material, my oh Sheet rate will rech record rates.

  13. @CutThroughtStuffGuy
    Um, references?
    Most soda cans don’t have liners. They are aluminum. Just like the one in the video, that was aluminum on the inside. No epoxy found.

    I agree about not scraping off the outside labeling from earlier. Why bother if it becomes the inside and you cover it with felt or fabric?

  14. @All who think otherwise. You are expanding the definition of ‘hack’, as are your references. Go to the dictionary. By common usage this isn’t a ‘hack’. It is clever reuse of scrap materials. This is up-cycling. Example, if I weld two gears together and use them for a paperweight it isn’t a hack. It is only important if you want this site to appeal to the majority of the people that come here many times a day. Too many ‘make’ projects and we go somewhere else…

  15. I went to the dictionary:

    to cut, notch, slice, chop, or sever (something) with or as with heavy, irregular blows (often fol. by up or down ): to hack meat; to hack down trees.

    I think it will qualify as a hack when I get done trying to do this one.

  16. I’m not really into cheesy craft boxes but I see an enclosure right there.

    Just what I needed for some dirty regulator circuit. Now I can heat-sink my mosfets directly to the case, and not wind up with a flashing ball of tape with wires!

  17. @JamieWho, aluminum cans have a plastics lining, though I don’t think it’s dangerous.

    @CutThroughtStuffGuy, think about it…

    With the lining the drink would eat the aluminium, sometimes you find an old can, still sealed but empty. There will be a small hole somewhere where the contents ate thru the can and escaped.

    Even steel cans get liners sometimes, especially if they have tomatoes. Tomatoes are acidic, they’ll eat the can too.

    If you drop an aluminium can into caustic soda (drain cleaner), it will eat the aluminum and leave the liner behind. Caustic soda is nasty stuff, it will eat you given the chance.

  18. I liked it! Thanks for the tips on embossing.

    @jeff: “flashing ball of tape with wires” … Hah! Yep, I’ve built that. Tnx fr the LOL :-D

  19. Nice Hack, I’m inspired to try it tomorrow.
    By they way, for all you doubters about whether it’s a Hack or not … my grandfather used to Hack useful things together from other objects when he was a boy in the late 1800’s, and thats what he said, he “Hacked it together”, was the phrase, so he was a Hacker by his own words. I believe the phrase comes from using a Hack Saw to cut up metal objects to reuse.

  20. @Derek X-
    THAT is the best definition of ‘HACK’-ing something I have heard. Thanks.

    To others that think it is too ‘MAKE’ and not enough ‘HACK’- well, break PT’s heart and go to the MAKEblog. I found HAD from being there first, and it is all the same mishmash. Same cake, different icing. All good, however ;)

  21. OK… now after watching the video…

    Wow! What a nice piece of work. And, FWIW, the author uses the term ‘upcycle’. My Grandpa would have said ‘hacked’ also, I am sure.

    One of the few things I may actually do after seeing here. Nice.

  22. Always the same “that’s not a hack” rhetoric…
    As the host of “Schprocket” says, “Your story grows tiresome.”

    Here’s a better idea: What if the moderator prohibits anyone from posting “that’s not a hack” until that person has submitted at least two projects they’ve built that are examples of what a hack *IS*.

  23. Martha Stewart was the ultimate hacker?
    i’ve long since pondered recycling aluminum cans into aluminum sheets, which become aluminum skins and skeletons for aluminum model vehicles. land, water, but is it light enough for aerial vehicles, that is the question. i know it can’t be as light as balsa

  24. Just tried the cleaning, cutting, and embossing techniques on a tiny sheet I got from a half-size drink can.

    Pretty easy stuff to do!
    I can hardly wait to get my hands on some larger cans (hmmm, double entendre anyone?) to try the box forming.

    Very cool stuff.

  25. I am very familiar with caustic’s effects on aluminum. We are almost done building an in house, $60,000 anodizing line. Caustic makes short work of aluminum. Acid eats it too although at a slower rate than alkaline caustic soda.

    If you didn’t spray on a liner, the can would impart a metallic taste to the food and possibly even be broken down by the food or beverage. Since the purpose of the can is to protect its contents, this is no good. So cans have a thin liner. Sort of like how pennies have a thin layer of copper but are really mostly zinc.

    Here is a video of how aluminum cans are manufactured: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7Y0zAzoggY#t=03m20s

    If you skip to about the 3:20 mark, you can see them spraying a “water based” coating. That coating, I guarantee you, is a BPA based epoxy coating. Water soluble, sure. But still BPA based epoxy.

    Remember the outcry over Nalgene bottles and baby bottles because they contained BPA? Notice how they are no longer on the market? Several countries now ban BPA of any kind in baby products. Do you notice how you never see canned baby food? It is always in glass jars and plastic pouches?

    Surprise. Almost every single aluminum and steel can contains BPA too – and still does. That means every beer can. Every canned green beans. Every Coke. Every tomato paste. Every beer can.

    Oh and it *IS* possible to make cans WITHOUT BPA. You know why we have high fructose corn syrup instead of corn syrup in Coke and Pepsi and other sodas? It costs the manufacturers about a penny ($0.01) cheaper. BPA free liners are more expensive – 10 – 15% more expensive. Since there is no outcry from the customers, we have BPA liners.

    Tetra-Pak products use polyethylene and are BPA free, but those are more of a square “box” rather than a can. Of course, glass containers do not contain BPA.

    But if you think for a moment that aluminum cans and steel cans have no liner – you are sorely misinformed.

  26. Regarding BPA and safety:

    Can’t you just sandblast, sand paper, dremel the inside of the can or apply some sort of polyurethane?

  27. Aerosolizing the liner seems like it would make it worse. In theory one could find a chemical that dissolves epoxy but not aluminum. But that’s probably a strong fuming acid or something.

  28. @CutThroughStuffGuy,

    Ha, my post should have said ‘without the liner…’ rather than ‘with the liner…’. Geez.

    Anyway, TreeHugger, who as the name suggests would normally be shrilly agreeing with you, kinda don’t – http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/bpa-danger-from-cans.php

    They say that rather than ‘Almost every single aluminum and steel can’ have a liner with BPA, it’s less than 1 in 5 for aluminium, and perhaps a 1 in 4 overall.

    Given the average dose of BPA from the soda can also comes with 15 or so teaspoons of suger, it’s fairly low on my list of things to worry about.

  29. There’s a difference between a ‘tin’ can and an aluminium one, if you come across a soda can without plastic inside now you can assume it’s at least 25 years old and it’s best to not drink the content :)
    At least that’s my experience, I haven’t seen a soda can without liner in my recollection.

    Because aluminium has been linked to brain diseases most all western countries put all sorts of limits on it, like not being allowed to make cooking pots from it without some protective covering, and I assume the soda can thing is because it’s so long on the shelf and exposed to various temperatures.

    The disadvantage is that most plastics release estrogen-hormone-like compounds and as a result now the average male has a lower sperm count that in the old days, no protection is without its flaws it seems.

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