Upcycling advice: how can I reuse/recycle cans to make jewellery?

We’ve had an email from Pauline:

I would like to use steel and aluminium cans to make jewelery. Do you know how to cut the metal out? Should the can be crushed first? Do you know how to smooth the edges so they don’t cut? If you could throw any light on this or point me to a website as I am not getting much coming up in google at the moment? Thanks.

I’ve made numerous things out of drinks cans (all aluminium I think) over the years and have mostly just used scissors for the cutting – it’s not as hard to cut as you’d think. I might use a can opener to remove the lid or a knife to start a hole in the body but then scissors suffice. I typically cut down the print “seam” and around the top & bottom to remove the curve so am left with a flat rectangle of metal.

(I’ve tried using shaped hole punches on cans but only lightweight ones so not had much success. Alison Bailey Smith has talked about the heavy duty ones she uses on plastic – I wonder if they’d be good on metal.)

And if the edges are smooth, not jagged, they’re also not as sharp as you might think. I’m not saying I’d necessarily want to wear them as jewellery in their nude state but in all my making, I’ve not once cut myself. Anyone got any tips for making the edges safer though?

Finally, anyone made any interesting jewellery from cans – or seen any inspiring examples of work around the wonderful worldwide web?

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22 Responses to “Upcycling advice: how can I reuse/recycle cans to make jewellery?”


  1. Miranda says:

    I don’t at all condone copying another’s work, but here is a fine example: http://www.greatgreengoods.com/2007/08/18/recycled-arizona-iced-tea-bracelet/
    I just wish her site existed still. I would absolutely love to have that bracelet.

    • louisa says:

      I don’t condone copying other’s work at all either – I really just meant for technique inspiration — and to show that great jewellery is possible with care & attention.

  2. I have used the punches on metal, but again be cautious with edges. Use a small file or even cover with maybe copper tape used in stained glass. Be cautious. I opened a alumnium can the other day and found that the alumnium felt slightly plasticised….like a metal plastic hybrid!

    Artists I know of who use the cans to great effect are Mary Anne Enriquez and Harriete Estel Berman, both in the states.Both are on Flickr and both are great at sharing their knowledge.

    As for the question of copying etc, interesting discussions could be had on this. I teach one off workshops and I post my work on the internet so can expect a certain amount of copying and I am also influenced by what I see when I post on Flickr, Facebook, Crafthaus of other peoples work. But we all interprete things differently. And yet not really had many copiers over the years (now over 20 years)…..I think most people realise there is too much time spent in my work and not enough financial return to make it viable. There have been a few close especially when I started 20 years ago. Perhpas because I had exposure on The Clothes Show, who knows.

    When I teach I love to impart the techniques and expect each person to bring their own creativity and their own skills to create something new. It is inspiring when someone does some thing I would not do, like when Louisa (our host) made a handbag with plastic dinosaurs and wire! Combining lurid plastics with earthy coloured wire to great effect…but not something I would produce in a million years, or another woman at another class who went to town on vivid pink and incoporated everything of that colour and it totally worked and suited her!

  3. Alexis says:

    if you look in a number of crafty / make your own jewellery books you’ll find sections in them on how to, and inspiration – sorry my copies are out of reach at the moment but if you’re interested and don’t have a handy selection in local book shop I’ll be glad to supply ISBNs.

    From my recollection of those sections in the books I have – its not difficult and you don’t need more than a few simple tools (which most people already have around the house).

  4. Mary Anne Enriquez says:

    I have been working with aluminum cans since the 1990s. I have never been cut, but I have gotten some bad stabs or jabs from sharp rough tiny projections when initially cutting a can apart with scissors.

    The best way to keep edges smooth is with metal “needle” files. You can buy them in sets at most hard ware stores. It you are cutting metal with punches, or dies (You need a die cut machine for that), then the edges will be fairly smooth. going over the edges with the files is a nice way to be sure the edges are safe.

    Thank you Alison Bailey Smith for the mention in your comments above.

  5. I only did a placement for my pens from aluminium cans :) I never did some jewelry from it but I did some from an old magazines :) I’ll try this at home

  6. Kara says:

    I’ve made bezels for my aluminum and other sheet metal cutouts from folded strips of the same metal. Cans are thin enough to punch out with a die cutter, and that rounds the edges a bit. Craft foam or styrofoam, #5 plastic, cork, or even papier mache backings can keep the edges from digging into skin even after they’ve been filed smooth.

  7. shara says:

    STUPID

  8. Ok.. it’s smart and quirky making jewellery out of tin cans and great for the environment but I can’t see this catching on.

  9. Its very popular Waste Clearance London. People buy this stuff all the time. People wear jewelry made from aluminum cans….and there are artisans that make magnets, earrings, brooches, hair clips, Christmas tree ornaments, and so much more from them. these items are popular at craft fairs, as well as sold online. Many think its cool.

    Aluminum jewelry and crafts are popular selling exports from Africa to the States. Catalogs show not only jewelery but holiday ornaments, amazing toy models of cars, planes, and motor cycles. Aluminum can crafting and the things made from them have been around and sought after from many years now.

    I will wear an aluminum can over gold, or a diamond any day.

  10. Jewellery from aluminium cans is another form or medium to make jewellery from and is very popular at the moment, but I feel it would never replace gold in common usage because of it’s inherent properties (durablity, ability to hold a design etc) and neither should it try to. But offering another option in costum jewellery or artisan jewllery, yes…it has a definite place. There are so many people being creative with the tabs and the metal and it is a very legitimate re-use of resources…and makes connection with our abundant consumerism in the modern world.

    I have been fortunate to work in silver, platinum and plastic as well as all my recycled materials as part of my training at Edinburgh College of Art in Silversmithing and Jewellery department in the 80′s…and have plumped to be a “jeweller” who works with recycled materials because I love the fact that I make the beauty out of something someone else has discarded.

    We are fortunate now that there are ethical gold suppliers and jewellers like Creed or Clogau Gold for those who want gold or the other option is to have old outdated jewllery melted down – re-using old gold. These first two choices are more pricey options but if it is a wedding ring that technically you are going to live with for the rest of your life – it will be a constant reminder that you made the right choice in your ring and your partner.

    As for the “stupid” comment earlier…..!

  11. Thank you for wise words and sensible response Alison. :-)

  12. jazzhero1 says:

    I am doing a school project and I need to know how to recycle STEEL cans. does anybody know how to do this? let me know if you do

  13. Mary Anne Enriquez says:

    You can see thousands of creative ideas using steel cans, aluminum cans, bottle caps here:

    Fan>TAB>ulous
    http://flickr.com/groups/tab_art/

    Its a creative image gallery I started back in 2008 to inspire those who want to create using recycled materials.



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