As those of you who are regular readers know, I’ve recently done both cooking and embroidery projects with my students in connection to our history unit on colonial life. It only seemed right then, for me to do something a little more rugged for the boys’ sakes. What better project, I thought, than punching out tin luminaries? There are great instructions for this on How to Recycle a Tin Can.

Light Made From Can

The project is not complicated at all, and the Michigan weather was very helpful in freezing the cans full of water that we set outside the classroom’s back door. If you haven’t heard, we’ve had below zero temperatures for several days this semester!


I found that this project is best done in pairs, with one student holding the can while wearing gloves, and the other doing the nailing. I also had students set piles of newspaper under the cans to give them more control and muffle the noise.

Making Tin Luminaries

Many of the students did not want to draw their patterns out ahead of time, just get straight to hammering. I was not particular about it. Regardless of the designs they ended up punching, once the battery-operated tea lights were placed inside they looked beautiful!


Most importantly, this project gave students a small sense of what life in the colonies was like and how much work it took the colonists just to have light.

If you’d like to do this project with younger students, you could try using aluminum tin foil pie pans. Or, if you have an older, more advanced group, you could attempt these fancier designs using tin cookie sheets.