Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tutorial -- Tin Deconstruction

All (6) of you avid adaptive reuse readers have been waiting for. ever. for a post about how to break down a tin can. It's a hot topic, I know. So, having some expertise in this area, I guess it's up to me to demystify, elucidate and expound upon the age-old techniques and practices. Hmmm. Maybe I'll just tell you how I do it.

STEP ONE--Pick an Easy Tin
Of course your first question should be, "Is there a hard tin?" As a matter of fact, there are lots of hard tins. Lunch boxes come to mind. Tall tins. Any tin that is shaped or formed outside of regular geometric shapes. In short, don't start with anything that doesn't look like this:For the purposes of this discussion I'm going to use this armagnac tin. Pay no attention to the fact that it is outside of the above parameters--I'm a trained professional.
STEP TWO--Get Your Tools

Gather up a pair of leather gloves, tin snips and good, strong pliers. I actually use a pair of squared off wire cutters and have lots of success with them. Make sure you are wearing close-toed shoes as well. (This will become clear.)

This is so important, I'm gonna say it twice. PUT ON YOUR GLOVES. Trust me on this one. Okay, now find the seam on the tin. Every tin has this. It's the line that is created when the ends of the metal are attached to form the shape. Old tins often have a soldered seam. Newer tins have a seam where the ends of the metal have been folded over each other to form the closure. Find this and begin to cut from the top using your snips. This often requires some hand strength. As you're cutting, be sure to hold the tin firmly against the snip's blades--almost pushing the tin into the snips. Cut as close to the seam as possible and all the way to the bottom ridge.
STEP FOUR--See if You're Lucky

Sometimes tins are not so well constructed and breaking the seam like this will essentially allow the bottom plate to almost fall off. Pull apart the sides some to see if the bottom looks firmly attached or not. If it looks loose, you may be able to pull the bottom off completely and skip to Step Seven.If you're not lucky, you'll have to cut the ridge at the seam line that connects the two pieces of metal. Not all snips will do this easily. You may have to work at it some until that ridge is broken. It should look like this:

STEP FIVE--The Hard Part
Pick up your pliers and hold the tin so that the seam is east/west and the bottom ridge is running north/south relative to your body. With your pliers, grip the bottom ridge at the cut line and try to peel back the bottom metal from the printed sides. This is tricky. You basically need to catch the top edge of the metal then bend and pull slightly. You will slip and not get it at first, but eventually you will get about .5 to .75 of an inch peeled back.
You'll be able to see the bottom edge of the colored metal. Once you have this, the easiest thing to do is to set the tin flat on the ground, put your foot in close to the seam. This is the close-toed shoe part. Again, pay no attention to the fact that I am actually wearing flip-flops--remember, trained professional.
Now stand on the tin while you grab the upper corner. Once you're in this position, you are ready to pull up and slightly out. This should release the the tin from its bottom. Pick up you foot and place it close to the spot where the two pieces are still connected--pull up and out again. At this point, you probably can just pull with your hands, so you're not marring the tin with you pliers. Repeat until you've separated the two pieces.
Sometimes the two pieces of metal get at odd angles with one another and refuse to separate. When that happens I switch how I hold the tin. Place the printed side face down on the ground (on a mat or rug) and then grab the bottom plate and pull away from the sides and your foot from that angle. It often releases better this way.

STEP SIX--What Do I Do With This Crinkled Bottom?
Probably you've managed to annihilate the bottom piece of metal, so most likely you'll just want to chuck it in the recycling bin. After you do about 100 of these, you'll get better at figuring out how to pull the pieces apart and actually keep the bottom in pretty good shape. The unprinted metal is great for backs or ring bands or anything you would normally use sheet metal for.STEP SEVEN--The Finishing Touches
What do I do with this curved piece of printed sheet metal? This is the reason you went to all this trouble in the first place--a lovely expanse of printed steel. Except that your expanse is currently rounded, a little crinkled and has frilly edges. Fear not, just a few more simple things and shortly you'll have a beautiful, flat piece of metal to start cutting up.
First, look at the ends of the metal that you cut apart in Step Three. One end will be a clear cut and the other will have the remainder of the seam on it with that folded over piece of metal. If you can, grab that piece with your pliers and pull it out. It will save you from a few extra cuts and jabs if you can get rid of this piece.
STEP EIGHT--Hammer Time!
Now you need to find a nylon or rawhide hammer. (A claw hammer will work in a pinch, but you'll want an old towel or piece of leather between the hammer face and the metal.) Find a good, solid surface. I use my concrete step in the garage. Set one edge of the metal on the surface and lightly start to hammer out the bumps and ridges. Work you way all the way down the metal. Hammer the top rolled edge flat. I've tried cutting it and leaving alone, but really think the easiest and best approach is to just flatten it. The bottom edge can be a little tricky, but try to hammer it as flat and evenly as you can.

STEP NINE--Take a Break

You're probably surprised how tiring that was. Like everything, it does get easier. The hard part quickly becomes where to stash yet another piece of sheet metal.
If anyone has pointers on how they disassemble a tin, I'd love to hear them. There are probably better ways, but you do something a certain way, it seems to work so you keep doing it and don't think much about how you might improve the process. In some ways it reminds me of apocryphal Easter ham story.


JDStar said...

Awesome! Now I've got to find something to use it for... I'd love to make something out of that!

Sam said...

I LOVE your tin stash. :-D

Great tutorial. I've cut up beer/soda cans, and punched holes in tin cans, but I think I need to add tin snips to my shopping list :-)

Kristin said...

This is a great idea! We get so many tins around Christmas that we usually just take them to Goodwill. What are some of the projects that you've created with the sheets?

Flash said...

Empty soda cans, once deconstructed, can be put through the Cuttlebug etching folders to emboss them.

Lux said...

OH MY GOD! thank you SO much!! I never click on the links in Facebook, but this one caught my eye and it is exactly what I've been looking for to create shrines and boxes for simple automata. I'd love to see what else you have created,
thanks again!
Lux x

Beth H said...

wow, Christine! Now that I see how much trouble you go thru to deconstruct those tins, i love your work even more! and your tin stash is just awesome.

zoe said...

a great practical post! Just to give you some inspiration and applications, you could look for the book "The fine art of the Tin Can" by Bobby Hansson. I bought it in London back in 1997 but I see he has a new (and expensive!) edition now. If you're looking for something more economical you'll find the old one here =)

RedeemedByDSign said...

It was amazing to read this, Christine! I actually use just about the same technique and tools to cut my tin cans...gloves & tin snips and hammer (ok the hammer was the new one, using a rawhide, never thought about that, I have use a rubber mallet sometimes, but not too much..) Your work is so wonderful. Where do you go from there? What do you do to get the edges so smooth? All I do is hand sand them, I am sure you do a whole lot more, since they are actually worn, mine aren't!
Great article!
Patricia, Redeemed

RedeemedByDSign said...

And Flash & Lux, beer and soda cans are what I actually started with, they are easily cut with a pair of sharp scissors & yes they can be put through the Cuttlebug etching folders to emboss them or any embossing plate! I love working with them and using them for assemblages!

Global city condo  said...

This is a lovely idea.. I have seen a lot of Tin designs but this one is different.. I do have a lots of tin cans in our garage, and by this time i could pull it out for a hard work to..

Thanks also for the links.. I really appreciate it..

Have a good day :-)

Jobs said...

This is a good past time activity, just be careful with those tin cans it might hurt your toes.

Furniture movers said...

My mom loves to design tin cans as well, she love to put her threads and sewing materials on it..

mister2u said...

A good idea can be found here

Crafty Rose said...

Wow. I am just finding your blog now and must say: THIS IS REALLY COOL.

We really like what you are doing here and will probably write up one of your projects in the new year!

Keep it up!!

adaptive reUse said...

I'm glad some of you found this interesting. I'm hoping to write up a few more tutorials in 2010.

Michele said...

Your collection of tin material is so pretty. I love what you make.

TMCPhoto said...

What a lot of work, but I can see that it is worth it if you have a use for the metal. Thank you for sharing, If I ever need to do this I'll be back!

Annie xx TheFeltFairy said...

wow what a great post! thank you x

Anonymous said...

That's so nifty - whenever I see pretty tins I think "what can I do with these? I don't need a tin..." now I have an answer on how to get the raw material to make Cool Metal Things. Thanks! BTW - Easter Ham, that's so funny. I always heard the Jewish version with a brisket! Guess everyone has their ruts ;-)

maidel said...

Thank you! Great tutorial. I just started using tin in some of my pieces. And I love your sandals!