The Tinblog

Welcome to the Tinblog! Here we share ideas and tips about working with tinplate, ideas about how to use your finished projects, things that inspire us in our tinplate work, and updates on things to come. We'd love to see what you've been doing with tinplate, so send us pictures and a brief description of your project. (We may not be able to post everything we receive, but we still want to see it!)

March 22, 2015

It sure is quiet around here…

You may have noticed there hasn’t been much activity on the blog for a while. We want you to know that while life has gotten busy, we are still thinking about tinplate and working towards some things slowly. We are still selling tinplate sheet and projects plans, and we’re still here to answer your questions and emails.Thank you for your continued support and kind words about our site and videos, and please keep sending us those tinplate project photos!


March 23, 2014

Spring Sale!

Hooray! We are finally restocked with tinplate sheets! To celebrate we are offering 30% off tinplate sheets and 20% off all project plans. This sale will run for one week (ending March 30th) and discounts will be taken automatically at checkout.
Click here to learn more about tinplate for sale. and Click here to see all of our project plans.

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October 18, 2012

Now selling tinplate!!

BIG NEWS!! We are very excited to announce that we are now offering tinplate sheets for sale!

Click here to see sizing, details, pricing and shipping costs, place an order, and fulfill your tinplate dreams!


April 25, 2012

New project: Safe!

Before April draws to a close, we’d like to highlight two inventors with birthdays this month: the Linus Yales (Sr. and Jr.). Creators of Yale locks and safes, these guys were innovators of some of the most groundbreaking lock technology of their time. Tinplate may not be the most secure material, but we designed this mini safe with lesser-valuables in mind. The working door and latch can only be opened when in a very precise position, and you have the option of the “crashing through the floor” model (as seen above) or the standard, upright to choose from.

Below are some examples of what you’ll do in this project.

Soldering the top onto the body

Fitting the door before soldering on the hinges

Soldering the hinges to the door

Shaping the dial over a dowel

Finished safe sitting on a flat surface

To buy this project, click here!


April 11, 2012

Toffee Tin Ukelele

We always love hearing from readers and creative tinplate users. Many thanks to reader Vance Bass for sending us photos and words describing his latest creation in tin, a toffee-tin ukelele. Read on for the innovative and well documented details of this build. (All photos courtesy of Vance.)

“I had been making plans to build a cigar box guitar, so when we were given this toffee tin, my immediate thought was “this is the body for a ukulele!” I think it was the traditional Hawaiian snowflake motif in the lithography that triggered the thought.

“So I began gathering the other materials I’d need. In my scrap wood pile, I found a piece of walnut and a piece of bubinga (I think) that I had pulled from various dumpsters, and a bit of 1/4” thick oak molding left from a bathroom remodeling project. I had kept the tuning pegs from a guitar I had overhauled (a couple of them were bent when I got it, but that still left four I could use for this!) So, all I really had to buy was fret wire, and I also bought the bridge to be sure I got one that works (though I realize now that I could have made one easily myself).

Uke neck made primarily of salvaged wood scraps

“I began by gluing up the neck blank from the walnut, bubinga and oak. I shaped the neck with a wood chisel and a coarse rasp file, then progressive sanding. The string length is 15″ (a Concert size uke). The position markers were made by drilling a 1/8” hole in the fretboard and then filling them with the filler I used on the neck joints: a mixture of walnut sawdust and Titebond III glue. The frets were tapped in and leveled with a piece of sandpaper on the table saw surface. The notch in the heel, under the fret board, is to fit over the lip of the lid, and also let me put in a shim to adjust the angle of the head to match the height of the bridge.

Front of toffee tin body with reinforcing aluminum angle inside

“The only modifications to the tin itself were holes. The soundhole was cut with an adjustable circle cutter. I chucked it into the drill press, laid the lid over a piece of sacrificial pine and turned the chuck by hand (even the machine’s slowest speed, 250 rpm, was much too fast for this thin metal).

“I also drilled several holes for the button-head screws I used for various functions. After installing the bridge and putting some tension on the strings, it was obvious that the tinplate top was going to need to help. The V-shaped rows of 3 on each side hold down the bridge and two pieces of 1/2” aluminum L-angle underneath, which serve to stiffen the top and resist the pull of the strings.

Fruit-can tailpeice and spice-can strap lug, with walnut reinforcement block inside.

“A couple more holes in the tail of the instrument hold the lid down tightly, so it doesn’t rattle, and attach the tailpiece. The tailpiece was made from a fruit can which was prepared using the Tinplate Girl tips. The lug for the strap was bent up from 18-gauge galvanized wire, my signature material, with a retainer made from a strip of a spice tin. Inside the sound hole, you can see the 5/16” shoulder bolt and walnut reinforcing block that attach the neck to the body. I just drilled a tapping-size hole in the heel of the neck and let the bolt cut its own threads.

The back of the uke, showing the button-head screw that holds the block to the bottom of the tin and helps reduce flexing when the strings have tension on them.

The finished ukulele.

“I stamped my initials on the front of the head with a rubber stamp and acrylic paint, and impressed my initials, the date and serial number (001) on the back with letter punches. The neck is sprayed with a couple of coats of musical instrument lacquer. It plays nicely, though it’s not very loud due to the relatively small body. It does have a certain unique sound quality — I suppose it would be called “tinny”. But that’s a good thing in this case, one of the features that makes it unique.”

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March 7, 2012

New project: Dish!

With another famously candy-associated holiday on the horizon, why not serve your guests in tin-style with a few of these great dishes? This no-solder project is simple, fast, and free! Contain your snacks, keys, loose change and more with a little tin and a little time. This project comes with patterns for three different dishes, but you can easily create whatever size you’d like by stretching the pattern in any direction. (If you do use them for edibles, make sure you get all grime and residue out first!)


February 10, 2012

Craft love

Here at Tinplate Girl, we feel that the best way to show love through gifts is to make them by hand. This Valentine’s Day we want to know what you’re making out of tinplate. A tinplate valentine can take many forms, including a box for keepsakes or a tinplate greeting card embellished with punches that you’ve made. These are just the tip of the iceberg, though. We look forward to seeing what you’ve got in the works, so please remember to send us photos and descriptions of what you’ve made.

Tinplate Dad and I each made a valentine this year for our respective sweeties. I took a “family crest” route, and T.D. made a kinetic sculpture.

As with every tinplate project we do, we each started with patterns on paper. Once we’d figured out as many kinks as we could, we took it to the metal. Problems always come up with a new design, so those we just worked out as they arose. The finished products incorporate tinplate, brass wire, wood (bases), and soldering and mechanical fastening (no glues).

V-Day 2012 (front)

V-Day 2012 (side-ish)

On mine I used escutcheon pins to nail the shield to the wooden base. I formed the heart by using a doming tool, hammering the metal on a hockey puck (a technique we hope to show you in the future). To give the shield a rounded edge, I planished it with a plastic mallet over the ball of a trailer hitch, then over a smaller doming tool. The wings, arrow ends, crown and banner were all done using techniques we use in many of our projects, forming with pliers and by hand. The heart appears to floating thanks to a bracket underneath that goes through the shield.

Be Mine (closed)

Be Mine (open)

Tinplate Dad made his using more conventional techniques, bending the tinplate in a vise. He made the hinges himself. Even though the design was pretty solid, there was still a lot of fitting and adjusting at the end to get everything to work properly. The red hearts came from a big tin that held a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red (hence the color). “Be Mine” was just scratched through the red coating with the point of a scriber.


January 29, 2012

Artist interview: Kyle Fokken

Artist Kyle Fokken incorporates tinplate into his mixed-media sculptures. Thanks, Kyle, for answering our questions about your work and your approach.

Uptet (Babylonian Gunship), mixed media, 2008. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How would you describe your work in general?
I describe my work as modern folk-art sculpture combined with toy-inspired, three-dimensional collage. In shorthand, I refer to them as ‘toys.’

Can you talk about how you use tinplate (tin cans or other) in your work?
I use tinplate primarily where I want to add a graphic or textural element without doing it myself. The graphic conveys an antique feel to the piece. I also use tin cans in an entirely different way, using found objects when they fit the piece. I usually use the corrugated edges. Since there isn’t much usable corrugation on them, I often have to save enough cans for an anticipated piece. Because there are different widths of corrugations for different types of cans, I keep track so that can I consistently buy the right brands. Depending on the application, the cans can be painted, rusted, or left in their naturally shiny state.

Enno, mixed media, 1999. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you source your materials?

I find a lot of my materials in second-hand stores, in the housewares section. A lot of the TV trays in the style of the ones that my grandmother had in the 60s are the best, but I do occasionally find a cookie tin or embossed tissue cover that works well too. Cans, on the other hand, are everywhere.
Another material I use a lot is the corrugated tin of rural steel mailboxes. I try to buy them on sale at the local big-box hardware store. I use them because the lines of the beads in the metal are closer together and the scale seems to fit some pieces better.

Church Crane (closeup), mixed media, 2010. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you get inspiration/ideas?

I grew up a poor kid in a small, rural town and I loved working on model-airplane kits. But, once completed, I didn’t have money to purchase a new kit. So, to entertain myself, I’d make dioramas that featured flak damage, broken landing gear, or other evidence of wear and tear. Since the kits didn’t include these elements, I had to find materials from my own environment that I could reshape into the part I wanted to mimic. Also, growing up in a rural town, I was close to all the various types of farm equipment that were out there, so I saw a lot of form-following-function in it’s rawest form.

Difficult to Fathom, mixed media, 2011. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How did you initially become involved in/interested in art/craft?

Both of my parents are what I consider to be untrained artists, even though they wouldn’t say so. My mother, who is more the drawing-and-painting type, was my primary influence. She bought me a sketchbook once and would secretly draw studies of facial features for me to copy. The next day after school there’d be another “assignment” for me to copy. It really helped me understand how to construct these features and make my own drawings. My father was never an art advocate but, while unemployed during the 1980s farm crisis, he made a series of wooden wall-relief pictures. Most were of the farmstead where he grew up or places he knew as a boy. He even traded one to the local phone company when we couldn’t pay the long overdue bill. So I benefit by getting the more organic (human) side from my mother and the more inorganic (mechanical) side of the artist’s craft from my dad.

Danje with Trellis (rear view), mixed media, 2007. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you cut your metal?

Almost all my work in tinplate is done with a snips. For larger or thicker pieces, I’ll use an electric ‘nibbler’ to cut curves, or I use a steel-cutting upright bandsaw or a jigsaw. A lot of times, it’s a matter of roughing out the shape, then putting it on the grinder and the belt sander.

Can you tell us more about your patina process?

I use multiple methods to patina my work. The most common is a thick wash of ivory-black and raw-umber acrylic paint. I use this to age the work, but also to unify it and bring all the color values together. This way, elements that are old and new can exist in the same ‘time’ together. It also helps hide errors and lets me highlight various components. I typically lay down a wash over a big section, let it dry a bit, then wipe or buff areas that I want to highlight. I do this several times to achieve a layered affect that feels more natural, as if the piece were subjected to sporadic use over the decades.
I also use chemical processes to age the metal. The best method for the tin cans is to burn them in my Weber grill with a lot of cheap paper, then spray them with a saline solution. This and time help to develop a rust patina. I have also found that you can make a ‘pit fired’ patina with colors ranging from blues and purples, to brown and glossy black. I usually use glossy magazines or newspaper advertisements to achieve this effect.

Ship of Fools, mixed media, 2009. Courtesy K. Fokken.

To learn more and see more of Kyle’s work (including some great process photos), visit his site!


December 25, 2011

Deck your shop with gobs of tinplate

This is truly the best time of year to score tons of raw material for your tinplate projects. Have you noticed how a popcorn or cookie tin will sit around empty at the office for a whole week? Well to some they may look like garbage, but to us, they are goldmines, so don’t hesitate to snag ’em. Embossed and stickered tins can be a little harder to work with, but there’s usually some usable material in every tin, especially the big ones. Keep an eye out for great patterns and colors, too. Recruit some friends to retrieve tins from their workplaces, too, and soon you’ll be set up for the next six months!

Stay tuned in the coming year for more great interviews and projects. Don’t forget to send us photos of what you’ve been working on. Many thanks to those of you who already have. Keep them coming, we’ll be putting them up on the blog soon!

Happiest Holidays from our Tinplate Workshop!!

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December 8, 2011

Tinplate plane

Project and description by Tinplate Dad.

A friend of mine, Joe Crea, is a superb model builder. One of the things he likes to do is to download airplane models from various websites on the Internet. These he prints out on heavy card on his color printer, then meticulously assembles them. The resulting models are invariably beautiful. He’s built many of these fragile craft and I have always been impressed by them.

Paper is not my medium. I have tried paper modeling but it never took. However, I’ve always felt that anything that could be made in paper could be made in tinplate. After all, they’re both two-dimensional media, right?

So, inspired by Joe’s planes, I downloaded a J3 Piper Cub from the Fiddler’s Green website, along with the floats, which I thought gave the plane more character.

The drawings (three sheets, total), were nicely done. Assembly instructions were clear and the charming presentation reminded me of drawings from 1940s do-it-yourself books.

I set to work using our standard tinplate techniques. I cut the metal with scissors and bent it in a vise or with pliers. Wing and fuselage ribs, along with other details (windows, ailerons) were scored in with a glass cutter.

Slowly the plane began to take shape. I regret that I have no in-progress photographs. Along the way I learned that, theoretically, yes — tinplate can be worked much like paper. However, it isn’t paper, and there are some things that just aren’t that easily done. Making folds on tiny parts is difficult, as is precision folding of the larger parts so that they fit comfortably together. I recall that bending the leading edges and top surfaces of the wings to form a nice airfoil shape was particularly tricky.

However, I’m pleased with the end result. It is a scale model of a recognizable aircraft and it was a tremendous learning experience. Certainly, parts of it could be better but the overall effect pleases me. While it confirmed my belief that tinplate was a great modeling medium, the process of building the model also helped to define its limitations. The finished plane is a fun artifact to have sitting on a shelf.