Make A Soda Can Lantern

Those tiny tealight candles are not very good are they? Everyone seems to have a few stashed away in the murky depths of a some cupboard for use in an emergency. However, relying on them during a power outage makes you soon realise they don’t make tea… or light. So what good are they? I think only aromatherapists have the answer. But don’t discard them quite yet, there is hope for light, if not tea.

Be amazed that the humble tealight can in fact be turned into a comparative power lantern with a couple of items that are equally ubiquitous. Sadly, these items are frequently found as litter in the remotest places on Earth, but you can turn that environmental disaster into a lifeline if caught in a survival situation. So don’t despair if you get stranded in the outback. Locate a tumbledown homestead and you’ll probably find everything you need to emit a beacon of light.

Materials required

PET bottle, Pepsi can, tealight candle, roll of wire
  • Aluminium can – I used a standard 375ml soft drink can.
  • PET bottle – Mine was 1.25L. Larger would be equally good.
  • Tealight candle – They say the ones with citronella oil deters mozzies? I’m not so sure about that.
  • Wire – I used picture hanging wire. Thicker, uninsulated wire might be better.


Our lantern consists of two parts. There is the candle holder, which cunningly doubles as a light reflector. So rather than the small amount of light that a tealight generates being emitted in all directions, the reflector focuses it in one. Then there is the windshield, which blocks out any breeze, but still keeps the flame well oxygenated.

Candle holder & reflector

Firstly mark out the lantern doors. The opening needs to be large enough to maximise light output, but not so large that it compromises the structural strength of the weak aluminium can. I marked a vertical line 8cm down the middle of the can, then 4cm either side – giving an 8cm x 8cm opening.

Pepsi Max aluminium can marked with a large "I" shape in white paint

Use a craft knife with just the tip exposed to carefully cut the top and bottom lines. If you expose too much of the blade it’s very easy to go off-line or cut more than you want. To cut the vertical line that divides the doors use a scissors. The preceding cuts have weakened the can and the pressure from a blade will probably have undesired results.

Pepsi Max aluminium can with a 2 door opening cut out and folded back behind can

Once the doors have been cut fold them out behind the can.

The next step is to flatten the convex base of the can for the tealight to rest upon. Unless you have a small hammer it can be a bit fiddly. You don’t need to make the entire base flat, just enough to keep the candle stable.

Inside of aluminium soft drink can with convex base roughly flattened out

Now you can place the tealight in the lantern. I put a bit of blu-tack underneath the tealight to ensure it didn’t move about.

soda can lantern hanging from tree

Position the tab of the can vertically and tie one end of the wire around it. The other end you can can tie to a tree branch or wherever you intend to hang the lantern. If you are using thicker wire you could bend a small hook into each end. The lantern is now mostly complete, however it will perform better outdoors with a windshield.

close-up of candle burning in a soda can lantern

Adding a windshield

The windshield is made from a PET carbonated drink bottle. Mine was the 1.25L size, but anything larger would be just as good.

You need to cut the bottle to a height where it will slip over the can and fully cover it. Mine was 19cm from the cap, but it will vary on the shape of the bottle’s shoulders. Probably the easiest way to get it right is to cut the base off the bottle and slip the can inside until it meets the bottle’s shoulders. Then mark and cut around the bottle 1cm below the base of the can.

aluminium can and soft drink bottle with base cut off

To prevent the lantern doors from interfering with the windshield you will need to either cut them off or tightly fold and fasten them to the back of the lantern (I used trusty blu-tack).

soda can lantern hanging from a tree branch and burning at night

Once done, poke the hanging wire through the bottle top and you are ready to hang your lantern. Remember to leave enough hanging wire so the windshield can be lifted for candle management.

Beat the heat

It’s worth noting that a surprising amount of heat is generated by the tealight and with aluminium being such a good conductor it can get pretty toasty near the top. With the windshield in place it simply felt warm to the touch (not hot). However the top of the aluminium can underneath is definitely hot and you wouldn’t want to touch it.

If you are concerned about the top of the can and the bottle touching it can be prevented by fastening a twig across the top of the can. Make the twig slightly longer than the diameter of the can and use the hanging wire to secure it in place. When the windshield is lowered the shoulders will rest upon the twig instead of the can.

a bottomless soft drink bottle placed over an aluminium can with a twig across the can lid to prevent the can and bottle touching

How did you get on?

If you made a lantern send me a photo or let me know how it turned out in the comments. You don’t have to make it exactly like mine; variations are always interesting. I was wondering if it’s possible to toast a marshmallow near the top? I reckon a few minutes would make one very warm and soft.

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