Making Tin Can Toys

by Edward Thatcher 1919

Toy Boats

The elliptically shaped tin cans, used for fish of different kinds, may be made up into boats that will float. A deck is soldered tightly to the can where the lid has been removed and various superstructures added to make the different types of boats, but to form a rowboat, seats may be soldered to an open can.

Rowboat - Sailboat - Battleship Figure 87


The rowboat is the simplest one to make as no deck is to be soldered on. A narrow elliptical fish can should be used. These cans usually contain fresh mackerel, and are of real boat shape. Such cans are opened at the top inside the rolled rim. The extra tin near the edge of rim should be broken away with the pliers as in making a pail, all roughness being filed away. Lay the can face down on a sheet of paper, drawing around the outside edge with a sharp pencil to get an outline of the boat. This outline will serve as a guide when cutting out the seats. The seats may be cut to the outline of the boat already traced on paper, when the two end seats will fit bow and stern. But the center seat will have to be trimmed off a bit to fit the boat. The free edges of the seats must be turned down as a finish.


A catboat or sloop may be made from the same sort of narrow elliptical can or even of a wider can of the same shape. A deck is soldered to this can, a hole cut in it for a cockpit. To the edge of the cockpit a folded band of tin is soldered. A tube of tin is soldered to the stem, and a wire tiller is run through this tube and soldered to a rudder. A hole is punched in the center of the forward deck, and a tube of tin is soldered in this hole to contain the mast. The mast and spars are of wood. The keel is made of a piece of tin soldered to the bottom of the boat. The boat should be completed, and the mast, spars and sails in place, before the keel is put on. Try the boat in a basin of water. It will probably tip over unless a very broad can is used to make it. Cut out a keel of the shape shown in Fig. 87 and solder it lightly in place at each end. Place the boat in the water again to see how it floats. If the keel is too heavy, part of it may be cut off, if it is too light, it may be broken away and a heavier one made and soldered on. When properly made these boats are good sailors. When soldering a deck to the boat, the rough edge remaining after cutting away the lid of the can is left in place so as to form a sort of ledge to solder the deck to. The rough flutings may be flattened out by using a pair of flat-nosed pliers to press down the flutes as you work along and simply pinching it flat.


A small scow may be wade from a biscuit box of flat tin, the kind that has contained small sweet biscuits with a cream filling. Both box and lid are used and cut down as indicated in Fig. 88. The box is left at the original width. The two ends are cutaway from the lid. The two folded-down sides of the lid are used to make folded strips with which to bind the sides of the scow. A tiny box made of part of the lid is soldered to ear deck of the scow for a cabin. A small piece galvanized wire bent at an angle is soldered to cabin for a stovepipe. The towing bits are rivets soldered to the forward deck.

Tug Boat - Feery Boat Figure 88


Tugboats may be made from the larger elliptical fish cans. A good sized can of this is that one commonly found to contain kippered herring. This can will make up into a large tug, but if a small tug is to be made to tow the scow previously described, a mackerel roe can is the best to use. A deck is soldered tightly to the can, as in making the sailboat, except that the deck is left whole; no openings are cut in it. The cabin is made from a rectangular cocoa can, small olive oil can, cut down to a suitable height soldered to the deck, bottom up. The pilot house is made from a small adhesive plaster box, the smokestack being from a small piece of tin with top edge first folded over and then rolled into a cylindrical shape. A piece of wire may be soldered to the stack for an exhaust pipe. A tiny piece of wire is soldered to the front of the stack for a whistle. These pieces of wire may be tied to the stack with fine iron binding wire, such as florists use. When the wire exhaust and whistle are soldered to the stack the wire may then be removed. It will be found very difficult to solder these short pieces in place without binding them in position. The lifeboat is made from a small folded piece of tin, both ends being pushed in and soldered together. The finished boat is soldered to the roof of the cabin. The towing bits are rivets soldered to the deck. Remember to use the pliers to hold the rivets in place when soldering them on. When these boats are floated in the water they may be found to tip to one side slightly. . A bit of solder may be melted on to the bottom of the boat with the copper in such a position that it will counteract any tendency to tip.

Battleship, Destroyers, etc.

The battleship shown in Plate XV is made from a narrow elliptical fish can. A deck is soldered on and a cabin made of a small rectangular box such as beef cubes usually are packed in. The turrets are made of pill or salve boxes of small round tin design. The lid of the box is soldered to the deck and when the box is set in the lid the turret may be turned about. The guns are made of short pieces of wire soldered to the turrets and cabin. The mast is made of a tin oil can spout or a piece of tin rolled into a cone shape. A screw cap of a tooth paste tube is soldered to it for a fighting top. Some sort of a keel will have to be soldered to the battleship to keep it upright in the water. Three pieces of heavy galvanized wire may be soldered to the bottom, one in the center and one at each side, or a strip of sheet lead may be soldered to the bottom. A destroyer may be built up in the same manner as the battleship; in fact, almost any type of boat may be built by changing the superstructure.

Toy Boats Plate 15

Ferry boat

A ferry boat may be built with paddle wheels that will revolve when the boat is pulled along in the water or anchored in a running stream. The hull is made from a kippered herring can with a deck soldered on. Four strips of tin are cut for the sides of the cabins. Two of these are soldered to the sides of the hull next to the rolled rim and following the outline of the can or hull. The two inside walls of the cabins are soldered about of an inch inside the outer walls which leaves a gangway through the center of the boat. An upper deck is soldered to these four walls; the inner walls need only be soldered to the upper deck at each end. The two pilot houses are made of adhesive plaster boxes and the smokestack is rolled up from a piece of tin. A hole is punched or drilled through all four walls of the cabin to receive the axle of the paddle wheels. The paddle wheels are made from small cans exactly in the same way as the auto truck wheels and eight small square pieces of tin are soldered to the circumference of each wheel for paddles. Rolled strips of tin are placed on the axles between the wheels and the cabins for washers. The axle should revolve very freely in the axle holes. If one has some mechanical ability it is not very difficult to form a crank in the paddle wheel axle and attach a connecting rod to a small tin walking beam which will move up and down as the paddle wheels revolve. An imitation piston rod may be fastened to the other end of the walking beam and allowed to run free through a hole in the upper deck. The wheels of the ferry boat wilt revolve if it is anchored in a running stream or towed behind a rowboat.