What Is Punched Tin?

Tara Barnett

Punched tin, which is sometimes called pierced tin, is a craft involving punching holes in tin to create designs. Often, punched tin sheets are used as covers for lights, which emphasizes the holes in the tin. Sometimes, sheets of tin that have been decorated in this manner are used for other purposes, such as in furniture or as pieces of art themselves. This craft is highly associated with Mexico, but similar crafting strategies have been used all over the world.

Cans are usually cut and hammered flat for tin artwork, although any ridges in the can may be left in place to add interest to the piece.
Cans are usually cut and hammered flat for tin artwork, although any ridges in the can may be left in place to add interest to the piece.

Making punched tin artwork usually involves flat sheets of tin, an awl or nail, and a hammer. The tin is placed against a hard, flat surface, and the nail is hammered partially through the tin to create a hole. This technique does not remove a circle of tin from the sheet, but rather pushes a hole through in order to make space for light. There are special tools for this craft that do remove a slug of tin, creating an even and smooth hole on both sides. Shaped chisels and punches are also popular.

The designs used with sheets of tin must leave the sheet itself intact. This means that cutting out large shapes is usually not an option. Patterns made by many small dots are typically the most effective, particularly for lampshades and other sheets through which light will shine. Caution must be used when forming the finished sheets into curved patterns as well, as the process of bending the tin can deform the pattern if the artist is not careful.

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One of the most interesting features of punched tin designs is the way in which these sheets of tin can be incorporated into other objects. When set in wood, punched tin can form box tops or panels of cabinets. As lampshades, they can incorporate other features. It is important to use caution when designing punched tin items that will be used with elements that get hot, because the tin can cause burns.

Upcycled tin is very popular for making pierced tin artwork, although this type of material often requires some advanced preparations. Historically, tin sheets from cans, and other items were used to make this type of art in areas where tin was rare. Cans are usually cut and hammered flat, although any ridges in the can may be left in place to add interest to the piece. It is very important to use special safety precautions when working with tin of this type, because edges can be sharp and can cause serious cuts.

Discussion Comments

shell4life

I make punched tin art, but I like to antique mine. I rub a brownish-black paint onto the surface when I'm done, and then I wipe it off with a cloth. The result is a tarnished look that makes the piece look old.

After I use tin snips to cut my piece to size, I tape it to a piece of scrap mat board. I draw my idea in dots on notebook paper, and then I tape that on top of the tin. This makes it easy to know where to punch.

I would always recommend sketching out your idea first. If you don't, you will likely get off course when punching and ruin your piece of tin.

Oceana

I love punched tin candle holders. These might sound dangerous, since tin heats up a lot, but the actual candles go down inside a clear glass cup. The punched tin sits about a quarter of an inch away from the cup on all sides.

Last fall, I got this set of candle holders to go with my autumn décor. A pumpkin design has been punched onto the side of each tin holder, and when the candlelight shines through, it looks very festive.

When I turn out all the lights and light the candles inside the holders, I can see rays of light coming through the tin. They hit the table and create a pattern.

OeKc05

@seag47 – That would look really cool. My cabinets are solid wood, and I have no idea how to install panels, so I settled for some framed punched tin artwork instead.

I've been a fan of this style since I saw some punched tin art in my local art gallery. I finally found some that I could afford at a flea market.

I chose a piece that was taller than it is wide, so it could fit in the space I had picked out for it. The design is of a lighthouse, and there are waves and an island punched into the tin, too.

I would love to have this type of artwork throughout my house. Any time I see a piece, I will buy it, because I've decided to start a collection.

seag47

I was so happy to find punched tin panels on the kitchen cabinets of the house I was looking to buy a few years ago. That's what really convinced me that this was the house for me.

The panels had designs in the shape of pineapples and other fruit. The tin was gray, so the holes were what made it so decorative.

Even though no light would be shining through the cabinets, the punched tin gave the room such an interesting look. I felt like half of the decorating had already been accomplished by the addition of these panels, so I didn't have to do a whole lot to the kitchen once I moved in.

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