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Recycled Mint Box Earrings

Repurpose tin containers to make simple earrings using tools & supplies from a craft store
Recycled Mint Box Earrings Template
Template
NOTE: This image is not to scale for the template. Please use PDF for correct sizing.

The tools and materials I chose to create these earrings are readily available to anyone who has access to a craft store. By using supplies found at hobby stores — as well as commercially printed tin — I intentionally create a funky aesthetic and encourage playful choices for personal adornment. If you prefer to take a different aesthetic path, dress these earrings up by using metal tubing instead of eyelets, precious metal instead of tin (or in combination with tin), and thick-gauge jump rings instead of split rings. 

SUPPLIES

  • Tin containers (If you use mint boxes, you’ll need 2)
  • Non-ferrous metal eyelets: 1/8 in. (3 mm) 
  • 4 Base metal split rings: 6 mm 
  • 2 Loops of silver-plated memory wire: 3 1⁄2 in. (89 mm) diameter
  • Toolbox: Wirework
  • Acetate or cardstock
  • Ultra-fine-tip permanent marker
  • Aviation tin snips
  • Emery paper or emery board, 600-grit
  • Eyelet-and-snap punch, 1/8-in. (3 mm) hole punch
  • Acetone-based nail-polish remover
  • Clear aerosol lacquer
  • Heavy-duty or memory-wire cutters (optional)
  • Silver-plated memory-wire
  • Ear wires
INSTRUCTIONS


Trace the leaves.
Draw the 3-in-1 leaf-shaped Template onto a sheet of acetate or cardstock. Cut out the template along its outermost edge.

Tip!

Aviation tin snips are an inexpensive tool that can be bought at any hardware store, or ordered online from companies like Harbor Freight.

When using aviation tin snips, don’t take “snip” too literally. Make the longest cut possible (from near the back of the blades to just shy of the tip), and avoid using the tip of the blades. Closing the tip of the blades at the end of a cut will result in crimps and burrs.

Keep the nut and bolt at the fulcrum of the aviation snips finger-tightened. Blades that are loose will not cut metal cleanly — they will crimp it. 

Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 1
Photo 1
Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 2
Photo 2
Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 3
Photo 3

Choose a tin container with appealing graphics. Trace the large template twice onto the tin with an ultra-fine-tip permanent marker [PHOTO 1].

Trim the template to the medium size, and trace the medium template twice onto the tin. Repeat to trim and trace the small template twice onto the tin. Keep in mind that the smallest leaves will be the top layer of the earrings.

NOTE: If you’re using mint boxes, you will need two boxes. Trace one large leaf shape on the underside of each box, and two medium and two small leaf shapes on the box tops. 

Cut out the leaves. Use aviation tin snips (See the Tip above) to cut out the six leaves. 

Serrate the leaf edges. With the marker, make marks at 1⁄4–1⁄2-in. (6.5–13 mm) intervals around the perimeter of each leaf. The spacing between the serrations doesn’t need to be even. 

At each mark, use snips to cut a small triangle pointing inward from the outside edge of each leaf shape [PHOTO 2]. The cuts that form each triangle should intersect perfectly to avoid burrs and gaps that may snag fibers when the earrings are worn. 

Refine the leaf components. Use a flat needle file to file each side of the edges of the leaves at a 45˚ angle [PHOTO 3]. Alternate between the two sides, check-ing for smoothness by running the edges carefully over your fingertips or fine-textured knit fabric to see if it will snag. To avoid producing a razor-sharp edge, finish filing the edge at a 90˚ angle.

Sand the edges of each leaf with the fine side of an emery board. If desired, lightly sand the surface of the painted tin near the edge to create an aged look on the metal. Finish the edges with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

Punch holes for the eyelets. Use an eyelet-and-snap punch to make a 1/8-in. (3 mm) hole in centered on the wide end of a small leaf approximately 5/64 in. (2 mm) from the top edge. Place the small leaf on top of a medium leaf, insert the punch through the existing hole in the small leaf, and punch a corresponding hole in the medium leaf. Repeat to punch a hole in a large leaf.

Repeat to punch holes in the remaining three leaves.

NOTE: Resist the urge to punch through more than one layer of tin at a time. While the tool will likely punch two to three layers, this causes metal fatigue in a critical part of the punch mechanism and will shortly result in catastrophic failure (I learned the hard way!).

Punch another hole at a random location on each of the two small leaves for decorative eyelets. 

Place each leaf onto the flat surface of an anvil, and lightly tap each hole with the flat face of a hammer. This flattens the metal displaced by punching the hole and makes the eyelets fit better. 

Place an eyelet in each hole to check the fit. If necessary, smooth and enlarge the holes with a round needle file.

Set the decorative eyelets. Insert an eyelet into the decorative hole in a small leaf. Make sure the finished end of the eyelet is on the printed side of the tin. Set the eyelet with the setting aspect of the eyelet-and-snap punch.

Turn the leaf upside down, and rest the eyelet on the anvil. Hammer the back of the eyelet gently with a flat-face hammer to flatten it.

NOTE: I am using an auto body hammer, but you can use a chasing hammer.

Repeat to set the decorative eyelet in the second small leaf.

Form the leaves. Place one of the large leaves printed-side-up on the anvil. Center the leaf lengthwise on the edge of the anvil so that one half is on the anvil and the other half is suspended over air. Gently hammer the leaf to form a central “vein” and to give the leaf dimension. Repeat to form the second large leaf.

NOTE: I prefer to create a hammered, distressed look on the tin. If you want to avoid marring the tin, you can use a rawhide mallet to form the central vein.

Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 4
Photo 4
Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 5
Photo 5

Repeat to form a vein in the medium and small leaves, making sure to place them printed-side-down on the anvil [PHOTO 4]. 

Hold a large leaf printed-side-down in your hand. Use your thumb and the edge of your index finger to coax the leaf edges downward. Repeat to form the second large leaf. 

Hold the medium and small leaves printed-side-up, and repeat to form the edges into a downward curve [PHOTO 5].

Seal the leaves. Clean each leaf with a cotton swab dipped in acetone-based nail-polish remover. This removes all traces of permanent marker, oils, and dust left from sanding.

Place all the leaves on a scrap piece of cardboard. Choose a well-ventilated area; I prefer outdoors on a day with low humidity. Spray the leaves with a thin coat of clear aerosol lacquer. Let the lacquer dry, turn the leaves over, and repeat to coat the opposite side of the leaves with lacquer.

NOTE: Sealing the tin prevents it from rusting and gives it a glossy finish.

Recycled Mint Box Earrings Step 6
Photo 6
Recycled Mint Box Earrings Alternate Design
Editor's Note: Design Variation
To make earrings using Walker’s template but with a different aesthetic sensibility, experiment with textured metal, use tube rivets instead of eyelets, swap split rings for textured jump rings, or fabricate sterling silver ear wires.

Assemble the leaf components. Place one large leaf printed-side-down, and stack a medium and small leaf printed-side-up on top of the large leaf, aligning the eyelet holes. Place an eyelet through all three leaves, and set the eyelet with the eyelet-and-snap punch [PHOTO 6].

Attach a 6 mm split ring through the eyelet in the top of the assembly. Add a second split ring through the first ring.

Repeat to assemble the second earring.

Make the ear wires. Use the aviation snips to cut one loop of silver-plated memory wire from its coil. 

NOTE: Don’t use your nice wire cutters to cut memory wire -— you’ll ruin them! Memory wire is made of spring steel and is much harder than most wires used to make jewelry. Use a pair of aviation snips, heavy-duty wire cutters, or cutters designed for cutting memory wire.

Cut the loop in half. Align the two halves of the loop, and ensure they are the same length; trim as necessary. 

Use inexpensive roundnose pliers to make a plain loop at one end of each circle. 

NOTE: Don’t use the tip of the pliers to form the loop. I grasp the wire approximately one-third of the distance from the tip. If you want to ensure your loops are consistent, mark your pliers at the desired point with a permanent marker.

On one wire, measure 1 in. (25.5 mm) from the loop, and grasp this point with the roundnose pliers. 

Hold the wire in the jaws of the pliers, and use your fingers to form the long end of the wire around the bottom jaw of the pliers to create a graceful bend. 

Align the second, unbent wire with the first, and bend it to match.

Sand the ends of the wires with emery paper to smooth them.

Assemble the earrings. Open the plain loop on the end of an ear wire with two pairs of chainnose pliers, and thread the top split ring of one of the leaf assemblies onto the loop. Close the loop. 

Repeat to attach the second ear wire to the second assembly.

Tip!

After struggling with other wires, I decided to try making ear wires with silver-plated memory wire. I wanted a custom, handmade look in a nonstandard shape, but I also wanted something that was easy to work with, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing. The memory wire appealed to me because:

  • It has a soft, silver glow.
  • It holds its shape.
  • Its tensile strength allows it to be very thin, yet quite strong.
  • It doesn’t require any treatment (annealing, hardening, etc.).
  • It’s relatively inexpensive.
A word of caution: When bending the silver-plated memory wire, take care to not scratch through the plating. Areas of exposed steel may begin to rust.

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