The Coolest Building Blocks Ever … out of cans!


Not your average wooden blocks kids, these Thrive-friendly can blocks get a serious make-over courtesy of some soap, paint and a generous dose of awesome.

Why make these?

Because my kids do this …


every time I hit a case lot sale.

And the problem (other than the fact that it created another mess to clean up) is that cans are heavy. Miserably heavy—especially when that tower tumbles over and enchilada sauce takes out a piggy toe.  Or pumpkin puree drops on a thumb.

And then of course there’s the dents and dings and the missing wrappers and mystery meals …


… that make me really, really grumpy when the kids drag out the cans.

So after years of headaches, injuries and swearing, it finally occurred to me to just give them their own dang cans to play with.  And I decided that if I was going to go through the hassle of saving and washing and priming and painting several dozen soup-sauce-fruit-veggie-tuna cans, these were going to be the biggest, baddest, coolest looking blocks you’ve ever seen.

And after a week of off-and-on painting …


and hands that look like this because I wasn’t smart enough to wear gloves …


I gotta say:

Dec 2010 BLOG6


Mission Accomplished.

Want to make your own?

This project is as easy as they come.

All you’ll need is:


Rock what ya got: house paint, spray paint, craft paint … whatever.

Putting these together is a cinch:

Dec 2010 BLOG3

Just PRIME, PAINT and SEAL the outside and inside of the cans.  (Two coats of color is best).


But the fun part is in the details …


… Learning …

Dec 2010 BLOG5

… Favorite sports team … or rivalry sports teams—ha! …


… Colors to match your kids’ favorite beat-up well-loved toys …


… Names …


… Or some serious Harley-inspired attitude:


(For more pictures of the Harley blocks, click here.)

And since I started making these, the ideas keep coming. 

How cute would these be in


like trains or planes or cars for all you artistic types?

Or what about cutting some of those cute VINYL SHAPES or using STICKERS to jazz them up even more?

Clean-up is easy: skip the dishwasher sterilize cycle and just wipe down with disinfecting wipes.  (Great project for kids while they’re watching TV.)

Storing is easy too: find an old box, drawer or dollar store bin to keep these corralled.  Done.


A few THRIVE tips to save you some headaches:

1. The more sizes you have, the better. Here’s what I had on hand:


Formula, tuna and tall spaghetti cans would be great to add, too.

2.  Inspect each can for sharp edges or snags, then flatten with needle-nose pliers.  For pull top cans, don’t even try to flatten the lip … doesn’t work. Trust me. Instead, cut a piece of craft foam, cardboard, etc. and glue it to the lip.  Paint as usual.

3. Prime these babies.  No really … prime. These will be knocked down a melllllion times and you don’t want paint chipping off on the first play date or ending up in little mouths.  Same goes for a sealant. Two coats wouldn’t hurt, either.  (I skipped these two important steps on some of my first cans and have since repainted. Bleh.)

4. Craft and house paint will work fine, just be prepared for more coats.  I used craft paint for my orange blocks since that’s all I had and loved how they turned out, but it required six coats to get the color coverage even. Don’t let that discourage you, though. Craft paint dries very fast and I managed to get all of my coats done in one day.

5. This is a several day project. The coats of primer, paint and sealant spread over four days to allow the coats to dry well.  But again, don’t let that be a deterrent.  This project was a lot like making bread: it takes awhile, but most of it’s waiting.  I only spent 5 minutes of painting twice a day so it wasn’t a heavy time draw. 

6. If you’re going to stencil letters or designs over the base coat before sealing, wait a couple of days first. I stenciled the next day and, even with low-tack vinyl, some of the paint peeled off.  On the next batch, I let the paint dry two full days before stenciling and had no problems. Just make sure to remove your vinyl/stencil, etc. immediately after you paint.

7.  If you like the metal look of the cans, you still need to seal them with a protective coating. 

8.  If you need extra cans, spread the word to family and friends. I sent out a quick Facebook message asking for empty cans and ended up with a couple dozen within a few days.



Linking up to the great sites on my side bar.

21 thoughts on “The Coolest Building Blocks Ever … out of cans!”

  1. I am having one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. 🙂 My youngest {almost 2} is constantly pulling out the cans while I find myself constantly tripping over them! I love the bright colors that you chose. I can definitely see my boys spending hours playing with bright empty cans!

  2. This is incredible! Love this, can't wait to do it and thanks for sharing. Will you humor me, I know you kind of answered this, but did you use spray primer and/or sealant or did you paint them on? Does poly qualify as sealant? Does Mod Podge? I'm bad with the lingo….

    Thanks so much!

  3. Mia,
    I used Walmart spray paint primer that was right next to the regular spray paints. For a sealant, you could probably use anything like Mod Podge. I used Rustolium High gloss lacquer (poly) for a shiny, water-proof finish. I wanted to both protect the paint and make sure I could clean these easily. EVERYTHING goes in my 2 yr. old's mouth and I like to keep the "ick" factor down. Hope that helps!

  4. Melissa,
    I removed the lids completely before painting these. I checked the lip of each can for any sharp edges and flattened them with needle-nose pliers. For the pull top cans, I cut a circle of craft foam the same size as the can opening and glued that in place. I'll post pictures of that this afternoon–good questions!

  5. thanks!! I'm going to have to get my hubs to spray prime since I'm pregnant, but I'm excited to do the rest. good call on sealing b/c these will surely be gnawed on.

  6. I made 4 cans for holding penicls, colored pencils and I painted small olive cans for crayons. You could always repurpose them for craft supplies when they are done being blocks. Your colors are great.

  7. Have been doing some spray painting myself and my hands looked worse than yours! Found out a little olive oil and salt will take that stuff right off with a little scrubbing! Found you via Ohdeedoh. Love this idea!

  8. Thanks for sharing this at Under the Table and Dreaming. I loved the idea and had to check out the full details. I will be spending the next 6 months saving cans so that I can make these for my boys for their July birthdays.

  9. Hollow Squirrel, me too. If the lids are removed, why do all the ones in the photos have lids on them? I'm confused. (Or are they all showing the bottoms and the tops are removed?) Call me slow…

Comments are closed.