DIY

Fairy Lanterns

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Fairy lanterns work well as candle holders.

Figuratively speaking, Barney Munnerlyn of Arkansas can
make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Barney, you see,
fashions “pewter” objects out of tin cans–lovely
creations he calls “fairy lanterns.”

For the past five years, these decorative and functional
art-objects-from-waste have (along with other crafts)
become a full-time profession for Barney. And he’s quick to
tell you that he “loves every minute” of the work.

Prior to 1970, however, Munnerlyn sold insurance and didn’t
enjoy that job in the least. But, one of the shops that he
visited in the “line of duty” was a crafts store, and the
beads that were sold there caught Barney’s interest. It
wasn’t long before Munnerlyn quit the insurance business to
set up his own crafts shop, where he designed and sold
original jewelry and copper butterflies mounted on
driftwood plaques.

Then One Day

Barney came upon the idea for his lanterns accidentally.
One day, as he welded two butterfly wings together, he used
his torch to carve his name in the side of a tin can. That
simple act set him to thinking: If he could carve out his
name, then he could cut designs in the containers as well!
Munnerlyn produced tin butterflies first, but he decided
that he liked the copper ones better. Then, when Barney
finally decided to make something out of whole cans, fairy
lanterns were born.

These decorations have been such a success that the
craftsman now travels 12 months out of the year to
demonstrate his work at art and craft fairs all over the
country. Between shows, Barney returns to Little Rock to
replenish his supplies and answer mail requests for the
lanterns, which are priced between $3.00 and $7.50.

Practice Makes Pretty 

These attractive tin lanterns don’t require a lot of
equipment, either. You’ll need, first of all, an acetylene
torch and a steady hand to go along with it. Besides the
torch, you will, of course, have to have an empty can
(anything from a soup can to a No. 10 will do), some
galvanized clothesline wire, a pair of pliers, a wire
brush, goggles to protect your eyes, and a flameproof
surface to put under the can while you work.

The first step is to light the torch and get the flame down
to a pencil-lead size. Then–using about three-fourths
of an inch of space on the small cans and a little over an
inch on the largest–“burn” out a scroll-like design
around the edges of the top and bottom rims.

Next, cut some evenly spaced, vertical lines around the
center of the can to within a quarter-inch of your scrolled
borders. On taller models, you may want to break the
vertical lines into two sections and leave a narrow
(decorated or solid) strip in the middle of the can.
(Either way, it’s best to go over the cuts to be sure you
haven’t “missed” any spots.)

After the can is cool to the touch, rub it diligently with
a wire brush to get rid of the small pieces of loose metal
and any paint that might have been on the original
container. (Or–if you’re well-versed in the use of
your torch–you can increase the size of the flame,
move far enough away so it doesn’t cut the container, and
simply burn the paint off.)

Once the can has its “pewter” finish, work from the inside
and push out the strips with your fingers until the desired
height is reached. Then, put the can on a hard surface,push down to make it level, attach the wire handle, and–presto!–you have a delightful fairy
lantern that can hold a candle, a flower arrangement, or a
potted plant.