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Stripped Tin Boxes




Stacked on a desktop, this tower of tin boxes looks like a matched set, but the boxes actually started out as mismatched painted tins. Boxes like this were used at the turn of the century to package everything from typewriter ribbon to spices to money, and today they turn up at very reasonable prices when the paint is in poor condition. Look for attractive shapes -- beneath the worn exterior is a bright surface. Work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors; if you work indoors, wear a protective mask.


  • Nontoxic paint stripper
  • Razor blade
  • Fine-grain sandpaper
  • Medium steel wool
  • Metal or tin polish


  1. Step 1

    Cover your work surface with newspaper. Remove paint with nontoxic paint stripper, following the manufacturer's instructions.

  2. Step 2

    Use a razor blade to peel remaining paint from the boxes without damaging the underlying surface.

  3. Step 3

    With medium steel wool, remove rust spots, and smooth away pits in the metal; sand any resulting scratches with fine-grain sandpaper. Polish the boxes' surfaces with metal or tin polish for a rich, mellow shine.

Martha Stewart Living, July/August 1999



Reviews (33)

  • Julie in GA 9 Aug, 2012

    Ladies-I enjoyed most all your ideas--thanks for them. I've never collected tins, but am gonna look for them everywhere now! GA has lots of flea markets and the farmers' markets usually have neat items too. Keep them ideas comin' please. Thanks again y'all.

  • Sew-What 14 Jul, 2009

    A lot of the new tins are powder coated. Does anyone know of a product that will strip powder coating?

  • staciet 19 May, 2009

    Avon's Skin-So-Soft - works much better than Goo-Gone (I haven't used goof-off) with the chem-set odor. Just be sure to use soap

  • Palmfrond 12 Feb, 2009

    disappointing as I've seen this recently and didn't rate it then either.

  • xtyB 11 Feb, 2009

    Mainemoosie-there is a product called 'goof-off' it's in a yellow tin with red lettering. It gets that sort of stuff off most anything.

  • mainemoosie 11 Feb, 2009

    Perhaps someone could answer a related question. I have a tin container that had some sort of glue on it, and I can't get it all off. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  • Stinas 11 Feb, 2009

    LMDC - the brand they are using there is Zip-Strip, which is probably the best known brand.

    Rynkelfun - I think that's a great idea to use modern tins as well, they they may not be the same quality as the old ones. But you could always spray paint them a solid color if they didn't look good stripped.

  • LMDC 11 Feb, 2009

    well to each his own.. not everyone wants all the color clutter ... I just wish she had actually named the stripper used by brand name. I would find that more helpful. I think it's a good idea if you want that kind of look. So many things look better matching.

  • KarieD 11 Feb, 2009

    As someone who collects these document boxes in as-found condition, I'm heartened by the many comments from other readers who discourage stripping of the original surfaces. The MSL magazine always includes a nifty article on incorporating historic things into home decor as a unique and personal design statement. I hope the MSL editors will continue to include such articles and not use tips like today's that suggest altering historic things.

  • rynkelfun 11 Feb, 2009

    I think it is a good idea for a streamlined, yet vintage look. If you are collecting old tins for their advertising, this would not be ideal. But even a lot of new popcorn tins, etc. would look nice all the same metal, then you wouldn't have to use collectors items, but still have a vintage feel.

  • mykele 11 Feb, 2009

    Report as inappropriate is used on many "sharing sites" If someone reports
    about what they deem to be inappropriate such as certain 4 letter words
    or as in this site, the person who keeps referring to a competing site,
    the site can block that person in the future. Our news stations do
    that after 3 complaints.................

  • wendelburg 16 Jan, 2009

    I see tins at the thrift store all the time, but never in neat shapes like those shown. Usually they are round Wonder what kind these are.

  • SarahHawkins 11 Jan, 2009

    This look of stripped/brushed steel is really fashionable here in the UK. You would find this sort of thing in a trendy interiors magazine. Put it this way, in the last week there was an ebay action of 34 Swiss bank boxes (1920's) which sold for n n n n 620!! They looked remarkably similar to what Martha suggests. So when you make your first million flogging them to us Londoners - think of me !

  • pghshopper 11 Jan, 2009

    I seriously doubt that Martha painted any antique tins that were in her collection. I believe she used exactly what she said. Mismatched tins that had a worn exterior. You probably couldn't read the lable anymore. I think it's a great idea when used the way she suggests. I'm going to paint those cookie tins that contained all thise cookies from Holland. And those tall ones with an attached lid that conatined hard candy. I've always wondered why I saved them all these years.

  • Vinnygret 11 Jan, 2009

    I agree! I think they are more interesting with their printing on them. This idea doesn't thrill me. I also think they aremore valuable with their paint on.

  • letstalk 11 Jan, 2009

    why take the paint off the whole idea of collecting the tin was the look of the tin with the advertising. i have been collecting tins for years and use each and everyone of them they way i brought them. I have large ones and small ones. I use them for scraps as I am a quilter and I use them for threads and for the grand kids I use them for crayons and on and on. and the look great on a desk with other things and together. just make sure they look good together. that's all. Have a nice day!

  • Tanthyme 10 Jan, 2009

    Inappropriate as in, if someone uses foul language, crudeness etc.

  • conec 10 Jan, 2009

    "Report as Inappropriate" means that viewers have the option of marking other's comments as inappropriate, if they are.

  • Balls 10 Jan, 2009

    Please someone...what does "Report as inappropriate" mean when it is
    in the bottom right corner of each comment?

  • LindberghBookLady 10 Jan, 2009

    Great idea! This will work well in my craft room to keep things tidy.

  • conniehoag 10 Jan, 2009

    This is a great idea for new tins, like the ones you get cookies or Christmas items in, but I wouldn't do it to aniques. Also, with antiques you need to be concerned about lead paint. A regular dust mask wouldn't suffice for protection. Why not spray it with primer and then paint it with metallic or other colors? I think that would be great, and would be helpful in organizing. Currently I have no good use for the newer tins, and give them away or recycle them.

  • karlakrafts 10 Jan, 2009

    I'm not crazy about that bare tin look. If the tins are not in good condition (and should be left 'as is,") why not just use a metal primer, enamel paint, and make them a color to match your space? You could even decoupage a new label of your own design.

  • melindabnyc 10 Jan, 2009

    Agree with Phylblade and I live in NYC! I collect antique tins. They can be very useful and special in their original condition. I will consider this project but only for newer beat up tins that are not covered in interesting designs nor true antiques. I enjoy this craft idea since it can be hard to organize with unique containers that are also "color" coordination, but not at the expense of a treasure!

  • Phylblade 10 Jan, 2009

    Maybe old tins are easy to find in New York or New England, but here in the midwest they are sold as antiques, not as flea market items, and are rather expensive. I know this because I am an antique dealer and haunt flea markets, thrift shops, auctions, etc.

  • beverson 10 Jan, 2009

    Exactly -- Martha's always been big on the flea market and tag sale finds! This is just a cool way to refurbish them, giving them a unified look.

  • Laark 10 Jan, 2009

    I found the best place to find many items are at the flea markets. There is always such a good selection if you have an open mind.

  • quilthost 10 Jan, 2009

    Am I missing something? One of the things I have always loved best about Martha Stewart is that she made sure to tell us brand names and/or where exactly to find the products she uses, unlike most other media. These craft projects fall far short and I am very disappointed.

  • Allie from Albany 10 Jan, 2009

    I'd rather just sand and paint them over with enamel-for-metal paints. You can buy them at a hardware store or a crafts store. It would be more colorful to have them painted. At least in my opinion.

  • blondie2 10 Jan, 2009

    Save time and money, just spay paint the new or old tins, if you want a more rustic look, spray with the main color you want, then lightly spary another lighter or darker coat over the dried paint then brush over with a paint brush to give it the patina look! Yard sales, Goodwill or your favorite thrift stores have an abundant assortment of tins.

  • karenanthony 10 Jan, 2009

    Would all the prep work be needed if using new tins? I have those cookie tins in mind. Nice shape, but not much to look at. I don't know much about painting tins, so any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks

  • Saraphina 10 Jan, 2009

    This might also work with those cookie tins ones gets around holiday time. Those are aluminum, but their shapes are really lovely. I have decoupaged a few of mine, but a stripping and patina treatment would also be fun!

  • winterbeach 10 Jan, 2009

    Classic looking. Not much work really. Better than buying new junkier tins at Wal Mart and contributing to the global garbage pile

  • ACutts 10 Jan, 2009

    Cute but sounds like a lot of work!