Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How to make a Tin Man (and a Tin Lady and a Tin Baby)

A trip to see the Wizard of Oz at the weekend, and a current museum project of mine which involves puppet-making research, gave me the idea to make a Tin Man marionette. My children were keen to join in - provided we also made a Tin Lady and a Tin Baby. So yesterday we made the whole Tin Family. It took a while, but we are thrilled with how they turned out. The way the puppets move is so funny, and they are full of character - we love them.

Here's what we used:

3 x small tin cans (heads)
2 x large tin cans (bodies)
12 x empty tea-light foils (hands and feet)
6 x drinking straws (arms and legs)
3 x 30cm sticks (operating rods)
5m colourful string
a selection of stickers and googly eyes (faces)
30cm tin foil (skirt)
silver foil sticky tape
15cm diameter circle of silver card (hat)
1 x silver pipe cleaner (hair)

Here's what we did:

1. First we selected our tin cans - Tin Baby used just one small can, Tin Lady and Tin Man each had one small can for their head and one large for their body.

2. Using a small and pointy-headed screwdriver (a bradawl would have been even better), I punched a hole in the centre of the top of each can.

3. I made two holes where I wanted the shoulder and hip joints to be on each large can (for Tin Lady and Tin Man) - and for Tin Baby I did this on the small can. I used the screwdriver again but this time someone had to hold the cans steady; it was definitely a two-person job.

4. Then the fun really began - it was time to make our characters:

i) my son made Tin Man - with googly eyes and stickers for bushy eyebrows and a moustache on the small can, sticker-stars as buttons and some shiny tape as a belt on the large can 
ii) my daughter made Tin Lady, with stickers for facial features and a silver pipe-cleaner for hair on the small can, and a tin-foil skirt on the large can. She decorated the shoes (tea-light containers) with some shiny tape 
iii) I made Tin Baby by adding some facial feature stickers to the small tin

5. When all the decoration was finished we were keen to see these characters come to life. I cut about fifteen hand-to-elbow-length pieces of colourful string in readiness - and then we began the rather fiddly job of threading all their bits together.

6. We threaded the head and bodies together first (using a blunt-ended darning needle) leaving about 20cm of string to attach to the operating rod. We also stuck each head and body together with some shiny tape to make the puppets more robust.

7. We threaded the arm-and-leg strings to each of the joint holes in the cans and then, having punched little holes through the centre of each tea-light container we threaded on the hands and feet.

8. The tea-light hands needed two further strings to attach them to the operating rod.

9. We made a hat for Tin Man from a cone of silver card which we stuck on with shiny tape.

10. Our last job was to cover the arm-and-leg strings with straws. Each straw was cut to the length of the arm or leg, then in half again to make an elbow or knee joint. Then I cut each straw along its length and wrapped them round the strings.

I thought our puppets were complete, but my daughter has just asked whether we could provide each one with a heart - just like in the story. I'm sure we will; that would be a lovely finishing touch for the Tin Family.


  1. Oh my, these are ADORABLE! I LOVE LOVE LOVE them. Would adore for you share them on "Kids Get Crafty" - http://www.redtedart.com/2012/04/25/kids-crafts-solar-system/ it is every week on a Wednesday - Monday. Would be fabulous to have you join in!

    Thank you


  2. So fun! I can just think of the many puppet shows you could do with these:)

  3. At the moment the 'theatre' is all over the house. And the tin puppets dance. To techno mainly! Hilarious.


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