Wood Grain Tins – How-To

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My thing with woodgrain shelf paper started with a tin of dishwashing detergent. The tin lived under my kitchen sink and was perfect to hold those little detergent pods but it had branding tie-in cartoon pictures on it and I just didn’t want to look at it anymore. I took a tip from Todd Oldham’s book Handmade Modern and covered it in woodgrain shelf paper. Since then I’ve found this a quick and easy solution to transform a few useful but unattractive items in my house. I’ve used it to repurpose gum and mint tins that hold office supplies, to label the contents of some reused oatmeal canisters, and to cover a wooden bin that was on sale but had some unfortunate flowers painted on the front.

Here we’ll go through two options: covering a skinny gum tin which is great for holding pens on the fridge next to the grocery list and covering an Altoids-style tin which are great for smaller office supplies.

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  • woodgrain shelf paper in two colors, Con-Tact Brand makes at least three shades which I’ve found in my neighborhood hardware store
  • an exacto knife or other detail cutter
  • scissors
  • a straight edge or rolling cutter and ruler
  • a flexible measuring tape
  • a mint or gum tin that will be handy to hold small items

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We’ll start with the gum tin. Pop the lid off if there is one. Be careful as things might fly across the room, a micro flat head screwdriver can be helpful for prying here.

Wrap a measuring tape around the tin, this is our width.

Add half an inch to the width.

Measure the height of the tin, add an inch.

Mark the height and width on the backing of the shelf paper making sure the woodgrain is running the direction you’d like.

Cut out the rectangle and peel off the backing.

Center the front of the tin over it and stick it down.

Wrap the shelf paper around and overlap it in the back.

Fold under the bottom edge, and tuck the top edge over and inside the tin.

Easy right?

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Figure out how tall and wide your letters can be, then draw that grid on the backing paper of the other shade of shelf paper. Now sketch letters, backwards, into each rectangle. Be as precise or not as you’d like with these. Cut out your letters and apply them. Shelf paper adhesive is fairly forgiving so you can reposition if you need to. Glue some small, strong magnets to the back and you’re done.

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Tins with hinged lids are only a bit more work. Gently bend back the hinges and remove the lid. We’ll start with the top. Measure the height of the lid from the rolled edge to the top, add about half an inch. Measure all the way around the outside. Then cut a strip of shelf paper to these measurements, again making sure the grain is running the way you’d like. The one shown here is about .75 inches tall and 12 inches long. Remove the backing and line up the edge of the shelf paper with the rolled edge, we’ll be leaving that rolled edge bare. Stick the shelf paper to the edge of the tin, repositioning as you go along. Now, snip four slices down around each rounded corner, cutting just to the top of the tin, and fold and stick those down so they hug the curve of the corner. Then fold down the four sides.

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Flip the lid upside down and trace the shape of the top onto the backing paper, then trim in about 1/8th of an inch smaller all around, check to see how well it lines up and trim if needed. You want it to almost but not quite reach the edges. Remove the backing, center over the top and stick down. See? It blends nicely.

Now measure the height of the bottom of the tin and add an inch to that height (1/2 inch to wrap over the top edge, 1/2 inch to fold under the bottom). Cut a strip of shelf paper to those measurements and wrap it around the sides leaving 1/2 inch on top and bottom. Wrap the top edge over and stick into the interior of the tin. For the bottom clip around the corners as above then fold down the contact paper. Trace the bottom and cover, again as we did above.

Using your exacto knife trim away the contact paper around the top and bottom hinges, don’t worry about getting this too tidy as you’ll likely never look at the back of this. Then reattach the lid carefully bending the hinges back into place. Cut your letters out of the contrasting shade of contact paper as above and apply.

Now go forth and cover more ugly but useful items in your home.