Maker Mayhem: Ham Can Crafts

Matt Maranian's latest installment of Maker Mayhem: Low Moments in How-to History looks at converting ham cans into toys

Life is what you make of it, especially when times get tough, and there’s no law that says toys have to be store-bought. So even if dad blows his paycheck at the track and mom’s credit cards are maxed, there’s no reason to pity the boy who’s forced to play with a toy wagon made from a discarded ham can and a used popsicle stick, or the little girl who puts her baby doll to sleep in a bassinet fashioned from the tin that housed yesterday’s lunch. Toys made of kitchen garbage might seem like a Great Depression or a post-war Germany thing, but this How-To dates from space-age 1968, and demonstrates that anyone can turn their trash can into a veritable toy box with a little imagination and some sundry materials — most of which a savvy child could easily steal if need be — like stove bolts, paint, tape, and discarded jar lids. There’s no end to the fun a repurposed ham can will provide you and your family as long as it’s scraped of congealed grease and washed with hot soapy water first, and, even better, ham can crafting is a zero-footprint hobby; just like the Native American and the buffalo, no part of the canned ham goes to waste by the maker, certainly not the ham, and not even the lid. Waste not, want not.

MakerMayhem#4

Danger of sharp tin can edges? Well, sometimes the best way for a kid to learn not to play around a wasp’s nest is to get stung by a wasp, and the best way to learn how to negotiate around the sharp edges of a tin can is to get cut by the sharp edge of a tin can. Ham cans have their place in faith-based DIY too: inspired is the Christian who makes a sandwich of fatty processed meat and reimagines its post-consumer leftovers into a holy shrine, as shown here decoratively trimmed with an “uncoiled brass scouring pad.” And since the Virgin Mary shows up in some pretty strange places — from tortillas to cheese sandwiches to water-stained motel ceilings — a ham can is as good a place as any. Buddha or Shiva would look right at home here too. Satanic altar? Why not, we live in a country that honors religious liberty. Ain’t no laws on your ham can.

Canned ham might not be the pantry staple that it once was (Can you remember the last time you were given a ham can to play with?) so the added value here is a singularly American hand made oddity that is both low-brow and exotic.

Published 8:45 am Tue, Jun 3, 2014

About the Author

Matt Maranian is a bestselling writer, designer, and bon vivant whose books include PAD, PAD Parties, and the first and second editions of L.A. Bizarro. He lives in Southern Vermont.

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From our forums

  1. UnanimousCowher

    I never used a ham can to make toys, but growing up on a small farm in central Minnesota meant the best toys came from discarded stuff and my imagination. I loved Star Trek and wanted to play with anything like a phaser, a tricorder, or communicator, but with both of my parents working outside jobs to support our dairy farm, money was usually short. So I headed to our dump, collected various bits of wiring, casings, old electronics, and used those things. Duct tape is easy to rework into "screens" and buttons. A file, needle-nosed pliers, and lots of imagination allows one to create new toys. Discarded plastic factory rejects from my mom's workplace were wonderful supplies: battery caps, funnels, widgets, even the plastic from the channels between the parts could be used.
    Looking back on it, I'm actually pretty glad I didn't get the "real" toys I first wanted.

  2. JeanBaptiste

    Has Mark seen this? I think a Hormel Uke is in order.

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