How to Make Punched "Tin" Butterflies

Butterfly tree

Punched "tin" butterflies are almost always fluttering about somewhere in my home or garden!  I never tire of making them and my enthusiasm has resulted in a rather large collection. (Huge - actually!)  So consider this fair warning - they are addictive!

In addition to the instructions below, it may be helpful to review the tutorial for making Punched "Tin" Light shields posted last November as the techniques are quite similar. 

When I make butterflies, I usually use aluminum roof flashing mainly because I bought a 10' roll when I started making butterflies and I still have many feet left to play with! I have also made them with sheet tin.

Since several crafters have asked if aluminum pie plates or other aluminum food containers can be used for my metal projects, I made a butterfly out of a pie plate I saved from it's certain journey to the dump last weekend. I am thrilled to report that aluminum food containers are an excellent resource for punched "tin"butterflies (and other creatures), as well as light shields, and espejitos (little mirrors).  A picture of the "pie plate butterfly" appears at the end of this post along with a few notes about using aluminum food containers.

This is NOT a craft for young children.  I would recommend that children be at least 10 years old and have adult supervision, especially while cutting the metal shapes.


Assemble your tools and materials:

~metal material of choice (sheet tin, aluminum flashing, aluminum food container, tooling foil)
~tin snips
~heavy duty nail scissors
~light weight hammer
~standard 2" framing nail
~acetone and cotton balls
~long narrow bead for body (the hole must be large enough to hold 2-24 gauge and 1-28 gauge wires)  Because so many of you are having trouble finding long narrow beads, I have added links at the end of the post to my favorite mail order bead store.  The 26mm ovals and larger are almost never stocked in the average bead stores.
~24 gauge wire  (about 12")
~28 gauge galvanized picture wire  (about  12")

And don't forget safety!

~protective eye wear
~heavy gloves
~piece of wood (mine is about 8" x 12" x 3/4" thick)
~metal file (optional)



Making butterflies!

I make up most of my own butterfly patterns by folding a scrap of paper in half and drawing a wing shape beginning and ending on the fold.  You can also trace a pattern from a picture in a book.

Cut out the shape, open it up and you will have a perfectly matching pair of wings to trace onto your metal.

Cut a piece of metal a little larger than your wings and then trace your butterfly wing pattern directly onto the surface of the metal using a Sharpie.  (I have used a pen with a thick tip for illustration, but I usually just use a fine point when I trace my pattern.)

Next, draw in the design. For reference, notice that I have duplicated the design I used on the completed butterfly.   I like to keep my designs simple and draw them freehand right onto the metal with the Sharpie.  (You can always erase with a q-tip dipped in a little acetone.)

Note: If you are using food container aluminum and really don't want to use acetone, you can remove the sharpie ink with a damp rag but you will need to do more rubbing than when using acetone, and it is harder to get the ink out of the holes.  If you are using other metal, you will need to use acetone to remove the ink.

There is no limit to the wing shapes and wing designs you can come up with! Here are three different design possibilities for the same wing shape.

I keep a packet of my butterfly wing patterns in my craft file, and I record every wing design in a little note book for those days when my crafty genie is off duty!

Place your "butterfly" on the piece of wood and, using the hammer and nail, punch indentations into the surface first following the wing outline and then following the design lines.  Tap gently and try not to punch a hole completely through the tin - but if you do, it is not a problem.  I have made many, many butterflies and I still punch holes about 20% of the time.

Practice on a scrap of metal to get the feel of how much pressure you need to use to get an indentation.

Remove the Sharpie lines using acetone (or a rag dampened with water if you are using an aluminum food container).

Now is a good time to put on your protective eye wear and heavy gloves.  Tiny pieces of metal can become airborne when you least expect it, and metal edges are sharp and can, if not handled with care, deliver a nasty cut. (I have never cut myself, but I handle the metal objects carefully and I am always mindful of the potential for a cut.)

Cut out your butterfly following the wing outline indentations.  Cut just outside the line of indentations that mark your wing outline.

I have deliberately chosen this particular butterfly design because it gives me the opportunity to demonstrate several useful cutting techniques. 

Straight lines or gently curved lines, such as the line being cut in the photo above, can easily be cut with tin snips.

Sometimes, it is easier to cut along a line by turning the metal over and cutting from the back side. Notice in the illustration above that I have cut the first half of the wing with the front facing toward me and then turned the metal over and am cutting the other side of the wing with the back side facing me.

Once the simple areas of the outline have been cut, I suggest you cut very close to the more complicated edges of the outline as shown. Taking this step will make it much easier to cut out intricate shapes.

Now get out those nail scissors and cut a slit, as shown above, at each deeply curved part of the design.  Also cut slits wherever there is a "V", cutting right down the center of the "V" to the point.

Now you can cut those tight little curves easily by cutting one half of the curve from the front side and then the other half from the back side.

I like working with nail scissors because they usually have a little curve to the blades which assists you in going around tight curves. In the illustration above and the one below, notice the relationship of the curve in the scissor blade to the curve in the design.

Once your butterfly is completely cut out, check for ragged little edges or other sharp places and either re-cut to remove them or smoothe them with the metal file. (I did notice that the pie plate butterfly had the smoothest edges.)

Holding your butterfly wings in both hands, gently pull the wings up toward you to create a slight "V".

You are now ready to add the body, antennae and "tie wire"! (I am showing you two different methods for attaching the body and "tie wire".

Select a bead for the body.  Most of the beads I have in my "butterfly body stash" are between 17mm and 27mm long and are 6mm to 8mm wide.

I like using colored wire for the antennae.  Cut two antennae 5" long.

Galvanized picture wire is inexpensive and a great choice for the "tie wire".  I also use it for bead embroidery which I will cover in the next tutorial on embellishments. You can find it in the DYI picture framing section of most hardware stores.

Method #1 - attaching the bead body and tie wire

Place the three wires through the bead hole leaving equal lengths exposed at both ends of the bead.

Punch two holes in the metal, one near the center top and one near the center bottom.Pull the two ends of the galvanized 28 gauge wire through the holes as shown above.

Gently shift the bead until it is lying evenly between top and bottom, pull the galvanized wires tight so the bead is lying flat against the wings, and twist together on the back side to hold the bead securely in place.


Form the 24 gauge colored wires into antennae and coil the bottoms or leave straight.  If you wish, you can place a drop of glue in the bead holes to hold them in place.

Method #2 - attaching the bead body and tie wire

Punch two holes side by side near the center point of the wings.  Pull the 28 gage galvanized wire through the two holes and twist together at the back side. (If you are planning to glue the butterfly to another surface, such as a napkin ring, delete this step.)

Pull the two colored 24 gage wires through the bead as shown above. Form the antennae and coil the wires extending from the bead bottom.  Place a line of glue along the center of the wings and carefully set the bead in place.  A drop of glue in the hole will hold the antennae wires in place.


1. Deconstruct the pie plate!

2. Follow Diane's instructions for smoothing out the ridges on the plate bottom provided in her Craftstylish tutorial on Making a Pet Shrine.

3. Draw, punch and cut your butterfly using the instructions given above.

Punching and cutting completed! Add a bead body and "tie wires".

A beautiful butterfly made from an aluminum pie plate!  I happen to love the slight curve in the wings that I got using the pie plate.

The tutorial for embellishing "punched tin" butterflies is here!

And if butterflies are not your thing - this tutorial is full of ideas for making other creatures like sea horses, whales, turtles, birds..... Check it out and let your imagination go wild!

Added June 2010 :  A good bead resource for long narrow oval beads.

Fire mountain Gems and Beads

My favorites are the transparent Czech Glass Beads which are at the bottom of this page  Click on any color to see the complete assortment of shapes and sizes available.

This is the bead I use the most - 26mm oval Czech Glass bead.  It comes in several colors transparent as well as the opaque and auora borealis finish.

For longer bodies, Hairpipe beads are great!  They can be 11/2" to 4" long!

lovely idea thanks, will look

lovely idea thanks, will look lovely in my garden !

Hi Pam, they are gorgeous, i

Hi Pam, they are gorgeous, i will give it a try.
and they are looking great and beautiful in your xmas tree as well.
well done.
and thank you very much for the link of how to make them;-D

by the way... there are scissors for left handed persones.
I know this for a long time, because of my mom, and my first husband.
You can find them in the better sewing shops.
And specialist shops for disabled suplies. As well other smart tools that are just for all very handy for daily uses.LOL
so... it wouldn't be a problem for the left handed underneath us;-D

Thanks for creating the page!

Thanks for creating the page! Im positive that it will be very popular. It has good and valuable content which is very rare these days. dnwlhhmop

i love this!! I can't wait to

i love this!! I can't wait to make for my garden!! My grandsons will love them! Thank-you so much for sharing.

This is such an awesome idea.

This is such an awesome idea. My garden will surely be full of butterflies next Spring

You gave me a good idea.

You gave me a good idea. Thank you. I just loved it. Going to make many utterflies and use them at my nieces wedding. And even hang them at home. The food container is a good and cheap way and easy to purchase. Thank you once more.

I am in the process of making

I am in the process of making Xmas tree ornaments using aluminium cans and wanted to mention that I often use the tips of my wood burning tool on the pie plates - they don't work so well on the cans. Just an idea.

Would this work using

Would this work using recycled soda and beer cans? Someone mentioned it; any tips for cutting and flattening the cans, inside out so the printing is on the back? I can think of thousands of things we might be able to make with soda cans. Any links would be most welcome!

I'd like to make this a school project for kids, so "safety first..."

CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com.

I know this was posted a

I know this was posted a while ago, but just ran across it and LOVE IT!

I see more recycling in my

I see more recycling in my future. Thanks.

How AMAZING are these? I am a

How AMAZING are these? I am a simple fanatic for butterflies, and to have stumbled upon your tute has left me awe struck. You are an ACE in my deck-o-cards. LOL!! Your tute is the "bestest." Thanks a million for the share.

I love these so much to

I love these so much to clever & cute!
Going relink on tues i pray ypu get
many hits on this cool butterflies!
hugs g/f have a great week!

Such a fun craft, and a

Such a fun craft, and a wonderful tutorial! Thank you for making it sound so elementary! I'm eager to give it a try!

Dear Pam, My children are

Dear Pam,

My children are currently very interested in butterflies, and according i'm too. (Do you know a (Dutch) 'distelvlinder' can fly 1000 km before breeding?) But our catterpillars are eaten by birds, nature ain't always nice...

So i want to decorated our front window with some homemade ones. I'll try yours, when ready, i'll let you know. Thank's for the nice tutorial and beautiful pictures!

Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this fun craft! I made my first one today and am excited to make many more. I made the wire to attach the bead long enough so I could attach the butterfly to a wooden skewer when done. She looks very pretty fling around in my flower bed:)

These are so cute, I couldn't

These are so cute, I couldn't help but link to them on my weekly roundup. (Linked above) Thanks! :>)

Pam, you are a remarkable

Pam, you are a remarkable multi-talented lady! :) This is a fantastic tutorial. Thanks for sharing all the details. :)

Thank you so much, you make

Thank you so much, you make this look so super easy. I have always wanted to do metal punch, and this has given me the inspiration to finally do it. Gorgeous.

I love these so much! Mine

I love these so much! Mine are all perched on the wall in front of my desk so I can admire them all the time :-)

I just wanted to say thank

I just wanted to say thank you to those of you who have offered tips here in the comments.

Rubbing alcohol works beautifully and Diane uses it all the time. I don't happen to own a bottle, so I never think of it. Thanks so much for leaving this note for readers.

"Blunt" the nail! Great idea! I will certainly try it out for punching the designs. And I will keep my sharp one for punching holes for embellishments. I'm working on the embellishment post right now and can't wait to share!

My husband is a finish

My husband is a finish carpenter and very good I might add ;) His tip is to take your nail and before useing it as a tin punch is to blunt the point first. Hold the nail with the point down against concrete or somthing equally as hard. Then give the head of the nail nice rap with the hammer(not to hard as you can always do it again if you want it more blunt). Now your chances of punching a hole will be less but you will still get a nice indentation. Thanks for the tute. I'm off to garage to find aluminum and a nail to blunt.

These are nothing short of

These are nothing short of spectacular! I love all you wing shapes, very creative. I'd love to have a whole Christmas tree of these - not exactly Christmas in theme but they would look so pretty with lights shining on them.
Another brilliant tutorial. Thanks. And thanks too for your very kind words today - you're the best!

Lovely idea! I can't wait to

Lovely idea! I can't wait to try it = )

FYI - rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol will dissolve sharpie ink just fine & it's not nearly as fume-y as acetone....



What a wonderful tutorial! I

What a wonderful tutorial! I am so going to make one of these and show it off to all my homies!

Happy Creating

Hello dear Pam! I don't know

Hello dear Pam! I don't know if you've had a chance to visit my blog lately, but I put up the Handmade Holiday Crusade theme just for you! Also I took some pictures of my pretty new Pyrex (thanks again) Lovely tutorial!

Hi Chris!  Yes, you can apply

Hi Chris!  Yes, you can apply ink after making the butterflies and I will be discussing that in the next post on embellishing butterflies.

I hope you have as much fun

I hope you have as much fun as I do Margaret!  If you plan to put these in your garden, be sure to only use aluminum.  I learned the hard way that tin rusts!  Also, if you glue on the bodies, be sure not to use a water soluable glue!  I use mine mostly on my patio areas where they don't get rained on much.

I have lots of left over soda

I have lots of left over soda cans from a previous project that I was saving for another project. I think they'll be nice with a bit of that was printed on the can. I'll send you pictures when I finished a few.

Thanks for the tip on the tin.

Thank you so much. They look

Thank you so much. They look so easy. I can't wait to make a group of them for my new flowerbed I completed last weekend. Thanks again for sharing!

WHERE have I been? HUH? This

WHERE have I been? HUH?

This is great stuff. I made some butterflies for the Houston holocaust museum, and although they never really held much interest for me, now the idea of making lots and lots of butterflies is SO appealing! This is a great project. I want to do these. Can you ink them afterward?

How beautiful! I love the

How beautiful! I love the punch swirls, so pretty! I'll be linking.

You never cease to amaze me

You never cease to amaze me with your fabulous instructions!!! And beautiful photos with each step.
Love the butterflies and the antennae.

Many years ago I did a 'punched tin' for a jelly cabinet and it was fun. Your butterflies are much more manageable!! Another thing I have to try!