22 Manly Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 30, 2011 · 120 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

Altoids have been freshening bad breath since the turn of the 19th century. But while they are touted as “Curiously Strong Mints,” perhaps the real curiosity is not the allure of the mints themselves, but the popularity of turning the tin in which they’re packaged into all sorts of truly handy, and just plain fun, creations.

The draw of the transformed Altoids tin, like the draw one feels towards, say, a secret book safe, is hard to put your finger on. Part of it is the satisfying challenge of fitting as much as possible into a small space. Part of it is the delight of being able to carry something cool in your pocket. Of course much of the appeal can be found in the enjoyment of tinkering and working on a diy project. There is also the satisfaction that comes from reusing an ordinary object for something else entirely. Grandpa’s old motto of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” still resonates.

Any way you slice it, beholding the creative uses for an Altoids tin simply brings a smile to your face. So we searched high and low and put together this list of 22 manly ways to reuse an Altoids tin. You can make some of these things for yourself, or use the list for cheap and unique gift ideas.

First Aid Kit

You never know when a bear is going to claw you in the face while you have him in a half-nelson, so it’s best to keep a first aid kit on hand at all times. This one is small enough to sock away nearly anywhere-a pocket, a backpack, your car, your European man purse-wherever.

Full instructions here.

Electronics Lab

Photo and tin by Nick Ames

For tinkering on the go. According to its creator, Nick Ames, this tin “contains nearly everything to work on small projects, such as a breadboard, components (including several ICs), and a adjustable power supply. The power supply is a simple LM317 circuit, with the 317′s metal tab cut off to make it fit.”

See here for another view of the kit and the details of its contents.

Charcloth Maker


When you’re making fire the traditional way, such as with flint and steel, you want to make sure to catch your hard earned spark in something that will turn it into a real fire. What you need is an easily combustible piece of tinder. Enter the char cloth. They’re easy to make-just put strips of cotton fabric in an Altoids tin, close the lid tightly, make a hole in the tin, and place it in a fire to cook.

Full instructions here.

Pocket Games Chest

Photo by airship

We’ve all been unexpectedly stuck somewhere-say the airport or inside a tent on a rained out camping trip-and found ourselves bored out of our minds. Sure you could zone out from your companions and play Angry Birds on your iPad, but why not get everyone involved in a good old fashioned game instead? For analog gaming on the go, stash an Altoids games chest in your bag.

For details of this tin’s contents, see here.

Router Plane

When Popular Woodworking Magazine held a contest challenging readers to make tools out of Altoids tins, this design came out on top. It’s a working router plane, a tool used by woodworkers. The tool is especially nice as the thumbscrew and iron are stored within the tin.

Martini on the Go Kit

If Frank Sinatra had been a poor drifter, this is how he would have made his martinis. Ring a ding ding in an Altoids tin.

Full instructions here.

Mini Flashlight

A mini flashlight you can carry in your pocket wherever you go. This idea, thought up by Nick Brenn, is so popular that Edmund Scientific now sells a kit for those who don’t want to be bothered with gathering and buying the necessary parts themselves. For the more enterprising, the full instructions for this diy project can be found here.

Portable BBQ Stove

Perfect for life as a hobo; just throw the mouse you caught in your boxcar on this portable grill. Dinner is served!

Full instructions here.

Tin Valet

Photo and Valet by Dshouppe

Using a valet is an effective way to keep track of the contents of your pockets; at the end of the day, deposit your keys, coins, watch and so on, and you’ll know right where to pick them up the next morning. Dshouppe made this Altoids tin valet for all the young men in her life. She painted the tins, drilled a hole through them, stuck a threaded rod through the holes, and used nuts and washers to hold the tins in place. The tins were lined with a piece of black rubber–the kind you can use to open a jar–cut to the size of the tin’s bottoms. This served to protect the items which would be placed inside them. Finally, a piece of wood was used at the bottom to hold the threaded rod in place.

Survival Kit

Photo from Field and Stream

Turning an Altoids tin into a survival kit is hands down the most popular Altoids project of them all. There are tons of variations out there, with each assembler arguing the merits of including this or that item. For my money, the guys at Field and Stream have put together the best one. Just stick a survival blanket in your pocket and you’re prepared for almost anything that might befall you in the wild.

Covert Dart Gun

Have an annoying co-worker? Soak your dart with a tranquilzer, casually remove this Altoids tin from your pocket, offer him a mint, and then-boom!-shoot em right in the neck. Then steal his sandwich.

Full instructions here.

S’Mores Pocket Snack Kit

Okay, so there’s nothing particuarly manly about s’mores. Who cares? They’re awesomely delicious and one of my favorite things. So this pocket s’mores kit really tickles my fancy. You put the traditional ingredients inside the tin and tote it with you, so you’re ready whenever the urge for a s’mores snack strikes. You can warm the whole thing up into gooey goodness by placing the tin on the mini BBQ grill above, or even break out an Altoids tin that’s expressly made for roasting marshmallows. Now there’s a guy after my own heart:

Pinhole Camera

Photograph by Chris Keeney

The idea behind the pinhole camera is actually quite ancient and can be traced all the way back to the 4th century BC. To make one, you need a light-tight box, and an Altoids tin fits the bill nicely.

Full instructions here.

Fire Starting Kit

A fire starting kit includes the essentials for creating a flame in any condition, such as weatherproof matches, ferrocerium rods, petroleum jelly, cotton balls, a magnifying glass, and tampons. Yes, tampons.

Morse Code Oscillator

Nginuity on the Hack Gadgets forums built a Altoids Can Morse Code Oscillator. Why an Altoids can? According to the creator,  “I actually use these tins a whole lot for project boxes that involve radio frequency, and also things that may need somewhat of a precise Crystal reference, because the metal does a very good job of shielding the circuit from stray RF, which can get kind of nasty when you work with microwave technology (or, more importantly, keeping out all of the 2.4GHz signals in the neighborhood from getting into a tiny High Frequency mixer, etc).” So yeah, I’ll just take his word on it.

Pocket Watercolor Kit

©2006 L. Laughy, Ninth Wave Designs: Used with permission.

Harness your inner Thomas Moran with this watercolor set in a can. Whether you’re sitting on the banks of a lake or staring out the window of a coffeeshop, you never know when inspiration will strike. So carry this tin along with Moleskine’s watercolor notebook, and you’ll be ready to paint a masterpiece wherever you go.

The watercolor kit in the photograph was created using brass strips to divide the half-pans of watercolor. For other ways to make one, see here and here.

Alcohol Stove

Alcohol stoves are a favorite among minimalist backpackers and vagabonds of all varieties as they’re simple, lightweight, clean burning, and best of all, cheap and easy to make yourself from things like, well, an Altoids can . You can build one with a built-in pot rest, or use it as the fuel source for an Esbit stove, as is shown in the photograph.

Full instructions here.

Emergency Candle

Here is a great way to recycle the remnants of candles you, or perhaps more likely, your lady friend, have lying around the house. The tin holds a candle along with matches and strikers. The candle can be used in an emergency, such as when your car gets caught in the snow; lighting a multi-wick candle in your car can keep you from freezing for several hours.

Full instructions here.

Urban Survival Kit

Photograph and tin by Scott Taylor

City dwellers have a different set of needs from those heading out into the wilderness. The Urban Survival Kit includes items for problems more annoying than life threatening. Obviously, you can exercise your creativity here in filling the tin with things you personally need to survive the urban jungle.

Details on the contents of this tin can be seen here.

Pocket Tackle Box

Huck Finn fished with just a stick and a string. So while having a full-sized tackle box is nice, it’s certainly not necessary. Especially if you’re going backpacking and want to try your hand at catching your own dinner along the way.

Full instructions here.

Fireball Shooter

It’s an Altoids tin. That shoots fireballs. What more do I need to say?

Have any more ideas on how to reuse an Altoids tin? Share your suggestions in the comments!

{ 120 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Jen February 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Melody, I have to agree with some of the other posters…can’t men have ANYTHING to themselves without complaints from women??!!! I don’t notice men on the Money Saving Mom type blogs I read complaining about how the sites are not manly enough.

That being said, my girly self did enjoy this post about Altoids tins, and my son and I are going to make a survival kit tonight!

102 karen n February 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm
103 Eudora November 8, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Loved this list of innovation! Has anyone succeeded in making all the suggested applications?I can’t say that I will be carrying any of these contraptions around but I loved reading the instructions.

104 Jim November 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Listen figure out a way to implant an old ipod or mp3 player into one of those.

105 Josiah November 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Jim, I used to used Altoids tins as cases for an mp3 player I owned previously. It was called the Creative Zen Micro or Micro Photo. they would fit perfectly inside with room for a thin layer of foam on all sides to give it some padding. It looked something like this: http://cdn.uberreview.com/wp-content/uploads/zenclose.jpg

106 Dirk December 5, 2012 at 4:22 am

I have seen examples of people turning altoid tins into amplifiers for personal audio

link here: http://hackaday.com/2011/05/01/lm386-altoids-tin-amp/

107 Damien December 5, 2012 at 10:04 am

A friend of mine needed something to do with the 300+ Altoid tins in his office… this is what he came up with.


108 Val December 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

My boyfriend and I use them to carry our cigar smoking stuff. They are big enough for a lighter, a cigar punch or cutter, and are handy for storing the bands if you want to save them. I have a slightly larger tin from a 3 pack of Casa Magna cigars that I use more often because it carries a V cutter, a cigar punch, a lighter and my glue stick, which I use to glue cigar bands in my notebook.

109 Chris December 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm

How about some creative uses for crown royal bags other than change collectors and shift boots.

110 Elaine January 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

Hey, Chris…my dad used a Crown Ryoal bag to store his hair trimmer and all the doo-dads that went with it. He also kept his pocket heater for hunting in one of the smaller ones. I think one of the bigger ones housed his sunglasses…doubled as a cloth to clean them. He had about six more bags…not sure what he had planned for them. LOL

111 Olia March 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Can be used also as make up kit.

112 Rebecca April 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I absolutely love ALL (well, most) of these ideas. Like, the really useful ones, haha, I can’t think of any reason I’d need a fireball shooter or a dart gun but the rest of those are genius. And I agree with other posters that sometimes men will need a sewing kit, if, say at a formal or business event a button falls off, an Altoids tin or Altoids Smalls tin would be perfect for a little emergency businessmen kit; for my wedding I made emergency groomsmen and bridesmaid kits out of Altoids Smalls tins with safety pins, asprin, breath mints, clear bandaids, toothpicks (had to break them down a little though), and bobby pins. Both manly AND feminine uses. ;)

Chris: My husband has a huge collection of various sizes of CR bags, plus one of the gold bags. He uses them for his first aid kits, they’re a little more feasible than an Altoids tin for carrying medical tape and gauze pads in along with all the trimmings. A Roadside Assistance bag would be cool too with a flare or roll of reflective tape, emergency blanket, flashlight, and… oh I don’t know, look up an emergency roadside assistance kit and see how much you can cram into a CR bag, lol. Depending on the size, you could fit quite a lot.

113 Brian April 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I like the USB Chargers… I’ve seen them all over, but here is one example.


114 Ryan June 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I can just imagine some guy getting picked on, he pulls out his altoids tin, the bully yells “OOOH WHAT YOU GONNA DO? MAKE ME SMELL FRESH AND MINTY?” then the kid shoots fireballs at his face and the bully runs away crying to his mother.

115 RoadDawg July 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

Joey, Drew and tryclyde, I’m proud of the way you handled, Melody. Simply put, men having their own place is not tantamount to “putting a woman in her place.” I loved the restaurant analogy.
Great article, AoM!

116 Caíque Tostes August 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm

I had never heard about Altoids before. Today I just bought a box because I find the old school tin very sweet. When I opened and saw that paper rolling the mints in a very unique way, I simply thought about the Art of Manliness and all of the good stuff they have here, came here later and, of course, they have an article about this!

117 jackson September 11, 2013 at 3:40 am

After my dog does his business on the lawn or walkway, I open an Altoids tin and use it as a perfect receptacle for dog poop. Open the tin like a set of jaws, set it over the poop, snap it closed. Voila! No sweat, no strain, and near-perfect removal of waste. One thing: Ya gotta have a small dog.

118 Zeus September 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm

As somebody who fly fishes, change “tackle box” to “fly box” and you have a winner. Just hot glue in some craft foam (I prefer 2 layers) and you have a nice small, water resistant, fly box. It does work better for those of us who like to use a lot of a few standard designs rather than having 50 different ones available, but there’s no reason you can’t have more than one.

I have a few other boxes of stuff in my vest, but the vast majority of my fishing is done with the stuff I have in one altoids tin.

119 Daren Dilts October 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Great ideas! Thanks!

120 Ian Hopkins October 23, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Don’t know if this was said, but that fireball shooter should have been made out of the Cinnamon Altoids tin. Just for the visual pun.

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