Ultimate Guide to Recycled Glass Jar Crafts

With a little work and some creative inspiration, these glass jars could become beautiful hanging lanterns.
With a little work and some creative inspiration, these glass jars could become beautiful hanging lanterns.
iStockphoto.com/Roman Milert

Jelly, salsa, olives, mayo, mustard ... if these items are common staples in your household, then you probably have quite a few glass jars in your pantry and refrigerator. Perhaps you've even made an impulse purchase because one brand's jar was such an unusual shape. The question is, what happens to the jar when you've used up the food?

Whatever you do, don't just chuck it in the trash. At the very least, you can keep using the jar as a sturdy, attractive food container. (One of the many advantages of glass is that you always know what's inside -- no more mystery leftovers.) Some people turn old jars into reusable, portable water bottles -- a convenient way to avoid the concerns of pollution and chemical contamination that come with many plastic water bottles.

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But glass jars have potential far beyond that. Glass is strong, heat-resistant, sterile and beautiful. Glass jar crafts use glass to contain everything from food to fire to plant and animal life.

You'll need a few tools for bottle crafts, including a pair of pliers that can double as wire cutters, a smock, nail polish remover and Goo Gone or a similar type of product to remove sticky tags and labels. Soaking the jar in a solution of water and bleach also works and a scrub brush or wire brush will help with really resistant labels. Many other tools depend on the specific project. And speaking of tools, as with any craft project, be sure to take caution when using crafting tools and closely supervise children who are helping with the crafting endeavor.

For decorating, you may want to have some stained-glass paint or spray-on translucent color (such as Krylon) on hand as well. You may also want to look into decorative touches such as ribbons, raffia and other trims.

In this article, we'll explore jar crafts such as hanging lanterns and candles. We'll also look at the immense variety of ways to reuse jars to create clever -- and thrifty -- gifts. We'll start with the fish: turning glass jars into aquariums. Read on.

Recycled Glass Jar Aquariums

First things first: If you're going to turn a jar into an aquarium, you can't skimp on standard aquarium supplies and maintenance. You'll need a pump, filter, thermometer, gravel and clean water. You may want to include some greenery and underwater structures, such as rocks and reefs, as well. And depending on available light, you may want to add an aquarium light. And of course, for a project like this, you'll need a really large jar -- a standard jelly jar just won't do.

The time to create a jar aquarium is before you have fish to put in it. You'll need to set up the aquarium and let it stabilize for a couple of days before introducing the fish [source: Petco]. Before you combine fish in an aquarium, learn which species don't do well together. Learn about swimming preferences and territories, as well as appropriate foods.

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Remember that appropriate aquarium size depends on many factors, including the type, number and size of fish. Very few jars will be large enough to handle multiple fish. However, a small jar aquarium demands more maintenance, because less water means less stability. It's easier for a contaminant or a pH imbalance to affect all of a small amount of water, whereas in a large tank, the large amount of water can help neutralize problems [source: Domagalski].

All that said, it's possible to maintain an aquarium without necessarily raising fish. A row of glass jars containing corals and seaweed could be a lovely and inexpensive way to add color and serenity to a room. Planted aquariums often require stronger lights than other aquariums do, but you'll be rewarded with vibrant greenery [source: Domagalski].

No doubt about it: it can be difficult to have aquatic life depend on you for all its needs. For a somewhat less complicated way to reuse your old jars, take a look at the lantern project on the next page.

Recycled Glass Jar Lanterns

If you've ever been to a garden party with lanterns, you know how much beauty they can add to the scene. Fortunately, there's a way to achieve that with a minimal investment of money. Make hanging lanterns out of glass jars. Use a charming variety of shapes and sizes.

In addition to jars and votive candles, you'll need some copper or brass wire and a few standard tools -- pliers and a screwdriver. Depending on where you want to hang the lanterns, you may also need a power drill and screw-in hooks.

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Cut a piece of wire so it's long enough to wrap around the mouth of a jar (under the screw-top threads) once, with a couple of inches to spare on each end. Wrap it around the mouth. Loop the ends together with pliers. Then, with pliers or a screwdriver, twist the slack wire around the mouth of the jar into two eye loops. (Slide the screwdriver under the wire to lift it, and then turn the screwdriver to twist the lifted part of the wire.) When you finish the second eye loop, the wire should be completely tight around the jar. You'll be attaching the hanger to these loops, so make sure the wire is secure.

Cut another length of wire, about one yard (1 m), to make the hanger. Fold it in half and use the pliers secure each end in an eye loop. Twist a hanging loop at the midpoint of the wire [source: iVillage].

Scoop a bit of sand or a handful of glass vase marbles into the bottom of the jar, to act as the base for the candle.

If you'd like to have different colors, use stained-glass paint or a spray-on sheer color to decorate the outside of the jars [source: Phillips]. You can get a slightly more opaque color by gluing tissue paper directly to the glass using diluted white glue. Lanterns in a variety of solid colors, stripes, geometric patterns and free-form floral designs can be quite festive. If you have a way to cut metal safely, you could also experiment with reusing tin cans to create cutout designs around the jars.

Speaking of candles, on the next page you can learn how to turn your old jars into container candles. Read on.

Recycled Glass Jar Candleholders

There are two ways to turn a glass jar into a candleholder. One way -- which permits the new candleholder to be reused -- is to insert a candle that is smaller than the jar, as we saw with the jar lanterns. The other way -- which is less reusable -- is to make a candle by filling the jar with wax. You'll need to decide if you want the jar or the candle to be the main focus.

To make your own candle in a jar, you'll need a wire-core wick, candle wax and dye (or paraffin and crayons), an old coffee can and a 5-quart saucepan. Craft stores have wax specially formulated for glass containers.

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Heat water within the saucepan, and set the coffee can within it to create a double boiler, making sure to keep the bottom of the can from touching the bottom of the pan. Melt the wax in chunks in the can, stirring it and adding dye. Let it cool for 10 minutes [source: FamilyFun].

Heat the jar in hot water. Pour a little wax into the bottom of the jar, and set one end of the wick firmly in the wax. When it sets, gently pull the rest of the wick vertical, and pour the rest of the wax in around it. Leave at least half an inch (1 cm) at the top of the jar.

To decorate the outside of the jar, you have many options. Etching creates a subtle, sophisticated frosted pattern. Stained-glass paint adds luminous color. Beads, shells and mosaic tiles provide texture and color; however, because they are not translucent, you may sacrifice luminosity. Try funky, flamboyant touches such as sequins, fringe and feathers (a safe distance from the flame, of course). Think about the time and effort involved in decoration, as well as the cost of the materials, when you're deciding whether to make this a single-use candle or a reusable candleholder.

If you're gluing anything to the outside of the jar, make sure to use glue with high heat resistance. If your decorations will reduce the amount of candlelight, think about using a scented candle, so the focus is on something besides light.

Clearly, all these crafts have major holiday potential. On the next page, we'll look at how to create gift bundles using your recycled jars. Read on.

Recycled Glass Jar Gift Bundles

Put your recycled jar at the center of a gift bundle for a memorable gift. A gift bundle combines contents the recipient will use now with a container he or she can use later. The key to creating a good bundle is to start with a strong, unifying theme and apply it to the contents and the decoration.

Can you cook? The sky's the limit. Preserves, jelly, chutney, and salsa -- almost any treat can go into a jar. (Remember to use strict food-safety practices with home preserves; you don't want to give your loved ones botulism for the holidays [source: Penn State University].) A decorated jar can be a lovely way to present dry foods as well, such as peanut brittle, toffee, drop cookies or roasted or candied nuts. Pair it with Christmas ornaments or candles for a festive, colorful gift bundle.

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For other gift bundles, think about ways to package an entire experience. Some examples are:

  • A jar of popcorn with a favorite DVD
  • A jar of bath salts or bubble-bath beads with a loofah, scrubber or foot massage roller (For a real winner, try putting all these gifts in a basket with a color-coordinated hand towel and a scented candle or lavender sachet.)
  • A jar of gourmet cocoa powder with a jumbo mug
  • A jar of loose tea with a pair of cups and a tea strainer
  • A jar of dried beans -- a bean soup mix -- with a spice packet and a recipe (Lentils, pinto beans, red beans, black beans and white beans will look beautiful in layers. For color and extra kick, you may want to add a mini ristra -- a garland of dried habanero peppers.)

For any gift bundle, presentation is important. A basket is almost always inexpensive and attractive. Depending on the contents, a cloth wine-bottle gift bag can be a striking way to bundle gifts. Focus on reusability in the container as well as the contents. Add a ribbon or some raffia, and you have a handmade, heartfelt, one-of-a-kind gift.

Chances are, once you've started thinking about ways to reuse glass jars, you'll never throw one out again. Have fun, and don't forget to share the results.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Links

Sources

  • Apartment Therapy. "How to Cut Glass Bottles for Use in Other Projects." Re-Nest: Abundant Design for Green Homes. May 7, 2008. (Accessed 4/5/09) http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/how-to/diy-how-to-cut-glass-bottles-for-use-in-other-projects-049526
  • Domagalski, Luke. "Aquarium Care: Choosing the Right Aquarium Size for Your Fish." Buzzle. March 25, 2008. (Accessed 4/9/09) http://www.buzzle.com/articles/aquarium-care-choosing-the-right-aquarium-size-for-your-fish.html
  • Domagalski, Luke. "Planted Aquarium Care 101." The Smiley Fish. (Accessed 4/9/09) http://thesmileyfish.com/
  • FamilyFun. "Candle Jars." DisneyFamily.com. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://jas.familyfun.go.com/arts-and-crafts?page=CraftDisplay&craftid=10289
  • Instructables. "How to Cut a Glass Bottle" (Video). Instructables: Make, How To, and DIY. (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Cut-A-Glass-Bottle./
  • iVillage. "Glass Jar Lights." iVillage. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://home.ivillage.com/decorating/crafts/0,,7hbb,00.html
  • Keenan, Susan. "How to Remove Candle Wax." Do It Yourself. 2006. (Accessed 4/9/09) http://www.doityourself.com/stry/candlewax
  • Penn State University. "Home Food Preservation: Resources for Safe Food Preservation." (Accessed 4/9/09) http://foodsafety.psu.edu/preserve.html
  • Petco. "Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium." Petco: Care Information Sheets. 2004. (Accessed 4/9/09) http://www.petco.com/caresheets/fish/SetUpFreshwaterAquarium.pdf
  • Philips, Roxi. "Mason Jar Magic: Making a Summer Patio Lantern." My Lifetime. June 20, 2008. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/home-crafts/craft-ideas/seasonal-projects/mason-jar-magic-make-summer-patio-lantern
  • That Pet Place. "Three-Gallon Aquarium." That Pet Place: Products. (Accessed 4/9/09) http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/prod/242948/product.web