Upcycling A Vintage Petrol Can. Making a Unique Table Lamp.

Upcycling A Vintage Petrol Can. Making a Unique Table Lamp.

Making a one-off Industrial table lamp.

I recently spent an hour visiting and admiring a large Antique and Vintage emporium near to home.  Large Antique emporiums are great places to visit as you will find a wide and varied selection of items for sale that range from fine Antique furniture right through to bits and pieces and small offerings from an eclectic range of sellers. During my recent visit, I found myself face to face with a Vintage American Petrol can, I have no idea how this American petrol can that was made in the mid 20th Century ended up at an antique’s centre in Hertfordshire but I was pleased to find it as it had a great character with excellent Red colouring and a used industrial look. The petrol can was reasonably priced and very dirty. The can has many signs of life making it an ideal upcycling project piece and I wanted to have a go at breathing new life into this forgotten piece of vintage American Sheet metalwork.

The Project.

The petrol can was found in sound but a dirty condition. After many years of use in an industrial setting and after a few years of being outside in an antique’s centre the can had developed a worn and scratched look but had real appeal and was crying out to be put back into life and use.

Vintage Petrol Can Lamp

Vintage Petrol Can Lamp

Images of the petrol can as found.

Despite the dirt and seemingly poor looking condition this great piece of old American Industrial history has great appeal and potential as an upcycling project.

The first thing that I had to address on the big lump of steel was the wiring route, I needed to insert a wiring tube into the top of the petrol can which meant I needed access from the bottom, so a few minutes with an angle grinder and a thin steel cutting disc allowed me to have internal access to the petrol can. Once the hole was cut the edges were smoothed off and later I planned to add a leatherette cover to the base to keep things tidy.

NOTE – If you intend to cut into an old petrol can please make sure that there is no petrol or petrol fumes left in the can before you use your angle grinder, also when using an angle grinder please make sure you wear safety goggles.

Vintage Petrol Can Lamp

Internally the can was good with lots of dried out old debris from use many years ago.  I then drilled out the cable mounting tube position on the top of the can and also a similar hole at the base of the can for cable entry.

Vintage Petrol can Lamp

Once the cable openings were complete the petrol can received its first clean. Using medium grade wire wool, a stiff nylon brush and an hours work the petrol can was scrubbed and had any dirt and loose paint removed, even after this first basic clean the red colour of the petrol can started to come to life along with the original maker’s stampings and pressed marks, all the time during cleaning the character of the petrol can was becoming more obvious.

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

The petrol can after its initial clean.

Fixing wiring route tubes.

The next task was to bolt in place the standard 10mm Threaded wiring tubes. The top tube used was a piece of old, worn and tarnished tube that I had salvaged from an old lamp, the worn look of the tube suited the overall look of the petrol can well. At the bottom of the lamp, the wiring entry point was made with a short length of the same tube, this is a good way of making cable entries on old metalwork as it is both neat and avoids sharp edges for wiring security.

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

The new cable entry and exit points.

Wiring up the new lamp.

The wiring for this lamp was straightforward, new components were needed, a Brass earthed BC switched Bayonet bulb holder, a brass reducing thread and a few wiring sundries.

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

NOTE – All wiring entry and exit points were protected with these small but important 10mm grommets, these are small but crucial items that will protect your cable from sharp edges. A cable-stay was also employed inside the petrol can to avoid cable pulling.

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

The new Lamp with wiring & components fitted.

Note – If you are carrying out a rewiring project like this there are a few points to remember and to incorporate into your project.

  • Make sure you use components that meet the safety standards in your country
  • In the UK earthed (grounded) wiring must be used with metal components.
  • Make sure the wiring route avoids sharp edges and use plastic grommets or sheathing for cable protection.

Final Finishing.

After the wiring was completed the petrol can was cleaned with WD40 and then was giving a final finish and sealed with wax. I use a top-quality wax for this purpose which is called “Renaissance Micro Crystalline Wax Polish” This is the best wax finish for such a project as it cleans, protects and brings out texture and colour from any material, it is used and recommended by top museums. It is expensive but a little goes a long way and it is definitely worth the cost.

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

Vintage Petrol can Table Lamp

The new lamp after its final wax finish.

Vintage Petrol Can Lamp

You can see the character of the old petrol can shining now and the maker’s markings, dents and scratches all add to the used industrial look of this great old item. The old forgotten petrol can is now reborn as an Industrial style table, desk or floor lamp. Ideally suited to a man cave or loft/industrial setting.

Converting this old petrol can to a lamp was very rewarding, the careful surface finish renovation paid dividends in its final appearance. I would always encourage anyone to have a go at a project like this, there is nothing like getting your hands dirty and having the satisfaction of bringing new life to an old and forgotten piece of industrial history.

If you fancy owning a piece of original Vintage industrial lighting I would recommend you to view the offering at the wonderful Vinterior website. You can view the Vinterior website HERE.


I hope you like this upcycle project, I am very pleased with the result and the way the upcycled petrol can had become such an interesting, unique and one-off lamp.

Materials – Wire wool. WD40. Cleaning and Finishing Wax. Earthed Wiring. Earthed Brass switched bulb holder. 10mm Threaded tube. Various wiring sundries.

Time Spent on the lamp – 3 Hours.

I often have several Vintage Industrial items for sale in my eBay shop here – Hertfordshire Lighting and Design

I would love to hear from anyone who has performed a similar restoration project; it’s always great to share ideas with other people.

If you have any questions or need advice on any item of Vintage lighting please contact me and I will do my best to help.

Michael Adkins. michael@hertfordshire-lighting.com

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