Milk cans came into use in the post-Civil War era, and are now collectible items peppering antique stores and online auction sites. The simple vintage beauty of a distressed milk can may be appreciated, but oftentimes old milk cans need major cosmetic rejuvenation due to heavy rust. Several craft projects can turn an unfortunate-looking milk can into a work of art.
The most obvious option for a vintage milk can is to turn it into a vase for a dazzling floral arrangement. Long stems should be used here, as old milk cans typically held 5 or 10 gallons--making them taller than the average household vase intended for a dozen roses. The texture of a distressed milk can balances well with long branches of white birch or bamboo. A coat of paint creates a simple base for a colorful and wild arrangement of feathers and curly twigs available at craft stores.
Vintage milk cans can easily be turned into a conversation piece by painting an elaborate design or scene onto the surface. Tape stencils onto the surface or, for the painting novice, paint freehand. A rust removal product and primer may need to be used prior to painting in order to smooth the surface texture.
Milk cans join the increasing popularity of toss games--like horseshoes and bean bag toss--with an extremely simple project, milk can toss. This outdoor game consists of tossing bean (or corn- or sand-filled bags) or tennis balls, from a determined distance, into the milk can. The first person or team to reach 20 bags or balls into the can wins. (If it bounces out, it doesn't count!)
Milk cans intended for outdoor use are easily transformed into a bird bath. Place the largest terra cotta plant saucer (available at garden stores) on the open top of the milk can. Fill the saucer with bird seed regularly.