These tins really tick my boxes. They are recycled tin cans donated by a commercial kitchen (thank you mummy), covered in the prettiest paper that I can possibly find and then coated in decoupage finish. Marae kitchens are also a great source of the big tins.
First, find yourself a collection of empty, clean tin cans. The ones that I use were once 2kg tins of fruit, so there is no staining on the inside. The 2kg cans are ideal for class or group sets of equipment. However the average family does not eat 2kgs of tinned fruit very often, so also try to collect other sizes- kidney beans, pineapple, condensed milk, and single serve beetroot also make great tins for covering and give a variety of sizes. The labels remove really easily, and it does not need to be a perfect job.
Wrapping paper is perfect for this job.I scour the wrapping paper stands at dollar shops whenever I am there, and have collected a variety of papers for this purpose. Of course you could use coloured paper from the classroom art supplies, newspaper, magazine pictures etc. Lucky Book Club catalogs make great Literacy themed tins. I have done these tins on the cheap and used PVA glue to attach the paper and give it a clear coated finish. However the tins seem to rust underneath the coating, and spoil the look very quickly. Decopage finish (like Mod Podge) is available from Spotlight for $17.99 and will last you a very very long time. Just give the tins a quick coat in Mod Podge, attaching the paper and smoothing it on in sections. Once the paper is wrapped around coat the tin again in Mod Podge. This will give it a protective coat and will mean that you can wipe the tins clean with a damp cloth from time to time.
Some quick labels printed off and glued on with Mod Podge finishes off these tins. If I was really pedantic I would cut a circle of felt to go inside the bottom of the tin, to prevent the equipment from making a loud clanging noise when dropped in. However, I am not that pedantic... yet.
I use these tins a lot in my classroom. As you can see they make great stationery holders, containers for group activities, worksheets, taskboard tags etc. I use a tin as a drop box for my students to post notices for me to collect, rather than them bugging me in the mornings. The one thing they are not suitable for is holding paintbrushes etc, as the bases will rust when wet and will leave huge rust rings on your bench. If that happens, just make sure that you don't EVER move the tins until you move classrooms.
Once you start making these tins you will become addicted. When I go grocery shopping I now scour the shelves for interesting tins I can use in my classroom. Duraseal is a quick and easy way to cover the tins as well, but that is the easy solution.
I will leave you with an example of patience and the extreme desire for the free and pretty. This tin is covered in pictures of material cut from a Spotlight catalog that arrived in the mail. It created a really cool patchwork effect. I love it to pieces!