How to buy a ton of small cylinders (models of food cans) on the cheap?
February 8, 2014 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm involved with a project at the school where I teach, and I find myself in need of a LOT (hopefully 500-1,000) of small cylinders to build with. Eventually we will be building a sculpture with food cans, but the first step is to make prototypes with smaller models.

I'm looking for something roughly the size and shape of a film canister (or smaller/stockier); essentially, they need to be cylindrical, stackable, small, and cheap (budget is around $50). The material doesn't matter, and they don't need to be the exact shape of a can of food. Is this possible? My fall-back is pill cups, which are affordable in giant quantities, but those are the shape of a cup rather than a can and don't stack in the right way.

Thanks for any ideas!
posted by ORthey to Education (13 answers total)
Cut up white PVC pipe? You could cut it quickly if you have a chop saw.
posted by mareli at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Or cut up wooden dowels?
posted by thatone at 6:22 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd buy long dowels and slice them to the height needed.
posted by belladonna at 6:22 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pill bottles (like, from a pharmacy)? I bet they're available pretty cheap, but maybe not the 10 cents a piece you're looking for…

Or, you can get something called backer rod that is squshy, comes in large sizes, and is pretty cheap. Used in masonry work. May not be as rigid as you want. Cut it up on a bandsaw or with a knife.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 6:28 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wooden thread spools may do the job without any cutting and the center hole means your "stacks" could be reinforced for prototyping design. The linked size runs $25-27.50 per 500, depending on quantity, which is right in your budget.
posted by peakcomm at 6:32 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was just going to say backer rod or some other similar foam tubing because you can cut it with scissors into a bucket while watching a movie, no power tools required. Attaching them together might be hard...white/elmers glue only really sticks to the cut/foamy ends and hot glue tends to just melt them...rubber cement? Toothpicks? Experiment!
posted by sexyrobot at 6:40 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

How soon do you need them? I'm not sure what you mean by pill cups but how about pill bottles? The orange plastic ones we get vary in volume but most are around film canister sized. Can you and your students go on a recycling collection drive to get pill bottles (since they aren't easily recyclable)? We have about 100 of those damned things just sitting around because I don't know where to recycle them but I can't stand the idea of throwing them out. I'd happily send them to you if you are in the US.
posted by Beti at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will donate $5 to the charity of your choice if you can't find something in the American Science and Surplus catalog.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:33 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you are anywhere near Portland, OR, I can hook you up with a near-unlimited supply of PVC pipe for this.
posted by bink at 8:13 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was a teen I used to work at a Del Monte canning plant in the summer. Peas in May, Corn the rest of the year. They had like 6' high pallets full of the empty cans in various sizes, and probably went through 30-50K cans a day. They probably lost 1K a day just in spoilage, bad batches or whatever.

If there is a canning plant anywhere in your vicinity, I bet they would either cut you a deal, or be happy to make a donation,
posted by timsteil at 8:22 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can contact local photo labs, they usually have tons of plastic film canisters laying around. Maybe not 500, but you can start collecting them and ask different labs to hold the canisters for you. When I worked at a lab in SF we were constantly recycling film canisters and often had teachers come in asking for them for school projects. Try Photoworks, Lightwaves, Oscars, (in SF) or Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley.
posted by ruhroh at 8:33 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

How small do you want to go? Maybe board game pieces like this or this?
posted by xedrik at 9:57 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the wonderful and creative ideas! In the end I went with peakcomm's suggestion of the wooden thread spools (thanks peakcomm!), for their size, price, stackability, and the fact that I may not have enough time to do a lot of slicing and cutting myself :). I also feel confident they can be reused here at school, after this project is done, in various artsy/crafty projects.

I love MetaFilter - thanks again to everyone who replied with great ideas.
posted by ORthey at 12:07 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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