Old License Plates? Here's 20 Ingenious Projects You Can Do
From hallway ceilings to backsplashes, upcycled vintage license plates are great for home and garden decor DIY projects. Not only do they provide color and an interesting focal point when used as accent pieces, but you’re even doing your bit for the environment by keeping rusty plates out of landfills. They can also be the perfect compliment to that new garage organization system!
If you don’t have enough old license plates collecting dust in the dream garage you've built out, scour flea markets and garage sales to try to get them in bulk. You can buy some online at sites like eBay; just set the price for something like $1 a plate. If you’re not careful, you might end up with a very expensive collector’s item, which you obviously don’t want use as scrap metal in your dragonfly project.
Once you’ve got your pile of plates at the ready, read on. We’ve compiled 20 super license plate projects, from wall art to bird feeders, just waiting for you with your tin clippers and tube of extremely strong adhesive.
License Plate Maps of the USA
Jamie Dorobek has a great tutorial at her C.R.A.F.T. blog on how to make an awesome wall map from license plates. Of course, you’ll need to have 50 license plates, one from each state, to start. If the project costs suggested by Jamie are a bit steep, remember that artists who sell these maps, like Aaron Foster, get between $2,000 and $3,000 per piece (except for Aaron’s ridiculously large USA map, which retails for $9,500).
License Plate Dustpan
Maybe not the most exciting object, but it’s certainly useful and actually looks pretty cool. And if you put it up on the wall somewhere, who’d not call a dustpan art? There’s a tutorial on how to make it at Olive Bites, a blog run by Cat Ivins, who creates recycled and sustainable jewelry in her New Jersey design studio — when she’s not dumpster diving, of course.
License Plate Christmas Decor
If you’re looking for ideas for unique decor for the holiday season, perhaps a Christmas tree Advent calendar would be perfect. The finished product can be seen at Recycled Art’s Etsy page, where you might get more design ideas from the husband-and-wife team, like the polar bear trio or dogs in Santa hats.
License Plate State Wall Hanging
Totally Tutorials found a great project on a blog that’s no longer updating. It’s a how-to on making license plate art in the shape of the state that the license is from. You’ll need two plates from that state, a template of the state in question, spray paint and a piece of wood to serve as a backing.
License Plate Bird Feeder
Brian Carlisle at Gadget Sponge says he had fun making his folded license plate bird feeders, and sold them quickly on his Etsy shop. However, he’s got enough pictures that if you can figure out the proportions, this might be a good DIY project.
License Plate Birdhouse
At Rustic Crafts, there’s a tutorial on how to spruce up a pre-built, unfinished birdhouse. In addition to painting it, Renee Hanlon folded a license plate over the roof, and decorated with pebbles along the rim as well as a birch branch glued at the peak for a straight edge.
License Plate Purse
There’s an oldie-but-goodie tutorial in the forum at Craftster on how to make a lunch box-style purse using 3 license plates. It’s a challenging project, but smaller two-plate purses have sold for $220, so it’s a steal if you can manage to make one yourself.
License Plate Skylines
David Bowman of Design Turnpike is an artist who sells some his work at Zazzle, and you can also buy directly from him. If you look through his collections on either site, you can get some great ideas for your own DIY license plate projects. The city skylines and skyscrapers are quite unique, and might get your creative juices flowing.
License Plate Bracers
Upcycled license plates can also be used for purposes other than home and garden decor, such as these bracers made by Deviant Art user Empty Samurai. A prop maker and graphic designer, he writes that he made these using “an old pair of boots, a belt, coat hanger, chain mail, and old truck license plates.” What are these post-apocalyptic accessories for, you ask? Wasteland Weekend, natch.
License Plate Clipboards
Why settle for a non-descript hardboard or plastic clipboard when you can make your own from a recycled license plate? Laura of LiveLoveScrap writes that she bought the clips, marked the plate for the holes, which she punched through (because she’s got a Crop-A-Dile II). Then, it was a matter of a couple of nuts and bolts to put it all together, and voilà! A quick and easy DIY project.
License Plate Mailbox
WonderHowTo is a site replete with how-tos, hacks and protips, and sure enough they’ve got a link to Happy Auer’s tutorial for making a mailbox out of license plates. In the video, husband-and-wife team Laura and Charles show you exactly how to make a license plate mailbox, starting with a plain steel mailbox and several vintage license plates (the exact number depending on the size of the box).
License Plate Coat Racks
Mindi Carwin at MyLove2Create says this project sent her on a trip down memory lane. The mother of six also writes that she seeks out repurposed and thrifty projects that make life easier. The coat racks are certainly useful, and they look great. You can see the step-by-step process at her guest post on My Repurposed Life.
License Plate Flower
Self-proclaimed hoarders, Kristy Robb and her husband of Robb Restyle say this easy DIY project marries their love for vintage and repurposing. Using three plates per flower, you’ll be clipping petals and using a brad nailer to attach the design to the wood backing. The end result can be used as decorative wall art (inside or out), and you can even add numbers and display as your street address.
License Plate Box
Great for pistachios and peanuts, this license plate box was made by James, one of the Cavender boys and a self-proclaimed “organized hoarder.” Starting with a rubber mallet to flatten the plate as much as possible, you can follow the step-by-step pictorial easily. You might want to add one finishing touch, as suggested by a blog reader, and use an orbital sander to smooth any sharp edges.
License Plate State Signs
Another site for DIY project inspiration, License Plate Heaven makes state maps, purses, signs and other license plate art, and it has a great store. The shop is a family-run business in its second generation, now run by the founder’s daughter, Linda Ringstad. All the designs are from her parents, Fred and Donna Kostrick, their children and grandchildren. That’s cool and so is their tagline: Where License Plates Get a New Life.
License Plate Dragonfly
From Tina Burrows at Repurposed Life, this garden decoration not only uses salvaged license plates but old keys and a discarded chair leg, as well. If you don’t have a piece of furniture handy, Tina suggests that you see if there’s an old hammer handle available for the body. You’ll note that there’s no clipping here: no, these are serious DIYers with plasma cutters.
License Plate Tray
Making her home in the mountains of Arizona, Cassie is the wife, mom, writer, builder and tinkerer behind the blog Lovely Weeds. Cassie writes about what she calls “reloved” junk finds, unique home decor and furniture you can build yourself. The tray was a simple project, made to size from stained boards, finished with leather straps at either end.
License Plate Memo Board
Head of design at Terracycle, eco-lifestyle expert Tiffany Threadgould says she “thinks that garbage has feelings too” and can sometimes be found talking to her pile of junk at her design studio in Brooklyn. In her easy license plate memo board project, showcased at Make:, Tiffany writes that before starting, you should test your plate with a magnet to see if it holds. If the plate is aluminum and doesn’t hold, a coat of magnetic paint will be necessary.
License Plate Mirror
Admittedly, sometimes a license plate mirror is hard to make, as Linda Braden found out. As she explains on her blog, It All Started with Paint, the New Jersey-born Midwestern transplant (who now lives in Chicago) took several of her old license plates from the Garden State and Land of Lincoln and attempted to adhere them to a mirror with Power Grab. Unfortunately, the glue didn’t cure after a full 24 hours, and the plates slid apart shortly after she posted a picture of the final product.
In response to our email asking Linda if she ever tried again, she replied: “I finally just scrapped that project. It’s in the fail pile!”
It may be that Power Grab’s to blame. It seems that it’s an adhesive not usually recommended for mirrors. A tutorial for the same project at Better Homes and Gardens suggests using mastic — it’s an adhesive specially designed for mirrors.
Make Your Own License Plate
When you’ve run through all your license plates, it just might be time to make your own. In her license plate themed post, Donna at Funky Junk Interiors shows an example of a vintage plate made out of paper from an old blog called Secret Garden. Even though it’s no longer updating, the pictorial tutorial is still up and is a good step-by-step how-to.
Bonus: For even more ideas for license plate and metal snip art ideas, see this Chive photo gallery with 20 pieces made from recycled plates.
Aaron Foster, with permission
Oregon Department of Transportation