Can anatomy

Archaeology of Pull Tabs

Basic beverage can anatomy explained

This page is a work in progress: the more I learn, the more you know.

Basic can parts

A typical (2021 type) beverage can consists of two parts: the can body and the can end.

  • Can bodies are usually made from one piece of aluminium or steel which is ‘drawn’ into a cup and then punched and and ‘ironed’ into a basic can body shape. Then the can body is ‘necked’, which means that the top part is crimped to a smaller diameter.
  • Can ends – also called ‘tops’ long ago – are always made from aluminium (at least in beverage cans) and often pressed from a slightly tougher and thicker blend of aluminium than the can bodies. The pull tabs on the can ends are pressed on them separately. See picture for a separate Ardagh can end, not yet assembled in a full can.

Although all beverage cans are now 2-piece cans, this was not always the case in the past. Originally beer cans were 3-piece cans, with a top (end) a bottom and a rolled and soldered or welded cylinder-body. This setup can still found in vegetable can today. Although 2-piece beverage cans started to get more common already in the seventies, the last 3-piece beverage cans were produced in western Europe and the USA in the 1980s. In some cases, and some countries, 3-piece beverage cans are produced up to today.

For a basic time-line of can development through the decades see our ‘A timeline for pull tabs’ page.

Beverage can production

I could write extensively about can production, but many others have already made explanations of this process before me. For example, a great video on the production of cans it the one by Engineerguy Bill Hammack. Bill describes at great length the evolution of can design and answers basic questions like ‘why are cans round, and not square?’

Great video on can production by Bill Hammack (