NOTICE: In order to keep our site FREE to readers, we may receive a commission qualifying purchases through the Amazon Associates program. Thanks!
Image credit: DIY Network
Editor’s Note: From first tracing to spray-painting, this project should take about 10 minutes. Beginners may want to go more slowly. For fast, party-ready results, do just the basics. If you’d like to add creative touches, allow more time. Enjoy and stay spooky, friends!
Ready to scare up some inexpensive, fast and totally terrifying fun? This is the BEST tombstone tutorial we’ve come across and our most popular DIY here at Halloween Alliance. It’s so easy, it’s scary! Read on for the scoop.
1. Gather Your Building Materials
- Styrofoam sheeting. Because we’re going with a simple, classic design in this tutorial, we are going to use a high-density Styrofoam sheet for the body and join it to a lumber wood base.
- Small ground stakes.
- Small push-pins, any type.
- A pencil.
- A craft knife or if you prefer, a saw suitable for cutting styrofoam.
- Lettering stencils, if desired.
- Latex spray paint: one black can, one white can and one gray can.
- Materials and tools for an optional base if desired. (This step is NOT required. If you’d like to try it, the tutorial is at the end of this article.)
Let’s get started!
Step 2: Drawing the Stone’s Outline
Not everyone is blessed with DaVinci-esque art talent. This is why I always like to use geometric shapes. (Don’t worry, starting with the basics, you’ll wind up with something super-scary and ultra realistic!)
- Google “tombstones” or “tombstone shapes” and be as simple or complex as you’d like – it’s up to you.
- Draw your shape on a piece of large paper, such as butcher block. You can use straight edges, rulers, or curved items to draw around if you’d like to make sure you’re being perfectly geometric. Use any pencil.
- Using a push-pin, poke holes periodically around the shape of your stone. This will show you where to cut in Step 4.
Step 3: Etching Your “Epitaph”
This part is easy and very creative – have fun with it! Start off simple until you get the hang of working with styrofoam. (For quick “ten minute” results, etch the name and/or a brief epitaph only. Once you get started, you’ll want to be more creative; additional touches will take more time. Enjoy!)
- Use your imagination and come up with a great saying for your stone.
- Use stencils or a steady hand to write/draw the words and images on your butcher block paper.
- Add any decorations you’d like, using stencils or grabbing household items to circle around with your pencil.
- Now use your push-pin to poke tiny holes to form the shapes and letters.
- Remove the paper and cut your shapes and letters deeper and wider with your cutting tool. Go slowly! Take your time with this step.
- TIP: Don’t create decorations too close to the edges of your tombstone. You may loose parts of them when cutting the styrofoam.
Step 4: Cutting Out the Tombstone Shape
IMPORTANT! This article assumes you have the skills, knowledge and previous experience needed to be able to safely operate and use any of the tools which may be required to complete this project. If you don’t – just buy a tombstone! We’re serious about this.
- Lay the paper back onto your styrofoam sheet. Tack it down if you’d like with pins.
- CAREFULLY cut around the shape of your tombstone. Keep your steadying (non-cutting) hand well away from the cutting tool and don’t cut toward that hand.
- Alternately, you can use any sharp knife or a small keyhole wood saw.
- “Touch-up trim” as necessary. An old carpenter’s rule is “measure once, cut twice.” Go slowly and you’ll be much happier with the results!
NOTE: Want to attach a wooden base to your tombstone? We’ve included one at the end of the article. However, for the quick-and-dirty for a basic, read-to-scare tombstone, read on. (The images include an attached wooden base.)
Step 5: Painting the Tombstone
The choices for decorating your tombstone are only limited by your imagination and your budget. For the sake of the Ten Minute Tombstone, we’ll keep the finish simple – something appropriate for mid- to back-row placement.
For this project we’ll paint the entire tombstone with flat gray latex paint. (Note: It needs to be latex because oil based paints will dissolve or eat into the Styrofoam.) If you have a latex allergy, DO NOT use this method. Use an alternative method instead.
- Once the gray coat of paint is dry (or once your choice of finish is ready), use black and then white spray paint to add some highlighting.
- Spray in spurts so it isn’t too “perfect.”
- Use a LIGHT touch so you don’t get one flat color; the effect is meant to be mottled.
Tip: Practice first on the back side of the tombstone or on scrap styrofoam.
It’s really hard to go wrong with this, as the tombstone is meant to look weathered and imperfect.
Step 6: Attaching Your Stakes
Push two or three stakes into the bottom of your tombstone so you can secure it into the ground later.
Go slowly so you don’t poke through the bottom of the stone. Grip the stakes by the side if you’re using a staple style, so you don’t cut your hands during this step.
Add touches such as graveyard moss or a faux crow for an additional scare factor. Or simply place your gorgeous and grim new creation in the ground as is. Happy Halloween!
BONUS: Attaching a Wood Base (Optional)
This is an ADVANCED technique. If you’re not familiar working with the tools described below, ask a friend to help.
Depending on how thick the Styrofoam body is, you can use a combination of 2X6 and 2 X4 lumber or 2X8 and 2X6 lumber.
In this example we’re using two inch hi-density Styrofoam, so we will need to cut two pieces of 2X6 the same as the measurement across the front of the tombstone’s body. In our case, it’s about 17.5 inches.
Then measure the depth of the two pieces of 2X6 plus the body – this will be the measurement of the next two 2X6 cuts. In this case, about 5.25 inches.
Once they are cut, place all the cut pieces of 2X6 around the Styrofoam and screw them together by using 2 ½ inch screws – I like to use three per joint.
Once this is complete, measure across the width of the 2X6’s. This measurement will be the amount we need to cut the 2X4. In this case, it’s approximately 20.5 inches.
Cut two pieces at this length and line them up in the same manner as we did for the 2X6.
Next measure the depth of the two pieces of 2X4 plus the body – this will be the measurement of the next two 2X4 cuts. In this case approx 8.5 inches.
Image of nail compared to the depth of the 2×6 plus the body
The next step is important because it helps ensure the tombstone body and base will ultimately stay together.
Hammer three 6-inch nails through the 2X6, the Styrofoam body and the other 2X6. (Always use safety-goggles when hammering.) Do this from the front as some of the 6-inch nails will stick out the back. To handle this we’ll place one of the longer cut 2X4’s under the bottom 2X6 so the excess nail can go into the 2X4. Be sure that 2X4 is lined up correctly with the 2X6.
Once the nailing is done, place the remaining three cut pieces of 2X4’s around the Tombstone body with its attached 2X6 base. Screw these pieces together using 2 1/2 inch screws – three per joint.
Now for a little added reinforcement. We’ll go ahead and add a few extra screws which will further hold the 2X4’s to the 2X6’s for a nice solid base.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween!