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The Ten Minute Tombstone

Welcome one and all to the Screaming Scarecrow Studios internet debut. Part of our mission is to share some of the insights that we have gained from our experiences in the world of home haunting. The other part of our mission is to continue to create cool and useful content related to Halloween – the most awesome time of the year!

In this article, we take you through, step by step, on how to design a tombstone.

The Graveyard – Every Halloween Yard Haunter’s Treat (or Trick?)

When you think of Halloween, with its trick-or-treaters dressed in their Halloween costumes going from house to haunted house in search of candy, what popular home haunting scene comes to mind? The Graveyard of course! Although the graveyard scene can be made up of several elements such as a cemetery entrance, fences, coffins, dead trees, ground breaking corpses, grave diggers and other cemetery related characters, we will focus on the key element of the graveyard scene – the tombstone.

By taking the time to learn the Ten Minute Tombstone technique*, you’ll be learning a reusable technique that you can use to build any tombstone – regardless of its style type, its material selection or its final row placement in your cemetery.

Begin By Choosing a Tombstone Style

The style you choose will have some impact on the building material you select. If you’re having trouble coming up with a style, just keep it simple for this first project and get more detailed as you progress. We’ll use a classic design for this article.

Select The Building Materials

Because we’re going with a simple, classic design we can choose from many different materials. We are going to use high density Styrofoam for the body and join it to a lumber wood base. Some common material selections are wood, Styrofoam, stone and combination material. FYI, hi density Styrofoam is the firmer stuff that usually comes in blue or pink. The lo density stuff is softer and you can usually see the individual Styrofoam balls of which it is made. It is usually white. Each kind of Styrofoam is better for different things than the other.

Drawing / Stenciling The Tombstone Shape

If you’re like me, you’ve gotten less than your fair share of talent when it comes to drawing. This is why I always like to use geometric shapes. By using geometric shapes, I’m usually able to find objects that can be used to trace these shapes, such as a planter pot.

Some people may call that cheating – I like to think of it as making sure it’s going to look good! Try and keep your stenciling to the edges of the Styrofoam so as to end up with as little waste as possible. This way there will be less scrap Styrofoam in the landfills.

Cutting Out The 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.

Believe it or not, I like to cut the Styrofoam with a serrated bread-loaf knife or a smaller keyhole wood saw. Carefully cut along the trace line and if necessary “touchup trim” as necessary.

Attaching a Wood Base

The best part about attaching a wood base to your tombstone is that it becomes self standing, which can be safer than using ground stakes. Depending on how thick the Styrofoam body is, you can use a combination of 2 by 6 & 2 by 4 lumber or 2 by 8 & 2 by 6 lumber. In this example we’re using two inch hi-density Styrofoam, so we will need to cut two pieces of 2 by 6 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 2 by 6 plus the body – this will be the measurement of the next two 2 by 6 cuts. In this case, about 5.25 inches.

Once they are cut, place all the cut pieces of 2 by 6 around the Styrofoam and screw them together by using 2 ½ inch screws – I like to use 3 per joint.

Once this is complete, measure across the width of the 2 by 6’s. This measurement will be the amount we need to cut the 2 by 4. 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 2 by 6.

Next measure the depth of the two pieces of 2 by 4 plus the body – this will be the measurement of the next two 2 by 4 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 2 by 6, the Styrofoam body and the other 2 by 6. (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 2 by 4’s under the bottom 2 by 6 so the excess nail can go into the 2 by 4. Be sure that 2 by 4 is lined up correctly with the 2 by 6.

Once the nailing is done, place the remaining three cut pieces of 2 by 4’s around the Tombstone body with its attached 2 by 6 base. Screw these pieces together using 2 1/2 inch screws – 3 per joint.

Now for a little added reinforcement. We’ll go ahead and add a few extra screws which will further hold the 2 by 4’s to the 2 by 6’s for a nice solid base.

Painting the Tombstone

There we go, now we have a self-standing, anti-tip Home Haunter’s Halloween tombstone that is ready for finishing!

The choices for finishing are almost only limited by your imagination and your budget. But for the sake of the Ten Minute Tombstone we’ll also keep the finish simple – something appropriate for mid to back row placement. For this we’ll paint the entire tombstone with flat grey latex paint. (Note: It needs to be latex because oil based paints will dissolve or eat into the Styrofoam.)

As we’ve said before, be sure to check back with HalloweenAlliance.com for future tips and techniques on cool “how to finish the tombstone” – or as we like to call it – “Pimping out the tombstone.”

Once the grey coat of paint is dry, we’ll use black and white spray paint to add some highlighting. First, holding the can about 8 to 12 inches away from the tombstone and moving in quick, light passes, spray the edges with the black until you have the desired amount of black paint along all the edges.

Tip: you can practice this spraying technique on the tombstone, and if it really goes badly you can always wait until it dries and then paint over with the gray. Let the grey dry and then try the spray paint again.

After you are satisfied with the black, which really adds character to the tombstone, use the white to highlight some of the edges. You use white because in the darkness, white on an edge will help the tombstone stand out, giving it more definition. You’ll end up with a combination of white over black highlights. Practice this technique until you’re happy with how you do it.

Finally, step back, and while you are enjoying your new creation, think of all the cool tombstones you are going to create using The Ten Minute Tombstone technique! Just keep reapplying the same conceptual steps over to build your graveyard.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween!

* I chose the name “The Ten Minute Tombstone” because it has a nice ring to it. However, it will most likely take longer than this. Once you get the technique down, future tombstones can be built in a relatively shorter period of time. As a matter of fact, the more time and care you spend on a project, the safer you’ll probably be and the better it’ll probably turn out.

Look for the upcoming ebooklet “The Evolution of the Eternal Tombstone” by Screaming Scarecrow Studios, a complete collection of tombstone making tips and techniques ranging from the basic Ten Minute Tombstone to advanced techniques such as molding and pouring real Tombstones out of concrete! We will also detail several finishing techniques including (but not limited to) Real Rock finish over Styrofoam, Acid Etching, Inexpensive Plastic Add-ons, Stressing & Antiquing Wooden Crosses and more. There will even be a section covering the topic “Build verses Buy” and if you buy, we will offer “Improving the Store Bought Tombstone.” We anticipate most home haunters will find its pages packed with useful and interesting ideas.

As with any content on the internet, the information contained in this article is presented “as is”, without claims or warranties of and kind, express or implied. USE THIS INFORMATION AT YOUR OWN RISK! USE OF THIS INFORMATION CONSTITUTES AN AGREEMENT BY THE READER TO ASSUME ALL RISKS! The reader’s interpretation and application of this information shall be the reader’s sole responsibility. The reader agrees to hold harmless the author and publisher and therefore in no event shall the author or publisher be liable to the reader or any third party for any damages, claims, expenses or other costs (including without limitation legal fees) arising out of or in connection with the use of this information. The reader further agrees that their sole and exclusive remedy is to discontinue use of this information.


About Screaming Scarecrow Studios

We, the lurking lunatics of Screaming Scarecrow Studios, enjoy all things Halloween. Our mission is to share some of the tips, tricks & techniques that we have used in our home haunts and to also share any other insights that we have gained from our experiences in the world of home haunting.

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33 comments

  1. Nice Pictures ! …… Would of never thought of it that way on how to make them …Ummmmmm Cool!

  2. yo that was a sick idea!my freinds thought they were real tombstones!

  3. Looks real! I might use this. 🙂

  4. Great idea! How do you stake them into your yeard securily so they don’t blow away with high winds or a storm?
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. That’s the beauty of this type of construction – Because of the Styrofoam top and the heavy wooden base, they are very bottom heavy. It will take quite a wind to blow them over.

  6. I like that! I live in Nebraska and we can get quite the winds and rain. I have struggled for years to keep my homemade tombstones from blowing away or ripping apart. I will definately try this. Thank you so much for the idea!

  7. great idea, that looks pretty real i think im going to use it 😉

  8. I have a question, what if you don’t use the base, could you still keep the tomb standing up?

  9. The base is the whole innovation of the ten minute tombstone! By building a tombstone that has a wide/heavy base you’ve built a tombstone that is self standing with little or no muss & fuss.

    However, to answer your question, I would otherwise partially bury them in your yard, about 4 inches deep. Since this could mess up your turf, what you can do is slice the ground in an even, straight fashion, remove the turf intact, plant your tombstones, and keep your turf watered nearby. Then after your haunt remove the tombstones, replant the grass in the hole and water well. The grass should survive if it hasn’t been out too long (a few days).

  10. What an awesome how too! After all tombstones are must haves for any Yard Haunter! I gave you a little zombie link love on my site!

  11. They have painted tombstones at dollar tree so you would only need to build the base and add color. Dollar tree is great!

  12. They have painted tombstones at dollar tree so you would only need to build the base and add color. or you could use two and put them back to back. Build up the base and paint!

  13. I read some of the posts and I think it is a great place! Do you have a sense of wonder about my personal box I have a nice joke for you) Why was Santa’s little helper depressed? Because he had low elf esteem.

  14. the base is such a fantastic idea. It’s so completely simple (probably why I never thought of it)! Almost all of my tombstones are out and staked into the yard already, but i have 2 left which I was going to put out tonight after work. I won’t bother to stop at the hardware store and buy stakes, instead I’ll go straigt home, use some of my scrap wood left over from other props and build a couple of bases. I’ll be building bases for all of my tombstones after halloween tear-down is complete. Thanks so much for that awesome idea!

  15. I wish I had found this page when I did my tombstones. One think I can think to do is if the foam is lifted just a bit in the wood maybe a lead weight or cement could be added to add som real weight. Great stones. Now to find blue or pink foam in central cali…

  16. these are awesome, my favorite holiday is halloween and the kids and I are making our own decorations this year. We finally have a front yard and i can wait to make my grave yard! Any ideas on how to pattern a celtic style cross headstone?

  17. This was a great idea!! I made 10 tombstones and they all look great,what i did was when i was finished i had small tombstones that you buy in store that come 2 in package and glued them to front of my tombstone to give it that final touch and it stands out like in 3-d and looks awesome!!!

  18. Me and my dad are going to try them this year. They look awesome! I’ll let you know how they come out!

  19. I made a Celtic Cross a couple of years back out of pink foam board. It has stayed in great shape!! You will need some foam adhesive also. My Tombstones tend to be taller than most so the cross is approx. 4 feet tall. Start with a normal cross pattern then add the detail as much as you want or can handle. Dremels work great for detail.

  20. Hey man, this is a great resource! Your tombstone design is awesome, particularly the base! Like everyone else on here, I stake my tombsones in. You did a great job of explaining in the step by step and had some nice pictures to support it. Great job, keep up the good work, and have an awesome Halloween!!!

  21. I think this was a great project! Thank you for the informative step-by-step instructions. This was the first halloween prop I’ve put together and I couldn’t have done it without your help! Thanks again!

  22. I use the scrap Styrofoam from this project to stuff thing like white trash bags and make ghosts (works great to hang from tree limbs light weight to blow around) or scarecrows. If the pieces are big enough you can make cutouts to glue onto the tombstone, bats, crosses etc. I am a believer that everything that can be used should be!

  23. so cool we only looked at some stuff hope 2 look at more

  24. keep the ideas coming

  25. Great ideas. Gave me motivation to finally do my own. Ours were all 3/4″ plywood, 2x6in and 2x4in boards. Made them 38inches tall and 24inches wide, 2.25 inches thick. Sealed them and painted them like yours. They are outstanding and should last many years. Thanks for inspiring ne to get off my couch and get these done.

  26. This is a great Halloween tombstone idea! It is often a challenge to keep your tombstones upright in ones front yard cemetery. Thanks for sharing your haunt know how!
    Yours, HeadStone13 from http://www.halloweentombstone.net

  27. Made these three years ago and LOVED the way they came out. We moved out of state so I gave them to a friend. Now I want to make them again and I had bookmarked your site to keep track of it. THANKS!!!! 🙂

  28. spray paint EATS (dissolves) stryofoam. so unless the first coat of paint is amazingly thick there is a hole in you plan.

  29. How True – Spray paint will disolve your unprotected styrofoam props – However,
    We ve always found that a good base coat of grey latex paint takes care of this.
    Keep in mind that there is low density (white) and high density (pink & blue) styrofoam – the white stuff is softer and has more space between the expanded foam so this type of foam may require a thicker base coat for protection.
    This is one of the reasons that we like to use the pink or the blue foam for the tombstones in our Halloween graveyard.
    Lastly, don t worry too much about the Eating Effect of spray paint because, with some practise, one can use this technique to age & weather their gavestones and that only adds to the props creep factor!
    Happy Halloween Haunting
    Cheers Screaming Scarecrow

  30. The 2’x4’s around the base are an awesome idea! I have been struggling with rebar and installing PVC pipes into my tombstones and wished I could just add some weight to the bottom. Using your technique I think I could get by with just adding tent stakes at the 2×4 base and have a really secure tombstone.

    I also wanted to recommend using something like acetone or paint stripper in a spray bottle to add some cool aging to your tombstones. It leaves a corroded stone look when misted onto the foam. Just be careful when using that stuff and wear gloves, eye protection and a respirator!

  31. Love the idea! Can you tell me where you found the styrofoam? I’m having a tough time locating hi-density styrofoam online.

  32. Don’t use styrofoam, go to a home improvement store (Lowe’s, Home Depot, …) and get 2″ insulation foam panels, it comes in 4′ x 8′ pieces, is much sturdier and doesn’t melt as much when you use spray paint.
    For the bases I used a 2 x 10, cut about 7″ longer than the tombstone, for the base and then used a 2 x 2 on top of that to make the frame to put the tombstone in. Much faster and very sturdy and secure.

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