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.
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