The Ten Minute Tombstone

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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.

You’re Done!

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!



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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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).

    If you don’t want to mess with your lawn (and we get that), try thicker styrofoam so you can insert thicker/heavier stakes. Be careful inserting these. Make sure you have at least a few inches of pointed bottom.

    Sometimes, when we get SERIOUSLY heavy winds around here, we arrange our stones in front of other objects that will help hold them up, especially if they’re securely staked – for instance, in front of a tree, or with a groundbreaker prop “hugging” the bottom so they don’t move as much in wind.

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

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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…

  11. 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?

  12. 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!!!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!!!

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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!!!! 🙂

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

  20. 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

  21. 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!

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

  23. 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.

  24. Loved your grave stones! I used 1/2 inch boards for the markers. They are incertable, due to storage problems. This also lets us use both sides for names. This adds time of course, but well worth it. Our friends and neighbors thought they were real stone. Parents stop to read the names and try to figure out how we made them.
    Thank you for your great idea!

  25. 10 minutes? The instructions are fine (if perhaps also a bit incomplete), but the title of this article is very misleading. This project will take a couple of hours.

  26. Hi, Bill! Thanks for pointing out where we can make this clearer. Tracing, doing a basic outline cut, and spraying the tombstone should take about 10 minutes, especially when you have it down pat (and we KNOW you’ll want to make a bunch, LOL)…the rest is gravy if you want to take the project farther, as in our experience, once we start haunting something, we just don’t want to stop. I’m glad for your input as you make a great point. Our editors will make a correction. Thanks for stopping by and stay spooky!

  27. I paint my tombstone with the latex paint and then from about a foot away I lightly spray with the black tree sealant. This kind of splatters and makes it look more like granite.

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