The 20-Minute Tombstone

Cemetery tombstones for Halloween

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In a hurry to get haunting this Halloween? Have we got the tutorial for you! You can make the simple stone above in just 20 minutes.

Ready to make your own creepy gravestones? Well, what are you waiting for? Dig in!

NOTE: The basic should take about 20 minutes to complete. Steps marked with a * are EXTRA touches you can add. Account for some extra time if you’ll be adding these.

Before You Start: Gather Your Building Materials



  • Lettering and art stencils
  • Small dowels, if you’ll be attaching a base
  • Black or very dark gray acrylic paint for lettering (darker than your spray/base paint)
  • Gray, black and sand-colored acrylic paint if you will NOT be using spray paint for your stone look, PLUS…
  • Sea sponge to dab on acrylic paint for your stone look
  • Pottery tools to add texture and realism

Step 1: Draw Your Stone’s Outline

DIY halloween tombstone with blank face

  • Google “tombstones” or “gravestones” for inspiration.
  • With your pencil, trace your shape on a piece 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.

Step 2 (Optional): Etch the Epitaph


TIP: take a piece of scrap styrofoam you won’t be using and practice first.

  • Use your imagination and come up with a great saying for your stone.
  • Use stencils or a steady hand to write the words on your butcher block paper.
  • Cut in short downward strokes along the letters you’ve just drawn. Go slowly!
  • Remove the paper.
  • You can add surface cracks and imperfections with your pottery tools for extra realism.

Step 3: Cut the Outside Shape

craft knife complete kit
We like this kit because you can create different art forms on your stone. Click to buy.
  • Lay the paper back onto your styrofoam sheet. Tack it down with pins for extra stability.
  • CAREFULLY cut around the shape of your tombstone with your craft knife. Keep your steadying (non-cutting) hand well away from the cutting tool and don’t cut toward that hand.
  • Remove the pins and paper.
  • Remember: a somewhat jagged appearance will add realism (see pic). You don’t have to be perfect about this, especially if you’re aiming for a creepy, weathered look.
  • Creating a base is optional. If you want to add one, cut either one or two rectangles 1-2″ longer and 2″ wider than your base. You can double-tier it as shown in the stone above by cutting two slightly different-sized rectangles.

Step 4: Attach a Base, if jagged looking tombstoneDesired

  • Lay the stone on its side and drive two to three dowels from the base you created in Step 3 above through the bottom of the tombstone.
  • Leave at least 3″ sticking out from the base so you can drive them into the ground when you’re setting up your cemetery scene.
  • You’ll need three dowels for a wider tombstone or two for a smaller stone.

Step 5: Paint the Tombstone

  • LIGHTLY spray your tombstone with the stone-texture spray.
  • The spray may slightly melt the styrofoam if you use too much, so spray in short, quick spurts. It a very small amount of melting occurs, that’s okay; the pitting will give a more weathered look.
  • TIP: Spray outdoors on an old sheet or a few papers. NEVER use spray paint in an enclosed area. If you have asthma or another lung condition, either wear an industrial grade mask or dab acrylic paints with a sea sponge instead.

It’s really hard to go wrong with this, as the tombstone is meant to look weathered and imperfect. Have fun with it!

Step 6 (Optional): Paint the Lettering

  • Wait for the spray paint to dry completely.
  • Then paint the epitaph and any other touches you desire.

Step 7: Insert the Stakes

  • Push two or three stakes into the bottom of your tombstone so you can secure it into the ground.

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!



47 thoughts on “The 20-Minute Tombstone

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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!!!

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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!!!! 🙂

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

  21. 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

  22. 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!

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

  24. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. 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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