Step-By-Step Instructions To Make Halloween Gravestones

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Gravestones make the perfect yard decoration for Halloween. The tombstones in the stores are fine, but they are expensive and most of them are frankly boring. Creating your own Halloween decorations can be fun for the entire family and is a great way to save money on décor.

1. Halloween Gravestone Materials

There are several materials that will work for tombstones. Corrugated cardboard is easy to cut, glue and paint but will deteriorate over time. Plywood is more durable, but it does require some level of woodworking experience and basic carpentry tools. Rigid foam insulation is easy to cut and glue, and will last for decades of Halloween holidays.

Foam insulation panels are available from most home centers and lumber yards. Panel sizes range from 4-ft x 8-ft sheets down to 2-ft x 4-ft sheets. Most suppliers will have sheets available from ½-inch thick to 2-inches thick. The 4-ft x 8-ft sheets that are 2-inchs thick are perfect for the tombstones. Cut the sheet into 6 pieces, 24-inches tall by 16-inches wide, and get six tombstones out of one sheet of foam. That’s enough for a well-populated graveyard.

2. Halloween Tombstone Shapes

Think beyond the rectangle. Tombstones can have curved tops, tops that step-in from the sides, scalloped tops, or anything else you can imagine. Maybe one tombstone could have a large crack cut into the top to look weathered. Another one could have a silhouette of a winged bat cut into the front surface, or maybe just the initials “RIP”. Make each tombstone different, interesting and unique.

3. Cutting & Assembling The Gravestones

Foam panels come with a protective paper on both sides. Leave the paper in place until all pieces are cut out of the panel. Layout the size of the tombstones using a tape measure and mark the dimensions with a felt tip marker or soft pencil.

Foam insulation panels are easy to cut using anything from a serrated bread knife to a sabre saw. A utility knife with a snap-off blade will be the most convenient. The segmented blades snap-off when they become dull and they make a cheap multi-purpose tool around the home after the project is finished.

Once all the cuts have been made, smooth the edges with a fine or medium grit sandpaper block. This is a good time to round any edges that need it.

To add simulated bricks or multi-level faces, purchase an additional ½-inch or 1-inch panel of foam and cut these details out of that sheet. Flying bats or skulls will add scary Halloween details to the tombstones.

It is better to cut out all the detail pieces first and them begin gluing them together. Foam can be glued using several types of adhesives. The best one to use is called Liquid Nails, which comes in a 10-ounce tube for less than $4.00. It is applied with a caulk gun. Liquid Nails dries in 10-minutes and has a cure time of 24-hours. Do not use adhesives with solvents in them. They will dissolve the foam. If gluing large panels, they should be weighted down with several books or bricks until dry.

Once everything is dry, use the utility knife to scrape off edges to simulate weathering, or cut cracks into the face of the tombstones. It is a good idea to practice on a scrap piece of foam until you get the technique down.

To simulate words or letters cut into the tombstone face, carefully cut the letters at 45-degree angle into the foam and break out the center of the letters the same way a stonecutter would do it.

4. Gravestone Painting & Spooky Textures

When it’s time to paint, use water based primer to seal the foam tombstones. Do not use oil-based paint or lacquer. Both of these will dissolve the foam and ruin the tombstones.

Stone looks more believable if painted in several colors. Use a neutral grey, a darker warm grey, and a darker cool grey. Aging with paint takes some practice. Use the scraps of foam and a torn piece of sea sponge to test the colors before painting the actual tombstone.

To begin, paint the entire tombstones with a light grey color and wait for it to partially dry. Take a rag and rub and smudge the paint to give it a weathered appearance and texture. To create a more realistic stone texture, mix two darker greys one warm and one cool. Pour several ounces of grey paint into two paper or plastic cups. In the first add a little red or brown paint and mix. In the second cup, add a little blue or purple and mix. Apply the warm grey on the face of the tombstone with a torn piece of sea sponge dabbing on the color in splotches. Try to avoid creating a pattern. Next, apply the cool grey in any shadow areas of the face of the tombstone with another torn piece of sea sponge dabbing on the color in splotches. Again avoid creating any patterns.

For the final coat of spooky looking paint, water down one of the darker greys and cover the entire tombstone. Then gently wipe off most of the paint, with a paint rag, to create an overall stone texture. Instead of buying pints of paint for each color, look for several small jars of inexpensive acrylic or craft paint and use these to mix and color the white primer. These will work fine for this project.

To create a mounting system for the tombstones, take several wire hangers and cut the twisted portions off with pliers or a wire cutter. Straighten the wire bends with pliers. Then, slowly roll the wire on the driveway or patio and strike any remaining bends softly with a hammer until the wire is completely straight. Cut the wire into 18 or 20-inch pieces. Use three wires for each tombstone. Push half the length into the bottom of the tombstone and the rest into the flowerbed, lawn or wherever the tombstone is to be displayed.

Last Updated: September 2, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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