Halloween Tombstone

Follow these steps to decorate your yard for Halloween.


Project by Sue Oelke from Otsego, Minn.

Sue is obsessed with Halloween. Fortunately she married a man who shares that passion, so he doesn’t mind a bit that she takes time to show us how to create a distinctive plastic-foam tombstone, like the ones that fill their yard-turned-graveyard every Halloween.

Materials and Tools:

2" thick plastic foam board *
1" thick plastic foam board
felt-tip marker
saw for cutting the foam **
foam glue
polyurethane or foam glue
Surform shaver/rasp
60- or 80-grit sandpaper
temporary spray adhesive
12" of 1" PVC pipe
1/8" straight cutting bit or drill bit
dust mask
decorative pieces: pressed hardwood accents, plaster accents, rope caulk, etc.
24" long piece of 1/2" rebar stake

* Note: Sue likes "extruded" plastic foam as it carves easier and holds details better. The extruded plastic foam is usually either pink or blue and can be found at most building centers. "Expanded" plastic foam (the white stuff) can be substituted but it will generally crumble and flake more than the extruded type.

** jig-saw with wood-cutting blade, hand saw or battery-powered foam-cutter


1. Decide on a basic shape for your tombstone. We chose a house shape--a rectangle with a triangle on the top. Look at tombstones in an old cemetery or on the Internet for inspirations. Draw the shape on a sheet of 2-inch-thick plastic foam.

2. Cut your first half of the tombstone. Flip this first half over and trace it. By tracing it first, you make sure that the two sides will match closer when glued together. Then cut out the second half.

3. On one half, center the PVC pipe along the bottom side and trace it. This pipe will be used for a stake to hold the tombstone in your yard.

4. Use the Dremel to cut a groove where the PVC will go (as marked by tracing it). This grove should be just over 3/4-inch deep. It may be easier on the Dremel to make a shallow pass at about half the depth and then go to the full depth. Test fit the pipe in the groove as you go and cut the groove wider or deeper as necessary so that the pipe fits.



5. Put some glue in groove and on the outside of the PVC pipe, and place the pipe in the groove.

6. Spread a thin layer of glue over one entire side of one half and then glue the two halves together. If you are using a polyurethane glue, the glue needs some moisture for it to cure properly, so both sides should be wiped with a damp cloth just prior to spreading the glue.

7. Clamp the two sides together and let dry according to the directions on the glue package.



8. On the 1-inch-thick foam, draw out the "applique." We chose a design that was a much shorter version of the main tombstone. After drawing the basic shape, use a plate, bucket or something else round to draw three overlapping circles to cut out forming scallops. Then cut out the appliqué.

9. Spread a thin layer of glue over on the applique and glue it onto the main tombstone, clamping it in place. Let it dry according to the directions on the glue package.

10. After the glue has dried, remove the clamps and smooth the edges of the stone. Use a Surform rasp to do the rough smoothing. It will remove large amounts of foam quickly, but leaves the surface rather rough. Round all the corners some, and remove any ridges where the pieces of foam were glued together. You can further "antique" your tombstone at this point by putting gouges or cracks in the foam. Smooth the rough surface and finish rounding the edges using 60- or 80-grit sandpaper.

11. Choose your epitaph and print it out on your printer using a simple font. By printing in landscape mode, you can get more words per line, but you may still need to cut apart the paper and rearrange the words to form longer lines.

12. Spray the back of the epitaph with stencil adhesive. Let it dry until tacky so that no solvents are left (the solvents will eat at the foam). Position the epitaph onto the foam, centering each line.



13. Carve the letters using the Dremel. Set the Dremel to cut at a depth of about 1/8 inch and use a slow cutting speed go over the black part of each letter, cutting through the paper and into the foam. Be sure to keep the base of the Dremel firmly on the paper for the best accuracy.

14. Remove the remainder of the paper when all the letters have been carved. Where needed, go over the letters again with the Dremel, cleaning up any rough edges. This you have to do by eye, just slightly widening out the letters until they look good to you.



15. Paint the insides of the letters with black paint. A small brush works well here. You don't need to be neat because the top surface of the stone will be painted again with gray paint. You do need to make sure that all sides are well covered. Let the black paint dry.

16. Glue various decorative elements to the stone. You can use the polyurethane glue here again, but then you need to be sure to clamp or weigh down the decorative elements so that the foaming action does not push them up. You also might want to use a weather-resistant yellow glue here. Allow the glue to dry.



17. Paint the entire tombstone with a base coat of gray paint. This paint must be latex or water-based paint. Oil-based and spray paints will eat away the foam. Use a brush to get around the decorative items, and then make sure that the brush is very dry as you go over the carved letters so that paint does not go down into the letters. A foam brush works well for this. Allow this paint to dry. If some gray paint does get inside the carved letters, let it dry and then later carefully touch it up with a small brush and black paint.

18. Spatter the tombstone with dark gray and/or black paint. Put a small amount of paint on a bristled brush and tap the brush to spatter the tombstone. Allow this paint to dry.



19. Use your own ideas for additional decorations, such as moss or twigs. Use more weather-resistant glue to attach these items.

20. Take a 24-inch piece of 1/2-inch-diameter rebar and pound it about half way into your yard. Place your tombstone on this rebar. Stand back and admire your work. Then go make another!

Web site: www.oelke.com

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