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Tombstone Props for Halloween

Updated on August 24, 2010

Preparing For Halloween Can Be Scary!

Lots can go into decorating for Halloween, from the props to hanging skeletons to monsters that jump out at you. The most basic, and IMHO the most effective and central prop in any haunt, are the tombstones. I don't know about you, but my best Halloween memories as a child were the haunted graveyards we use to visit!

Usually in a cornfield or apple orchard, the area would be transformed into a dark, spooky graveyard filled with scary images, haunting ghouls, chain-saw wielding maniacs, and plenty of tombstones! My friends and I couldn't wait to go to one of these eerie places and get the wits scared out of us!

I even had a few families in my neighborhood who would decorate their front yard as a cemetery for all of the Trick-or-Treaters to enjoy. I always thought it was so neat that people could transform their usually mundane, perfectly landscaped yard into a creepy, tombstone riddled graveyard, complete with scary music and smoke!

Even though I knew it wasn't really a graveyard, the props were so realistic...there were many times I had to remind myself it wasn't real, I was safe, there were no ghosts hanging out around the fake tombstones in this person's front yard. But sometimes it took a lot of convincing on my part!

Halloween is such a fun holiday--and the only holiday where it is perfectly acceptable (and expected) to try your best to scar the you-know-what out of everyone--including yourself! We all have an innate fear of what comes after this life, and the tombstone is a scary reminder of all things "post life".

In this Lens, we will help teach you how to create spooky, realistic looking tombstones to use as Halloween decorations. Whether you're using them in your front yard, going all out and creating a haunted graveyard for kids to walk...er, run...through, or you're throwing a Halloween theme party, we can show you the ins and outs of tombstone-making.

In addition, we'll also share great places to purchase already made tombstones and other fun Halloween decorations. Just because you're too busy to make them doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to participate in Halloween!

We'll also give you basic guidelines to design your own haunted graveyard! From tombstones, to dry ice and smoke machines, bowls full of eyeballs, scary music, and things that go bump in the night, we'll get you all squared away and ready to party--Halloween style!

How To Build Realistically Scary Tombstone:

First things first! You need to get your materials! Here is a list of the items you'll need to build your tombstones:

Styrofoam sheets. You can pick these up at any local hardware store, craft store, and as Halloween approaches, stores like Walmart and Kmart will most likely carry them in their Halloween or craft sections. Figure out how many tombstones you'd like to make and then buy your quantities accordingly.

Latex primer paint and other painting accessories. Nothing fancy; just a decent primer that you can paint over the styrofoam with and paint brushes, paint trays, etc.

A small container of brown paint. This will be diluted with water and used as a stain to give your tombstones an aged effect.

Spray paint. Once again, nothing too expensive--you don't need to break the bank building these things! Just a few bottles of latex spray paint in a couple shades of gray, one black, and one white.

A hand saw. You will not use this for any of the fine, detailing cutting, just to cut the excess chunks off of the styrofoam sheets. If you do not own one already, you can pick one up at your local hardware store.

A styrofoam cutter. This is a cutter specially made for cutting styrofoam. It heats up and basically melts the styrofoam, cutting it like a warm knife through butter. This item can be found at any craft store.

An exacto knife. This is a knife used in craftwork and by artists to cut details into materials. You'll probably find many uses for it other than tombstone-making. You can pick one of these up at any craft store or art supplies store.

Other odds and ends items you may need: Letter stencils, tape, a Sharpie, paper towels, scissors, a sponge for staining, wooden dowels for securing the tombstones into the ground, fishing line to secure the tombstones to the wooden dowels, and an afternoon cocktail or two. :)

Next Step: Build your tombstones!

  1. Figure out the shapes you want for the tombstones. You can go with very simple or really elaborate, but if this is your first time making tombstones, I would suggest going with very simple. You can search the Internet for inspiration and print out examples to reference.
  2. Draw the tombstone shape onto the styrofoam sheet. Lay the sheet flat and free-hand the shape onto the sheet with your sharpie. Take your time--there's no rush.
  3. Use your hand saw to cut away the excess styrofoam. Do not worry about cutting it perfectly; just get the excess and we can worry about the detailing when we use the styrofoam cutter. Be careful as you cut so as to not break the styrofoam.
  4. Use your styrofoam cutter to do the detail cutting. Take your time, do not put too much pressure on it, and I promise you, it'll slice right through that styrofoam! Once the shapes are all cut, now it's time for the detailing!

Now I would suggest using your stencils to write out whatever it is you'd like the tombstone to say. Then, when all done, draw a square or rectangle around the words and begin chiseling away at the styrofoam inside the square/rectangle, leaving the shapes of the letters intact. This will created a raised effect for the letters, making them stand out and become 3D-ish. You can also chisle-out chunks of the styrofoam all around the tombstone to give it a beat-up and aged effect.If you're not comfortable with doing this much detail work, you can always paint the letters on after the tombstone has been painted, rather than carving them on. I would still suggest "distressing" the body of the tombstone though!

Paint your tombstone. First, give the entire thing a coat of primer. Make sure the primer is dry and then get out your spray paint. Go ahead and do one coat with a gray shade, covering the entire tombstone. Then you can do speckled effects with the other shades of gray and black. Maybe even throw a little bit of white in there. Some people will buy small cans of paint and use a toothbrush to splatter paint splotches onto the tombstones.

It's up to you how you'd like to do it. I would suggest doing some "test" runs with the excess styrofoam you cut off earlier, just to master your technique before trying it on the finished product. And just remember, if you're unhappy with the finished paint product, just re-prime it and try again!

If you chose not to carve in/around your letters, then this is the time to paint them on. If you did do the raised effect lettering, you can make them "pop" even more by adding some black plant to the raised letters.

Now it's time to age the tombstones. Stand them up straight and, using the diluted brown paint "stain" (it needs to be runny like wood stain), sponge it onto the styrofoam, covering the tombstone completely. Because styrofoam naturally has so many cracks and crevices in it, the stain will seep in and give a very distressed, worn-out look to the tombstone. Perfect!

To secure your tombstone, I would suggest watching this video: Tombstone Tutorial. You will learn how to use the wooden dowels and fishing line to secure your homemade tombstones and ensure they stay put!

No Time To Build? Here Are Some Great Places To Buy Tombstones And Other Halloween Decorations:

If you're a busy individual (like me) sometimes you just don't have the time to make homemade decorations. The best of intentions can turn into the worst of disasters if there's just no time.

Here at Theme A Party, we realize that not everyone has the time (or skill) to design Halloween tombstones. With that in mind, here are some fantastic sites where you can purchase them, along with many other Halloween decorations!

Tombstone props for Halloween & Graveyard projects

Halloween Decorations: Scary Halloween Props & Haunted House Stuff

Décor & Party Supplies Costume Express

The Halloween Connection: Where America Shops for Halloween

The Blueprint Of A Graveyard!

Now that you have your gravestones, it's time to get really creative and create your graveyard!

The great thing about creating your graveyard is that it's all up to you! You can make it dark, creepy, and spooky or you can make it fun, goofy, and silly. I always opt for the more spooky kind! Some things you can do to add to the effect of the graveyard site:

  • Don't do any yard maintenance for a couple weeks. Let the grass grow, the leaves blow, and allow your yard to get a bit disheveled looking.
  • Once you've picked your location and secured your tombstones, accessorize! Maybe add a scary looking fence around the area to really may people feel that they are stepping into a graveyard.
  • Add plenty of other eerie décor around the graveyard such as skulls, bones, spiderwebs, and dirt mounds with shovels stuck in them!
  • You can even place voodoo or black magick imagery around, such as bowls of eyeballs and innards (skinned grapes and spaghetti), black cat silhouettes, pentagrams, rune stones, and crystal balls!
  • In addition, you'll definitely want to have some creepy music and Halloween sounds playing in the background and either a smoke machine or dry ice to create a misty, foggy look to the graveyard!

Helpful Links!

For more inspiration and information, check out these websites!

Some Great Halloween Finds On eBay

You never know what you're going to find on eBay!

And Here Are Some Other Great Finds On Amazon

Want a set price and no bidding? Amazon is the place to go!

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      kimberly-byrne 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading not only how to make the tombstones but how I can ensure my front yard also looks like a graveyardâ¦especially if it allows me to shirk my daily lawn chores for a week or so beforehand