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How To Build Your Own Halloween Graveyard

Updated on April 3, 2016

DIY Halloween Tombstones

Here you'll learn how to build your own tombstones and transform your yard into a spooky Halloween graveyard.

Sure, you can go to Target, Wal-Mart or some other store and buy tombstones, but then your graveyard will look like everyone else's in the neighborhood.

The store bought gravestones usually have just a basic "R.I.P." or "Happy Halloween" on them. I like more realistic tombstones with funny or scary epitaphs and also enjoy decorating the house for Halloween, so a few years ago I decided to build my own graveyard.

Choose A Material

I built my tombstones using two materials: plywood and styrofoam.

Styrofoam is good because you can buy it in larger thicknesses (2" or more) at your local crafts store and it's already textured so it looks more like a gravestone from the start. Sheets of styrofoam insulation from a building supply store can also be used. Styrofoam can be tricky to do the lettering on, is more fragile and thicker pieces get expensive.

Plywood is easy to work with, durable and you may already have scrap pieces buried in your garage. A standard 4'x8' sheet will be enough for about 6-10 tombstones depending on their size and shape.

There are other materials you can use (stone, resins, etc) but I don't have any experience using those so I'll focus on plywood and styrofoam.

Choose A Design & Epitaph

Tombstones come in many shapes and sizes. You can look at the sample pics below to get some ideas. Start with a basic and simple design such as the one pictured here. It's simply a rectangle with the top corners rounded off.

Next, select the epitaph or saying you want on the stone. You can get ideas for this from websites, sayings you've seen elsewhere, Disney World or your own morbid creativity.

Where To Find Epitaphs

There are many sites on the web with listings of epitaphs. Most of them are redundant. These two will give you a pretty complete listing of what's out there.

Build The Tombstone

1. Determine the size of your tombstone. 18"w x 24-30"h is a good size for a basic stone. Make sure there is enough room to write the epitaph.

2. Trace out the design of the tombstone on your plywood or styrofoam. A French curve or cans of various sizes are good tools to help with drawing curves.

3. Cut out the stone. A jig saw works well for plywood. You can use a keyhole (drywall) saw or large utility knife for styrofoam.

4. Paint the stone. For plywood, start with a base coat of grey or off-white. Next, apply a coat of stone texture spray paint to give it a weathered appearance. For styrofoam, you can just use the stone texture paint.

5. After the paint has dried, paint the epitaph and any other design elements (skull, scrollwork, etc) on to the stone with a small brush and black paint. For styrofoam stones, it helps to press the letters into the foam first before painting them.

6. The last step is to attach mounting stakes to the back and place the stone in your yard. Use whatever you have available to keep your tombstones in place. For styrofoam stones, bamboo plant stakes pushed into the bottom work well. For plywood stones, you can screw shelf brackets or eye hooks into the back then use tent stakes to secure them into the ground.

Handy Tools For The Project

These tools will help you make your own gravestones.

Black & Decker JS515 4.5-Amp Variable Speed Jig Saw
Black & Decker JS515 4.5-Amp Variable Speed Jig Saw

This economical little saw is perfect for cutting curves on plywood tombstones.

Alvin FC44 French Curve Set of 4
Alvin FC44 French Curve Set of 4

A good set of French curves will help you draw any curves you want to make on your tombstones.


Graveyard Accents - Tips to add a creepy atmosphere to your graveyard...

  • Don't mow the grass for a couple weeks to give it a neglected look.
  • Spread fallen leaves around.
  • Leave dead flowers on some of the graves.
  • Place fake bones, hands and skulls around the graveyard.
  • Dress the family up in ghoulish graveyard costumes to scare and entertain visitors.
  • Position lanterns or electric candles in front of graves.
  • Make a "Danger" or "keep out" sign from a scrap piece of wood. Use a jig saw to cut jagged edges on the ends for a broken look.
  • Use a fog machine or dry ice to cloak your graveyard in a blanket of fog.
  • Hang moss on your grave stones and other props.
  • Play scary sound effects or music in your graveyard. Look online to find sound effect CDs or MP3s.

Skulls For Your Graveyard

Skulls are a natural fit for a graveyard, but be strategic about where you place them. Discovering one near a grave or in an unexpected spot will give someone a treat. Here is a unique skull I found that's scary looking enough to frighten trick or treaters and is also interesting.

Tribal Tattoo Human Skull Statue Figure
Tribal Tattoo Human Skull Statue Figure

There's something about a decorated skull that is morbidly cool. If you already have some plain skulls, you could paint your own unique designs on them.

Brother Claude by Miss Shari
Brother Claude by Miss Shari

Tombstones From Disney's Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion at Disney World has always been one of my favorite attractions there. Its graveyard with the funny tombstones was the inspiration for making my own.

After Halloween Sales

Prepare for next year by hitting the stores right after Halloween. Most retailers discount their Halloween merchandise by 30-75%.

I've scored good deals the day after Halloween on all kinds of graveyard props including lanterns, plastic cemetery fencing and zombie flamingos.

Watch How A Tombstone Is Made

A good video showing how to make gravestones from styrofoam insulation.

Store Bought Gravestones

In case you don't have time to build your own tombstones (give it a try, simple ones don't take long to make), here is another option.

Irish Castle Graveyard by Qole Pejorian
Irish Castle Graveyard by Qole Pejorian

Real Tombstones & Graveyards

Inspiration for your own tombstones

Visiting or looking at pictures of real graveyards is a great way to find ideas for your own tombstone designs. Old graveyards like the one pictured here at an old Irish castle can provide good creepy ideas.

For good pictures of old gravestones, check out the Historic Graves project or search on Flickr.

Want to Learn More About Graveyards and Find Inspiration for Yours?

Cemeteries everywhere are rich in history, art and interesting stories. Take some time to explore and appreciate them. Here is a good book on the symbols, images and monument designs used in cemeteries to get you started. Use it to find inspiration for your own homemade graveyard.

Other Props For Your Cemetery

To give it a spooky, haunted feel...

1. A sign welcoming your, guests, to your Halloween graveyard adds a nice touch. Make up a sinister sounding or funny name for your cemetery and make a sign for it. Even something as simple as a "Danger" or "Go Back" adds a good effect.

2. A pair of gruesome hands reaching out of the ground or from underneath a coffin will give anyone a fright.

3. An eerie fog swirling among the graves...a fog machine adds the finishing touch to your haunted graveyard's atmosphere. Hide one underneath a bush or behind a tombstone. For best effect, place multiple fog machines around your graveyard. The fog juice liquid that goes in them is a good item to look for when you shop the after Halloween sales. It will last until next year.

Graveyard Photo Credits

Photos in the Choose A Material, Choose A Design and Epitaph and Build the Tombstone sections are copyright and used by permission of Mac33.

Disney's Haunted Graveyard Tombstones:
Brother Claude and Here Lyeth His Loving Wives used by permission of Miss Shari.
Good Old Fred used by permission of BoredTrini.
Sweet Leota used by permission of canno1979.
Master Gracey used under Creative Commons from devilelephant.
Brother Dave used under Creative Commons from The Consortium.

Real Tombstones & Graveyards:
Tombstone in Satnitz used by permission of iproduit.
Gravestones used by permission of Ben Adlin.
Tombstone used under Creative Commons from A.M. Kuchling.
Irish Castle Graveyard used under Creative Commons from Qole Pejorian.
Boot Hill used under Creative Commons from danesparza.
Skull w/wings used under Creative Commons from mchphotography8.

Some Homemade Halloween Graveyards:
Used under Creative Commons from their respective owners.

Have A Happy Halloween!

Was this guide helpful to you? How did your Halloween graveyard turn out? Please leave a comment below.

Scary Graveyard Tales...

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      Back to look at this interesting lens - maybe we will try to build this for Halloween this year.

    • CharMarie profile image

      CharMarie 3 years ago

      We did this several years ago, and we used the styrofoam. Our graveyard came out great! We actually did it indoors and used both a black light and a strobe light to add to the effect. Love your Halloween lenses! :)

    • profile image

      Marelisa 3 years ago

      This is fantastic! Halloween isn't such a big deal here in Panama, which is too bad since I would love to drive past someone's front yard and see something like this. :-)

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Australia

      Happy Halloween!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 4 years ago from Arizona

      Great lens! Happy Halloween:) Blessed

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Graveyards are great for the front yard. This guide is useful.

    • rjvader profile image

      rjvader 4 years ago

      Very nice, styrofoam seems like the way to go (too lazy to drag the circular saw out of storage)! I also think it'd be cool to go with the "fresh grave" look and leave a mound of dirt in front of the tombstone with a bloody hand reaching out from it.

    • FloridaDino profile image

      FloridaDino 4 years ago

      some nice ideas here, kids would love it! nice lens

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 4 years ago

      Pretty cool DIY idea.

    • profile image

      MaggieHen 4 years ago

      We do this in our yard, and we take our old shirts and use gloves that we get throughout the year (yes we get them just for this purpose!) and make zombie arms. Then get a shirt and old mannequin head and you can have a zombie halfway out the ground! LOVE this lens!

    • shewins profile image

      shewins 4 years ago

      Spooktacular gravestones, thanks for the Halloween tips!

    • profile image

      vexashop 4 years ago

      cool idea

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 4 years ago

      What a great idea! Great lens!

    • dragonlildragon profile image

      dragonlildragon 4 years ago

      Very informative, I have not tried to build a graveyard yet though.

    • profile image

      Riding_Tall 4 years ago

      I am currently looking for some Halloween costumes; you gave me some great ideas.

    • profile image

      johnsja 4 years ago

      Great idea for Halloween. Thanks for sharing.

    • LucyMac LM profile image

      LucyMac LM 4 years ago

      Haven't built one yet, might give it a go. Great idea.

    • profile image

      christineallen 4 years ago

      This is such an original lens, I love it. Those hands crawling out of the ground give me the creeps!

    • kiratalley profile image

      kiratalley 4 years ago

      Interesting, great idea on building a graveyard ... too bad I'm in a Condo and don't have a backyard!

    • profile image

      davehalloween 4 years ago

      Awesome and scary ideas. I love it!

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