How To Build Your Own Halloween Graveyard
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 every other yard 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. Here are my tips for doing it yourself.
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.
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 Making Tombstones
These tools will help you make your own gravestones. I use them and they make the job go much quicker.
This economical little saw is perfect for cutting curves on plywood tombstones. It's the same one I use.
A good set of French curves will help you draw any curves you want to make on your tombstones. These are similar to the ones I have.
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.
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.
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% starting November 1st.
I've scored good deals the day after Halloween on all kinds of graveyard props including lanterns, plastic cemetery fencing and zombie flamingos. Yes, I've even bought some gravestones that had unique designs and the clearance price was right.
Watch How A Tombstone Is Made
Here's 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), buying one online or at the store is another option.
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 ones pictured below can provide you many creepy ideas.
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 victims...er, 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 the 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 and beyond.
Halloween Graveyard Tips and Ideas
Some Homemade Halloween Graveyards
Here are a few other Halloween graveyards for you to admire and be inspired by.
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.