How to Build Your Own Tombstones
Ok, so you saw the tombstones I made and wondered how I made them, right? Well, its really a simple project to do and cost is still a lot cheaper than buying those small ugly ones at Halloween stores. But before we get started, here's a list of all the supplies you need.
1. 4'x8' sheets of Styrofoam. Ok, first figure out how many tombstones you want. I got 4 4'x2' headstones out of each sheet.You can find these sheets at your local Home Depot for around $10 a sheet.
2. Paint. Because foam melts very easily when it comes to glue, paints and the such...I recommend using a latex based paint for the primer on the foam.( It won't melt it) Then you can use a small amount of spray paint after the primer coat of latex paint. I found some really great latex base outdoor paint at Wal-Mart...and the best part, it was the perfect color and it was ON SALE!! It was $5 dollars a gallon. I used black, primer gray and white spray paint for a granite speckled look on my headstones. I got the cheapest Wal-Mart spray paint for this. $.97 cents a can.
3. A saw. This is STRICTLY used to cut excess from your headstones before you cut the shape out... DO NOT USE THE SAW TO CUT THEM OUT!! A saw will rip apart the foam. These can be found at your local hardware store for around $10-15.
4. A wonder cutter. This is the best foam cutting invention ever made! It is a small device that can be found at a local Michael's or craft store. It uses 2 D batters to heat up a wire that cuts through foam very cleaning...it cuts through it like butter. This is used to shape your headstones. It is rather small, so only use it for the final cutting out of your shapes. The saw is top cut the excess off. I got mine at Michael's for $9.00.
5. A Sharpie Marker. (Self explanatory) $1-2 at any store.
6. Exacto knife. This is used to score and cut out the letters on the tombstones. You can also find a set of wood carving tools to use for this purpose as well. They work well in conjunction with the exacto knife. Both can be found at Michael's or any other craft store. $10 for the wood carving tools....$3.99 for the exacto knife with blades.
7. Caulk. ok..I can't remember the name of the caulk I used...but its the only one that can be used on foam. All others will melt the foam. Can be found at local hardware store. I found it at Ace hardware. $1.97 a tube.
8. Small size wooden Dowel. These will be used to hold together pieces that you will be gluing. Toothpicks also work well for this. Dowels can be found at craft or hardware stores. Toothpicks....if I have to tell you where to find toothpicks....you really shouldn't be doing this project!!!
9. A printer. I used my typing program and found some really cool looking fonts on the net for the writing on the headstones. I typed the saying I wanted on my stone, then printed it and took it to Kinkos. They blew up the saying to the size I wanted, and I used this as a stencil for my stones.
10.Tape. This will hold the stencils on for your lettering....and mask off certain areas on the stones you may not want painted.
There are a few extra things you can buy to customize your headstones. For example, I bought some wooden shapes (carved detail pieces)from Michael's and some small plaster angels. These we're glues on to my headstones before painting to add a realistic look. Especially for that marble headstone look. These get painted with the rest of the headstone and looks seamless.
Ok...got all the supplies...let's get to MAKING SOME HEADSTONES!!!
Step 1.First things first....find some references for the shapes of the headstones you want. I went to a local cemetery. I took some pictures and then drew up some designs based on that. If you find that morbid or don't have a cemetery around, use some of my pics...or search on the net for some. I suggest you used some simple shape at first...it will make it easier to cut out with the wonder cutter. I tired to avoid very shape angles or very detailed curves my first time around. Ok, you got the shapes you want....Now onto step 2.
Step 2. After all the research is down...Now onto the fun stuff. Ok..the sheets of foam come with a plastic coating on them, pull this off....It will have the companies name on it and it gets in the way. Got it all off..good! Ok, now comes the hard part, transferring your designs onto the foam. Grab your sharpie, and draw out the designs you want on the foam. (Remember to size your stones according to how big you want them) If you can do it free hand, GREAT!! If not....find someone who can..Thats really the only way to do it. Its really not that difficult :-) If I can do it, anyone can! Remember to leave about a half inch gap between your designs to make up for the saw blade.
Step 3. Grab the saw and cut apart your headstones designs. Don't worry if the edge is alittle broken looking, the wonder cutter will clean this up. I fit 4 2 foot wide stones on one sheet of foam.
Step 4. Get the wonder cutter and go to town!! I recommend practicing on a spare piece of foam first to get the hang of it. I cuts really fast through the foam, and you don't want to accidentally slip and cut something off that you wanted on your stones. Just follow your lines with the cutter and nothing will go wrong. Try not to push down on the cutter to hard...this will put pressure on the thin wire and snap it. Trust me, it comes with a replaceable wire, but once that one gets broke..its a pain to find wire that will conduct heat as well as the ones it came with. The wonder cutter melts through the foam so easily, you don't need to force it. If you find it is getting hard to cut through the foam, replace your batteries :-)
Step 5. Is everything cut and reading to go? Got all the shapes done? Good...now its time for the detail!! Oh fun!! Now, if you choose to carve in lettering, I suggest using the tips I mentioned in the supply list. Make your own letter stencils. If you have some already though, and want to use those...GO FOR IT!! Its your project :-) At this time, you may add the optional items you may have for the stone, i.e.. Wood details, etc. You can also "chip" pieces from the stones to make them look old and worn down from the rain, humans,etc. Make sure if you do carve out your letters, that you get all the excess foam out of them. The excess can get in the way when you paint them. If you choose not to cut out your letters, you may paint them on later when all the basic painting is done on your stone.
Step 6. PAINT!!! Here's the easy part. Grab your latex paint and go nuts. I found it is easier to paint if you get a small roller and lay the stones down and paint them that way. Do one side at a time this way. Once you get all of the stones primed, get out the spray paint. Now you can't just spray the paint on the stones, it will look very fake that way. I used a speckle technique for this. I took off the nozzle of the spray can and stuck a pin in the opening. This caused the nozzle to get a tiny hole in it. Then, with the stone laying flat, I started sprinkling the paint in various patterns. I did this with all the colors on both sides of the stones. For a more realistic look, I stood a few of the stones upright and then dripped some white paint down the front of the stone for that bird dropping look. You can choose to paint your stone how ever you wish...These are merely suggestions. I also tried a marble look to one of my stones as well...this took longer but came out with some really cool results.
Step 7. Ok.....question time...Do your stones look done? This is the time to age your stones. But first, if you haven't done your lettering on them and want to, do it now. Paint them on or do it how every you want. Its to late to carve them. That should have been done in step 5. *lol* For the sake of time and web space, lets say everything is done, and now you want an aged look of your stones. This can be done by thinning down some brown paint and doing a "wash" over your stones. The paint must be thinned to the point that it will run like water. Stand the stones up right and take a sponge and "wash" the stones. Allowing the thinned paint to go into the cracks and letters of the stone. It gives the appearance of rain and dirt on the stones. You can throw dirt on them as well...heck why not? :-)
Step 10. What could be left you ask? Putting the stones up :-) This can be done a few ways. I prefer staking them in the ground. You can use either metal rods or wooden dowels for this. First get some 1 inch PVC piping. Cut it into 6 inches pieces(be sure to cut one end of each piece at an angle) These pieces will be inserted into the stones through the bottom. Used the angled end to slowing cut through the foam. Be very careful and twist the pipe with pushing it in..this will cut through the foam and bore it out for the pipe. Push the pipe all the way it. Do this twice for each stone...left and right side. These hole allow the metal rods or dowels to go it. I put the rods/dowels into the ground and then simply slipped the headstones on...TA DA...now they will stand straight up, and they are very sturdy that way. Takes a big wind to knock those suckers down :-)
YOUR DONE!!! Now, wasn't that easy. Now you have your very own headstones, custom to your style and full sized! I got alot of people asking me if mine were real, or how I did them...now you know :-)
Feel free to look at my headstones or e-mail me if you need any help understanding my instructions or any handy tips. I will be working on some more in a bit..I will post pics of the steps then.