How to Make a Tombstone

Posted by on October 11, 2009

We have less than three weeks before Halloween … how is your checklist coming along? Hopefully you were able to complete a task or two this weekend.

No matter how close we come to a holiday, I’m usually still decorating or at least tweaking what I’ve already done. This year is no different; today I completed a set of three tombstones for the courtyard in front of my home. Of course I’ve seen them in stores, sometimes for a steal of a price, but the quality of store-bought tombstones varies, as do the sometimes overly macabre designs. So I decided to make my own from medium density fiberboard (MDF) for durability and a good, sturdy stake. The total cost for three tombstones was just under $20, not including the general tools and crafts supplies I had on hand.

This is a pretty simple beginner project, even if you’ve never used power tools. And the possibilities for embellishment are limited only by your imagination. Look around the craft store for wood appliqués and Halloween cut-outs. Brainstorm cute names for the tombstones; here are a few ideas:

Tombstone collage vert

Ima Ghost

Long Goner

I.M. Bones

Sue Specter

Proto Plasm

Trick O. Treater

Hit A. Wall

Jack O. Lantern

Skel E. Ton

Supplies

  • 1 2×4 ft. sheet of MDF
  • 3 wood fence pickets (in the lawn and garden section)
  • Paper plate
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Wood appliqués, optional
  • Construction adhesive or hot glue
  • Spray primer
  • Stone paint
  • Painter’s tape
  • Black craft paint and brushes
  • Stencils, stamps or stick-on letters
  • Additional embellishments of choice

Tools & Hardware

  • Jigsaw fitted with woodworking blade
  • Drill
  • 9 1-inch drywall screws

1. Have the clerk at the home improvement store cut the MDF into 3 pieces, 16×24 inches each.

2. Decide on a corner design for your tombstones if you want something other than squared-off corners. For example, use a paper plate to draw a curved top. Measure equal distances from each corner, across the top and down the side, say 4 inches, and make a mark. Line up the plate so it touches the top and side mark on one corner and draw an arc. Repeat for the other corner. For an inside curve, turn the plate over and connect the marks with a “c” shape. For angled corners, connect the two marks on either corner with a straight line; the off cut will be a triangle. (Tip: If you’re concerned whether both corners are even, draw one corner, make the cut and use the off cut as a pattern for the other corner.)

3. Once all the corner designs are penciled in, place the wood on suitable surface, such as a workbench or saw horses, making sure the space under the corner you are cutting is free of obstructions. Following the directions for your jigsaw, (including safety precautions) cut out each corner. Sand lightly if needed, although MDF usually cuts cleanly.

4. While the jigsaw is out, cut down each fence picket to 30 inches in length. (Measure from the pointy end. Do not cut off the pointy end!)

5. If you’re using a wood appliqué to mimic a carved stone detail, apply it now with construction adhesive or hot glue. (I use Loctite® Power Grab® adhesive.) You could also use the off cuts of the MDF for additional detail (see photo above for Buncha Bonz).

6. Set up an area for spray painting, preferably outdoors. Protect any surrounding area from overspray. Following the directions on the can, prime each piece with a spray primer. When the primer is dry to touch, follow up with two light coats of stone paint, following the directions on the can. (I used Krylon® Make it Stone!® in black granite.) Always use a particle mask when spray painting, and plastic gloves, too, to keep your manicure looking nice.

7. When the stone paint is dry, it’s time to get creative! Use acrylic craft paints to create the designs of your choice. At the very least, each stone will need a name. I tried a variety of methods from stamps to tracing stick-on poster letters to freehanding the names and each worked equally well. Regardless of method, be sure to use painter’s tape as a guideline to keep the letters in a straight line. I also found that outlining each stone with a black line about ¾ of an inch from the edge added some dimension and definition. I used a small artist’s brush and black craft paint.

8. When each tombstone is complete, place a picket on the back of each piece with about 10 inches of the picket overhanging the bottom edge of the tombstone. Use 3 screws, evenly spaced, to attach each picket. (Tip: Drill a pilot hole in the picket with a 1/8 inch drill bit before inserting the screw, to prevent the wood from splitting.) Your tombstone is now ready for the graveyard.

Plan to spend an evening with your creations. While the steps are simple, the decorating the tombstones will take time, depending on how elaborate you want to be.