TLDR: Here is the hangman I made. Please vote for me in the halloween decorations contest if you like it :
Halloween is a big deal in my sleepy coastal community. The streets get closed off, one lady carves a couple hundred jack-o-lanterns every year, and there are a couple haunted houses, not to mention lots of nicely done up yards. The streets fill with hundreds of people in costume looking for some spooky fun. Last year we decided to kick the yard up a notch and make something animated.
One of the coolest props I have seen is the animated hangman. The first one I saw was in 2006, and was made from a modified animatronic Santa Claus. For years I kept it in the back of my head, and then finally last year I decided to give it a go and attempt to build one myself.
Too make it extra spooky, I decided to have the head bob up and down. Whether or not a real person would move their head like this, I don't know, but it certainly adds a great effect.
- 3/4" and 1/2" PVC pipe, several T's elbows, and a few reducers.
- PVC glue
- Aluminum bar. The exact specs don't matter, but I used 3/4" x 1/8"
- an assortment of nuts, bolts and washers. In a few places you will want ether nylon lock nuts, or to use a second jam nut to keep things from loosening
- A styrofoam head
- A controller for the motor. I used this one
- A 12volt wiper motor. I used this one
- Some mesh or chicken wire to form the torso
- Some old clothes and some thick hangman rope
- Fake hands, or maybe you can use stuffed gloves
- Some pipe insulation (optional, to fill out the legs and make them look less stick-like)
- Speaker(optional if you want groaning, suffering sounds)
Step 1: Building the PVC Skeleton
I decided to utilize PVC, as it's cheap, easy to work with, and can even be bent with an application of heat.
The skeleton is primary 3/4" and 1/2" PVC . It just so happens that 1/2" PVC will slide right into 3/4" PVC, and this is what I used to create the two pivot points where the legs connect to the hips and where the neck connects to the collar. I have marked these in the photo in case it is not clear. I also used 1/2" pipe for the legs and arms to keep weight down.
The skeleton has two "ribs" that extend backwards giving it some depth and also protect the motor and the mechanical bits. The arms go behind the back and the hands will be tied together. The pictures should give you a good idea of how it all is assembled
Rather than make a long list of of the cut lengths, I have included some photos with the lengths marked on the PVC to give you an idea of which pieces go where. All lengths are in inches. You probably will want to dry fit everything and do some tests before you glue it up or risk cutting some pieces twice(ask me how I know haha)
I bought the wiper motor from Fright Props. You can probably find a cheaper one on ebay. To mount the wiper motor, I attached it to the PVC frame using a few hose clamps and a small backer board. This is probably the most important thing to get right. The motor puts out some serious torque and you do not want it to slide around at all or it will do bad things to your prop and you will have to take everything apart to re-secure it(ask me how I know haha)
The motor is controlled by a Picaboo controller from Fright Props. There are lots of other solutions, and you can even make your own if you have the time, but the Picaboo is very easy to use. The one I got has inputs for a motion sensor trigger as well as powered audio output to a speaker. You can record a couple minutes of actions which will then play back with the audio when the trigger is activated. I won't go into details of wiring the controller up, but it is easy, and Fright Props provides extensive illustrated instructions for hooking up just about any peripheral you can imagine to their controllers
Step 2: The Mechanics
So the hangman uses a single motor to drive two actions, the lifting of the legs, and the bobbing of the head. The rotary motion of the wiper motor is converted to a linear action that pushes and pulls the head and legs.
In order to do this, I used 2 pieces of 1/8" x 3/4" aluminum bar from the hardware store. One end of each is attached to the motor and the other end is attached to the pivot point with a bolt going through a hole drilled in the PVC. I didn't give any measurements here, because it will vary depending on the exact dimensions of the skeleton, and and also the position of the wiper motor. Expect it to take some fiddling and don't expect to get it right the first time. It's a good idea to leave the bars a bit long. You can always cut them shorter, but you can't make them longer(ask me how I know haha)
The length needs to be dialed in right. If the stroke is too long, instead of the gentle back and forth on the head and legs, it will try and make a full circle and do very bad things as the motor tries to force the PVC into unnatural positions.
I have included a video showing the basic mechanical operation. it's important to have a fairly straight vertical drive line, so you may need to add a variety of washers between the aluminum bar and the wiper motor to get everything lined up nicely. Note that in the video, the PVC back ribs are not yet installed to protect the moving parts.
To attach the lower legs, I used 4 small pieces of metal bar, 2 on each leg to create a free swinging pivot. What happens is that the thighs get pulled upward by the motor and this in turn flips up the lower legs. To keep the lower leg from going past vertical, I zip tied on a piece of aluminum bar to act as a stopper to limit the range of motion. Essentially this keeps the legs from hyperextending.
Step 3: Fleshing Out Our Victim
Now to finish up the prop.
For the head, I got a cheap foam deal from Amazon. Note that the hangman's rope is not going to go around the neck, which will be animated, but instead I have made a loop around the collar that the rope will attach to. This will not be noticeable in the final product as we are going to put a gunny sack over the victim's head anyway.
In order to the get the right head angle, you can heat the piece of PVC that hold the head and put the desired bend in it. Again, it will take a little tinkering to get it how you want it.
In the video, you can see the prop in action, with the head attached.
To add a frame for the clothes, I wrapped some mesh around the chest and fastened it with zip ties. You can use chicken wire or whatever you have handy. This also helps protect the moving parts.
For "feet" I used wooden blocks cut to foot size, drilled with an ankle hole, and then jammed onto the lower leg. I ended up using the lightest shoes I could find which was a pair of Sanuks. The lighter the shoes, the more "fling" the lower legs will have. It also puts less stress on the mechanics.
To beef up the legs a little I added a couple layers of pipe insulation that I had laying around. I then threw on an old pair of jeans. On the torso, I put on a tshirt and then a jacket. I had purchased two fake hands and I zip-tied these onto the PVC wrists. I then tight the wrists together with some heavy rope. The hands look slightly oafish in my opinion so I may cover them more with the jacket next year.
The noose was made from the same heavy rope, and attached to the loop I made around the collar. The wire for the wiper motor runs up the noose rope.
In the test video from my garage, you can see the legs still look a little skimpy and need to be beefed up a bit.
Step 4: Finishing It All Up
There are several options on where to put your hangman. In my case, I chose to suspend him from a beam mounted to two wooden 4x4 supports on my house. Alternatively, you could use a tree or make a gallows.
I mounted small speaker right above the hangman and ran the wires for that and the wiper motors back to the picaboo controller. I added a motion sensor, also from Fright Props and set it under the open stairs that lead up to my door.
As I was setting it up, I was pretty sure we were onto something good, because a neighbor walked by, and upon seeing my squirming, grunting hangman, yelled nervously, "Are you OK?"
My mom, who lives in the next little community over, heard from some people over there that someone in my town supposedly had a real person simulating a hanging in front of their house on Halloween haha.
I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and if you did, please consider voting for me in the Halloween decoration contest. If there are any parts that were not clear, please post a comment and I'll try and clarify. Thanks for reading!