Introduction: How to Build a Spooky Working Drawbridge With Sounds and Light
When we first conceived of the idea of adding a drawbridge to our Medieval themed haunted forest, we envisioned a simple wooden bridge with some spooky chains. But as I'm sure many of you know, "simple" ideas rarely stay that way when left in the minds of people who have the desire to create. Before we knew it, we had a fully working drawbridge complete with sound and burning torches. And we did it all with borrowed and recycled materials. However, we left the cost at medium, because depending on how much scrap material you have available, the cost could be anywhere from free (as it was for us) to very expensive.
Step 1: Gathering Materials
Our first mission was to find something to use as the drawbridge itself. We had one weekend to finish this project, so we didn't want to build anything we could scavenge or borrow. We found an old sliding door from a derelict barn that worked perfectly (although we did have to add some reinforcement on one edge because of rotten wood). You will need to cut two holes in one side of the door (whichever side will be the top with the drawbridge closed), one on each edge big enough for a large chain to pass through-2"-3" diameter should do it. (We used a small chainsaw to make the cutout, but a hole saw or reciprocating saw would work well also.) If you don't have access to an old barn, we will include a step at the end on replicating the door using dimensional lumber. As for the frame, we happened to have some leftover material from a bridge building project. We used pressure treated 8" x 8", 3" x 12", and 6" x 6" timbers. This is where this project could get very pricey. Try to find as much scrap lumber as possible. It doesn't have to be these exact dimensions, but if you want the stability and ominous feeling ours possessed, then it should be close. The chains we used were heavy 3/8" binding and tow chains. If you don't have any heavy chains yourself, maybe you know someone who owns some heavy machinery who would loan their chains out. Some other options might be pawn shops, second hand stores, and metal recyclers. The metal screens we used on the sides of the drawbridge were bought (for another project) at a metal recycler.
Step 2: Assemble Frame
We took the dimensions of our door (51" x 82"), and used them for the inside dimensions of our frame. We added about 1.5" clearance on the top and sides. First we cut the 3" x 12" plate for the base 8' long. Then we cut a piece of 8" x 8" for the top 8' long, and two more pieces for the sides 88" long each. We pinned the top plate to the uprights using two pieces (one each side) of 1/2" rebar 18" long and ground to a point with an electric handheld grinder, leaving about 14" overhang on each side of the top plate (inside span between the two uprights should be 54"). We predrilled the top plate and drove the rebar into the uprights on each side using a sledge hammer. Instead of driving the rebar flush with the top plate, we left a little sticking up and drove it over to lock it in place. Then we attached the bottom to the sides using 6" lag bolts (we just used one per side) and leaving the same 14" overhang on each side of the bottom plate. We placed the upright posts in the center (front to back) of the 3" x 12" plate (about 2" of bottom plate should overhang on front and back edges). Finally, we cut a piece of 6" x 6" to fit between the two uprights. We attached it to the bottom plate flush with the front edge (it will be slightly ahead of the upright posts).
Step 3: Install Chain Rings
In this step, we took two pieces of 5/16" rolled steel about 9.5" long and pounded them into circles around a 3" diameter pipe. Next we welded each ring at the joint to a 10" length (one per each ring) of 1/2" allthread (a 10" bolt could be used in place of the allthread). To install the rings into the top plate, we drilled 5/8" holes (one each side) through the top approximately 2" in from the corners and centered front to back. Then we inserted the threads through the holes in the top plate with the rings to the inside of the frame and secured them with nuts and washers.
Step 4: Raise Frame
With a little help, we set the frame upright into position. We had a couple of people steady it while a third climbed up a ladder and hammered an 8" ringshank nail into each side of the top plate. We positioned these in the center of the top plate and just to the outside of where the upright meets it. To this, we attached one end of a long chain. Then we hooked a ratcheting tiedown to the link that we'd slipped over the nail, making sure the chain hung over the front of the frame and the tiedown hung over the back. We did the same on the other side. Next, we drove two 6' t-posts (for fencing) into the ground in the front of the drawbridge,one on each side,slightly farther apart than the distance between the two nails we'd just installed and a little in front of where the drawbridge ends in the down position. To these we attached the chains (ours had hooks on the ends, so we just wrapped them around once and hooked them back on themselves). On the backside, we found two sturdy trees, attached the tie downs to these (the same way we did with the chains), and then ratcheted them tight. Now our frame was nice and solid in the upright position! (T-posts can also be used on the back side if you do not have trees available).
Step 5: Attach Door
Using two door hinges that we scavenged off yet another old barn door, we attached the door to the 6" x 6" at the frame. First, we measured up about 1.5" from the bottom of our door and attached a hinge on each side so that the actual hinged part was flush with this measurement and the loose end extended below (making sure that our hinge would fold back on itself). Next we laid the door in the frame, face down (with the bottom edge of the door extending about 2" behind the rear of the 6" x 6" attached to the bottom plate), and adjusted it to get the loose half of the hinges laying flush against the 6" x 6". We attached another piece of 6" x 6" to a piece of 3" x 12" timber (each about the width of the door) matching centers. This we placed under the front of the door to hold the drawbridge level when in the opened position. Then we threaded another chain from the back through the ring on one side of the frame, down through the cutout (same side) we made earlier in the door, across the front side (underside when in the open position), back up through the opposite side, and back through the second ring on the frame (see picture). We secured the chain in the middle of the door with a fencing staple to prevent the chain from sliding when the door was lowered. Then we hooked each end of this chain to a ringshank nail (one each side) that we'd hammered into the back of the frame (put in at an upward angle) just to hold them out of the way.
Step 6: Test the Drawbridge
We had someone stand behind the frame and grab both chains. With the help of another person out in front, we raised the drawbridge to the upright position. Then the drawbridge was lowered slowly by the "Ghoul" holding the ends of the chain. The result was an ominous "chunk, chunk, chunk" as each link on the chain slipped through the rings on the inside of the frame. ( We decided to go with a manual lower and have our ghoulish greeter meet the guests here, but it wouldn't take much to rig the ends of the chain up to the cable on a winch and have it automatically raised and lowered.)
Step 7: Make the Torches
For the torches, we started with some large Tiki torches that we found stashed away in the barn. We cut the bottoms off at an angle to leave a tail about 20" long (this can be whatever looks right to you). We painted them black and filled them with oil. Because we wanted a large flame, we removed the screw on cap with wick and stuffed the opening with a larger wick (strip of cotton material about 5" x 8" rolled tightly lengthwise) and left it sticking up about 2". Then we made 2 more rings (just like the ones in the frame-see instructions) and welded each to an S-hook that we formed out of a piece of 3/16" steel rod (we bent the ends in opposite directions around a small diameter steel pipe). We attached the end of the s-hooks to the frame (one each side) with fencing staples, slid the torches through the rings, and placed a small screw through the bottom of the tail piece just for added stability.
Step 8: Decorate the Drawbridge
We wanted to add something to the top and sides of our drawbridge to make it seem even more imposing. We found some pointed ends that had been cut off of 6" driver posts (pressure treated fence posts that have been sharpened to a point) and spaced them evenly along the top plate. We didn't attach them, but they could have been toenailed on for extra stability. (Anything that looks good could have been used here instead-maybe some small coffee cans painted to match the frame.) For the sides, we had planned on buying (yes, believe it or not, we were planning to spend a little money on this!) a couple sheets of plywood or styrofoam insulation on which to paint a facade. But, lo and behold, one of the brains on this project just happened to have some creepy looking old rusty metal screen. We attached them to the frame with a couple nails pounded through the holes and then bent over the metal. Since they were pretty rigid, they didn't require any extra support. (If you use something flimsier, you might have to build a framework to hold it rigid.) We then added some finishing touches-moss, leaves, branches, etc. hung on and threaded through the mesh of the screen.
Step 9: Light It Up!
Now just wait until dark and light them torches! You'll be amazed at how much authenticity the darkness creates. Listen to that drawbridge come down, and you'll feel the chills run up and down your spine. For extra oomph!, we added a fog machine and a couple of creepy skulls hung on the t-posts holding the chains out in front. And since we have no deficiency of chains, we draped another around the top of the frame, just for looks.
Step 10: Addendum
This step is for those of you who don't have access to an old barn. I'll give a materials list an a description of the door coupled with a closeup picture. With a little ingenuity (and maybe a scribe to mark angles), it shouldn't be too hard to replicate the door we used. If you want it decorated the way ours was, just go find a pasture full of cows and lay it down in the middle of them for a couple years, that should do the trick!
Materials (lumber) you will need (the older, the better): (3) 1" x 8" pieces 8' long, (3) 1" x 4" pieces 8' long, (4) 1" x 12" pieces 8' long, and about 14' of 1" x 2" pieces for scabs.
Nails and saw
Lay out side by side four pieces of 1" x 12" and one piece of 1" x 4" about 82" long.
Now lay a piece of 1" x 8" about 51" long crosswise over one short side. Cut two 1" x 8" pieces about 74" long and lay them along the edges (you're starting to build a frame).
The next two pieces are the cross pieces which are cut from the 1" x 4" material. The first one will go all the way from one top corner to the bottom of the door-use an 8' piece of lumber and scribe the angles to cut on both ends (you will cut a 90 degree angle on both ends for butting up to edges of frame-see pic for clarification). The second piece will be similar to the first, but in two halves (you can cut these from 2-4' pieces. Then lay in the bottom piece between the two cross pieces (it will be a trapezoidal shape with the longer side about 36"-use the scribe to get the right angles). Now add two small 1" x 8" pieces perpendicular across the center (so it divides the door in half lengthwise). Scribe and cut the angles for the center, then cut off the outside edges square. Last, take the 1" x 2" and cut pieces long enough to scab over any cracks between the bottom pieces of 1" x 12". A note on the nails used: ours was built with nails that were too long for the thickness of the door and the ends were then bent over and sunk into the wood on the opposite side. (We've sandwiched the bottom edge between two scrap pieces of wood to reinforce the rotten edge.) Good Luck!