Introduction: Interactive Halloween Decor

I've really been introduced to DIY spirit by attending the Fablab located in my school.

It’s not something reserved for its students. All kind of people can come and visit or use the devices and tools there.
I wanted to make a little something to decorate it for Halloween.

As it’s a place with a lot of people passing by, like parents with their children, or teachers with their classes of 14 - 15 years-old, I also thought the decor as a toy :

The background and the frame are joined together, but the other elements can be moved at will. They hold in place thanks to simple magnets. Anybody who stops by the decor can recreate the scene freely.

In the following steps, I'll expose how I made my decor, but I'll also give some alternatives and other ideas.
The list of supplies depends on how you will make your own.

List of supplies :

  • 3 boards of MDF and/or carboard
  • Magnets
  • Laser engraving machine (can be replaced by a pair of scissors and a pen)
  • Scissors / pincers / cutter
  • Hot glue
  • A few screws (their length is 2 times the thickness of a board) and a screwdriver
  • A metallic grid/panel OR empty soda cans.
  • Some paint and brushes.
  • Many optional supplies like wire, plastic eyes, fake spider webs, phosphorescent paint, glitter...

Estimation of the cost :

9 euros for the wood : MDF is a cheap material. One 50cmx70cm board costs around 3 euros.

3 euros for 10 magnets.

I think paint and brushes are common supplies for kids or makers, so you might have some. If it's not the case, I suggest you buy paint (Blue,Yellow, Red, Black and White) in bulk to get it cheaper. Let's say you use for 6 euros of paint and brushes here.

The cost of 1 hour of laser engraving is very likely to vary between 2 Fablabs but if you make a « clean » file that will be fast to produce, 1 hour is more than enough and that makes around 10 more euros.

It reaches 28 euros but it's a quite expensive version.

You can find a lot of alternative solutions.
Using carboard from old packages instead of MDF will cut by a third the previous estimation. Moreover, with this material, a bit of patience and scissors can also replace the use of the laser engraving machine.

We need a metallic part made of iron/steel. A panel or a grid is the simplest way but will increase the cost, whereas some empty soda cans are actually made of steel and can be used instead.

With these modifications, the most expensive step will be the painting process and to sum up, I think you can make this project for a cost between 5 and 30 euros.

Step 1: Background and Frame

I’m not really good at drawing, so I looked for pictures on the internet... for the frame, the background, and the figurines (for everything). But if you are skilled enough with a pen, you can create your own masterpiece :)

The background :

The choice of the background influences the kind of figurines you will use.
I chose a landscape. The moon and the large sky are perfect for bats and flying witches. We can place many graves on the ground, and why not ghosts around the house.

Ideas :

**The inside of a mansion could also be great. You can think about something like a large diner room, with a fireplace, large stairs, old shelves. The figurines for this kind of decor could be cats, spiders, ghosts, mice. An other version could be a laboratory, with shelves full of glowing potions, a witch working next to her cauldron etc.**

Now we have to recreate this picture on our wooden board. As we are going to paint the whole thing later, the main outlines could help us. For this purpose, I used the laser engraving machine of the association.
Fablab users are always there to help beginners, to explain how machines work and to teach you how to use them.

To control the machine, we use RDWorksV8. You only have to import a picture, and a couple of menu and tools gives you the outlines you need. Then you can easily remove some unnecessary details, like the bats, as they will be figurines.

I don't think explaining the software is useful here. If you have to use it, that means you are familiar with laser engraving machines, or ar least somebody in the makerspace is.

A few things to keep in mind though : we'll place a frame on this first board, so we have to center the landscape in it and leave a few centimeters at each edge. About the speed and power of the laser, we need a high speed and a low power. That way, we get a light outline to help us with the painting part.

In my version I tried a higher power, and a much more detailled file. I wanted to give the building and the moon some kind of relief, but I don’t find the result satisfying. It also takes more time, and time is what you pay with the laser engraving machine.

The frame :

I chose to give the decor a bit of depth so I cut the frame in an other board and glued it over the background board. (Glueing step come at the end of the project)

This part is the same as the previous one. You can find a nice frame on the internet and cut it with the machine. I took 3 different frames I then mixed to make mine.

Here, a little warning about the machine :
Sometimes even with the slowest speed and the highest power, the laser won't go through the board. It depends on the thickness of your board, the age and condition of the machine.
It's not a problem for big pieces, as you can exerce a bit of pressure on the board to remove them.
But for projects that involve small details, (the spider web in the corner for example), you can't use brute strength.
The tip here is to launch the program twice. You'll be sure to go through the board.

If you want to save time, RDWorks enables you to select only the areas you need to cut again.


Actually... I thought my board was thin enough to get cut at the first try. It wasn't. And it's almost impossible with our machine to put the board back at the exact same place to cut it again. I added pictures of the results to this step. It took me a while to end the cuts by hand.


We are not wasting the rest of the board as it will be used for the figurines.

And painting come later.


****Cheap version****
You don't want to spend money on this machine, or wood supplies?
You can take a large piece of carboard, use the picture as a model and draw the shapes by yourself or with tracing paper. This way, children can get involved in the production of the decor, at least with the drawing part. Cutter might not be safe for them.

Step 2: Magnetization

Warning :Using soda cans will produce a lot of sharps bits of metal.


First, we have to salvage the good soda cans. All cans may look the same, but they are made of different materials and we need some made of steel. Grab a magnet, and you'll quickly see what brands can be used for the project. (the magnet attracts these cans)

Some others Instructables already explain how to properly cut soda cans. To make it quick :

  • Clean the inside with water.
  • The top and bottom are stronger than the rest. Don't waste your scissors on them. Pierce a little hole on the edge with your scissor.
  • Cut through the height of the can and then all around to get a sheet of steel.
  • Now you can grab it freely, cut all the sharp tiny bits there may be around it.
  • You can flatten the sheets by rolling them the other way they tend to roll when you don’t touch them.

You could glue them directly on the back of the background board but if the layer of glue is thick, it will add some distance between the magnetic material and the magnet. It will reduce the attraction power and make it not really uniform. That's why it's better to glue them to the third board instead.

Each time I glued a sheet on the board, I rubbed and pressed it with a little piece of wood to spread the glue.

Idea :
According to your own decor, there may be some areas where there won't be any figurines on it. For example, if you don't want an element to be covered by a figurine, don't place any steel behind it.

Step 3: The Figurines

The figurines are what people are going to "play" with. They have to be strong enough to survive a few falls, or being grabbed.

Again we can find some drawings on the Internet. Choose what would fit the best in your background. You can use graves, spiders, pumpkins, witches, ghosts, cats, skeletons, zombies....

Important : Before making anything, you have to take the size of your magnets into account. Don’t make your figurines too small, or we’ll see the magnet behind.

Warning : Spiders usually have some really thin legs. It really is a problem with the laser engraving machine. The results can be very fragile. In the pictures of this step, I put two different example of spiders so you can get an idea of what would work and what wouldn't.


In my case, I took some magnets from an old hard drive I dismantled. They are easily breakable, so I hit them to get 3 little pieces.
Glue one piece of magnet on the small figurines. Some bigger figurines like the witch require 2 pieces. You can try to place them on the decor. If the magnetization is still not enough, you can make lighter figurines with carboard.
I made a witch from a cereal box. Many layers joined together will increase its resistance.

Paint them as you wish. You can add some eyes, cover some figurines with wool or any piece of cloth...

****Cheap Version****

As said in the first step, you can replace MDF and machines by carboard and scissors.
About the magnets, there are a few devices in which you can salvage some : Audio speakers, microwave oven, hard drive.

Step 4: Wall Fixing, Assembly and Painting

Wall fixing (optionnal)

To hang the project on your wall, you can make 2 small rings with a stiff wire. Placed between the background and the back, the boards once screwed will apply enough pressure on it to keep it still. A screw will go through each ring.

You don't have to make these rings, the decor can be set on any piece of furniture.


Painting :

First place your frame on your decor to see what parts of the background will be hidden and don't need any treatment.
To get a good result, I suggest you apply at least 2 layers of paint.
About my frame, i used only black paint, but white for the ghost and orange for the pumpkin could give a nice effect.


Idea :

Why not making the moon and the windows of the house glow? A phosphorecent paint could make the decor visible in the dark.


Assembly:


I didn't use glue for everything. There are all the sheets of steel and possibly the previous rings between the background and the back board. With screws, we are sure nothing will move or fall.
The screws go through these two boards. The frame is glued above their head to hide them.

If your screws are too long, you can cut them if you have a tool strong enough, or you can hide them with a piece of cork.

Step 5: And... That's It.

I ended the project here, but you can still add a lot of things :

  • glitter to make a starry sky
  • A layer of varnish will protect the paint from scratches
  • fake spider webs

Place your project where children can reach it and see how they will place the figurines :)
And happy Halloween !

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