Introduction: Carriage Style Hearse (aka "The Sin Eater")

About: ...after 30 years of becoming corporately numb, my dreams of not working (for pay) and instead creating with my hands has become a reality. Life is grand!
15 years ago we moved to the country and by Halloween I had met only a few of our neighbors.  Hoping to attract attention from like-minded souls, I displayed a few outdoor halloween items and a few days later an anonymous letter (along with religious brochures) appeared in our mailbox stating we were ' ...corrupting the children of the neighborhood by participating in Satan's holiday'.  


At first I was both hurt and embarrassed, but later realized the only way to get back to "anon" was to create a bigger and better display each year.  I now claim myself to be the victor because "anon" has stopped renewing my subscription to Guideposts (a faith based magazine) and each year the cemetery compliments increase.  

I have added a carriage style hearse to this year's haunt, and designed it with following in mind...
  • easy to set up and take down with minimal storage requirements
  • inexpensive, using as many recycled materials as possible
  • simple construction, using hand tools and a drill, dremel, jigsaw, staple gun
  • sturdy enough to withstand wind gusts up to 60 mph 
I'm really pleased with the outcome and thought I'd share my efforts in hopes that you too might consider building a hearse for your neighborhood.

Step 1: Breakout/Breakdown

Knowing someday I'd eventually build a hearse, I've been gathering materials from CraigsList, Thrift Stores, Garage Sales, etc... for a few years.  Initially I budgeted $50, but after calculating my expenses I now realize that the decorative elements can add up quickly (and account for about a third of the costs).  Considering this project gave me hours of entertainment, I feel the extra costs were well worth it.

<$25 - Four Wheels (could've gotten away with only 2, since only one side is visible from the road)
Tapered Dowels (for hubs)
450' Lawn Edging (for rims)
8' Metal Conduit (for axle)
2 "borrowed" Saw Horses (to support body and wheels)
Plastic Ivy (to hide sawhorses)
Oops Paint, Culled Lumber, Screws

 <$20 - Base and Body 
Styrofoam Blocks/Adhesive (to support frame)
Decorative Mirror (to represent a window for corpse viewing - ha, it's reflection is you!)
Stretchy Fabric and Dowels (to resemble drapery)

Sconces (to give the illusion of candles/lighting)
Oops Paint, Culled Lumber, Screws, Hinges, Wire, Cuphooks 
<$15 - Top and Back
Molding (to give dimension to the outside and to support the back door)
Decorative Mirror (for more corpse viewing)
Upholstery Trim (painted gold to hide gaps between the top and the base)
Stretchy Fabric and Dowels (to resemble drapery)
Oops Paint, Culled Lumber, Screws, Hinges, Wire, Cuphooks
 <$10 - Front 
Exercise Step (as a foot rest)
Sconces (to hold reins)

Scrap Foam (for seat and to support sconces)
Stretchy Fabric and Dowels (to resemble drapery, cover seat)
Xmas Pediments (to dress up driver foot area)
Oops Paint, Culled Lumber, Screws, Cuphooks, Decorative Tacks
The next steps show how the above comes together to create the hearse...

Step 2: Dimensions

After an unsuccessful attempt to find simple plans on the Internet, I ended up google'g hearse images to get an idea of proportions.  Because my graveyard is seen from the road, I don't expect anyone to question it's authenticity but rather assumed it would be viewed as an interesting element to my cemetery.  In other word, I tried to not stress over the details and instead focused on creating an illusion.

I started with the casket section of the hearse (base/body) and wanted it to be about about 75% of the length of a person/casket, or apx 48" long - which was ideal because culled lumber is generally not cut at lengths greater than 48". 

The next challenge was trying to figure out how long to make the (front) section where the driver sits.  Google'd images suggest the front of a hearse is about one-half to one-third of the length of the casket base/body section. Since I wanted the casket area to be the focal point, I figured 24" length for the driver was reasonable.

Finally, almost all photos suggest front wheels are shorter than back wheels and that the height of the driver's foot rest is visually the minimum height for the front wheel.   Knowing he hearse would be immobile (with sawhorses blended in to support it), I knew the centers of the wheel hubs had to be located within the side support/gusset of the sawhorses.  By measuring from the ground to the upper/lower distance of the sawhorse side supports, I was able to estimate the wheel's radius range.

After playing around with the above proportions, the final dimensions worked out to approximately:

Overall Height (ground to top) -68"
Overall Length (front to back) - 66"
Overall Width (side to side) - 28" without wheels, 48" with attached wheels

Excluding decorations, this is further broken out as...

Front Wheel
31.5"  Total Height/Diameter
100"   Circumference (with overlap)
6.25"  Hub 
13"     Spoke Length
5 lbs  Weight (each)

Back Wheels
38.5" Total Height/Diameter
124"  Circumference (with overlap)
8.25" Hub
15"    Spoke Length
6 lbs Weight (each)

Sawhorses H: 28.5" x L: 18.5" x W: 33"

Styrofoam Base  H: 29.5" x L: 45" x W: 23"

Surrounding Body  H: 32.5 x L: 47" x W: 26"  (add 4"" to height for decorative pediment)

L-Shaped Molding 
Top/street side only H: 3" x L: 48" x W: 3"
Top/back side only  H: 3: x L: 28" x W: 3"
Back frame (which is hinged to the Top/back side) H: 32.5" x L: 28" x W: 1"

Front Box H: 17" x L: 19" x W: 24"  (add 3" to height for decorative rein holder)

OK...enough of the details - let's see how the "Sin Eater" comes together...

Step 3: Wheels & Bottom Half

With the bottom half of the hearse having a combined weight of over 60 lbs, it would be very difficult for me to set it on my own.  But, by constructing the bottom half to consist of separate parts, the set-up/assembly and storage is much more manageable, and consists of:
  • 4 wheels - 11 lbs
  • 2 sawhorses - 36.5 lbs
  • 2 sections of conduit/axle -1 lb
  • 2 2x4 to support upper half - 12 lbs
With only one side of the hearse visible from the road, I originally planned to cut one front wheel and one back wheel, using a jigsaw and 2 thick layers of plywood.  However, luck was on my side when I located 18 tapered dowels (28" each) at Habitat for Humanity.  With front wheels expected to be slightly shorter than back wheels, the dowels were cut into 13" and 15" lengths, giving me 36 spokes, or 9 spoke per wheel. 

To make the center hubs, 2 sizes of dinner plates were traced on lumber and a total of 8 were cut with a jigsaw.  A pair of each size was glued, clamped and allowed to dry overnight.

Starting at the center of the hub and recognizing there are 360 degrees in a circle, 9 lines were marked 40 degree apart.  These lines were then extended to the edge of the hub, allowing for 9 spoke holes to be drilled along the outside of the hub.  The spokes were then glued into place and allowed to dry overnight.

3" plastic landscape edging acts as the rim for each wheel.  After drilling a pilot hole where the edging meets the spoke, the two are secured with a larger wood screw.  Both sides of the spokes and hubs are painted gold for accent.

Since the hearse wheels are not intended to roll or support any weight, they are attached to a pair of sawhorses by a 4' length of conduit.  Before doing so however, the hub's center was enlarged to 1.25" and a corresponding hole was drilled in the sawhorse side support/gusset.  Acting as an axle, a 48" length of 1" conduit can then be thread it all together (wheel-sawhorse-sawhorse-wheel).  Finally, all 4 ends are kept from slipping with a cork that has been glued to the inside of a spray paint lid.

After painting the sawhorses a neutral/outdoor color and stapling painted plastic ivy to the sawhorses, the sawhorses will hardly show as they blend in with the landscape and the eye instead will see the gold wheels.

Once two 2x4's are placed on the sawhorses, the bottom half is completed and we can move on to building upper half of the hearse - known as the body/base...

Step 4: Base / Body & Upper Half

Again with combined weight of over 50 lbs, the upper half of the hearse is manageable by considering is is made up of  3 parts, or:
  • Styrofoam Base - 12.5 lbs
  • Particle Board Body - 33.5 lbs
  • Mirror attached to Wire, Fabric, Dowel - 8.5 lbs
Locating large blocks of Styrofoam on Craigslist (free!) is the key, as they make the solo set-up/storage so much easier to maneuver than if it had been made entirely of plywood or particle board.   

Using styrofoam adhesive, the blocks were bonded together and painted to keep from disintegrating.  While the large styrofoam base may be a bit bulky, it is strong enough to support a flexible body made of hinged panels/frames and light enough to be stored in a crawl space.

With the exterior hearse body being slightly larger than the styrofoam base, it easily slips over and covers 2 sides of the foam.  The exterior body consists of two side panels/frames that are hinged to (4) 1x4" slats.  This hinged body fits over the styrofoam base, and allows access to the side of the hearse - which makes it convenient to hang the window/mirror and to fold/flatten up for storage.

The side panels each consist of a horizontal 1x6" that runs across the top and bottom, and are attached to particle board.  On the side that is visible from the road, a 22" opening is added for the casket viewing.  As mentioned, both of these side panels connect to the top by 8 hinges and (4) 1x4" slats which allows it to rest on the top of the foam body

In place of a window, a framed mirror is used in the casket viewing area so that anyone that wants to view the dead will see themselves.  The mirror was outlined on the foam block, trimmed out, and another coat of paint was applied to the foam.  Once dry, the hinged side panel is lifted and the mirror can be attached with wire and hung from the top slats (which rests on the top of the foam body).

Red fabric was gathered on the dowels and glued to the window/mirror.  Cup hooks screwed into the inside panel of the top/bottom board hold curtain/dowel rod in place.

Thrift store sconces are then hung on the sides to provide the illusion of lighting and now the back of the hearse gets attention...

Step 5: Back/Top

The combined weight of the back/top is under 20 lbs.  While the shape is a bit awkward, it is manageable and consists of:
  • L-Shaped Moulding hinged to the Back Frame - 12 lbs
  • Decorative Mirror attached to Wire, Fabric, Dowel - 7 lbs
  • Pediment Topper - 1 lb
The top of the hearse has detachable moulding that wraps around to the back of the hearse and provides a decorative element.  This molding was screwed together to create a L-shaped/90 degree angle with the idea is would sit on the top of the hinged top slats and hide the wires required for hanging the mirrors.  

Another frame was hinged to the bottom of the part of the moulding that is seen from the back of the hearse, creating the appearance of back door.  Again, the illusion of glass in the back door is accomplished by hanging another decorative mirror, in which red fabric has been glued around it and then secured to the back slat of the body with wire.

To hide the a slight gap that appears when the L-shaped section is placed on top of the body/base, upholstery trim was painted gold and stapled to the underside of the L-shape unit, providing additional detail to the bottom of the moulding.  A removable pediment was also painted gold to help draw attention to the back of the hearse.

Step 6: Front

The final/easiest section to create is the front where the driver is located.  It is basically a 3 sided box, weighing just over 20 lbs, and sits in front of the base/body of the hearse.  Other features include:
  • Rein Holder, which were once sconces and are removable when storing
  • Foot Rest, once part of exercise equipment but is now getting more use once it was painted black
  • Side Finials, purchased from and after Christmas clearance aisle
  • Red Curtains, gathered by dowels and used to cover the exposed front of the foam body
  • Drivers Seat, or styrofoam covered with red fabric and accentuated with tacks.

Step 7: Success!

While I was excited to start the project, at first I wondered if I bit off more than I could chew.  However, by breaking the project into a few manageable sections, I found I could work on one section until I ran into issues, and move on to something else until my brain recovered. 

In otherwords, I didn't follow any specific order when building and tried to not get too overwhelmed.  (Documenting this Instructable consumed far more brain cells.)

Until it's final week I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but by taking my time and stepping away from it every few days, the project was more successful than expected, and easily met all my criteria!  (The only thing I would have done differently is to use plywood rather than particle board.)

In total the hearse weighs over 150 lbs, but by being able to break it down in to 4 main sections, and each of those into smaller units, the parts were very manageable from both a setup and breakdown perspective.   Likewise, smaller units are easier to stash around than a unit that is around 5'x5'x4' when fully set up.

This year my cemetery will show the hearse in a parked position.  Next year I'd like to create a skeleton team to pull it.  In the meanwhile, I hope you will be inspired to contribute your hearse plans to the Internet and if so, I'd love to see them!

Halloween Decorations Contest

Second Prize in the
Halloween Decorations Contest