Introduction: Guillotine

Need a little extra something for your Halloween decorations?  Want to get a "Wow" out of your guests without breaking the bank or requiring degrees in engineering, physics, or dog sledding.  Well this eight foot tall guillotine may be the project for you!

This is one of the props built for our annual Halloween party.  It is part of a larger project, but could easily act as it's own piece for your event.

It was designed to act as a photo opportunity, so the dull  "blade" is completely stationary and the lunette (the head hole) is large enough for most people to slip their head in and out of without lifting the top.

The Instructable for the executioner to go along with it can be found here.

Step 1: Gathering Your Materials and Tools

Luckily the list of materials is pretty basic, and it all can be found at your local hardware store/lumberyard. (Lowes, Home Depot.)

5 8ft length of 2x4 (cheap wall stubs work great)(*)
1 8ft length of 2x10
1 sheet of dark hardboard paneling (a sheet at least 3 ft X 2 ft)
2 screw eyes
Some rope (10-12 ft should be enough)
4 bolts that are 2 inches in length (with matching washers and nuts)
A large hinge that will mount onto the side of 2 of the boards
Wood or deck screws (2.5 inch worked well for me)
Silver metallic spray paint (matte finish)
Dark wood stain

(You can skip one of the 2x4 if you use the alternate cut in step 2.)

For the tools, your basic requirements are to cut your studs to the right length and then cut 2 circular sections in your 2x10.  You can use whatever saw you have available, but lacking access to a band saw I found it easiest to make the straight cuts with a circular saw and the round cut with a jig saw.

Safety Glasses
Measuring tape
Rotary Saw
Jig Saw (Band saw would be better to cut the thicker pieces, but use whatever tools you have to cut a circle)
Power Drill (with drill and screwdriver bits)
Sand Paper
Something to assist in drawing a circle. (Paint can, or plate work fine.)
Paint brush and paper towels

Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Wood

Take three of your 2x4 studs and the tape measure. Mark off lines at 30 in, 60 in, 90 in, and 93 in.
For each of these boards, you should end up with three 2.5ft sections, and two 3in  blocks.
These pieces will make the feet and the top.  Additionally, one of these pieces will be trimmed again later to form the crossbeam to the blade.

On your 2x10 measure off lines at 30 in and 60 in.  This will give you two 2.5ft sections for your lunette.  The remainder can be set aside for another project.

(ALTERNATE CUT) If you would like to save a little money on wood and make fewer cuts, you can cut the 2x10 into the three 2.5ft sections similar to the way the 2x4 were cut.  You can then use this piece instead on the front of the top of the frame in Step 3.  This will allow you to get  by with one less 2x4, but will slightly change the appearance of the guillotine.

Step 3: Cutting and Forming a Lunette.

Lay the two sections of your lunette next to each other on a flat surface.  Using something round to guide you, trace a circle split by the two boards.  Try to split it as evenly as possible.

Once you have your line drawn, use your saw to cut out the half circle in each board.  If you are using a jig saw, take your time and let the saw work at its own speed.  If you try to push it too fast, the blade will bend and you will not get a cut straight through the board.

Once the circle is cut out, take some of your sandpaper and smooth the corners and edges around the hole. Your guests will appreciate this later.

Now, take the two pieces and lay then next to each other again. Hold the hinge up against the side, and mark with your pen the spots where it will attach. (In my case, there were 6 holes.)  Predrill your holes, and then attach the hinge to both boards using the wood screws.

Step 4: Setting Up the Frame

For this step grab the two uncut 2x4s, two of the 2.5 ft long cut sections, and your cut and hinged lunette.

Lay the two long board down parallel to each other. Lay the shorter boards on each ends, and make sure everything is square. (Well, rectangular, but you get the point. Note: You will not be attaching this piece to the bottom.) Now, lay lunette section on top of your long beams.  Depending on how tall your guests will be, you may want to adjust how far from the bottom this part will be.  We went with about 22 inches from the bottom of the 2x4 to the bottom of the lunette.  This seems to work as a good height for kneeling and posing for photos.

Connect the top board by predrilling your holes, and then using two screws to connect the top piece to each side beam. Next screw down the bottom section of the lunette to the side beams, leaving the top section free to move on its hinge.

Now take the short section you were using on the bottom and lay it on the top section of the frame so that it is touching both the side beams and the top bar. Drill and screw this piece into place to adds some extra stability to the frame.

Step 5: Building and Mounting the Feet

For this step get four of the 2.5 ft long cut sections, and four of the small 3 in. squares.

Lay one of the boards flat, then place one of the smaller blocks on top of it on each end.  Top with another long piece.

Now drill and screw the top piece to the inner blocks, then flip it over and repeat the process.  Do the same for the other foot.

Now slide each foot onto its side beam.  The feet should be approximately centered on the beam.  The bottom of the posts should be flush with the bottom of the feet.

Stand the guillotine up on it's feet. (An assistant may help if the feet aren't tight enough.)  Once you are sure the guillotine is straight and balanced, secure the feet to the frame with screws through both sides of the feet.

Step 6: Cutting and Assembling the Blade

For this step, you will need another section of the cut 2x4 and your piece of hardboard paneling. You will also need your frame to measure the length to cut your pieces.

Measure the the distance on the inside of the two side beams of your frame.  This length will be slightly different due to  the straightness of the boards, and how exact you were when you constructed the frame. Mark off this length on the piece of 2x4, and cut it.  This will be the blade's crossbeam. You want this to be able to fit easily between the side beams.

Once you have checked that the crossbeam will fit, and made corrections if necessary, you will use it to measure off the width of your blade.

Lay your paneling rough side up. Using your newly cut piece of wood as a guide for how wide the blade needs to be, mark a line.  Next, draw a diagonal line connecting the line with the edge of the panel.  Using your jig saw, cut out this piece.  By cutting rough side up, and cutting slowly, the cut will appear cleaner on the smooth side.

Lay your crossbeam across the top section of the blade. Mark, and then drill four holes through the beam and blade.  Attach the blade using the bolts, washers and nuts to make sure everything fits tight and holds securely.

Step 7: Add a Little Color

Now, to add a little color.

If you still have any rough patches on the wood, now is the time to sand them.  Make sure you wipe off any sawdust before continuing on.  Separate your crossbeam from the blade.

Following the directions on your wood stain, brush a thin layer onto the wood. Use paper towels or a cloth to wipe up or smooth out any excess.  Don't forget to stain the insides of the feet and the crossbeam piece of the blade. Depending on how dark you want it, you can apply more than one coat.

Now use the silver spray paint on the blade. Once the first side is coated, flip it over and do the reverse side.  Don't forget to get the thin edges as well.

Let everything dry fully.

Step 8: Hanging and Mounting the Blade

Once the stain and paint are dry, measure and mark the center of the uppermost beam on your frame. Predrill the hole, and then twist the eye screw into place.  Repeat this for the top of the blade's crossbeam.

Reassemble the blade and crossbeam. Tie a knot through the blade's eye, and thread the rest of the rope through the eye on the top beam.  Adjust the blade to the desired height, pull any excess slack from the rope, and wrap it around the drop beam to secure it.

Now to secure the crossbeam to the frame.  If you have an assistant, have them hold the crossbeam still while you drill a screw through each side. Alternatively, you can lay the guillotine down and use a spare piece of wood to hold it in the right place while you do the drilling.

Tighten and loosen the screws to make minor adjustments as needed.

Step 9: Completion

The guillotine is complete.

Add your own finishing touches by splattering with fake blood.  Add a severed head in a basket. Let your creativity guide you on how to make it fit into your theme.

Halloween Contest

Third Prize in the
Halloween Contest

2 People Made This Project!


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4 years ago

What sort of metal is best for a real blade? Stainless steel? Titanium? How do I machine the blade to get a very sharp edge?

Dusk Shadows
Dusk Shadows

9 years ago on Introduction

I just use a butcher knife instead of these it saves time and money


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Uh... I think its just a prop.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Sorry, I'm sure you could make it work if you wanted.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

Your best best would be to go to a scrap yard to find a large piece of sheet metal to work with.  That's where we found metal for another one of our projects this year.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

You could. You would probably need to add some tracks or slots for the blade to fit in so it falls down straight.

Since we were mainly just using it for pictures, we figured it would be safer to keep it mounted in one place.


Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

It was 8ft tall, the full height of the 2x4s. But, if you want to modify it to be taller, it would be great. 8ft was the limit due to the ceiling we were using, but the taller it is, the more imposing it will be.


12 years ago on Introduction

 My dad made one of these for Halloween like 12 years ago. We didn't put the string to pull the blade up but a lot of people were freaked out by this prop. Great if you have an executioner mask to wear too.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

Here is the executioner I was talking about before.