Introduction: Over Sized Skeleton Breaking Out of My Home

About: I work as a Environmental Health and Safety specialist for Clark Reliance. Most of the guys there don't think I would know how to use a hammer. Sometimes, people are more than what they appear. :)

So.... Have you ever had this idea in your head, rolling around for a few years and you just had to sort out a way to make it a reality? That's basically what happened here. 20 years ago, I saw an art installation of a giant skeleton made of just chicken wire. It was probably 50 foot tall, or at least I thought it was as a teenager. I always found oversized recognizable items intriguing and thought maybe someday I will make one. Just a few years back I saw an oversized Christmas tree that looked like it had broken through a roof. The idea hit me. I need to combine the giant skeleton I saw years ago with the concept of it breaking out of a structure because it was trapped inside. And the wheels started turning to sort out how to do it, what I thought it should look like, and well, here is what became of that random idea.


Giant foam blocks. Really you just need foam. I happened to have some sheets of foam I purchased a few years ago to carve from.

Spray foam - for gluing the foam together

bamboo skewers - to hold the foam while gluing

Glue - Elmers Glue all

Sand - Just play sand

Paint - white or bone color latex not oil

Waterproof sealer - water based clean up - test on foam first, not your project

PVC - I used 1 1/4 inch furniture grade because it is what I had and what my fittings worked with

PVC fittings - size to your pipe

PVC glue and depending on your PVC you may need cleaner too

Black/white/blue/red spray paints - Do not spray on foam unless fully coated in a sealer or it will eat it.

Exercise ball for the eye

shingles to match your roof

random old materials like plywood, tar paper, maybe insulation


Chain saw


Hot wire cutter if you have or can make it

Curry comb - horse brush to shape foam with

Sand paper

Spray foam gun - I had a great stuff pro gun to help control the spray foam better. You don't need this but it helps


Sanding mop or flap disc for shaping

Safety Gear -

Chainsaw Helmet/ ear protection

Nitrile gloves

Safety Glasses

work gloves for sanding

Step 1: Planning

I didn't just decide to create this yesterday. I actually wanted to do it for about 3 years but I didn't have the right parts. I bought large sheets of foam 5 years prior and stored them knowing I would create a large build with them some day. The PVC fittings and pipe I found randomly on facebook marketplace as a company was liquidating everything. They were exactly what I needed to create the knuckles for the hands and the price allowed me to do it in my budget.

I started to lay out what I wanted the hand to look like and how big it should be. I knew I had 48x96x8" sheets of foam to work with. So if a finger bone was 8" thick at most, how wide would the hand be. It ended up almost right at 8 feet. I made the PVC armature first to make sure I had it right dimensionally and then worked on transferring it to the foam. But how to know where to hide the PVC? I used a screen shot of the Disney Movie Coco to sort out the rough hand look. I wanted my skeleton to be slightly whimsical with more rounded bones and less overall bones in the palm of the hand, but still very much be a skeleton. I worked off the photo and drew on paper what I thought would work.

Step 2: PVC Armature

The armature was created using 1 1/4 inch PVC. I have a ton of it from the liquidation sale. I dry fit the PVC on top of a sheet of foam to make sure the dimensions were correct. I made a ton of small adjustments to lengths as well as changed out fittings a few times. I had to plan where the fingers would bend, where the thumb should attach, and how the arm bones would need to connect. But I also had to plan ahead on how I would attach the hands to things. How would it hang from the roof line or be braced off the ground to look like it was grabbing something. To resolve this, I put 4 different fittings in each palm that faced up out of the foam and would allow me to connect to them if needed, or run wires/ rope through to hang up.

I worked on one hand at a time, and once I got the dimensions to where I liked them, I built the second hand but exactly reverse of the first for direction of fittings.

Once I was happy with how the hands looked, I glued them together with PVC glue. The knuckles were lined up and glued in place as well. I could still articulate them forward and back but they wouldn't spin any direction any longer which made the finger movement realistic when I adjusted them into place later.

Funny enough, my wife thought this was the final form of the hands. She didn't understand why I would want to build them out with foam and liked them just as PVC frames. I told her she would understand when they were finished and she just gave me the typical Halloween look I get when I start a crazy build project.

Step 3: Rough Layout

There are a variety of ways to cut foam. Something 8 inches thick can't be cut with a normal table saw or circular saw. It won't even go half way through. I found the easiest was to use a chainsaw. I had a hot wire cutter I made a few years ago and I cut some of the foam with that but it just wasn't accurate enough for me as the wire expands as it heats up allowing for less than square cuts as it just doesn't hold tight. I did use the hot wire cutter with a shorter more stout wire to cut some of the grooves for the PVC but I didn't use it hardly at all to shape the foam.

A few other tools I used or tried to use were the sawzall (blades didn't reach all the way through), a Japanese hand saw (the foam would bind it up with friction too fast to use well), Drill with flap disc for grooves - way too unsteady and inaccurate. I ended up only using the drill to clean up the channels once cut.

The armature was laid on top of the foam and traced with sharpie. I used a chainsaw to cut out the large areas and the trench in the first hand for the armature to lay in. I used drill with a flap sanding attachment to smooth it out some. The armature was glued into place with spray foam. Doing it this way buried the PVC just below the surface. I changed this method some on the arms to hide the PVC channels. I didn't like the look of the spray foam and the PVC was too close to the surface. On the arm bones I cut the channel deeper and set the PVC further in. I then took the pieces I cut out of the channel, cut a 1/2 inch sliver off the surface and glued it back in with spray foam to hide the channel the best I could.

The arm bones had to be thicker than 8 inches so they were layered where needed with extra pieces of foam and glued with the spray foam. I found bamboo skewers worked really well to secure the foam together while it dried. The spray foam expands as it dries. It can push the pieces apart so you have it watch it. I did find the pro spray foam pushed way less and held just as well so I used that almost exclusively. Plus the pro spray foam gun is really easy to use and allows a lot of control as to how much foam is coming out.

Step 4: Shaping Individual Pieces

The majority of the shaping was done with a single tool, a curry comb. This comb is rough allowing the foam to be slowly shaved down. One side is pointed and the other is rounded. I found the pointed side to work better for what i was doing. It was just hours of hand shaving foam away until I got the shapes I liked. Many times,I would shape down an area on a larger bone, add a piece of foam back on and shave that down again until I got the shapes I wanted. Lots of trial and error.

Once overall shaping was done, each piece needed sanding by hand to smooth it out some before I could hard coat it. Power sanders made too much heat and would melt foam that I trialed it on. I used a round drywall sander for most of it and just sand paper for the fine details.

I had bags of foam dust and beads from shaping, as well as several garbage cans full of larger chunks I cut off with a saw in rough shaping. I may have borrowed any spare space in several neighbors garbage cans on garbage day a few weeks in a row to get rid of all the contractor bags full of foam.

Step 5: Poor Man's Hard Coating

A poor man's hard coating is glue and sand. Any PVA glue will work. I found Elmer's glue-all for just $15 a gallon and went with that. It is supposed to be fairly water proof once dry. It was not. I had my first hard coated hand outside after it had dried for 2 days. The dew over night made all the glue sticky again. So if I had to do it again, I don't think I would use the Elmer's Glue-all.

Basically to hard coat, you paint on the glue in a small area, throw sand on it, and paint the next area until you are done. It takes a long time to get it all when doing with a brush. I quickly switched to pouring large amounts of glue right on the foam and using a small 4 inch roller to spread it out. You have to be careful not to get too much glue or it runs even after you put the sand on it. I suggest wearing nitrile gloves here as the glue gets everywhere. Also, because the glue gets everywhere, put some thick plastic down to catch the glue and all the sand that doesn't stick. I swept up and used the same sand over and over. My project took nearly 100 pounds of sand but I had 150 pounds to work with though. You will find that chunks of dried glue and other things get in the sand. I sifted it a few times throughout the process to make sure it didn't end up in my finish.

I hard coated some of the pieces in my basement and others on my back covered deck. I had to keep fans on the pieces on the deck to get them to dry with the humidity in the air. Luckily, we didn't have too bad of weather and the rain we did have didn't blow onto the deck too bad.

Step 6: Paint and Sealer

Originally I intended to coat the entire structure in a bone colored paint. I had 4 gallons of a mixed paint I made up from some Kilz primer and mis-tinted paint that I used less than a gallon of. The problem was I liked how the sand looked as a final color on the bones. With the white foam showing through it looked good to me. So after hard coating the hands, I pre painted the rest of the bones with my mixture first to help hide the orange spray foam and seams, then coated everything else in sand and glue. I went back and painted the hands where the spray foam was, and sanded those a second time to try and hide it. It didn't look perfect but from 15 feet away you can't tell too much.

The whole thing was sealed with a water based outdoor sealer designed for multiple surfaces. I sprayed 2 layers of this on the foam to give it a protective finish from weather. I found that once again, the moisture in the the spray layer activated the glue slightly on the first coat. I had to be careful not damage the surfaces while it was drying. Did I mention I wouldn't use the Elmer's Glue-all again? yeah...I am sure it is a great glue but not for this application.

Step 7: Securing to the Home

How the heck do you secure this to your home and not damage it? Well.... you don't. But you can have controlled damage. I have a historic home. That means I have old school windows made of actual wood framing, not plastic. My siding and trim is wood not vinyl so I can screw into things. I added 2 window plates I made up from wood and put 4 screws in each into my window framing, pre drilling at an angle, and securing them so they wouldn't move, yet cause minimal damage. The screw holes will be fully covered by my storm windows once re-installed. I also added some eye screws to some of my trim to help hold up the weight of the hands.I could not damage my roof and had to make sure I didn't add anything that would puncture it.

I used paracord, some steel cable, and a few other odd and ends to connect the bones to my home. The ends of the arm bones were attached to the wood plates I made to make sure they didn't slip and hurt the historic glass behind them. I used longer lengths of PVC to hold the arm bones ups. I painted these black to hide them at night with the lights on.

Step 8: Making the Skull

The skull was actually harder than the hands. I only had 3 sheets of the foam left but needed to make an 8 foot skull that was 3 dimensional and 4 foot tall or so. I had to cut out rings of foam, glue together, smooth out, add more rings, and try to get a skull looking shape. Making something that large and just rough cutting was not easy. I would rather make the hands 3 times over again.

Part way through the build, I put the skull on the roof and started cutting off chunks to get it to sit the way I wanted. The skull was going to be sitting on an angled corner so I had to try and make it fit to the angles. I found you could easily see through the illusion though with how I made it so I added another 3 foot of rings to the side to help hide it. The rest would be hidden under broken roofing materials.

The skull was painted and then hard coated the same way as the rest of the bones and clear coated twice. I added some weights under the skull on the roof and used some paracord to attach to the weights going through the center of skull and plywood roofing materials strategically placed on top. The paracord was also added to an eye hook under my upper roofline to hold the skull and weights on the roof. I didn't want the weights to slide and the goal was to not let the wind blow the skull off. Again, I don't want to damage my roof line at all so no fasteners through any shingles were allowed.

I didn't start out with an eye ball when creating it because I wanted to see how it looked with an empty socket. I added an eye because it helped complete the look and you knew exactly what it was. I bought an exercise ball to be the eye ball but it was too big. I deflated it halfway, used some tape on the back to scrunch it down, and then spray foamed it into place. The eye was painted last after all the sand, clear coats, etc. I used cheap rattle can spray paint to make the eye, a bucket held in the center to get the crisp ring of white and black, and just a hint of color added for the final look.

Step 9: Putting All the Pieces Together

So you will notice a 12 foot home depot skeleton in the yard. When I was part way done building the hands, I asked a neighbor who I knew had one if I could borrow it this year. I don't actually own one as I haven't been able to find them. He told me I could borrow it and instead of the hand pushing off the ground, I was going to have it capturing the 12 foot skeleton.

Lighting was added to illuminate my whole house and roof to show the pieces. I used a few sealed LED hydroponic light bars. They are super bright, give sort of a pinkish purplish hew, and are pretty much weather proof. I covered the bars in colored cellophane to give it less of a pink hue. The UV coming off the lights turns the colors clear in less than 2 days so I have to keep putting new up.

I have awesome neighbors. Two of them helped me lift up the skull. Another gave me some extra shingles he had that were similar to mine. One of them stayed on the roof for an hour to give me hand attaching everything. This is a wonderful neighborhood.

Step 10: Hiding the Illusion and Final Look

I used a bunch of roofing materials, and older construction materials to simulate the broken roof line and missing shingles. I had broken 2x4s, shingles, tar paper, ice and water shield and old plywood. These were used to cover the base of the skull where it came through and the side of the skull that was partially missing due to both lack of extra foam and also the weight involved.

The windows had old blinds I picked up for free hanging out of them to look as though the arms really did push through the glass. The actual blinds were covered with dark material to hide the inside of the home.

Any PVC that was showing got painted black. Any of the supports were also darkened to try to hide it the best I could. I used dark paracord to secure things that needed tension to help it blend into the background.

I hope you like my display. If you feel it is worthy, vote for me on the Halloween decorations contest. Happy Halloween all.

Step 11: FAQs

Where do you store it all?

Answer: I store it in my attic, garage, and basement. The oversized skeleton is new this year but hopefully it will be able to be stored where the foam blocks sat in the garage for the past few years.

What happened to all the foam dust?

Answer: I vacuumed my yard more than once with a dust collector. Multiple contractor bags of foam dust went in the garbage cans.

You and your wife must really like Halloween.

Actually my wife doesn't rank Halloween in her top 3 favorite holidays although she did buy a throw pillow this year with a cobweb design to show she is supporting my passion. She always calls herself a Halloween Widow as I am very scarce the whole month of October and usually half of September.

Do you go all out for Christmas?

Answer: Not really. I decorate my home very tastefully for Christmas as I live in a historic neighborhood. My roof lines are lit up, candles in windows, and I might put up a mega tree with 5000 lights using my flagpole as the center....but no crazy displays or light shows

How much did this cost?

Answer: I am very frugal on things and I buy stuff off facebook or craigslist whenever possible. I got the foam 5 years back, and the PVC parts this year all at a major discount. I spent less than 700 total on the build and most of that was in paint/ sealer, glue, and spray foam.

What do you do for a living? You must be an engineer or something.

Answer: I am actually a Health and Safety Professional. I am the guy that tells you to put your safety glasses back on. In reality I work to keep the facility free of hazards, keep OSHA and the EPA away, and help take care of any workers comp issues that come up should an employee become injured.

Man I wish I had as much free time as you.

Answer: As stated above, I work full time as a Certified Safety Professional, come home in the evenings and hang out with my kids, go to soccer games, and work on the project any time I can after that. I am usually up until midnight for over a month to finish the builds. The trade off is I don't watch TV, or sports, and occasionally I will get a movie from the library when I need a break some evening.

Did you really nail board to your windows?

Nope, I used real wood and made hangers like wreath over a door to hook on my storm windows.

Is the fence real?

Nope, just up for halloween. I have another instructable on that one if you want to make it.

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