Introduction: Pallet Coffin for Halloween

About: Just a family man living life and having fun on the Florida Gulf Coast.
This began as an off-handed remark from my wife about making a coffin for our graveyard at Halloween. We make something every year for Halloween, so this seemed like as good a project as any.

My son, who has been sick since last Christmas liked the idea and wanted to build it together. This would be the first project that he could "work" instead of "just "help".
That led us to try to reclaim wood instead of buying new material.

It took us four afternoons to build. Saturday: after lunch to supper time. Sunday and two weekdays for about three hours. We could have finished quicker, but I had to force him to take breaks. I feigned being tired, or he would literally have worked until he had trouble walking or moving his arms. It could probably be built in a weekend if you had everything you need, and don't have to stop and go to a store.

The only thing I bought specifically for the project was an 18 gauge nail gun ($20) and nails. The other tools, I already had.

Step 1: Supplies and Pallets

Four or five pallets
Air nailer (we used a 18 gauge nailer/stapler)
Air compressor with hose
1 3/4" 18 gauge nails
Circular saw
Reciprocating saw (Sawsall)
Tape measure
Chalk box
Speed square
Pliers (to pull misguided nails)
Palm sander (if you want to clean the slats)
Nail punch set
Eye protection
Ear muffs (son didn't like the air compressor or nailer noise)

We got a bunch of pallets from a trucking company. They were in good shape for the most part, but they were dirty.

Step 2: Design

The dimensions of the coffin are:

5' tall
2' wide at the top and bottom
3' wide two feet from the top
1' deep

Originally, I wanted it 6' tall, but that wouldn't work using just reclaimed pallets because the side pieces would have been longer than the 4' runners on the pallets.

Step 3: Teardown

As most other instructables can also tell you, this takes time. It took about 40-45 minutes for each pallet if you do it by hand. There is really no advantage to doing it by hand because the end pieces of the pallets are prone to split or break because of the spiral nails used in their construction.

For this project, we stripped three pallets by hand, then I used a sawsall with a metal blade on the others. Instead of 40 minutes a pallet, I cut 5 apart in 40 minutes.

It was easier and quicker to cut the nails and use a nail punch if I needed them out rather than try to pull the nails. Also, since we wanted the coffin to look "aged", the nail heads added to the effect.

****WARNING**** If you chose to cut though the nails rather than remove them, make sure no one is in an area where something can fly off and hit them. Please, also use safety glasses when you cut the nails. Please be safe and use common sense. Nothing is worth risking injury over, especially not saving time.

Step 4: Framing

****WARNING**** If you chose to cut though the nails rather than remove them, make sure no one is in an area where something can fly off and hit them. Please, also use safety glasses when you cut the nails. Please be safe and use common sense. Nothing is worth risking injury over, especially not saving time.

Some of the stringers were true 2x4s, others were 2x4s with cut outs to allow a forklift's blades to access it from the side. If we were using a stringer with cutouts, I ripped the stringers with a circular saw with an old blade. The circular saw went through the nails with no issue, but it does throw sparks. We lined a chalk box up with cutouts on the bottom of the stringers and cut them off, so only the solid parts remained. This gave us three factory edges to work with, so one went to each side and the last went to either the bottom or top of the frame depending on whether we were building the top or bottom frame.

The top, middle and bottom cross members of the bottom frame were aligned and centered, then I measured from there for the angles on the outside pieces. The picture shows that the center cross member shifted during the initial nailing, but I didn't see it until I measured the other side. It ended up adding character to the design, so I left it.

We put the slats on the bottom of the coffin before we framed the supports up for the top frame. It is covered in the next step, so it can be done either before or after the total frame is built.

After the bottom was assembled, we used 1' lengths of stringers to build up to the top frame. Where the side angles met, we used one support on each side of the angle to add support as close to the joint as possible.

For the top frame, we mirrored the bottom frame. We laid the top piece on top of the already assembled bottom frame, scribed it, cut it, and nailed it in place on the 1' supports.

Before we covered the coffin with slats, we laid out the lid the same way we did the top frame, and toe nailed it together. This came back to haunt me later. Since there were no cross supports in the lid, when we moved it after we put the slats on, it started to buckle. We then built an inner support frame in the lid to give it stability.

****WARNING**** If you chose to cut though the nails rather than remove them, make sure no one is in an area where something can fly off and hit them. Please, also use safety glasses when you cut the nails. Please be safe and use common sense. Nothing is worth risking injury over, especially not saving time.

Step 5: Slats

Bottom: we put the slats on the bottom first. We actually did it before we framed up to create the top frame of the coffin. It can be done either then, or after the frame is completed.

We ran the slats from top to bottom, and centered them so they ran long on the sides. There is space between the slats, but it was a natural space created by the boards being warped or bent. When we got to the bottom, we were able to fill the final space with a slat that broke during hand removal. I didn't rip any boards for this, so I guess we were lucky.

After the slats were in place, we used the chalk box, and marked the slats at the corners and center angles. I then cut them off with a circular saw with the depth set to barely clear the slats, so I wouldn't risk hitting the frame beneath them.

Sides: we started in one corner, and just held a slat up to the frame, scribed it at the top of the frame, marked the frame at the side of the slat, flipped the slat over, held it at the side mark, scribed the other end, and repeated using three slats at a time. This gave us six pieces at a time for my son to nail, while I cut six more.

Since every slat had a different width or look, he was able to put them in as he chose. Placement compared to where we scribed didn't matter because the overall width of the six pieces was the same no matter how they were arranged.

Once again, we used broken pieces at the angles to make everything match up. We also overlapped the ends over the sides. The pieces we used on the sides mostly were cracked, scarred, knotty and nail ridden. My son made a game out of it to make it look aged and creepy.

Lid: this step was identical to the step for the bottom., except we saved the worst(best) looking boards for the lid to give it character.

Step 6: Finishing Up and Display

Some of the boards had a thin layer of either grease or mold. I sanded those boards with 60 grit sandpaper using an orbital hand sander.

We considered painting the coffin black, but to do so would have covered up the natural beauty of the boards my son chose. The pallets were heat treated, so they'll resist the elements for a month once a year with no issue.

My daughter used a zombie we made last year out of an old costume fitted over a chicken wire frame I made using my son's measurements. She positioned the zombie in the coffin, then used a plastic chain we picked up at Dollar General for $3 to put him on lockdown. She set it up so it looked like the zombie is waiting to be buried and reaching for his detached leg. On Halloween night, it'll be lit by strobe lights.

Disclosure: this thing is heavy. Really heavy. If you can lay it down so the bottom isn't seen, it can reduce the weight drastically by not having slats on the bottom. Although it's overbuilt, I can store most of our outside decorations inside the coffin, which saves me the containers in which they were stored in the garage.

The picture where he is dancing in the coffin was right after we finished. He also realized that he was the only person in the family that fit in it. That ended the dancing and standing in the coffin.

Step 7: Bonus Sign

This was a bad slat on an especially bad stringer. When my son went to pull the slat off the stringer, the stringer broke off in this shape. We put it to the side, sprayed the center with some red gloss spray paint, and marked "keep out" on the red with stencils. We then painted the entire sign with flat black spray paint. The gloss under the black gave it a cool, spooky, bloody look.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.
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