When I first started doing a Halloween display, I used the plastic fence shown from Spirit Halloween. The purpose of the fence is not only decorative, but serves the important function of letting people know not to walk back there. The trouble was, this fence was frankly a major pain in the butt. The way the sections attached was difficult to line up,it came apart too easily, and the plastic stakes were impossible to drive into the ground. Every year I would fight with it and swear I was going to make something myself to replace it. This details my replacement build.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
furring strips (cheap 1x lumber)
scraps of 2x4 ~4" long (optional)
nails or screws
extruded foam sheets, 1" & 2"
(8) 12" rebar
(8) eye bolts with big enough diameter for rebar to fit through snugly
12 neodymium disc magnets (optional)
(4 or 8) 3" L brackets
1/4" bolts, nuts, and washers. The bolts should be approximately 2" long
decorative molding (optional)
plywood (luan & 1/2 or 3/4")*
1/2" PVC pipe
3/4" PVC pipe
1" PVC pipe
(2) 1" PVC end caps
(2) 1" pipe flanges
4" PVC pipe
(2) 1/2" PVC coupler
(5) 1/2" 45° PVC elbow
(3) 1/2" 90° PVC elbow
1" U style pipe hanger
1" to 3/4" slip/threaded reducer coupling
3/4" to 1/2" threaded/barb T- connector**
expanding foam (Great Stuff)
1/4" ID ~ 1/2" OD x ~30" flexible tubing (fuel line hose)
solar powered lawn lights††
black zip ties
black duct tape
masking tape/painter's tape
5 minute epoxy
1 lb Apoxie Sculpt
grey Drylock paint
hammered copper spray paint
jade spray paint
primer paint (Kilz)
rust orange/brown spray and/or oil paint
black spray paint
moss green oil paint tube (optional)
brown oil paint (optional)
assorted acrylic paints (optional)
mineral spirits (optional)
chain and lock (optional)
utility knife or foam cutter
putty knife (optional)
water spray bottle
heat gun (or hair dryer set on high heat, but it will take longer)
sculpting tools (optional)
computer and printer
paint brushes (chip and acid - i.e. cheap)
* I used 1/2" plywood, but if I had to do it again I would choose 3/4". The 1/2" plywood gets too floppy, especially in the rain.
** I probably wouldn't have used a barb connector, but it was the only kind I could find, and hey it worked.
† Amazon no longer seems to carry these, but I'm providing the link for reference.
†† I don't remember which ones I ended up getting and I no longer have the packaging, but there is a lot of variety out there.
Step 2: Building the Column Frames
Started off with making a framework for the gate columns. These are made with furring strips (cheap wood).Three sides of the columns. I'm not permanently attaching the fourth side because I'm going to have the back removable, allowing me to put electronics, fog machine, speakers, etc. in them.
The dimensions are what I used, but I think you should only use these as guidelines since the size should be entirely dependent on your display area. Each side is made with two furring strips cut to the height of the column (minus the cap height). In my case this was 64". Then five furring strips cut to width. I made them 11". You may only want three for one side depending on whether you want to attach a fence to the gate (I'll get into that later).
The cross furring strips goat the top, and bottom to make a square. Since I want the base to be wider at the bottom, I added an additional furring strip 15 1/2" up from the bottom to support it. For the sides that will have the gate. I also added furring strips at 7 1/2" and 45 1/2" from the bottom to the inner sides. You could leave the outer sides with just the three furring strips, but I wanted the option to attach a fence later, so I added all five boards to the outer side as well. Note, in the picture I only have three strips on each side because I forgot that I needed to support the gate and a possible future fence, so I unfortunately had to retro-fit the other two boards later. Once you have measured out the location of all the boards you can nail or screw them together, making sure that the top to bottom strips are on one side and all the short strips are on the other side. Attach the tops and bottom strips first with one nail or screw in each corner. Adjust the resulting rectangle until it's square and then add another screw or nail to each corner to fix it in position. Making sure these are square will save you a lot of aggravation later. Once the tops and bottoms are firmly attached, go ahead and add the additional strips.
At this point, you will want to add the additional hardware. The eye bolts are going to serve to anchor the gateposts down since you don't want this to blow over in heavy winds. Add two of them on each side to the bottom furring strip a bit inset from each end. Since the top to bottom side strips the long ones) are the outer side of the column, you will want the eye bolts on the same side as the front to back (shorter) side of the bottom strip. On the opposite (outer) side you will need to attach your L-brackets facing out in the center of the furring strips at 7 1/2" and 45 1/2" up. To get more of the L-bracket to stick out of the columns (and therefor give more surface to attach the gate and fence to) I added some spacer wood to push them out further. For the upper L bracket I used a scrap of furring strip and at the lower one I added a scrap of 2x4.
When I was originally making this, I was worried that the back would just fall off, so I drilled recess holes on the back of the the cross braces for neodymium magnets and used epoxy to glue the magnets into the holes. These magnets would hold the back on. However, I found that the back sticks pretty well even without the magnets, so you can presumably eliminate this step.
Finally, attach the sides together in the front with three furring strips cut to 8" long at the top, bottom, and 15 1/2" from the bottom. Again, all measurements are suggestions only.
Since I wanted to hide equipment in one of the columns to play graveyard sounds, I cut a small piece of plywood as a shelf that just rests on top of a set of the inner furring strips. This step is of course optional, but having shelves inside the columns is pretty handy and an easy add on.
Step 3: Finishing the Columns
I cut the 1" extruded foam to cover the bottom of the columns in a narrow strip to act as a spacer. Then additional pieces to cover column from the 15 1/2" furring strip up to the top. You could probably just cover the entire thing with 1" foam, but I wanted to both use less foam and I thought it would be easier to do the exposed bricks as a separate piece. At the base I cut pieces of 2" foam to wrap around the 1" foam. Here it's helpful if you have access to a table saw or band saw to get a nice bevel, but it's not necessary.
To deal with the protruding L brackets, press the foam firmly against them. This will indent the foam and you can use a knife to cut a hole for the L brackets to go through.
At this point I attached the foam to the wood skeleton. You can use either heavy duty construction adhesive or foam board adhesive. I think it's sort of a toss up whether you attach the foam to the frame first, or if you make the cutouts first. On the one hand, it's sort of a pain to cut though the wood after you've attached the foam, but on the other hand, it's hard to line up and hold your pieces in place without having them permanently fixed.
The back of the columns is just a 1" foam sheet cut to fit with the other sides. A 2" thick piece of foam is cut to match the base on the other three sides and glued to the 1" sheet at the bottom on the outer side. Three 8" furring strips are glued to the inner side of the 1" at the same locations (top, bottom, and 15 1/2" from the bottom). To make sure the furring strips are lined up properly, you might want to use a long strait edge or straight board and a sharpie to draw the "margins" of each end of the furring strips. If these aren't lined up well, it will either make the back not line up properly or possibly not fit at all. Before I glued the furring strips to the foam, I drilled recesses for neodymium magnets in the ends to line up with those in the three sided frame, and epoxied the magnets in. As I mentioned earlier, I don't think this step was actually necessary, but if you do this, make certain that you glue the magnets into the holes so that the opposite magnets will attract rather than repel. As I write this it occurs to me that I probably could have saved myself some effort by just driving nails into the ends of these boards. Since, as I mentioned, I was going to put some audio equipment in one of the columns and I didn't want it to be muffled by the foam, I cut out a hole and glued a vent in that column's back at about the same height as the shelf.
The look I was going for was to have it look like the columns were built from brick and then covered with a veneer of concrete, but the concrete was starting to crumble away to expose the brick underneath. I drew some some holes on the foam with a sharpie to get an idea where to place them. Once I had settled on the size, shape, and position of the holes, I cut them out with my knife. There were a few places where the holes were where the furring strips were. In these cases, I reinforced the frame around the furring strips if necessary then removed the wood underneath the hole. This is of course easier if you haven't yet attached the foam, but if you have, then a keyhole saw works pretty well. The cut doesn't have to be beautiful since it shouldn't show when you're done. Once the holes are cut in the foam I distressed them by hitting them with a heat gun.
If you haven't already, you can now stick the foam to the wooden frame using the foam board or construction adhesive. One little trick to hold pieces of foam together while the adhesive is curing is to stick a nail through them, which you can remove once the adhesive is cured.
I also added decorative molding (which I also distressed on one column). This is purely optional. The molding can be distressed with a saw, some files, sandpaper, and if it's vinyl, a heat gun may also be used. You can use the foam board or construction adhesive to attach the molding. Best if you lay the column down flat so the molding doesn't fall off while the adhesive is curing.
I also used my utility knife to cut a few cracks in the "concrete". As with the holes, I first test drew them with a sharpie to make sure that I got the look I wanted before using the knife. I also did a quick hit on them with the heat gun so the cracks looked more weathered.
Once I had the holes in the outer layer all set, I rough cut some pieces of foam that could be put on the inside of the column that were at least an inch bigger than the hole on all sides. On these panels, I made faux bricks. You can read how I did that in another Instructable I wrote.
Before you get to painting the outside, you can use some of the Apoxie Sculpt to fill in any little holes or gaps in the foam. You can use some water on it and a putty knife on it to make it pretty smooth.
To create the look of concrete on the outside, I put a coat of Drylock on it. You can just get grey Drylock, but since I happened to have some leftover from another project that was white, I painted it with the white Drylock and then covered that with a coat of grey paint. The grit in Drylock will almost instantly destroy a foam brush, and it's pretty difficult to properly clean your brush afterwards, so I highly recommend you use a chip brush that you throw out afterwards.
Step 4: Column Caps
The first thing to do for the column cap is to address the gargoyles (How do you do, gargoyles?). The good thing about these particular gargoyles besides the price ($9.99 each!) is that they are hollow. The bottom is covered with paper, so just tear that off. Then use a drill to put a 1/4" hole where each gargoyle's mouth is. Then I fed the tubing from the inside of the gargoyle to the mouth and jammed a 1/4" dowel through the outside of the gargoyles mouth into the tube. If you don't have a dowel lying around, you can use pretty much anything that is round and makes a tight seal on the inside of the hose. The dowels will hold the tube in place temporarily and make sure that the tube doesn't get clogged. Leave a couple inches of the tubing sticking out from the bottom of the gargoyles for the time being. Now use the expanding foam to fill the gargoyles. Remember that this stuff expands a lot, so fill it only about halfway full.
Once the foam has fully cured, trim off the excess coming out the bottom with a saw. Hopefully, you don't have any coming out of the mouth, but if you do, do your best to break it off with your fingers and any other implements of destruction. At this point you can also cut the tubing flush to the bottom and remove the dowel from the gargoyle's mouth. Make sure that the inside of the tubing is clear of foam all the way from the bottom to the mouth. If it isn't, use some wire or a bottle brush to clear it out as best you can. It doesn't have to be perfect just make sure air can get all the way through the tube easily. Finally, I attached a 1/2" coupling at the end of the tubing. Because the outer diameter of the tubing was a little over 1/2" and the foam squishes a bit, I was able to just fiction fit the coupling.
For the base of the column caps I cut pieces of plywood that were flush with outside edge of the foam at the top of the column. I my case that was roughly 12" x 12". Then, find the center of the plywood by using a straight edge to draw lines to opposite corners. Use this center marking as the location to screw down the pipe flanges that will receive the pipes for the archway. Put the gargoyles in front of the flange and figure out where the coupling is on the plywood. Once you figure that out, drill a hole in the plywood that is big enough for 1/2" PVC pipe to come through. Since these are going to be unlikely to match for both gargoyles, you should either mark the gargoyles and plywood, or at least keep them together.
I then used 2" and 1" foam to create the pieces to make the end cap. Probably looking at the pictures is better than any description I could give you for this. Since the gargoyles went in front of the arch supports and they stuck out a little from the top. I crumbled up some scrap foam to make some rocks to extend their perch out. Depending on your dimensions, you might not need to do this. I also two holes in the foam to line up with the pipe flange and the pipe going into the gargoyle. Once you have all the pieces, use your adhesive to glue the gargoyles, foam, and plywood together to make a complete cap (minus the back). The back piece of the cap will actually be glued to the back column wall you put together earlier. This will allow you access into the column even after the archway has been put in place. You can see in the pictures where I used nails to hold the pieces together while the adhesive was curing. Once again, if you have any gaps you can fill them in with the Apoxie Sculpt.
After all the adhesive and Apoxie Sculpt has cured, do the same paint treatment you did on the rest of the column.
Step 5: Archway Lettering
I had to give the cemetery a name so I named it after the mill down the street, These are the letters cut from 1" extruded foam. And yeah... I realized before Halloween that I had misspelled it cemetary... I fixed that later. To make the letters I found a nice gothic looking font and printed them at the size I wanted them to be (big!). To transfer these to the foam, just use some masking tape to tape the paper to the foam, then used a ballpoint pen to trace the letters on the paper. The pen doesn't even need ink for this to work, because the pen will put an indentation in the foam below the paper. Once the tracing is done, removed the paper and cut the letter along the marks left by the pen with either a knife or a foam cutter. I did the same thing to create the skull.
The next thing to do is to paint each of the letters with a flat black primer coat. You need to paint the foam before you can use spray paint on them because spray paint will cause the foam to melt. A little of this can be good because it will help make the letters look like corroded metal (see picture), but you don't want your letters to really dissolve. If you want to make sure that the letters don't melt at all, you'll probably need to use two or more coats of paint. I like the slightly corroded look, though so I was fine with just one coat.
When the primer was dry, I gave each of the letters a good covering with the hammered copper spray paint. Finally did a light spray of jade spray paint to make the lettering look like rusted copper. I did this lightly to let the copper show through.
Step 6: Making the Arch
The archway to go above the columns was cut from a 1/2" sheet of plywood. As I stated earlier, I probably would use 3/4" plywood if I had to do it again to make the whole thing a bit more rigid. Lay out your letters beforehand to figure out how much space you will need. Make sure that you will have good support for all your letters in your design. To do the scroll work, I did an image search for wrought iron scrollwork, found a design I liked and traced it onto the plywood in in interesting pattern. The other thing to note is that you need to support two vertical rectangles on each side the diameter of your 1" PVC pipe. Keep in mind that these are not actually one inch. One inch is the nominal inner diameter and you are going for the actual outer diameter.
To attach the posts, I cut a 1/2" wide slot from what would become the top of of the post down a little past the height of the support rectangles on the plywood. If you are using 3/4" plywood, you'll need to make the slot 3/4" of an inch wide. I used a table saw to make the slots, which made pretty easy work of it, but a jigsaw would also work if you are careful and take it slow and steady. When the slots were cut, I slid the support rectangles of the plywood into the slot. I then drilled a 1/4" hole through the PVC on one end, through the plywood and out though the other side of the pipe. I did this about an inch or two inside the top and bottom of the plywood on both sides. I then cut four dowels about four inches long, lightly spread some epoxy on the dowels, and drove them through all three holes, leave a margin on each side. Best if you use gloves when doing this.
After the epoxy has cured, cut off the excess ends of the dowels and sand the posts smooth so the dowels are no longer protruding. While you are sanding the dowels, it's a good idea to sand the entire PVC pipe. Paint will stick better to PVC if it's been roughed up a bit. Once I finished that I wrapped some duct tape above and below the plywood to cover the slot I had cut in the pipe.
Since I was using some fairly cheap, plywood, I decided to apply a couple coats of gesso to help fill in the imperfections in the veneer. If you use a better grade of plywood you won't need to do this and even if you did use the cheap stuff like I did, this is a purely optional step.
Once the gesso was dry I applied a coat of primer and after that a rust colored spray paint as an under layer. I tried using an antiquing technique where I put down a layer of Elmer's glue, then lightly painted over with black paint and then hit it with the heat gun. Note that while this had a great effect, I wouldn't recommend it because the first good rain dissolves the glue (d'oh!) and I had to redo it. I later came up with some much better rusting technique: Just before applying the black spray paint over the rust colored paint, spritz the arch with a little water. The water will prevent the black spray paint from adhering to the arch wherever it is. This will leave little flecks of the rust color showing through. For a more dramatic rust effect, Mix some rust colored oil paint with sawdust (you should have a good supply of that now) and apply that in some strategic locations.
To cap off the posts I added a couple of solar powered lawn lights. I had to remove the lawn spike on the lights, drilled a hole in some PVC end caps, then I screwed the lights into the caps using the same bolts that originally held the light onto the lawn spike. I treated the lights similarly to the letters (making sure to mask off the solar panels first).
The wings I sculpted with Apoxie Sculpt. You can use it just like any other sculpting clay. I used a set of sculpting tools and some water to get the look I wanted. The wings were also given a coating of the hammered copper spray paint and a light coating of jade spray paint.
Finally the lettering can be stuck to the arch using the foam board or construction adhesive.
Step 7: Creating the Gate
To get the width of the gate, I set up the columns with the arch dropped into the pipe flanges. It's very important to have the gate and arch be the right width for each other. Starting in on the gate. I took a 4" PVC pipe and sliced it up like a salami with my miter saw to make the rings (width measured to be the same as the rails). I cut strips of luan plywood to make the outer layers of the rails. Four were the same length and the other two somewhat shorter (to accommodate the bottom of the columns where they were thicker). I took a couple of scrap pieces of 1/2" PVC pipe to determine the placement of the pickets. There was a little space left over which I left in the middle. Then I cut a bunch of pieces of wood to space the pickets the same width as the 4" PVC (note... nominal width, if you do this, be sure to actually measure the outside diameter). I was originally going to get some plastic finials, but then was able to find some real cast iron ones for even cheaper (score!). As an added bonus, the finals were sized pretty well to fit inside the 1/2" PVC.
I laminated the luan with the spacer pieces of wood together to make the rails. The holes are sized to fit the 1/2" PVC. You can see in the pictures where I made up the difference in the center (I figure that will look like where the gate was meant to open).
I stuck the finials into the 1/2" PVC pickets with some Apoxie Sculpt. I used some duct tape to temporarily hold the pickets and finials together until the epoxy set. Note that I cut the 1/2" PVC to different lengths to create an arch.
Once the epoxy had set, I fed the pickets into the the rails and drove a screw though the luan into the PVC to hold it together. When the gate was assembled, I set it onto the L brackets from the columns. I marked where the outermost holes in the L brackets lined up on the gate, and then drilled holes in the gate so that I could join the gate to the columns with nuts and bolts.
To finish the gate, I used the same rusting technique I described earlier, where I applied a coat of rust color paint, allowed that to dry, then spritzed the gate with water, and finally gave the gate a coating of black spray paint before the water could dry.
You can use the same techniques to create a fence on either side of the gate, but given my yard configuration I decided that wasn't necessary.
Step 8: Hooking Up the Smoke Machine
I was lucky enough to get a used smoke machine from a friend for free. It was a fairly big one, which on the one hand is good, but it was too big to fit inside the column as it was. The main problem was the plastic casing, but I didn't really need that. So I cracked it open, took out all the pieces and reassembled them on a piece of plywood that was cut to rest on top of the inner furring strips, like the audio shelf I made earlier.
In most cases, I was able to use existing screw holes in each of the components to fix them to the plywood shelf. The reservoir for the fog fluid just rests on the shelf. For the business end of the smoke machine, I removed the screen and cut a piece of plywood to replace it. I then attached a scrap of furring strip to the bottom of this to fix the whole thing to the self. I cut this furring strip to the right height so that I could attach the 1" to 3/4" slip/threaded reducer coupling in front of the hole where the smoke comes out.
You can see from the pictures how I connected up the plumbing to the gargoyle above. Depending on how you set it up, you might need to use a slightly different configuration. To get the smoke to the second gargoyle, I concealed a pipe running along the back of one of the gate cross pieces and attached it to the gate using black zip ties. The pipe got the same painting treatment as the rest of the gate to further conceal it.
When all this was done, I ran a "smoke" test to make sure that it all worked. After getting a lot of rain one weekend, the second gargoyle was not spitting smoke. I figured out that this was because water had collected in the pipe preventing the smoke from going through. To fix this, I put a small drainage hole in the low end of the pipe.
Step 9: Aging the Columns
To make the columns look older, I used a variety of techniques. One was to thin some brown oil paint with mineral spirits and dribble that in a few places. I also did a little dry brushing on the columns with a few different colors that I thought were similar to either rust, mildew, mold, and other discolorations.
I was particularly pleased with the technique I came up with to create fake lichens growing on the columns. I took a tube of moss green paint and applied it to the columns by mashing the brush into the column (this is why it's good to use a cheap acid brush instead of one of your favorite paint brushes). This gave the paint a very textured look. While the paint was still wet, I took some more of the thinned brown paint and applied it to the green. It's a good idea to do this from the top with a tiny bit and have a paper towel handy to confine the brown to just where the green has been applied. This will make the "lichen" pop out and define the texture. You could also do this with a variety of other lichen colors in shades of grey to green.
Step 10: Securing the Gate
Once you're ready to set up for Halloween and selected your site, drive the 12" lengths of rebar through the eyebolts in the bottom. When I set this up, I pay close attention to the weather. If it's expected to be pretty windy I remove the arch since that acts like a pretty good sail. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do. I usually remove the lights first because I don't want them to accidentally get broken. Then, using a ladder I just gently tug the arch out and rest it on the ground. When the wind has calmed down I put the arch back by reversing the process. With the rebar in and the arch down, the gate has been able to stand up to some pretty significant wind.
Step 11: Final Thoughts
I really love the way this gate came out. It really has a gravitas that pulls the whole cemetery together and also serves the very useful function of keeping the trick-or-treaters away from my other props.