I have played around with making my own tombstones for the past few years at varying degrees. This year (2019), I decided to go all-in and buy multiple sheets of foam insulation board and really try to build my stock of homemade tombstones. One thing I learned, and something everyone should remember, is to get used to the feeling of destroying something. The point of making homemade tombstones is to make them look as realistic as possible. If you've ever been in an old graveyard or cemetery, you know that tombstones age naturally over time - they crack, they break, they discolor, etc. In the process of making a foam tombstone you will have to damage the foam to create the look that you are looking for. Once you are comfortable with that aspect of it, you should really enjoy this!
This instructable was created after I completed most of the tombstones. Some steps were not captured in photos, but I will try to describe the process to the best of my ability.
- 4'x8'x2" Foam Insulation Board (Pink FOAMULAR at Home Depot)
- Tombstone cutout template (create your own or find templates already available online)
- Coarse Cut Jab Saw
- Dremel tool (or any rotary tool for routing or engraving)
- Black Matte Spray Paint
- Black Matte Acrylic Exterior Paint
- Light and Dark Shades of Gray Acrylic Exterior Paint
- Paint Brushes
- 2"x4" lumber for bases
- #8 x 2-1/2" Wood Screws
- 3" Nails
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Step 1: Create or Locate a Template
This is probably the easiest step. Decide whether you want to create your own template of tombstones, or just locate a few templates online to copy and make your own.
To create your own, graph paper works best. Sketch out a 4'x8' rectangle and draw your tombstones within the template.
To find templates online, just do a few quick searches for phrases such as "foam tombstone template" or foam board tombstone". You should come up with a few results.
Step 2: Transfer Your Template and Cut the Stone
There are many ways you can transfer the template to the full size foam board. Some people use a projector and trace the projection. I found that it was easy enough to create guide marks on the edge of the board and just freehand the entire template. Depending on the template, you can determine where to use guide marks. I generally created a mark at each 6" and 12" section.
Once you have the stones sketched onto the foam board, you can start cutting! Use your coarse cut jab saw and just follow the lines. Be careful not to venture off of your lines, but if you do IT'S OK! Mistakes can become part of your aging process.
*Note - Most foam insulation board comes scored. depending on where the score lines end up on your tombstones, you may want to consider using some drywall patching paste to fill in those lines. You will notice the lines in a few of the pictures. By the time I started the large cross (it is 5' tall), I realized that I needed to cover the lines.
Step 3: Engrave Your Tombstones
The first step in this process is deciding what you want on each gravestone. There are a ton of ideas online - Google and Pinterest are your friend when it comes to finding ideas for this.
Again, there are many techniques for transferring the engraving template to your tombstone, and I'm sure that mine is not the most efficient method! But, here's what I did.
After printing the template on my home printer, I used small strips of duck tape to tape it into position. Then, I used the sharp point of a 1/2" woodboring spade drill bit and poked holes along the outline of each letter or symbol to create a path for me to follow with my Dremel.
Using your Dremel, or comparable rotary tool and your favorite routing bit, follow the path of your outline and then take out all of the foam that you want to look engraved. Be sure to consider inner areas of letters such as the triangle in the middle of an "A" or the center of a "P", "B", or "D".
It is best to engrave before you paint, but you can see in one of the pictures that I decided to add a Fleur De Lis symbol to one of my tombstones after I painted the black base coat. This created an extra step because I had to go back and paint the engraved portion before I could move on.
Step 4: Age or Weather the Tombstones
In these pictures, you can see that I've added cracks in random places. There are actually a few things that I did to age the stones:
- Using the jab saw, I gently ran it all along the sides of the stones in both directions. This breaks up small pieces of the foam which will fall off when you run your hand up and down a few times.
- I also used the saw to run along the front corner edge all around the stone. This gives the edge a carved look.
- Next, find spots in the stone that would seem realistic for a crack to begin - corners, larger breaks in the sides of stones, etc.
- Starting in those obvious spots, use the saw about 1/4" into the foam and just run it in the direction that you want your crack to go. If you wiggle the saw back and forth as you pull down, you will create that jagged look to the crack.
Step 5: Add a Base to the Tombstone
Some people are satisfied with just sticking the foam tombstones on a piece of rebar driven into the ground. I find that, by adding a wooden base to the bottom of each stone, it looks more realistic and adds a natural counter weight to wind. For most tombstones, a 2"x4" base is sufficient. Just measure and cut the front and back lengths to match the front/back width of the stone, then measure and cut the side lengths of wood to match the depth of the two front and back pieces of wood plus the foam tombstone in the middle. Use the 2-1/2" wood screws to screw the sides to the front and back base pieces. Use a couple of 3" nails to nail through the back of the base into the foam tombstone. You can also use LocTite spray adhesive to hold things together. Hopefully that makes sense!
Again, I didn't document this step very well. But, the pictures here show the base created for the large cross. In this case I used extra foam from the template and cut out two 7" high pieces for the front, back, and sides. I used LocTite Spray Adhesive to bond the foam pieces to each other. Then I added another front, back and sides using 2"x6" lumber to create a taller base to match the taller tombstone/monument. A couple more 3" nails from the back just to make sure everything is held together.
*Note - I used bar clamps to hold everything in place while gluing and/or screwing.
Step 6: Apply the Base Coat
Here's another step where you have many options and techniques!
In these pictures, you will see a slight "melted" effect especially around the cracks and engraved areas and along the edges. This effect is created by using a base coat of black matte spray paint. The propellant in spray paint creates this melting effect, which actually works well to get the weathered "pitted" look. If you use spray paint, make sure to use it sparingly - the more you use, the more "melt" you will get. I suggest testing it out on a scrap piece of foam before you start on one of your newly carved tombstones. I usually give the whole stone a random light spray and then go back over the cracked areas and the edges.
Once the spray paint dries, you will need to go back over the entire stone in regular black matte acrylic exterior paint to completely cover the stone in black. You may have to dab black paint into spots of foam along the edges, sides, and inside your engraved areas.
*Note - Some other makers will skip the spray paint step altogether. This is completely up to you! It really just depends on the look you want. Again, experiment with scrap foam to see what different techniques work for you.
Step 7: Apply Layers of Gray and Black
Once again, I didn't take any picture of my first layer of gray.
Before starting, let me just say that you shouldn't worry about rinsing brushes in different cups of water. Use one cup of water to rinse all of your brushes in. You will use that paint water in the finishing touches step!
Using a small roller brush, roll the lightest shade of gray acrylic matte exterior paint onto the stone. Use a light hand to get a random amount of coverage. You have a solid base coat, so no need to worry about full coverage here. You should be able to roll right over the engraved areas. If some of the gray gets into the engraving, let it be.
Once the light gray dries. Go back with your darker gray. Using the dry brush technique, cover the tombstone in vertical dry brushed strokes of the darker gray. To dry brush, just get some paint on your paint brush, then brush it onto a piece of cardboard until the brush is practically dry with just remnants of the paint on the bristles. This will create the dry brushing effect when you brush up and down your tombstone.
Once that layer dries, go back and use the same dry brushing technique with your black paint. The black paint works well under cracks, engravings, corners, etc. It really gives the tombstone the depth of a weathered stone.
Practice makes perfect! But, don't try to be TOO perfect.
Step 8: Add Finishing Touches
Once again, there are many techniques and options available to finish your tombstone. Some people add fake moss, vines, etc. I keep it pretty basic.
I'm not extremely happy with the way this tombstone turned out, but it gives the best image of the technique that I am about to describe.
First, I recommend putting your paint water in a spray bottle, and then adding a little more water to it. This is where I went wrong. Instead of using a spray bottle, I put on a pair of latex gloves, dipped my fingers in my "paint water" cup and just flung the paint water at the tombstone to create a weathered drip effect. A spray bottle will allow you to control this effect.
Using your spray bottle, just spritz the paint water in the areas where it makes sense that a tombstone would weather more - places where water might collect and then run down. There is no perfect look! Just use your best judgement and try not to overdo it like I did.
This is an entry in the
Halloween Contest 2019