How many times have you looked out onto your lawn on Halloween eve and thought about making some cute decorations to show off to the neighbors, or to hide behind and scare the kids? Well, I certainly have, and this year I was finally motivated to make my own after years of never finding any acceptable storebought tombstones.
The materials used in this project are mostly, if not all, household items, making this project an affordable one (which helps if you accidentally mess a step up).
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
The first step to any project is finding all the necessary ingredients. Since this project was made for semi-realistic tombstones, this list is somewhat large.
For the tombstones' base, you'll need:
*A number of pizza boxes (mine were around 16 inches x 16 x 2, but any boxes could work)
*Lots of old newspapers
*Flour and water in equal parts
*A bowl and a spoon
*Something solid and heavy to place inside the boxes for stability, like wood blocks or craft foam.
For the homemade salty play dough, you need:
*Cream of tartar (4 tablespoons)
*Flour (2 cups)
*Salt (1 cup)
*Water (2 cups)
*Vegetable Oil (or a similar oil) (2 tablespoons)
*A large saucepan or a dutch oven
*A large mixing bowl
*A whisk and a sturdy wooden spoon
*Measuring cups and spoons
And for the finish you'll need:
*Spray paint (the base stone color)
*Acrylic paint (for the details)
*Usual painting supplies (Brushes, water, towels, paper plates or palates, etc.)
*A wooden stake (for setting the stone in place)
It looks like an excessive list, but it's worth it in the end.
Step 2: Making Sure Your Materials Won't Defect During the Project
It's important to make sure at the beginning that your pizza boxes won't crumble under the weight of the project later on. Take a minute to examine your boxes. They need to be able to bear the weight of both paper mache and a few batches of play dough.
An indicator of the pizza boxes' resistance is when you first get the box. If your pizza came with a little plastic thing in the middle of it to hold the box off of it, you might want to seriously consider reinforcing it with craft foam on the inside and paper mache the lid so it's stronger. (Make sure you only reinforce the box(es) that will stay intact during the process)
Trust me, you don't want to see your hard work cave in on itself on the final steps and have to start all over again.
Second, you'll want to make sure the box won't wobble while you work with it. Take your duct tape or other tape and tape the box securely shut. I used just 6 pieces per box, and that was plenty to keep it in place.
With these precautionary steps, your project has a good chance of holding itself up during the construction process and maybe for next Halloween.
Also: This is the best place to think about how you want your stone to look in your yard. Do you want it to appear free-standing or are you okay with just leaning it up against a tree or a garden post? If you want your stake hidden inside the stone, cut a hole in the bottom of the box to the size of the stake. If not, then keep going with the project.
Step 3: Constructing the Basic Shape
Now you have your boxes taped up and un-crushable. Now you get to start on the creative process.
Take your two (or however many) boxes and line them up. In my example, I used two boxes, a full one and a half. I lined them up and marked where I wanted my final height to be at, then marked around the entire box with a marker.
After you have your lines made up and are satisfied with them, get out the craft knives and scissors and start cutting. Make sure that beforehand, you've taped the box so that both sides will stay together after they're cut apart.
You should have all the main blocky pieces of your tombstone now. Arrange them however you like and securely tape them together with the duct tape. Simple, right? Now get your trusty pencil and start drawing out the curves (if you want them). Again, once you're satisfied with how it looks, darken it with a marker. This time though, mark out the parts you're going to cut in order (as in number them somehow) and set them aside, you'll need them for the back.
Once you've cut the shape out on one side, flip the box-arrangement over and place all the cut out pieces on the boxes upside-down in the pattern you created to get an exact mirror image of the front. Outline these pieces with your marker and cut the rest out. You should be left with the base shape of your tombstone.
Step 4: Solidifying the Shape
Okay, the basic shape is complete. It's time to break out the grade-school paper mache techniques and make the shape strong and durable.
If you recall, we'll need the materials for this process:
*Equal parts flour and water (around a cup of both is good for one stone),
*A mixing bowl,
*A mixing spoon,
*A heap of newspaper torn into long strips.
My newspaper was ripped into 1-2 inch wide strips half the length of the newspaper page, but this is largely decided by preference.
Start by pouring all the water in the bowl, then gradually mixing in the flour until you get it to a smooth consistency. Once all the flour lumps are out, take a strip of newspaper and place it over the gap at the top of the stone (where you cut out the curve). Repeat this, fanning the strips out over the top and sides of the tombstone. Make sure you cover all the duct tape on the box or else the salty play dough won't stick later on.
If you cut an opening in the bottom to hide the stake, be sure not to paper mache over it! It'll be tough to cut it back open later on, or you might forget about it completely.
After a while you might notice the top of the stone starting to bend inward. Don't worry, just put some spare cardboard or a paperclip as far down in the top as you can to hold it open (see the pictures). You can fill in the dent later with the salt dough.
Now after all that hard work, you can sit back and wait for it to dry overnight.
Step 5: Making the Salty Play Dough
The salty play dough is what gave me the inspiration for this project from the start. It's elastic and just sticky enough to adhere to paper/cardboard, and when it dries it forms a salty crust over it that feels like concrete or stone.
Before you start, make sure you have enough for at least two batches, you'll have enough to finish the project (if it's around the size of mine) with a bit left over to play with.
In case you don't remember, you'll need:
*2 cups flour
*1 cup salt
*2 tablespoons vegetable oil
*4 tablespoons cream of tartar
*2 cups water
*A large mixing bowl
*A whisk and a sturdy wooden spoon
*A large saucepan or a dutch oven
*A smaller scraping spoon (like a dinner spoon)
Start by putting the water and oil in the saucepan and place the saucepan on the stove. *Do not turn the stove on yet!*
Mix the flour, salt, and cream of tartar in the large mixing bowl and whisk together.
When you're satisfied with the dry mix, turn the stove to a medium-high (Mine was on 6) and warm the water up. Grab your bowl of dry ingredients and start mixing the dry ingredients in the wet, but do it fast. The mix will start to solidify as soon as it gets warm. Once all the mix is in the pan, remove it from heat (to another burner, you'll want the first to stay on) and mix all the lumps out.
Once all the lumps are gone, return the pan to the head and mix vigorously with the whisk. *Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom continually*. When you pull the whisk out and the mix is coagulated inside of it, it's time to switch to the wooden spoon and turn the heat down to a medium-ish temperature(Mine went down to 4). If the spoon starts gathering gunk on the end, use the dinner spoon to scrape it off and keep going. Continue mixing until the dough starts to come together. *Be sure to flip the more-done dough to the top and the less-done goop to the bottom, or else the dough will be half-burned and half-goop*. If you're brave, you can test the done-ness of the dough by touching it. If it's sticky and non-elastic, it's not done. The dough is done when you can poke it and it re-forms slightly. When the dough gets to this stage, turn the stove off, turn the dough onto a clean countertop, and set the saucepan in your sink and fill it with water. This last step is important if you want the doughcrust to come off the pan.
When the dough gets warm enough to touch, begin kneading it to help cool it faster. I wouldn't recommend you leave it out for long, though. It'll start forming a salty crust within a few minutes if you don't knead it. Once it's cool enough, store it in an airtight container. It'll stay nice and squishy for a long time, although I'm not sure how long exactly. My first batch was in the container for a month before I used it, so you can make this well ahead of time and save on the stress.
When the dough is all put away, wipe down any surfaces that have a salty residue from the dough. A good sponging is usually enough to get rid of anything the dough can leave behind.
Step 6: Apply the Salty Dough
So now the tombstone shell has dried out and you've made your salty dough. Now you're ready to cover the tombstone shell IN the salty dough.
Start by covering your work area with foil or wax paper if you need to. I did this project in my dining room, so I put foil over the back and bottom of the chair I worked on so as to not get the dough mashed into the fabric.
Once you've prepped your work area, place the tombstone shell however you feel like and make a lump (or one ball) of your salty dough easily accessible, like on a plate or a bit of foil. Take a small handful of dough at a time and even it out in your hands. It doesn't have to be exact by any means. When it's to your desired thickness, just stick it to the shell. I started mine at the top and went down the front and sides. If your stone has a dent at the top from whatever was holding it open, just mash more dough into the dent to even the top out. Continue covering the sides and the front until it looks just the way you want it to.
At this point you can go to the back of the stone or do the bottom. If you don't care so much about the bottom since probably nobody will see it, you can just skip the bottom altogether, but it's nice to do it just in case its moist outside. You don't want the inside melting out, do you?
If you cut an opening in the bottom to hide the stake, be sure to not put the dough over the hole!
To do the back of the stone, just flip the box around, but be careful. All the weight of the dough is now on the stone, so don't drop it! Continue covering from the top down, and try to make the seam where the sides meet invisible. When the stone is completely covered, sit back and watch your soon-to-be-finished tombstone dry. I let mine sit out for around 10 hours and flipped it around. If your stone is touching something, chances are the dough won't dry, so remember to flip it when the front is dry and let the back sit and dry.
Step 7: Time for Paint!
So far you've made the tombstone skeleton, the salty dough, and put it all together. Now you get to paint it up and make it presentable to the world!
In this step you'll need:
*Spray paint, 3 oz + depending on the size of your stone
*More duct tape
Find a well-ventilated area or go outside somewhere where you can spray paint your stone. Cover this area with the newspaper and tape it down. Now place your dried stone on the paper and spray paint the front. *Make sure you follow the instructions on the can to make sure you don't accidentally mess up the paint job*. When you've covered the stone to your satisfaction, wait until the paint dries and flip the stone over. Repeat this process on the back and make sure you paint the sides as well.
When the base coat is dry, it's time to get out the acrylic paints and do the detail work. Mine was pretty simple, some basic squiggly lines, a name, and a cute little skull. This is the artistic part, so you probably don't need any help in this area. Just paint whatever you want on the stone and let it dry. My paint dried in a few minutes, but depending on the kind you have, it might take longer.
Step 8: Show It Off!
Finally, this is what you've been waiting for. You've got your tombstone made and it's ready to go. Now all you have to do is set it up.
At this point all you need is a garden stake, a hammer, and your tombstone. Find a nice place in your yard to set up your stone. Luckily, my yard has a nice old crabapple tree in it, and it had already dropped quite a few leaves and tiny shriveled apples, so I decided to prop the stone right underneath the tree.
Next, you decide what angle you want the stone to sit at. Be sure you get it right, because you'll have to pull the stake out and re-stick it if you don't get it exactly how you want, and you might ruin your good spot. Hammer on the stake a few times or until the stake is firmly in the ground.
Now slide your stone over the stake or lean the stone against it, make any adjustments necessary, and stand back to admire your work! Congratulations, you've completed your Halloween tombstone prop!
Now that you've seen how to construct the tombstone, and if you have the artistic skill/spirit, you could do this project on a greater scale and make an entire graveyard. This little stone stood up pretty well this Halloween, and I know my parents are going to keep it for next year.
If there's a problem or if you have a question, a suggestion, or a critique on any part of this instructable, feel free to say so. If I don't get back to you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll definitely reply back. This was my first instructable, and I would appreciate comments back on how I did. Thanks for reading this through in advance!