Headstones With Engraved Letters

Introduction: Headstones With Engraved Letters

I had some leftover ½” plywood, and wanted to make some headstones for Halloween. The ones I already saw online, were cut to shape, but then the writings and designs were painted on. I have seen some foam ones both at the store and DIY they were more intricate. But decided to go this route instead (I've since found another project where they routed into wood).


  • Sheet of plywood - I had some scrap left over from another project
  • H-Frames (These were 99 cents each, and sold in the section where use find "Garage Sale" and "Open House" signs. As alternative you could use wooden lawn stakes)
  • Gray Primer (spray can). I used Rust-Oleum 2x Ultra Cover Flat Gray
  • Clear coat (spray can). I used Rust-Oleum 2x Ultra Cover Matte Clear
  • Faux stone paint (spray can). I used Rust-Oleum Gray Stone Texture
  • Black paint (craft acrylic or from can... I used some left over semi-gloss black, also from Rust-Oleum... weird)
  • Staples (3/8", possibly 1/4")
  • Glow in the dark paint (optional)


  • Jigsaw (and blade)
  • Staple Gun
  • Plunge Router (I used a Demel Rotary tool with a plunge router attachment)
  • 1/8" straight routing bit
  • Exacto knife (optional)
  • Sand paper or sanding block
  • Carbon paper (optional)
  • Glue stick (optional)
  • Paint Brush (small tip, I think it's called a liner)
  • Plastic shot glass (optional, to hold paint during lettering)
  • 10 Gallon bucket (optional, just for tracing half a circle)
  • Work bench of some sort
  • Clamp(s) (Optional?)
  • Pencil

Step 1: Sketch and Cut Out the Shape

I sketched basic headstone pattern/outline onto the plywood. Roughly 18" x 18" for a short one, and 24" tall x 18" wide for another. For the circular top on the first few, I just traced around a 10 gallon bucket. I then cut out the shape with a jigsaw. I sanded the edges and the front face with a sanding block.

Step 2: Lettering

For the lettering, I used Microsoft Word, oriented the page to landscape, and set the font as Arial Black at size 72. I found capital letters easier to work with. Centering is a good idea too. In some cases I also used some designs or clip-art from online, that I edited and cleaned up for my use. I printed the landscape formatted page. I than placed a sheet of carbon paper onto the plywood, and positioned the print out above it, taping it in place. Using a pencil I traced along the outline of all the letters and shapes, so that they would be replicated via the carbon paper to the plywood below. The designs were printed on a separate sheet of paper, just position as needed over the carbon paper.

Update: From someone else's project they printed using a laser printer (must print a reverse/mirror image), and than used an iron to reheat the toner and apply it to the plywood.

Step 3: Routing

Using a Dremel, a plunge router attachment, and a ⅛” straight routing bit… I routed out the letters and shapes, down between ⅛ and ¼” deep. I lightly re-sanded to clean the front up a bit. I also used an Exacto knife to clean up any rough edges from the routing.

I originally tried this step with a Dremel and cut out tool (rather than the plunge router)… it worked the first time, but proved difficult for the more intricate lines. The plunge router was much easier and stable.

Step 4: Stand or Stake

I also used the router to cut out some lines on the back so that I could staple an (sign's) h-frame flush to the back. Trace around the h-frame so you know how much to cut. I again went a little deeper than an 1/8". I didn't bother to make the cross bars flush. I used 3/8" staples in the staple gun, but 1/4" likely would've sufficed (and went in better). The exception would be the cross bars that were not flush, 1/4" may not have sufficed.

Why an h-frame? The wooden stakes are cheaper, but would do more damage to the lawn. If the h-frame doesn't wind up holding them up well, I'll switch to the stakes, but so far they are holding up well.

When I do this again. I'll probably make the cuts for the H-Frame, and than prime and clear coat before stapling the H-frame in place. To ensure it's sealed better under

EDIT->Skip the h-frame and the garden stakes. Much easier to use 1/4" threaded rod and conduit clips.

Step 5: Prime and Paint

Rust Oleum gray spray primer worked great. I was considering using this as the paint itself. Instead, I used a gray stone looking spray paint. Apply lightly just for effect.

I first tried primer from a can, and brushing it on. It sucked for the routed portions, just dripping and pooling into the letters.

I placed a split open garbage underneath to catch over spray, and held it in place with extra H-frames.

Step 6: Re-Lettering

As they stand now, the lettering is readable up close. To make it more clear/visible I painted the routed sections.

At one point I was using black acrylic craft paint to fill in the routed portions. It didn't seem suitable. I used a can of flat black paint instead, and carefully filled in the routed portions with a small paint brush.

I noticed when cleaning up mistakes that the stone looking paint smeared off quite easily (in fact I left a garbage bag outside that was used during spray, and the rain liquefied it). For the last headstone I sprayed on some clear coat after the stone paint, but before the lettering. Now when I cleaned up mistakes (wet paper towel), it removed just the black paint and not the paint underneath.

For at least one of the headstones, I went back over the lettering with glow-in-the-dark water based paint. It was cream colored going on, but dries clear. I wound up putting on multiple coats, and it was no longer clear, but glowed a bit better. If I go for the glow in the dark effect again I wouldn't recoat so many times, to ensure it dries clear as the black underneath is more visible in daylight.

Step 7: Clear Coat

I wasn't sure how the paint would hold up to the weather (especially the faux stone), so I covered them all with a spray clear coat. Turns out the faux stone is not very resilient. I applied many coats of the clear coat. I had good results with the Rust-oelum 2x Ultra Cover Matte Clear. Reapply every 20 minutes. Get the front, the edges, the back, and probably the bottom too.

The cross looking headstone actually split in the rain at one point (used a different brand of clear coat). I repaired it with Gorilla Glue, and applied more clear coat. Haven't had an issue with it since.

One of the headstones I didn't route, but rather applied a QR code to it. I used an "extreme" glue stick. Before priming and painting, I put a temporary place holder of the same size in its place. When dry I removed it, and put the final one in its place. And than applied lots, and lots, of clear coat to seal it. Looking back, I should have used a sticky sided lamination sheet, and than clear coated over that. (There was some seepage under the paper, and some of the edges lifted up at one point).

EDIT-> The clear coat was better than nothing, but a coat or two of clear urethane is perfect. Make sure to stir it often to prevent it from yellowing when being applied.

Step 8: Final Results

Except for the cross, the others have held up in the rain. The plywood that I re-purposed was already sagging due to previous water exposure. I'm not sure how particle board or MDF will hold up to routing, but I may give that a try in the future.

Step 9: Example for the QR Code

Sand the plywood surface well. Use an "extreme" glue stick to adhere the printed QR code in place. Use a slightly larger self lamination sheet to cover the printed sheet of paper. Cover the QR code with piece of paper of equal size (to prevent it from getting primer or painted), either with a glue stick or some double sided tape. Apply primer, just slightly overlapping the paper template. Remove the paper before the primer dries. You'll need another piece of paper when you go to paint. And again when you clear coat or seal the head stone.

Step 10: Example of MDF (minus the Routing)

A friend gave me some thin boards of MDF from a project he abandoned. I re-purposed them for mini head stones. I didn't feel putting a bunch of yard stakes in my grass. So I glued them to a strip of wood, and put a quarter as many yard stakes on to that. I skipped the routing on these, and just played around with different shades of faux stone and some spray glow-in-the-dark paint. I also eventually cut off the yard stakes and replaced them with 1/4" threaded rod and conduit clips, so as not to cause as much damage to the yard. You can tell I put much less care and attention to this batch.

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    3 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Some things I've learned: The clear coat was much less than perferct for weather proofing. Use a wood filler on any edges that are chipped or incomplete on the plywood (before priming). I've started using a clear urethane sealant to protect them from rain. It doesn't seem to block the glow in the dark paint, despite the sunlight protection. Clear coating the QR code wasn't helpful either... I redid that one by using one side of a self-lamination sheet. Basically stick on a larger piece than the QR code. Temporarily cover the QR code with an indentical sized piece of paper during painting to keep it from being covered.

    Someone requested I make one in memory of a dog that passed-on. Kind of creepy... but they appreciated it. Put a small photo in, using the same/new process for the QR code.

    2015-10-05 20.21.31.jpg

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Nicely done! That's some fine routering work. Thanks for sharing this.