I’ve been wanting a coffin for Halloween for a couple of years now. With all my pallet scraps lying around, I’ve more than enough material to build it myself. Why spend a fortune on a pre-made one? Besides, it’s fun, and I have a skeleton that needs to fit. So let me show you what I did, including how my idea changed a bit during construction.
Step 1: Broken, Splintered, and Otherwise Unusable Boards
I've been building lots of things with pallet wood. Shelving in my shed, bird feeders all over the yard, raised garden beds... Yeah, I've been using a lot of these things. But a lot of the wood from pallets simply can't be used for much of anything. It's brittle, it's been badly abused. Pulling them apart often breaks or splinters them. These misfit boards are no good for building anything useful. Or are they? Collect up they lot. You'll need more than you think.
What you need may be different, but you definitely will want:
bits for drilling holes and a putting in screws, which will be quicker and easier than nails.
Lots of scrap wood
As you can see, my power tools are the corded variety. Don’t shoot me. I’m old. My tools are old. But they do the job. I’ll get something worthy of the 21st century later, when I don’t have other things to invest in. However, as this is what I have, I also need:
An extension cord
Safety gear – sorry, that didn’t make the photo, but at least goggles.
And as my drill requires more of an effort to switch bits, I also have my Coleman drimel style tool. I’ll use it to drill my holes, and the drill itself for the screws. I’ve placed my power bar on the edge of my work table and C-clamped it into place so I don’t have to worry about where all the cords are. Now let’s get started.
Step 3: How Big Do You Want It?
Dimensions – how big do you want this thing? If you have something to stick in there, you’ll need to get some measurements. I have a skeleton, so I needed to know how tall, wide, and deep she is. Yes, she. There’s a good reason why there isn’t a full photo of her on here. My fiancé is obsessed with the early 1920’s Berlin, and he dressed her up accordingly. Politely, she looks like a hooker, which is probably not so appropriate for posting in an Instructable. At least, not fully. You’ll see a bit of her later, you can use your imagination for the rest of her...
So, Lretta (as he named her) is 5’ tall, 1 ½ ‘ wide at the shoulders, and nearly about 6 inches deep. I added six inches to the height and width, and a couple inches to the depth.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of scrap pallet boards, both ends and pieces and full boards. While these aren’t worth a darn for much, they are perfect for a coffin that’s probably been in the ground for a hundred years or so and which was built for someone who didn’t have the money for a nice one. Poor thing, her final resting place was just slapped together to give the old girl a decent burial, whether she wanted it or not. (Whoopsies!) This is NOT going to be pretty! Therefore, I don’t need pretty wood.
I put the frame together first. This is the only part you want to do precisely. Your nice framework is going to hold the whole thing together, and unlike the rest, you’ll want nice square corners, straight edges all precisely measured. It’ll save you a lot of heartache.
I decided to use screws rather than nails just for convenience sake, plus I want this to last. In the dark, who’s going to know? But pallet wood is brittle. Whether you use nails or screws, you want to per-drill your holes or the wood will split. You need a bit that’s smaller than the nails or the main shaft of the screw. It’s old and dilapidated, but you want it to stay together regardless of what it would really do under the circumstances. And here’s my two ends.
Now attach the sides. I only made the framework for the sides and back. The open front doesn’t really need it, and in fact would get in my way.
Step 5: Fill in the Sides and Back
Now, you’ll be hard pressed to find pallet boards that are 5 ½ feet long. What to do? No problem. Simply measure one or two boards to for the height of the box, depending upon how long your boards are. You may only need one, you may need two. I only needed one. That second piece you see is to keep my surface level. My table isn’t long enough for the entire length, so I put that other piece underneath to make things level and stable rather than having the teeter totter effect going on. Very annoying when trying to hold things stable.
Also, one of my boards had a diagonal chunk missing completely. You do want the top of your coffin to be level for the lid to fit properly, but still, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Remember, poor Lretta couldn’t afford something nice. I simply laid my yard stick along the top to make the adjustments, clamped it, then drilled it into place. Rather than doing a bunch of measuring, I just put the boards on, then trimmed the edges all at once. That is, for the ones that need it. You’ll notice, not all of the boards go all the way to the edge. Some had to be adjusted in order to be long enough. Poor Lretta. They just weren’t very conscientious craftspeople…
While none of this wood is perfect, and there are gaps the entire length, I put the worst ones at what will be the top. Apparently, poor Lretta wasn’t exactly completely gone when she was put in. This comes in later when making the lid.
OK, put on your ends and the back. Don’t worry about gaps. In fact, I purposely put a few on crooked. Those dratted coffin makers – they were drunk on top of cheap.
Step 6: Keeping Your Little Zombie in Her Box
Now we come to the top. Like the sides, you aren’t going to have any boards the entire length of the lid. That’s fine. All you need to know is how long and how wide this needs to be. I decided mine would have two cross boards as well as the ones across the top and bottom. Now is where all those years of playing Tetris are going to come in handy. If you played Tetris, that is. I didn’t. We’ll just do the best we can.
This part was the most fun. At first, I was going to make the lid more or less as I had the rest of the box – that is, scruffy and imperfect, but complete. But as I was arranging them in my epic Tetris initiation, I started looking at some of my broken and splintered boards. They looked really interesting. I had originally thought to lay the coffin lid propped up against the box, but lying on the ground in order to see the skeleton within. But what if there was a big hole in the top? This actually made it harder. I needed more broken boards than I had, and I needed them oriented in such a way, and in the correct lengths, that they would give me the effect I wanted. I also realized I wanted a third cross board. A partial one, anyway. That one got broken, too. Your hammer is going to come in handy here. As I mentioned earlier, pallet boards are brittle. So you don’t have one broken in a way that will work? No problem! Swing away. Take out that frustration. Once you figure out how you want everything arranged, set them aside, in the right order, so you can start putting it together. I also took a few of my little broken pieces and attached them with some finishing nails. Just be sure the cross boards are long enough that you can screw your lid together on them, but short enough that they will slide into the box. The same is true of the boards going across the top and bottom. You’re going to need some pretty good measurements here. They need to be short enough to fit inside, and place on the top and bottom of the lid so they will slide inside. I did it wrong the first time and got them too far apart so the lid wouldn’t slide in. GRRR! Oh, well, I got there in the end.
Step 7: Pimping Out Lretta's Ride.
OK, now we come to an optional. My fiance wanted to line it, and I had some perfect fabric to donate to dear Lretta. In this case, you will need:
Something to grunge up the cloth. Remember, there’s been a rotting corpse in there. He used spray paint. You could also use old coffee and/or coffee grounds, black tea, or even mud, if you want. Be creative.
And line your box! Again, it doesn’t need to be pretty. It doesn’t even need to be complete, as this one is. Some scraps of fabric will work if that’s all you have. But as this one was a good length, he attached it in, cut the excess off, then ripped some holes in it. The spray paint grunged it up a bit. I attached a hook to hang dear Lretta, and now I’m ready for some finishing touches.
Step 8: Putting It All Together and Finishing Touches
With Lretta in and the lid on, we realized the poor dear is one of the living dead now, probably from being buried alive, so I added some old rope we had lying around to hold her in and we’re good to go! We finished her off with a little spotlight, a couple of little birdies to keep her company, and now she’s ready for her début!
Have a safe and fun Halloween. Just be ready for those zombies!