How to Convert an Old Swingset Into a Guillotine Prop for Halloween




This project stemmed from the need to move a pile of lumber that used to be a wooden swing set and the desire to have a nice prop for Halloween festivities.

A friend had recently made me aware of this site, so I decided that this would be a good project to post as my first instructable.

Here's a link to this year's DIY Halloween Contest page: DIY Halloween Contest

Step 1: Tools and Sullpies

Old swing set or landscape timbers and 2x4s
1/2" x 12" x ? lumber (for stocks - depends on width of guillotine)
1/4" plywood (for blade)
Various lengths of 3/8" hex bolts and carriage bolts
A good supply of 3/8" fender washers and nuts
Wood screws

Reciprocating saw
Drill with 1/2' bit
Jigsaw (not shown)
A selection of smaller drill bits for pilot holes

Step 2: Gather the Materials

I looked at the pile of materials and decided which pieces would be used for the uprights.

After moving a few of the pieces around I realized that it was easiest to use the section with only two vertical uprights since I would waste less of the material and leave more for future projects. The second pictures shows my hand pointing to the section I chose to use.

Step 3: Let the Material Determine the Size of the Prop

This series of pictures shows how I began designing and laying out the prop. This is where i got to break out my trusty reciprocating saw.

I separated the 4x4 vertical posts from the base. I had to sacrifice a few inches of the posts because the bolts securing them to the base had rusted and would not break free. However, this still left me with uprights just shy of seven feet tall. The wood from the base was cut in half in order to be used for the two base supports of the prop.

Once I separated the uprights from the base I cut the climbing rungs that still joined the two posts together. I realized after all of the rungs were cut that the nails that had been driven through them had rusted away, allowing me to push the remaining sections of dowel out of the posts.

I scavenged a section of the base from another section to use as the upper crossbar. I cut the base section just ahead of one of the parts that had been notched to join it to an upright, leaving me with an outside width of just over 35 inches.

Step 4: Reuse Any Available Hardware

While moving the sections of the swing set I noticed some nice, heavy-duty corner brackets on the monkey bars that were ideal for the top section of the prop. I removed them, along with their rusted (but still usable) hardware to be recycled into this project.

The new bolts, washers and nuts that I used were nice for getting things to fit together easily, but the look of the rusted bolts on the frame really helped to give it a more creepy look. They also saved me a bit from not having to purchase new hardware for every joint in the project.

Notice the bolt hole in the center of the crossbar. It just worked out that it was there and that I didn't have to drill my own hole. Behind the hole is a notched section that will allow a rusted eye bolt to be almost directly in the center of the frame, allowing the appearance of the blade to be raised and lowered without having it off-center.

I made every attempt to use existing holes in the lumber as mounting points rather than having to drill new holes. Since most of the lumber I was using had multiple copies of the same layout, it simplified the build.

Step 5: Initial Assembly

I began dry fitting the parts together to make sure everything worked as I wanted it.

The first picture shows the uprights and crossbar bolted together along with the two posts for the base. I added a pair of braces to the front and rear for stability, but realized that the setup needed a horizontal brace at the bottom to provide lateral stability as well.

After a bit more scrounging I located a scrap of 2x4 that had originally been part of one of the braces. I preferred to continue to use the aged, weathered wood for everything that I could to give the prop more impact. A fresh piece of wood would look out of place on this project.

The lower brace was cut to fit and installed, allowing the frame to be stood upright for the first time. Since the bolts were all just hand-tight and the ground wasn't level, you can see that the frame leaned a bit to the left. A wrench and a few more additions solved the problem.

Step 6: Build the Stocks

I happened to have an 8' section of lumber that we had used as a shelf at one time. I cut two sections of that lumber to match the width of the prop, then prepared to position them on the uprights as the stocks. If time allows I will sand down this lumber and then rub it down with graphite to give it a gray, weathered appearance.

I got on my hands and knees between the uprights and determined the approximate area where the center of the stocks should be located. Then I laid down the prop and positioned the lumber on the uprights. Once the frame was square and the lumber was clamped down, I drilled 1/2" holes for carriage bolts to secure them to the posts. Four holes were drilled into the bottom half, for a semi-permanent mount, while only two holes were drilled in the upper half. This allowed me to use wing nuts on the upper bolts and be able to open and close the stocks to secure 'victims' in the stocks.

Two short sections of weathered 2x4 were screwed to the bottom section as battens, making the upper bolts optional if desired.

After everything was fitted I removed the lumber, drew out an oversized circle for neck hole and removed that section with my jigsaw. I wanted people to be able to pose in the stocks without having to feel as if they were trapped in them, so the bigger hole allows most people to put their heads through the hole without the top section being raised and then locked back in place.

Step 7: The Blade

The blade is made with a thin piece of plywood. I pulled a scrap out that was approximately the right width, then cut the blade on an angle, 10" long on one side and 16" long on the other.

To give the blade a bit more realism I sanded a beveled edge into it prior to painting it. If I had thought the blade through a bit more I would have skim coated it to make it completely smooth prior to painting. Since sanding was the only prep work I did, the wood grain showed through both the primer and the silver.

Once the metallic finish dried I picked out some black, brown and red paint to give the blade some character. The colors were initially sprayed over the blade, then spattered with a brush.

A particularly aged piece of 2x4 was chosen to sandwich the blade. The rear piece of wood was drilled from the top down to accept another rusted eye bolt. Twine was passed through the bolt, then spliced in an eye loop and whipped with smaller stuff to finish the splice cleanly.

Step 8: Top Hardware

These pictures show the top crossbar with the rusted eye bolt mentioned earlier. I also added eyebolts on either end of the crossbar to allow the twin to be run to either side of the prop.

Step 9: Mount the Blade

Unfortunately, my daughters were eager to help with the final stages of the project and i neglected to take pictures of how the blade gets mounted. I disassembled the prop for storage before i realized my oversight. Once the prop is reassembled I will post explanatory pictures.

I drilled holes horizontally into each side of the blade assembly between the 2x4s. I also drilled holes through the uprights on each side. The holes allow dowel rods to be pushed through the uprights and into the blade assembly, suspending it above the stocks.

The series of holes allows the blade to be positioned at five locations from top to bottom, giving a potential "victim" many photo opportunities.

The last things needed to complete the display are a basket to catch the aftereffects and an executioner. The basket is being scavenged for right now, and I'm in the process of creating a grim-reaper type figure to stand next to the prop.



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    25 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I made mine this year. Didn't even think to document everything. I used an instructable for my basic structure and added to it. Mine was built using mostly old lumber lying around my yard all year. I had to purchase a 2x10 for the lunnette.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the info, I did not have the old swing set but used old wood.  Built the whole thing for about 13 bucks.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great first instructable! Id love to do this at my house, but our swing is still in use... :P

    2 replies

    10 years ago on Introduction

    I might just do this and put it in my bedroom all year round.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    it would be even better if the blade actually dropped and there was a fake head there, and a fake body (disconnected) so wen the blade drops the head falls off from the movement.

    2 replies

    11 years ago on Introduction

    cool! you win the front page Halloween post -link at for that one!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    a little extra thing to do is make it so the blade can completely fall through the stocks (the thing that holds it must be a bit thinner), make the stocks a bit larger so if you hold your hand in the neck hole when (slowly) letting it down it can hide the whole blade, ad a bit of foam or something else in the stocking so the blade stops a few millimeters above your neck (but totally concealed in the stocking), then add another blade with the same size and push it in the bottom of the stocking, so (if timed right) it can look like the blade falls completely trough the neck (make the stocking a bith tighter right under the head to hold it, and push down with your neck to drop it)


    Oh my gosh! How creepy. Even has his head on the ground! Ugh! That'll be the next Ghost story, Once, a man was trying to make a guillotine when really chops his head off. Boo Y'all!!