In this Instructable, I'll show you how I made this replica of Billy Butcherson's tombstone from the movie Hocus Pocus. It's super simple to do and will help you set the bar for Halloween decorations in your own neighborhood!
If you'd rather watch a build video before jumping into the Instructable, be sure to watch the full video above. If you like it, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so I know this is the type of project people enjoy learning how to make themselves!
- 3/4 pine board
- Length of 2x4
- Grey exterior latex paint
- Black exterior latex paint
- Black Spray paint
- Wooden dowels
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Step 1: Gather Materials and Supplies
The materials for the decorative yard tombstone are pretty basic. At the end of the day, it's just a board that we carve our design into and paint to look old.
- Laser cutter (though a Dremel or hand carving tools would work if you don't have access to one)
- Belt sander
- Electric drill
- Drill bits
- Self-centering doweling jig (though if you're very steady and careful you don't need this)
- Foam paint rollers
- Small paint brush
- Paper towels
- 3/4" x 18" x 30" pine board
- 2x4" cut to 24" long
- 16" wooden dowels
- Grey exterior latex paint
- Black exterior latex paint
- Black spray paint
Step 2: Design the Tombstone Artwork
The first thing I had to do is reverse engineer the design on the computer from various screenshots and reference material I found online. I'm writing this Instructable as a guide to make a replica of Billy Butcherson's tombstone in particular, but the techniques here can be applied to virtually any design you come up with.
I’m most comfortable using Adobe Illustrator but you can use whichever program you like, or even freehand a hand drawn design for your tombstone.
I scaled the design so that it would be 18” wide and 30” tall, which I determined would be a good size by printing it out on my home printer and laying it out on the floor.
To assist you in getting started, I've included a PDF of my final Billy Butcherson artwork that you can use yourself.
Step 3: Etch the Tombstone
Now it's time for the fun part, lasering! I used a panel of 3/4" pine board that is larger than my design file. If you're wondering why it's black starting out, it's because this particular board is the retired desktop to my old desk and is (ironically) being given new life as this tombstone.
For the record, I don't have my own laser, so don't think you need one in order to do this project – I’m using the laser at my local maker space. If you live in or near a moderately-sized city, there's likely a maker space near you too. Even certain libraries and universities have them and will allow you to use them for a small fee.
If you ultimately don’t have access to one you could carve your design with a Dremel rotary tool, or even use hand carving tools. It will just take a little longer and you’ll need a steady hand.
Step 4: Paint the Etched Design
The completed tombstone will have black inside the etched parts for readability, and gray paint on the non-etched parts. To accomplish the first part of that, after laser etching our design, we'll spray paint the etched area with black spray paint. Don't worry about over-spray on the non-etched portions, as we'll be painting that later.
Step 5: Cut the Tombstone Out
If your laser cutter is powerful enough, this could technically be done on the laser, but the one I have access to couldn't cut all the way through. So instead, I lasered my cut line and cut it out on a bandsaw.
In hindsight, this was a little large and unruly trying to cut on the bandsaw, so I'd recommend using a jigsaw instead, which would be much easier to control around the curves of the design.
I did this after painting the interior of the design but you can definitely do it before.
Step 6: Paint the Non-Etched Faces
After painting the interior etched portion of the design, we'll use a small craft paint roller to paint the majority of the tombstone with grey-colored exterior latex paint.
You'll want to be very slow and deliberate around the etched portions so that the roller stays level and doesn't get any paint inside the design. If a little bit does get in here and there, it's perfectly fine since we'll be faux-aging the design to make it look old, and old things rarely look perfect – its what gives them their charm! After the front side dries, paint the edges and back of the tombstone too.
Step 7: Age the Tombstone
Once all the paint has dried, and it looks like a brand new tombstone, it's time to make it look a little more aged, you know, as though it has been sitting in a cemetery for 300+ years like the inscription says!
To do this, we'll water down some black paint and use a paper towel to lightly streak it across the gravestone. I recommend doing the back first in order to practice your technique, since that will be the side that no one really sees, but let me tell you what worked well for me.
Anything that has sat outside for decades (or in the case of Billy's tombstone, centuries) will have vertical streaks from rain water pulling dirt down with it as it trickles to the ground, so your aging will look the best if you keep all of your strokes parallel with the tombstone’s vertical orientation.
If you got more paint inside the etched portion than you intended, you can also use a bit of non-diluted black paint and a small brush to touch up areas inside the design. I got a little grey paint inside a few of my letters, so I fixed it in order to assist with legibility.
Step 8: Make the Base and Supports
Next, we'll drill three holes in the bottom of the tombstone with a 3/8" drill bit. I used a self-centering doweling jig that assists with drilling holes in the side of a thin board, but as long as you're super steady-handed you can drill the holes without this jig. We'll then use these holes to insert 3/8" diameter dowels to stake it in the yard, but first we'll sharpen those dowels to turn them into stakes by grinding them down to a point on the sander.
Most real tombstones have a base, so instead of just staking it up by itself, we'll make a simple base too. To make the base, simply cut a 2x4 a few inches wider than your headstone on both sides, and prep and paint it with the same grey paint.
After the base is made, we'll drill holes in the exact same spot, centered on the 2x4, for the stakes to pass through on their way into the ground. This will secure the headstone to the ground and base in one fell swoop. It helps to give the outside holes a little play by angling the drill bit to the left and right if the fit is a bit tight. This isn’t fine furniture by any means, so it's okay to be a little sloppy here.
Step 9: Mount It in Your Yard
Now time for your big reveal! Mounting it in your yard!
I happen to have an all-too-convenient place in our front yard to put this decoration. We have a strip of dead grass in our front yard that we plan to fix next spring, but for the time being it looks like we buried a body in our front yard, so we might as well make use of it, right?
Mounting couldn't be easier! Simply put the base down, put the dowels in the bottom of the tombstone, and push it straight down. Running into a little resistance is normal, but unless you have huge rocks buried in your yard, firm steady pressure and a little bit of rocking back and forth should do the trick!
One quick note about the base, stakes and sign itself – I didn’t glue any of these together. I wanted it to be easy to disassemble and store flat at the end of the season, so everything is a dry press fit while it's in use. I plan to make some more tombstones with different designs, so being able to store all of them flat on top of each other, with all the stakes bundled together, and all the bases stored together too will be quite convenient.
Step 10: Admire Your Spooky Work!
That's it! I’m super super happy with how this came out and I can’t wait to make more like it in the future, to slowly build the perfect Halloween graveyard. I hope you enjoyed my write-up about the project!
Be sure to watch the video above for more details, and if you like it please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel for more projects like this.
Participated in the
Halloween Contest 2019