How-To: Make Spooky Props

Easy homemade Halloween yard decorations; Tombstones, props and more!


John and Pat Ehrenreich, Hot Wire enthusiasts from Maryland, have put together a “how-to” so you can start making your own Halloween decorations that are easy to make and will last for years to come!

Getting Started: The tombstone shapes were carved with one or more of the Hot Wire Foam Factory tools, including the Sculpting tool, the Scroll Table and the Bow Cutter. We can’t wait to use the new Hot Wire Foam Factory Industrial Hot Knife this year to make more tombstones. There are several different variations of the basic tombstone, from a wood look to a marble effect.

How to Halloween props

Foam: We use insulation foam board / Styrofoam in either white, pink or blue found at our local home improvement stores. The sheets come in various sizes and thicknesses. We get about 4 tombstones from one two inch thick 2 foot wide x 8 foot long sheet.

Glue: Typically, we used two inch Styrofoam. For larger tombstones, we used a combination of thicknesses. When we use multiple pieces of insulation foam board / Styrofoam, we glued them together with Hot Wire Foam Factory’s Foam Fusion. We glued the Styrofoam together before lettering and painting.

Names & Epitaphs: From fonts on the computer, we printed out names and epitaphs which we then pinned to unpainted Styrofoam. We made small pinholes in each letter or design and connected the dots with the Engraving tool on the Sled Guide. Using the Sled guide is important as it controls the depth for a professional look to produce neatly raised, flush or etched letters. The Sled Guide also makes it very easy to remove the excess Styrofoam around the lettering at the same depth, and to produce different styles of lettering, even script, using a template, such as those we made, or free hand.

Halloween tombstones
Halloween tombstones
Halloween tombstones

Your tombstone can have whatever look you want – wood, marble or stone. Mix it up with multiple tombstones to make your display unique! Techniques for how to create the different finishes start below:

For a wood look: We use pink or blue Styrofoam to create the wood look. For fine grain lines, we used the 4 inch Hot Knife on the Pro Power Station, powered down to a very low temperature – just enough to break the surface of the Styrofoam. We made the wood knots by lightly tapping the Hot Knife into a knot pattern. For larger lines to give the look of more than one piece of wood, we mounted the Engraver on the Sled Guide. When carving and graining are completed, we painted the entire tombstone with a base color in water-based paint, making sure to get into all of the grain and wood knot lines so that no foam is showing. When dry, we used a dry brush technique to paint the entire surface again in a complimentary color. We found that by using just a very small amount of paint in the dry brush process, the result was that we preserved and enhanced the color of the wood grain. Wood graining techniques may take some practice on scrap pieces of Styrofoam but it is worth it for a realistic look.

How To Make Foam TombstonesFor a marble texture: After the base coat and lettering are dry, we used water-based paint in a complimentary color in a dry brush technique. In order to get the thin, spidery veins of a marble texture, almost no paint on very thin brush is used. The brush can also be run over a piece of damp paper to remove even more paint. The Poe tombstone is coated with the Foam Coat mixed with water and paint and then directly painted on the tombstone. The marble texture was then dry brushed on. After the marble texture was dry, we then coated the tombstone with a light coat of water-based polyurethane for a shiny topcoat.

For a stone look: The Celtic cross is completely coated with the Hot Wire Foam Factory’s Foam Coat with some water and Coarse Grit added to give it a rough texture.

Coating: Since Hot Wire Foam Factory has come out with the new foam coat system, we used the Foam Coat, Boost and Bounce with tombstones we made in 2009. All of the foam coat products were easy to use and produced great results.

Painting the tombstone: We used water-based outdoor paint. The base color is painted on liberally so that all lettering or designs are fully covered and no Styrofoam is showing. A second coat, and in some cases a third complimentary color is lightly dry brushed on. Again, the less paint on the brush the better. This painting process is the same for bricks and block as well. Experimentation can be done using regular paintbrushes as opposed to sponge brushes.

How To Make Foam Halloween DecorLife Size Half Wall: We made this wall using 2 X 8 pieces of pink Styrofoam. First, using a 6 foot level, we drew the blocks on the wall. We made the mortar/grout lines with the Hot Wire Foam Factory Freehand Router on the Sled Guide (the Engraver is too small for life size mortar/lines and the Free Hand Router can be shaped to the proper size–it made the job so easy). Once the large blocks were made, we used the Hot Wire Foam Factory Sculpting tool on the Pro Power Station at a low setting to lightly sculpt the random designs to simulate cut stone or slate on each block. When completed, the whole wall was liberally painted with dark gray water based exterior paint so no pink was showing and, when dry, a second coat was dry brushed on in black or other shades of gray water based exterior paint only on the blocks. The grout/mortar lines were not painted again. When the second coat was dry on the blocks, a third and final coat in white water based paint was lightly dry brushed on the blocks to highlight the color differences. The top of the wall and the lower 6 inches were coated with Bounce for protection.