Monday, October 7, 2013

Bitterroot Bone Yard

I admit it, after Eric showed me on his iPhone I went through the whole multi-hour iOS7 upgrade with my iPhone so I could use the "noir" setting on the camera for taking pics of our bone yard.

I made these tombstones in 1999 or 2000 or so.  That was before the internet was so vast and deep and wonderful and before I had very much experience with making.  So they're just painted and I was no longer satisfied with them.

Five 20+ year old headstones and one 2-year old dog.

Of course, I wouldn't just waste them, so I decided to recon them using the techniques I'd read about online and seen on TV back when I had TV.

The millipede impression on the upper left is from a plastic millipede that was pinned to the original; these were stored in the attic at one point and got warm enough in summer for the hard plastic millipede to impress the foam.

They're made of rigid foam insulation from a home center and just painted with craft paint.  To take them to the next level, I used Photoshop to make various epitaphs, then transferred those to the foam by pressing firmly with a ballpoint pen to make an impression.

The stencil cutter with a wooden handle and the wood burner with the plastic handle.

Then I traced the indentations so I could better see them for the next step, which was "carving with fire."  That's the dramatic way of saying that I used a wood burning tool and a stencil cutter to "carve" the foam. All the tutorials I read used the wood burning tool, but it was too wide for me to control for the text, so I dug up my stencil cutter which is essentially the same thing only lower watts (so presumably colder) and with a much finer point.  Like every tutorial I read, I did this with excellent ventilation, because burning foam is bad.  I did it outside with a fan.  I truly feel a little guilty for doing this project which contributed to nasty airborne pollutants.

The burned epitaph over the original painted one.  The faux cracks cover the millipede impression.

I also used the wood burner to rough up the edges.  After the burning, I used stuff from my stash and a few dollar store finds to add dimensional details. They're attached with a foam-safe construction adhesive.

After that it was a good coat of primer and then a few layers of glazes (Van Dyke Hue, a light grey comprised of titanium white and carbon black, and carbon black for the drips).

I had a high-hide primer that I colored with universal tint, lamp black.

I asked around for suggestions about securing them to the ground. I got several good ideas, but considering that these were already cut and no-two-alike and that they were only 1.5" thick, I decided to go with the easiest method.

The stack as viewed from the bottom.

I used a foam-safe construction adhesive to attach some PVC conduit that we had left over from when we had wifi internet installed.  I cut it into 1' lengths, made troughs in the back of the "stones" at uniform distances, and then attached them.

With every headstone's PVC spaced the same distance, this jig made it easy to install them all pretty quickly. No need to make the rebar fit a specific 'stone.

This technique was supposed to withstand 50 mph winds.  From our one year of experience here, I didn't think we'd even come close when I was planning and executing this. Then there was that Japanese hurricane that had remants hit the Pacific NW and several hours later us. We had two windy nights that were supposed to have gusts up to 40 mph. I don't know how hard the wind actually blew, but all but one of these headstones tore free of the PVC. The didn't get far and were found within a few to several yards from our bone yard.  They've been reattached with 2-3 times as much adhesive and I am planning on paying better attention to wind advisories.  

Then I made a jig using scrap PVC and two T-couplers from the hardware store.  That jig made it a one-person job to pound scrap rebar (ten 2' lengths) from the hardware store into the ground.  WOO!

My plans include varying the sizes of the new head stones to make it look more realistic-ish. 

I have plans for expanding and improving our Bone Yard in the next few years including more headstones, a temporary fence, etc.  WOO!



  1. Those are GREAT! But...are you sure the plot's wide enough for Hugh Jass...?

  2. Oh, we stack 'em in our bone yard. No problem. :)

  3. Well you know I of course LOVE the bat one and will have to come steal it ;)
    Those look amazingly real and probably extra creepy at night. Makes me want to get out my store bought tombstones.


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