As I mentioned last week, we like to decorate the front of our house for Halloween. Nothing too extravagant…until now.
I was sitting here yesterday working on a blog post when I got a text messaged photo from my Aunt (who’s more like my big-sis) showing off their new home decked out for the season. It inspired me to turn up our own display a notch. For years, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to construct a scarecrow inspired by the one featured in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. In the spirit of Operation Get Off Your Butt, I decided to go ahead and finally build it.
In case you’re so impressed you want to drop what you’re doing and build your own creepy scarecrow, here’s what you’ll need to do (more or less)…
–Carvable foam pumpkin (got mine on sale @ 40% off from Hobby Lobby)
–Acrylic orange paint (my pumpkin wasn’t orange but I liked the shape)
–Lumber (I used one 1″x2″ & one 1″x3″ but you can be creative)
–Wood stain (I used Minwax Dark Maple I had sitting around)
–A handful of wood screws (I used about 20)
–Suitably creepy fabric (I used a yard of brown broadcloth & 5 yds of black netting)
–Some tree branches for hands & ribs
–A bag of raffia to use as straw
–Plastic zip ties
–X-Acto knife with a fresh blade
–Power drill with screwdriver bit
–1 to 2″ paintbrush
–Hot glue gun w/glue sticks
–Heavy knife or rasp for distressing the frame lumber
–Paintbrush for stain
Step 1–Draw The Face
Since my foam pumpkin was going to need painting, I decided to carve it first (so any pencil marks would disappear under paint). I sketched the face using the movie photo as a guide. I’m about as poor an artist as is humanly possible, so if I can do it, you can as well.
Step 2–Carve The Face
I gathered a selection of kitchen knives but it turned out my X-Acto knife was more than sufficient to carve out the face. <My team of attorneys has advised me to remind you to always exercise extreme caution when working with razor-sharp instruments>
Work slowly. I tend to use a sawing motion versus just inserting the blade and trying to cut the foam like butter. For me, that doesn’t give much control over the cut. About 15-20 minutes later, I had the face cut out and ready for paint.
If you managed to find an orange pumpkin in the right shape (I don’t think the tall shapes work well for this), then you can skip this step. My pumpkin was a really pale beige-ish color so I bought a tube of orange acrylic paint. I also got a tube of brown and was planning to use it as a wash (super-thinned watery paint) to dull down the pumpkin to match the movie scarecrow. However, after finishing the orange, I decided to leave it alone. I think the bright orange will really stand-out against the front of the house and will probably fade with time and exposure to sun & rain.
It only took about 20 minutes to paint the Jack-O-Lantern. Obviously, you want to avoid painting the stem, but I also took care to not get paint on the exposed foam where I had carved out the features so it would look like a real Jack-O-Lantern. I then left it alone to dry overnight. I’m pretty pleased with the final result:
Step 4–The Frame
First thing this morning, me and my son headed to the woods behind our house to gather some suitably spooky limbs to use for the scarecrow’s ribs and hands. Make sure you don’t use any that are super-rotten as they won’t hold up to the wood screws needed to attach them or many future Octobers exposed to the elements. I ended up cutting some green branches to use for the hands. Not sure what kind of tree it was though. Here’s a pic of some of my materials awaiting work:
I didn’t draw up a plan or anything for the frame. I pretty much just used the inspiration photo I found on Google Image Search and eyeballed everything. Since this is supposed to look like a creepy scarecrow some demented backwoods nut job slapped together instead of something a suburban nerd put together with materials from Lowes, I decided to distress the wood by hacking up the corners/edges with an old K-Bar combat knife I dug out of the ashes of my garage after our fire…as such:
Once all the lumber looked old and beat-up, I commenced to cutting and assembling the frame. I used the 1″x3″ for the main pole. I trimmed about 8″ off one end to lower the pole. The scarecrow looks more menacing high up in the air but I thought it was a tad too high.
At this point, I cut a 12″ length from the 1″x2″, whittled one end to a point and attached it at the bottom of the center pole with 4 wood screws. I left about 8″ below the bottom of the center pole. This was my plan for sticking the scarecrow into the ground (more on that later).
I temporarily inserted the top of the pole into the pumpkin to gauge where I wanted to mount the cross bar. I wanted a little bit of “neck” but I didn’t want my man to look like a giraffe. Once I had that eyeballed, I attached that left-over 8″ piece of 1″x3″ with two wood screws.
Next, I cut two approx. 12″ lengths from the 1″x2″ to use as “shoulders.” I mounted them at a slight upward angle to the 8″ piece of 1″x3″ with two wood screws. I then cut two approx. 20″ lengths of 1″x2″ to use for the arms and mounted them so them as seen below. I think it’s this arrangement of the arms in a “I’m about to snatch you up” pose that makes this particular scarecrow so creepy.
At this point, I stained the frame and wiped the excess off with a rag. Took about 10 minutes.
The last step for the frame assembly was attaching the “ribs.” I picked four nice pieces and trimmed them to descending lengths. I probably shouldn’t admit this but I “trimmed” them by breaking them over my knee (the good one). While not rotten, they were soft enough that it wasn’t hard. You may want to use a saw.
The final step to the frame assembly was figuring out how I was going to mount the head. I noticed there was a large “blob” of foam at the top of the interior of the pumpkin–a left over from the molding process, I suppose. I settled on using a double-threaded screw (I don’t know the technical name) which I would used to “screw-on” the head at the end of the build. Here’s what I’m talking about:
I had one of these left over from a plant-hanging hook. They usually come in the package in addition to a toggle bolt so you can mount the hook into wood or into the drywall of a ceiling. I used the exact same size drill bit to drill a pilot hole into the top of the frame and then used a pair of pliers to screw the flat end into the frame as such:
Step 5–Creepy Hands
I next took the branches I gathered and stripped the leaves off with my hands. I then snipped about 7 or 8 good branches for each hand. I bundled those branches and used two zip ties to attach them to the scarecrow’s arms. Black zip-ties would be best here but all I had was clear plastic. If I’d thought of it, I’d use a black sharpie to color them so they’re not so obvious–but I tend to be OCD about stuff like that. You could also use heavy twine.
You can’t have a creepy scarecrow without straw sticking out everywhere. I used a big bag of straw-colored raffia (in the Floral Dept. of most craft stores). I started with the hands and stuffed 10 or 15 strands through the zip-ties and into the branches I used for fingers. I then used a hot glue gun to secure it all.
I attached big clumps of raffia to the neck, elbows and just below the lowest “rib”. I again used zip ties and secured everything nicely with big gobs of hot glue. Everything seems pretty sturdy. Here’s the finished product:
Step 7–Tattered Rags
At this point, I laid the frame onto our outdoor table so I could work on the “wardrobe.” This made it a lot easier than trying to do it while the frame laid on the ground.
I didn’t really have a plan here. I just started cutting the netting and attaching it to look similar to the inspiration photo. You’re going for a draped look here. I used thumbtacks to attach the netting to the frame. At this point, I decided to go ahead and put the scarecrow in the ground, and finish the clothing while it hung naturally instead of having to fight wind and gravity.
Before I did though, I went ahead and mounted the head. I inserted the center pole through the hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and looked through the eyes & mouth to make sure I had the screw point centered at the top. I then applied a bit of pressure and “screwed” the head on. Next, I tilted the whole enchilada towards the ground and used the hot glue gun to drizzle glue down onto the connection point. Everything “seemed” pretty secure at this point, so I carried the scarecrow to the front yard and looked for a place to stick him.
Step 8–Stick Him in the Ground
Once my wife and I settled on a spot (in front of my son’s bedroom window), I ran into the only real snag with this project. Apparently, whomever built our house took the topsoil away and never brought it back. Even though we were putting the scarecrow into a mulch-covered bed, there was nothing but Alabama red clay 4 inches down. I should’ve known better than trying to pound a pine stake into it, but I’m a slow learner.
Long story short, I struggled to get the stake in more than about 8 inches. And all the pounding on the mounting stake with a hammer, managed to shake the pumpkin loose. Not from my mounting method–that was rock solid–but I actually managed to break that foam “nub” loose from the top of the pumpkin. It wasn’t fatal though. Once I had the frame in the ground, I again drizzled hot glue down into the top of the pumpkin and then quickly remounted it onto the “nub” that was still attached to the top of the center pole. After the glue set, it seems pretty solid.
The scarecrow is rather top-heavy, so I took a couple of bags of play sand I had sitting in the back yard and used them to brace the pole at ground level. Covered up with mulch, you can’t even see them. If I had to do it again, I’d come up with a better way to mount the whole thing–either attach it to a steel stake or dig a hole with a post hole digger and then tamp in dirt to make it nice and stable.
Step 9–Finishing Up The Rags
With the head attached and the frame stable, I climbed on a step-ladder (don’t say it) and attached some more strips of the netting material. I then used scissors to cut holes and long strips into the stuff to make it look like its been hanging there for years.
Next, I cut about a 30″ by 16 ” strip of the brown broad cloth we’d purchased. I cut a slit halfway up the middle so that I could lay it over the shoulders. The slit was to get past the neck. I then used scissors to cut holes and tatters as so:
I climbed back up on the step-ladder and draped this fabric over the shoulders. I used a thumbtack on each side to secure this to the frame.
I figure this project cost me about $60 not counting the hot glue gun which I’ll use for other future stuff anyway. Altogether it took me about 3 hours to construct, but it was family time and pretty fun, so I’m not complaining. Plus, it looks super cool in the yard and I know we’re the only ones in the neighborhood with one.
That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by and until next time…stay nerdy my friends.
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