Home Past Haunts Projects Links About


Skeleton and burried coffin 2006

This was a brand new prop for 2006.

About 40 hours went into the making of the new coffin prop.  It's a solid wood coffin with a pistom that can open and close the door based either by remote control or automatically when using the motion sensor.

It's a whole new level of prop.  Including the skeleton, fog machine, lighting, and pneumatics, this prop has cost me about $175.00-$200.00 to build.

You can click on the image to the right to see a short video of how the prop works...
(click on image for video 796KB)
Most of the prop was built out of old pallets.  I liked the idea of already weathered wood, and I was lucky enough to find a free supply of old weathered hardwood pallets.

I made the back by nailing a bunch of the pallet boards together with a cross brace and then just ran my radial saw around the edges to make the shape I wanted.

The sides were mitered and attached to the base with some scrap 2x4 that I also cut and mitered to fit the shape of the coffin corners.

The door was made the same way as the back.  I built the door purposefully with some boards that would let you see inside the coffin.
The base was made with a 4x4 piece of wafer board.  I attached some wood blocks to the board so I could attach the 1/2 coffin easily.
I painted the base with an outdoor latex paint.  Not the best way to protect the wood, but a good enough solution for the few nights each year that the coffin will be up and running outdoors.
The coffin attached to the base.
I did a bit of spray can weathering by misting the coffin where the boards came together and under the boards that held the lid together.
The piston was mounted behind the coffin to one of the boards that I used to mount the coffin to the base.

I drilled an oversized hole in the coffin for the piston which allowed the piston to rotate a bit when pushing the door open.

The other end of the piston attached to the door of the coffin near the edge.

I made sure that the piston went through both the door and the brace on the front of the door so it would be strong enough to handle the pressure of repeated piston firings.

Another view of the piston through the door showing how it comes through the back of the coffin
I added a light to the inside of the door and made another cut out in the back for a fog machine connection.  The light was attached to the same remote switch as the piston solenoid, so when the coffin door was activated the light came on too.

A fog machine was set with an automatic timer set to the lowest setting and piped through a fog chiller.  It slowly filled the coffin with fog between firings and made for a really nice effect in the graveyard as it poured out the boards in the lid of the coffin.

The Animated Skeleton "Mr Bones" 2002

There's just no toy you can buy at the store that compares to something that you put together.

Mr Bones 2002...  Sporting a new animated head and completely air brushed for this year's haunt.  I also painted the coffin with the same light granite paint as the gravestones.

The body was purchased for about $10.00.  It's one of those really cheap plastic "glow in the dark" skeletons.  He came in a plastic bag and kind of snapped together at the joints.  I immediately modified it - drilling holes in all of the joints so I could run bungee cord from one hand (through the arms and body) to the other.  The "glow in the dark" paint job was... <cringe>, so I touched it up with a coat of ivory white and then flat black spray paint (see last years images below).

The head came off of one of those stupid dancing ghouls that came out somewhere around 2000 and seem to still appear in stores from time to time.  There's was a werewolf, a Frankenstein, a Dracula and a skeleton.  The heads are life sized (kid size) and the body is dwarfed to look "cute".  Anyway, it swayed it's hips and sang some song "Super Freak"?!?  Anyway, I bought it for $12.00 after Halloween last year and figured I'd scalp it for parts.

The head and the body were totally different styles and colors, so I had to air brush in some additional details in the body that really are not there.  The lower arms and legs, pelvis, and chest pieces got the most work.  It took me about 3 hours to paint all 3 colors - Ivory base, tan shadowing and flat black to make it look less like solid plastic.

Skeleton and coffin

skeleton_coffin.jpg (173794 bytes)

Yes, Mr Bones is talking this year.  He's going to be wired for sound.  I've got the motor in place and I'm working on the light organ that will convert my voice to jaw movement.  He still sits up and causes trouble...  and this year he's going to follow up the screams with a little attitude! <grin>

He was going to turn his head, but in my haste to get fancy (as usual) and hide the motor in the neck, I broke the gearbox.  After I broke it, I realized I could have easily extended the drive shaft and hidden the whole thing in the body of the skeleton.  I also ran too much voltage through the LEDs that are in the eye sockets.  I have bought replacements, but don't really like the cheesy look, so I may not replace them. I will look for another head this year (after Halloween when everything goes on sale for 75% off so at least the head can turn again).  

10/16/2002 Update:  I finished soldering the light organ.  I tested it last night and it takes quite a bit more wattage than I had originally imagined (i.e. I've got to amplify the speaker signal to get the mouth to operate properly).  I'll have to scrounge up some kind of cheap amplifier that can throw out 10-12 Watts of power (minimum) for the speaker and light organ.  I've hidden all of the wiring to the head inside the body.  It comes out at the pivot point (behind the pelvis) and goes into the coffin support box where I will be mounting the speaker and light organ board.

The circuit basically is put together like this:

  • 110V AC current is fed into the light organ from a wall socket
  • An audio signal (speaker signal) is also fed into the light organ from an amplifier hooked up to a microphone & selectable audio source (like a PC or tape player)
  • When the light organ receives the speaker signal it closes the circuit to a 110V output
  • The output (AC110V) is run through a transformer that changes the voltage to DC 6V.
  • The DC 6V is wired to the skeleton and goes to a motor that powers the jaw.

Basically, when I talk, the mouth opens in time to my voice (either live or pre-recorded).  I can adjust the sensitivity of the light organ so that the jaw operates correctly at different sound volumes.

Skeleton head and upper body close up

Click here to watch it in action
(mpg video 66 KB)

The Animated Skeleton "Mr Bones" 2001

Here's Mr. Bones on Halloween night...  He was a show stopper.  Quite a few good screams when he popped out to say "goodbye"... Skeleton & coffin on Halloween night

mr_bones.jpg (49245 bytes)

Here's the coffin I built for the animated skeleton.

The coffin is made from Styrofoam and "Liquid Nails" (for foam board).  The piston is a PVC piston of my design.


00_00027.jpg (91598 bytes)

With a some help from a few good friends I have the skeleton opening the door and leaning out to "greet you". Skeleton & coffin
(piston partly extended)

00_00029.jpg (103715 bytes)

The skeleton has an amazing amount of character once it's hooked up.  By opening the air valve slowly it can sit up gently.  If you crack the valve all of the way - well, you'll jump back if you're not ready for it...

I'm still working on a more efficient (and reliable) door closer.  At the moment, the door is attached to the piston end cap with some fishing line, so when the skeleton returns back to the upright position the door is pulled closed behind him.  Unfortunately, the fishing line tends to get caught occasionally on his shoulder or arm and then the door does not open all of the way.  I've got a better design in mind and I will take some pictures once I have it completed.

Skeleton & coffin
(piston fully extended)

00_00034.jpg (105373 bytes)

This is the bottom of the piston mounted behind the coffin.  The two metal straps on the back of the coffin keep the piston from hanging up on the Styrofoam and keep the skeleton from falling over to either side. 

The metal bar that is bent slightly upward in the middle is the pivot point for the piston.  I had to bend it a little to put the piston in the right position in the slot so it wouldn't bottom out.  The piston hangs from the metal bar with an S hook and a zip-tie

The metal L bracket on the bottom of the piston is not used for anything, it's just attached for future projects so I won't lose it.

Piston assembly
(back view)

skeleton_piston.jpg (34782 bytes)

Another shot of the metal straps that cover the slots in the Styrofoam.  The coffin is zip-tied to a mall step ladder (the red and white bars that are in the way) Piston guide

skeleton_back.jpg (40796 bytes)

The top of the piston is attached to the back of the skeleton with a couple of zip-ties (one around the neck and another through a hole I drilled in a small L bracket attached to the end cap of the piston.  For a closer look at the L bracket, take a look at the bottom of the piston in the picture above Piston attachment

skeleton_retracted.jpg (48111 bytes)

Here's the piston fully extended.  You can see that the piston moves quite a ways down in the slot I cut for it.

The slot and piston will be painted flat black once I have everything finished.  You won't be able to see them through the fog and dim colored lighting.

Piston attachment
(piston extended)

skeleton_extended.jpg (52920 bytes)

Back Up Next

Home ] Past Haunts ] Projects ] Links ] About ]

Please do not copy anything without my permission...  1998-2010  Gary Spetzler
Questions or comments about this website should be directed to