Projects: Cemetery Fence

After Halloween 2005 and the addition of the tombstones I realized I needed some sort of a fence to keep people from wandering through the yard and keep them from damaging the props. I thought a neat looking wrought iron cemetery fence was in order. I based my fence on a how-to by Haunters Hangout but my fence tops are more ornate. I've just started on this project but will document my progress as I go. I'm starting with one 4 foot section to figure out the details and then I'll need to make 7 more. I lucked out and found an ornate garden fence at the local dollar store - so I bought enough to make 32 feet of fencing! For this year it will be free-standing - next year I'll make corner columns as others have done.

I started with getting the ornamental plastic garden fence sections from a local Dollar Store. I was lucky in that they had just gotten their spring shipment in so there were lots to choose from. I picked up 28 of a very ornate style. (I also got few of the more basic type to use as accent fencing around certain tombstones.) I then figured out what supplies I would need for each 4' section of fence including the posts - off to Home Depot! I figure each section will cost around $15 CAN but if I purchase it all bit by bit it won't be too bad.

Here are the steps involved in painting and final construction of the fence. First step is a basic coat of flat black. Rather than use spray paint it, which I've read can take a lot to cover (read expensive), I got a 1L can of paint and am going to brush paint it. I also will go over it with a spray can but that will just be a mist to even out the coverage and remove brush strokes not a full coat. I then proceeded to weather and paint rust effects. This was a bit time-consuming but I think the results are worth it. I used a sea sponge and dabed on a dark brown followed by a lighter terra-cotta colour which gives a mottled, rusty sort of look. This effect also really brings out the texture and detail of the fence and will help it be seen in the lower light conditions Halloween night.

Here is a shot of the completed fence section Halloween night. Due to time constraints I never got more than the one section completed but I think it looks OK leaning up against the tree. Next year I'll make more.

UPDATE! Completed Fence with New Finials

Well it took far longer than I thought but the new fence is finally being completed. It was such a big job that I kept on putting it off but my brother offered to help out on construction so we completed the remaining 8 sections. I was always worried about the kids wanding through the cemetery and tripping on all the extension cords and getting hurt so this will really help to enclose the yard and add some security to the haunt. It will also really improve the whole look of the cemetery.

Another thing I did do was to upgrade the look of the finials on the fence posts. I had just used large Styrofoam balls but they are not standing up to repeated use year after year and getting damaged. I had gone to the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store where they sell donated items left over from renovations. I was looking to pick up some paint for the tombstone course. I did get one small can but I also found some way-cool gothic looking wooden finials for the ends of curtain rods. I'll use them as new fence toppers for the end posts on the cemetery fence. The wooden finials - once painted will look just like rusted wrought iron. They were 2 for $5 so I bought 10 which is enough for the whole fence.

When setting it up I drive 2' re-bar stakes into the ground leaviving about 12" stiking out which I then attach the fence sections to using plastic zip ties. The re-bar stakes are postioned behind the upright pots and are virtually invisible but make the fence quite secure. The fence sections are also connected to each other using more black zip ties. (one note about using zip ties: they are great but make sure you snip off the extra ends as they are visually distracting to see all the ends hanging out and draw attension to themselves. Snip them off and no one will notice they are there.) I even drove some of the rebar in at angles so that I could make the fence look broken and leaning however it was still secure if anyone leaned against it.

Also, I wanted to show how I've managed storage of the fence. With my limited space storage has become a real issue. I installed heavy-duty shelf brackets in the garage well above the level of the car but can easily lift the fence sections into place. Once they are all up there I can forget about them until next year. This has proved to be the easiest prop to set up and take down every year. So quick and simple - I wish it was all like this!

UPDATE! Construction Tips

Here are some more details on the fence construction. I should have taken more in-progress shots but hopefully you can figure it out from my descriptions...

- I figured out that if I set the height of the fence at 29.5" plus the garden border topper I could get 4 PVC uprights out of standard length of 10' tubing. This would also allow a few inches to spare so I could cut off the thicker connector end. So for each 4' section of fence I would need two 10' pieces of 1/2" PVC tubing and 18 in total for all 9 sections I was building.

- In order to get all the holes lined up correctly and cut down on the amount of drilling I would mark up one 4' piece of 1" x 2" and then bundle 3 together and secure with temporary duct tape. Make sure one end is flush and mark the other end if any need to be trimmed to make flush. You can then drill through all 3 pieces at once - use caution to drill straight if you are not using a drill press.

- To drill all the holes I bought a new 7/8" spade bit but found it was slightly too big for the 1/2" tubing and there was too much play. I took a metal file and carefully filed the sides of the spade bit, testing as I went, until it was the perfect diameter for the 1/2" tubing to slip through without binding but didn't slip around in the hole. I then marked this custom bit so it wouldn't be used for other projects when I wanted a true 7/8" hole.

- To speed assembly I made a simple jig to hold the length of PVC tubing in place and position the wooden cross rails correctly without having to measure each one.

- Each connection between the PVC tubing and wooden cross rails was secured using Gorilla Glue. A few strategic locations were also screwed together using 3/4" drywall screws to further strengthen the fence section. The more secure the joints the stronger each section. My thinking was that if things more around and there is slippage the paint will scrape off requiring touch-ups every year. If nothing moves it will be more durable from year to year. I haven't had a problem yet.