Projects: Witch's Shelves & Potions

Other than the front window display, which I'm happy with, I've never given much thought to the front porch area - it's always been an afterthought. So I had the idea to build it up like you're entering an witch's shack complete with witch, cauldron, shelves with potions and other witchy items.

Witch's Shelves

The first step is to build shelves to fill in the dead area between the window and door that will also cover up the awkward skinny window beside the door. The shelves were constructed very simply using knotty pine boards. I wanted to have the shelves taper so that they didn't take up too much space or get bumped by the TOTs and also to allow for a better viewing angle. One 6' upright is a 1" x 10" board and the other upright is a 1" x 6" board. I cut the shelves to shape from 1" x 10" and then assembled the unit using glue and finishing nails. To re-enforce the shelves I used simple plastic shelf supports rather than cut complicated dados as I don't have a router or table saw. I didn't worry too much about any niceties of fine woodworking as I wanted the shelves to have a rustic appearance. I finished them with some trim pieces and used a solid piece of 1/8" masonite for the back. The masonite was painted to look like weathered wood using a black sharpie marker to draw vertical lines and make it look like separate boards. A coat of stain and paint finished it off. I plan on using it as an actual shelf unit in the basement during the off season so storage shouldn't be an issue for once!

NOTE: One thing to note is that for safety I screwed an eye hook into the top back of the shelves and a concrete screw into the brick wall. I then firmly anchoured them with a twisted piece of wire - this is so there is no way they can tip over. I also got a large piece of thin plexiglass cut to size for the front. Once I finished filling all the shelves and had it displayed the way I wanted the plexiglass slips in under the side and top trim pieces and then a single srew holds it in place. This serves 2 purposes - if it gets bumped none of the glass bottles will fall and break possibly hurting someone and also to protect the contents from theft. I've never had a problem but with so many small items easily accessable why take the chance. Later after the TOTs had finished I just removed the plexiglass for photos.

Book Labels

Now that I had a set of witch's shelves I needed things to fill them up. I had some nondescript antique books that would be perfect but needed more. I've had an old set of Rudyard Kipling books that I didn't know what to do with and since they were a matched set thought they had a sort of encyclopedia look to them. After first checking on the internet to make sure they weren't worth a fortune (only about $30 for the set, maybe. Oh well) I created new labels to go on the spines. I came up with something suitably dark tome sounding and did the artwork in Photoshop. The finished labels were printed in colour on an Avery label sheet and once cut out stuck to the spine of the books. I was surprised at how well they looked - at even a short distance you couldn't tell they were fake.

Anointed Notes from the Book of Endless Shadow
1918, Volumes 1-9

If you like the labels and would like to make a set for yourself here is a PDF for download.


  Book Labels (1.5 MB)

Potion Bottles & Other Paraphernalia

For the potions I started picking up some antique bottles along with some other bottles from Goodwill that I filled with various specimens (grow animals are great). I ordered some great potion labels from DeadSpider and other sellers on Etsy along with some I made myself and from from images found online of actual antique poison bottles. Propnomicon and Haunt Project have some good potion bottle tutorials.

In the photo below showing the tall thin bottles with the poison labels you can see how I distress and age the labels. The 2 on the left are untouched while the 2 on the right show considerable wear. I did this by carefully sanding down the labels using an electric palm sander to very gradually wearing down the label. I then used tea to further stain and weather the label.

For other props and dark curios I have started to collect various items. I've long had a collection of animal skulls including a wolf, racoon or cat and several beaver. These will look great. I also have a baby shark in a jar of formaldehyde from a long ago trip to Florida and other bits of brik-a-brak, various rubber cockroaches, spider webs and a fake owl to perch on top should finish it off. Here are pictures of the completed scene.

UPDATE! Here are some detail shots taken in 2012 of the shelves from top to bottom. Not only did I think it would be of interest to anyone doing something similar but I also wanted a record of it for myself so that it will be quicker to set up the shelves again next year. Much as I do with the overal haunt the general layout of the shelves remains the same but I tweak the placement of items and add any new aquisitions. It's getting pretty crowded and I'll soon have to get creative or move some things elsewhere to make room for new items. A haunted spice-rack maybe?

You'll notice in the last picture below a little joke I put in for myself. It's a Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. I hunted in vain for my old copy from high school but it must be long gone. Luckily enough I found a copy on eBay that was cheap as it was really in poor condition but all the better for my purpose. When it's in amongst the books it's hardly noticeable but I get a private chuckle knowing it's there. There's also a small airplane bottle of Canadian Club whiskey in with the various potion bottles as well. :)

Witch's Cauldron

I'll be posting more photos as I go along but here is a first look at the Witch's Cauldron under construction. I'm building it using the same methods as for the paper mache pumpkin head for my scarecrow. The form this time was a large yoga ball as I wanted it much bigger than the beachball I used before. Started with several layers of plaster wrap and then paper towel mache using a thick 50/50 glue & water mixture. The round lip around the the top was created using foam pipe insulation. A few more layers of glue & paper towels and it's on to detailing.

UPDATE! The cauldron is finished! I finished off paper mache and detailing. Foam balls cut in half for rivets and a floral foam loop as the ring. I then used Great Stuff spray foam insulation and smeared it all over to create a great lumpy rusted texture. Make sure you wear gloves! Even so I got some on my skin and it took a week to wear off.

A overal base coat of flat black started the painting. The rust paint was my usual sponge painting and then I added green drips down the sides.

The fire pit/bed of coals is also pretty much done. I used a great technique I saw posted on Halloween Forum by member LT Scare and others. You can see the original in-depth tutorial here. To start I spent several hours one night in front of the tv taking green and blue bulbs out of a set of twinkling xmas lights and replacing them with red and yellow bulbs. (and have the water blisters to prove it!) It looks great though, I combined the strand of twinkling lights with 3 sets of pumpkin lights and covered them all with Great Stuff. As expected it doesn't look like much in the daylight but at night with it all lit up looks amazing! Just like a hot bed of glowing coals. A stirring stick and suitably disgusting contents - in this case zombie-head soup - and green glowing lights on the inside finish it off.

NEW! Shack Walls, Haunted Portraits and Spice Rack

For a while now I've wanted to make the front porch witch's area more like the interior of an actual shack. To that end I installed temporary wood pannelling this year to cover up some of the brickwork. It really turned out great! The pannelling I found has a very deep embossed texture to make it look like weathered barn board that only needed some stain to dirty it up some. It is quite heavy but I cut it to fit so that the bottom edge rests on the brick ledge and suppoorts the weight. Then only a few masonary screws are needed at the top to keep it from falling forward. The great thing about these walls is that now that I have them cut and ready to go they will be very easy to set-up and put back in storage every year, much the same as my cemetery fence.

The other great thing about the wood pannelling walls is that it makes it very easy to hang picture frames or other props - just drive a nail or hanger and you're done. I have a small but growing collection of Haunted Portaits that I've put in a variety of frames and distressed to appear aged. I created a fake diploma in Witchcraft for Edith Whateley from Hogwarts School of Wizardy. It will be fun to see who notices and what they say. Edith of course was in Slytherin house! I also printed off several sheets found online that look to be taken from the Necronomicon. I ripped, crumpled and aged these sheets using coffee grounds to get an old parchment look and then taked them to the walls. Next year I'll continue to detail the walls and add assorted spells and occult scratches & scribblings to the walls to make it look even more like an evil witch's domain!

Now that the witch shelves are complete and full to bursting I needed someplace else to show off my growing collection of potion bottles & paraphernalia. I found an old wooden spice rack at Goodwill which was perfect for the job in that it included a hinged glass panel door to secure the contents. Again, a quick drybrush with some paint made it appear suitably aged and it was very easy to mount to the pannelling using the built in hangers. I did add another couple screws out of sight to firmly anchor it with no fear of it falling onto any visitors.

The Witch - Meet Old Edith Whateley!

No witch's scene would be complete without the witch herself. I had originally planed to make an animated stirring witch prop that is popular with many home haunters however I came up with a better idea. My brother has been helping me out as a scare actor from the very beginning and he has a background in theatre & improv. He wanted to get a bit more interactive than just a shambling zombie so this year I'll dress him up in drag as my witch! I ordered the awesome witch "Cackle" from Darkside Studios and will have him up on the pourch stirring the cauldron as if she's animated. Then when they least expect it she can come to life and scare the wits out of the TOTs! Should be fun. Here is a test shot we did with him in the mask and just a shawl for a costume. The look will be refined before Halloween but I'm very pleased with how effective she looks.

UPDATE! Well. I have yet to get to the stirring witch prop but this past year (2013) we set up the front porch window display and included our witch! It was something quick at the last minute so it consisted of a simple frame with the witch mask on top and then draped in fabric to make the body. The witch hands were simply positioned in place to make it appear as if she was sitting at the table consulting her crystal ball. Looked great and really added to the whole witch scene to have her there.