If nothing else, you have to agree this blog hasn’t been home to cobwebs as of late. I can now officially say this is the last of the Halloween Haunt 2017 tutorial posts. It has been fun going back through the build process that has pretty much spanned and entire year starting soon after last year’s Haunted Trail was picked up and put away. Today happens to be the day all the Halloween decorations are officially packed and stored away for this year. If things go as planned I’ll start on a new set of props starting … wait for it … next week. That cheer you just heard was from me, that equally loud groan came from Linda.
Before I get to the new ideas, better close out my signature piece from this year. I first must give credit to Graves of the Groves for giving me the inspiration for this project. I watched a video of his for a $20 Haunt project – a yearly competition where you submit your best decoration for under $20 dollars. The link to his video for Hacked in the Box is here. Now, I will say the $20 contest is a bit of exaggeration. Things you already have or ability to re-purpose often do not get included in the cost. If you do not have those same pieces laying around or do not have the skills to complete a specific element in the prop build you quickly find you are beyond the $20. Now in this particular instance, I was so far beyond $20 bucks it isn’t funny – some of that due to design choices, some due to not having the patience/skill he has and well, quite frankly, a whole bunch of screw ups. Let’s start with my concept.
That is my drawing on my whiteboard after an idea session with my friend in haunt Brad (over lunch of course). Pretty simple, box with a pole sticking out of it, some coil to look like a spring, a clown head on the top and a base that would allow a wiper motor to rotate the shaft in a circular manner. Brad had the idea to put teeth on the lid. You might also note the handle on the side – just kind of sitting there not doing a whole lot. By the way, that wiper motor alone cost more than $20 on Monster Guts. Now a shot of the final product out on the trail – yes, I have already enlisted the aid of a therapist.
Hit the jump and I will take you through the build process. Unless you are normal and hate clowns, in which case, you should probably cut and run about now.
The first task was to create the box. Linda and I spent about an hour going up and down the plywood aisle in Menards. I couldn’t really find something that was at the price point I wanted. There was also the fact of having to get out the circular saw to make the sides. Right before giving in to a 4×8 sheet with a decent side on it, my eye spotted another option – pre-cut 2×2 pieces of nicely finished plywood. Perfect! Grabbed four boards for the side and smiled my way up to the registers. While pulling into the driveway it hit me – @#$@!@$#% short a board for the lid. Ugh, had to go back the next day and get the lid. Came back and put the outer walls on with angle bars. Hit the face with some white paint – knew I was going to put some trim pieces on so no need to go all the way to the end.
Hit the inside with black paint as well as the top and bottom edges. In case you are wondering, this box will not have a bottom. Seemed like a waste being that it will never be seen anyway (thus the reason only needed 5 plywood sections. The top was painted in a similar manner.
Next up the trim pieces. Cut some 4×1 wood I picked up when I got the box sides. Simply ran a length across the top and the bottom and put the sides in between them. Note, you will want to overlap two of the sides to cover the trip piece edge from the adjacent side. This will also shift the corresponding sides out to cover the edge of the adjacent side pieces. My vision was to have a bright cheerful box, but contrasted with a maniacal clown for the Jack. Found some fluorescent paint in green, orange and yellow. Picked up a couple cans of each and then opted to use some blue and red I already had for the trim on the back and the top. What I wasn’t expecting is how transparent the florescent paint was. It was almost like watered down paint when it went down. Put about three coats on it trying to get a build up capable of covering the wood underneath. Also picked up some balsa letters from Hobby Lobby for about $3 a piece. Hit them with the same color of the side I wanted to put them on.
Once dried, put the trim pieces on with a pneumatic brad nailer. Also put the top on.
…. and from the other angle. So far, looking exactly the way I had envisioned it.
Oh, and from the back. Skipped letters for these sides since no one would actually see them. Trying to keep the costs down even though by now was way north of the $20 reference prop.
Note the piece of plywood holding the top up. The top was put together with standard hinges which allowed the top to fold all the way back. Already had that little issue worked out – simply put chain on the two sides. Opted for a tight link chain that cost about ~$14 from Lowes. Found some eye hooks in the garage and slapped them on the side of the top. This allowed me to simply put a link over the hook to keep it in place. Simply unhook it when time to tear down – always design criteria number 1 – how well does it store.
Picked up a clown mask during last season’s clearance at the pop up Halloween stores. Looked sufficiently creepy enough to be my Jack. I have covered this in a couple of the previous tutorials, but I fill my masks with Sika Pro Select Fence Post Foam. Home Depot carries this stuff for ~$10 in their post and quick cement aisle. One bag will fill two full masks – just cut each side in half to keep the ratio right. I did fill the nose with cotton balls with hot glue to hold it in place. All the holes were covered with black tape from the inside (hot glued in place) and put tubing in the eyes to hold LEDs. You can see the wires fed through the tube in the shot below.
Figured the taller it was the more frightening it would look. Used a 3/4″ PVC pipe to hold the head up. What do you think so far – creepy enough to scare the crap out of someone?
Here is the profile from the side. Added a 45 degree elbow to allow the clown to look downward. I’ll clean those wires up in a bit.
Use my standard 2 LEDs in parallel hooked up to 4 AA batteries,. Picked a UV/Purple coloring for this prop – had used other colors on the other props (green, red, yellow etc.), but saved the UV for the Clown in the Box prop due to its more sinister effect. That vision alone kept me sleepless for a week.
Okay, now we enter in the phase that I can only describe as total frustration brought on by multiple complete and utter failures. I’ll describe these missteps to keep you from doing the same. All failures make us stronger – results in a lot of hair pulling and profanity, but still wiser than when you started. Based on the Groves design of reusing storm window insulation he had laying around, I found some foam gap filler assuming it would work equally well. Bought two bags of the larger foam size.
Slit it down to the middle the entire length of both pieces. Laid armature wire in the slot and super glued it back together with Gorilla glue. The glue wasn’t drying as fast as I needed it to even though it was fast drying. Guessing the porous foam was working against it. Solved this by sealing it up with blue tape until it dried. The reason for the wire was to allow it to keep a shape that would replicate the classic Jack in the Box coil – granted one on steroids. To get the shape I wanted, wrapped it around a large PVC pipe – so far, working awesome.
I liked the green/lime color from the Graves project. Found a similar shade at Menards in their spray paint aisle – a 2X variety that effectively put a primer layer and a top coat on at the same time. That went on with a bit of effort to get all the sides of the coil properly covered.
Once dry, took it off the form and started to put it on the center post holding the clown head. Then catastrophe hit. The paint started flaking off instantly. There was lime paint all over my hands and floor. Ugh, this wasn’t going to work. Where it flaked you could see the original gray defeating the desired effect. The foam was apparently to slick to hold the paint. Since the foam could give, it buckled the paint and it just fell off. Failure number 1. Back to the drawing board. Spent several hours going up and down the tubing aisle in Menards finally opting to go with an orange air hose. Also picked up fence mending wire to provide a stiffer frame for the coil. Pushed and pulled the wire through the inside of the hose until the entire 12′ had wire in it.
Coiled it around the pipe as in the first attempt.
Then Murphy decided to pay a visit. The lime spray paint would not stick to the hose. The oil in the rubber was preventing it from adhering to the outer coat. After an hour you could simply touch it and it would smear. Sigh. In a last ditch effort, painted the entire hose with cement sealer paint. That stuff sticks to anything. It seemed to hold and even dried on the hose casing – or so I thought. Eager to get beyond this step, hit the supposed dry hose with a coat of lime paint. Left for a couple of hours and came back to celebrate my success.
That is if it had worked. Once again the lime paint would not dry. Not sure if the oil was still seeping through or if the cement sealer wasn’t conducive to paint either. I can relay to you that 3 months since that initial painting – the hose is STILL sticky to touch. Strike TWO. Now it was a mission. Back to Menards for new ideas. Eventually found my way back to the Plex area (plastic tubing for running water lines in a house). This was intriguing. Maybe I could hit it with a heat gun, mold it around the pipe and hopefully when it cooled it would retain the shape. Grabbed some short pieces to test with and headed home to try it out. Screwed it to the pipe to give me an extra hand. Hit it with the heat gun and bent it around the pipe when it softened up. Screwed the other end down to let it cool. That tubing really retained the heat – burned myself several times touching the pipe before it cooled properly.
Well, lookee here. Fellow haunters, I think we have a winner.
Went back to Menards and bought a large piece of coiled Plex. Opted for red in case the paint option didn’t work. My test pieces seemed to hold the paint fine. For the next two hours, heated up the Plex, bent the heated section around a larger length of pipe, spooled out some more tubing and repeated the process until I had a healthy length of curled tubing. Long and tedious since you had to keep pressure on the tubing at the same time you were rotating the PVC form while hold the heat gun on the Plex. By evolution theories, we should have a third hand by now! If I remember correctly, might have gotten some help from Linda on the back half of this tube to prevent the unraveling that was happening when my foot providing the tension slipped off the tube.
Having traversed all the way to the end, clamped both ends and let it cool down. Next day came back to take a look at the results – fingers crossed big time. My frustrations were over, the new coil was going to work. I was now pressed for time with the Trail only a few days away – had to forego the paint part – red was going to be the color of choice ha!
Okay, coil done so next up the rotating platform. Had some scrap pieces of 2×4 laying around to build a base from. Took four pieces and stacked them (2 per side) on a piece of oak plywood (also scrap from another project). Cut a piece of plexiglass to stretch across the 2x4s – the reason for the stacked 2x4s was to give sufficient space for the wiper motor to sit underneath. Drilled holes to support the motor and to hold the plexiglass to the wood. Note, you will want the shaft centered in the middle of the platform.
Using the standard design for rotating a prop in an outward loop, needed to put a containment point a distance up from the motor. Guessing on what that distance needed to be to give the desired motion, screwed 2 2×4 pieces at 90 degrees and then screwed it across the previous stacked 2x4s. Hopefully the picture better translates my poor description. Now on top of that, I put a 2×6 across the middle (again perpendicular to the new 2x4s).
Marked the center point on the 2×6 and bored a hole in the middle large enough to allow the 3/4 PVC pile to pass through and enough extra room to allow the pipe to lean out. You should drill a few practice holes to determine the size that works best (it doesn’t really have to be that much bigger than the pipe itself). Also keep in mind it has to rotate within the dimensions of the box.
Ended up 3D printing a bushing to sit in the hole. This cut the size down a bit and firmed up the motion. Glued in a soft rubber so the pipe would rotate quietly.
With the base done, time to start putting it all together. After painting the shaft black to hide it in the dark, slid the end through the hole in the 2×6 and rested it on the ball arm of the wiper motor. Should probably point out there was another reason the base was built so beefy – it needed to be heavy to allow the head to move without falling over.
I’ll spare you some problems getting this design feature right. My first design didn’t allow me to easily remove the pipe for storage. After noticing that, went with a new approach. You do not want the head to be spinning on the motor. To correct this, you simply need to stick a wire through a hole in the pipe. You will need to make the hole big enough so it can successfully get through the motion being generated by the motor with the wire through it (note, used same fence mending wire I pulled through the failed air hose coil). Notice the two end caps holding the wire. All I needed to do was unscrew one of the caps and pull the straight wire out to release the pipe from the base.
Apparently failed to take a picture of this, the Plex coil was simply screwed into the pipe at both ends. Another feature I didn’t take the time to take pictures of as the electronics. Using a Nano, a PIR for motion detection and an MP3 player module, I was able to add some spooky effects to the prop. When nobody was near it would play a truly creepy instrumental (found here). When someone tripped the PIR heat sensor, the Nano would swap out the instrumental with an evil laugh while turning on the purple LEDs in the eyes. Big thanks to my brother Ron for getting the wires all tied down to the circuit board and hooking the eye lights to the control board.
Sometime over the course of the night, the electronics flaked out. I’ll be spending some serious time in the off season to figure out what happened with that element. It worked great at the beginning though. The wiper motor base worked perfectly all night. Early fears about having too much stress on the ball joint never materialized.
It is hard to put into words or properly show in pictures how truly creepy this prop was out on the trail. With the lighted eyes, evil laugh and large stature it definitely put a tingle up your spine. I’ll continue to work on this over the next year (especially the electronics piece). Brad was kidding me about not stressing the box or splattering it with blood as we had originally planned in our lunch session. You have to admit, the whiteboard drawing looks pretty damn close to the final product. Nowhere close to $20 bucks, but worth every penny based on the feedback we got from the guests. You also likely noticed I didn’t have time to put Brad’s teeth on the lid (again, will add for next year).
Hope you enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at all the new props on the Haunted Trail of Tears 2017. Next up pictures from the big night!
3 thoughts on “Project: Gonna Need Therapy”
Wow, this is a really nice article on how to build one of these! I had the impression when I saw the one on YouTube that yours is bigger, not just taller. I think you were very far north of $20 in cost.
Your Arduino with the MP3 player electronics to play the creepy song and the evil laugh when the heat sensor was tripped was ultra-cool. I understand these controllers will be incorporated even more into next year’s decorations. Maybe an amplifier and larger speakers would make this even more spooky. Apparently the one thing I was involved with on this, the simple LED lights in the eyes, stopped working later in the night. Oh, well.
It was pretty dark where this was put on the Haunted Trail, so I added a strobe light connected to a sensor so that the strobe pointing across the trail at it would go off at about the same time the eyes would light up when people approached it. Seemed to make it scarier, as the motion was not quite as visibly smooth and repeatable, plus it really lit it up generally.
When the teeth are added to the lid next year, maybe you should connect a cord or something and have the lid move up and down a little as the motor turns. No crank added yet, either. I think you should have a large turning crank, and when a kid goes up and turns it a huge scream comes out of the speakers–that kid will ;earn to never screw around with anything again. Also, as we discussed when we were carrying this to your truck during the teardown, a handle on each side of the box would be convenient.
Again, a very long and informative tutorial. Have you sent a link to the guy on YouTube?
Oh yeah, I was probably north of $100 with all the failed attempts at the spring. This was really the test run for the Nano’s and the sound boards – for the most part it worked okay until the end, but I think we know what improvements we can make. Ironically, I had bought an amplifier chip to use with some external bluetooth speakers I bought on Black Friday the year before – in the heat of the battle, ran out of time to get that incorporated… as you know since I had to burden you with finishing up all the wiring. This will be much more prominent next year and now have about 20 Nanos to incorporate into the trail next year. I only know one kid that would even go close to this clown and that was my niece (guessing in the 2-4 range who thought the trail was fun and didn’t scare her – a COMPLETE and udder failure on my part – just wait until next year little girl! Thanks for taking the time for such a long comment – appreciate the addition perspectives.