Project: It Was Just a Harmless Coff

Well, we just embarked on another camping adventure. A short one this time unlike our previous multi-week excursions. Of course, there is birding involved – Ron is even going to be able to join me for some fun time in the field… not for a couple of days though until the weather clears up. Seems that we are perpetuating a trend on our trips. In January we brought the Midwest rain, snow and ice down to Texas with us. In April we brought the Midwest Spring downpours to the Alabama Gulf Shores and Florida Panhandle. Now, damned if we didn’t manage to bring the May showers north with us. Clearly we are CURSED!

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

As I sit here listening to the rain come down, thought it would be an excellent time to get to another one of the new props for last year’s Haunted Trail of Tears (link here). Unlike the previous post which was more of upgrade to an existing prop, today we are covering the signature piece for the year. Each year I decide on what the big addition is going to be and then spend a majority of the year trying to get it conceived prior to show time. Note, regardless of how early I start on the signature piece each year… I NEVER give myself enough runway. Every year it comes down to the night before or even the day of to get it in good enough shape for the trail.

Hit the jump to learn all the behind the scenes work it took to bring this idea to life.

A couple of posts ago I took you through the struggles I had with creating a foam coffin for the 2019 trail. Although that effort failed to make it to the trail that year, it was a catalyst for the new foam cutting jig (link here) and more importantly, was the basis for this signature piece.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

If you recall from the foam cutting jig post, I was planning on building a foam coffin that would appear as if it was being pulled from the ground. With the extra months to think about it, decided to change up the design a bit.. well, more like a LOT. Rather than just making just a portion of the coffin that was out of the ground for a static prop..decided why not make a whole coffin and have something pop out of it – now we’re talkin’ Intrigued style.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Now with the aid of the cutting jig, I was able to use the cleaned up top and bottom from the first attempt. From there simply cut the side panels to line up with the angles on the top and bottom. A few shots up you can see how they were roughly laid out. Getting the height of the sides was easy with the straight edge jig. You probably noticed there were no right angle cuts on the edges due to the shape of the coffin.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Switched to the backside of the jig to get the interior angle cuts. The two angles on the widest part were probably the trickiest. Couldn’t find my protractor from my school days so had to outline the edges on a piece of paper and cut out the angle. Folded it to bisect the angle and define the angle to cut each edge. A compass would have worked as well to bisect the angle with two arcs, but that must be in the same place my protractor is – no worries, we don’t need those fancy gizmos.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Everything came out amazingly well. Tight fits along all the edges. The Haunted Trail is quite large as it winds through a good portion of our lot. That means a lot of props and more pressing, a lot of space required to store it all in the off season. At the forefront of thought during all prop designs is “how compact can I store it”. Storing a fully assembled coffin was completely out of the question. Over the years I had put a lot of thought into an approach to quickly assemble and disassemble foam based props. Always seemed to be a tradeoff between how strong/sturdy the prop was vs how easy it was to take apart. I do like a good challenge – especially one that involves these!

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The core of the idea was to make connectors that would allow the foam pieces to fit tight with each other and still pull apart. To pull this off I needed to make consistently sized holes in the foam that could be matched on each connecting edge. I quick test of a drill bit failed horribly. It would dig into the foam and rip chunks out and if it caught one of the hard stones in the board it would divert the bit off perpendicular. Noticing how well the hot cutter blades go through the foam, figured that could be replicated with a hot cylinder. Hit the local hardware store and picked out some steel pipe pieces even added T’s for a handle. Stole Linda’s oven glove when she wasn’t looking to put on the hand holding the connector end.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Before I go ANY FURTHER. This technique carries with it a high degree of danger and recommend taking appropriate precautions if you intend to replicate it. I am serious about this as you can burn yourself bad on the tool or expose yourself to some toxic fumes. You have been warned! Now on to the fun stuff. No surprise here, but you simply need to heat up the steel pipe with the torch and then sink it into the foam. You have to keep the tool at just the right temperature to prevent the foam from melting too far beyond the pipe diameter, keep the tool perpendicular to surface, be consistent with the speed you sink the tool and most of all make sure you go to the exact depth needed. For the latter, use a permanent pen to mark the desired depth on the pipe itself. You can see my practice attempts below trying to get all those parameters just right. Do this outside and wear a good mask if you have one (guessing you do these days).

Once all the holes were burned into the base, I glued PVC pipe pieces into the holes with foam board adhesive which you can see in the bottom row of holes in the shot above. Next up I headed to the CAD software and designed some pegs to fit snugly inside the embedded PVC pipes. To save on 3D filament, based them on a “+” sign shape. Also set them at twice the length of the PVC pipe insert. While I was gluing the pipes in, also filled in all the gaps and breaklines in the foam pieces with the same foam glue.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

One half of the connector was finished. The next challenge was to get the matching edge connector lined up exactly where it needed to be. That task needed a quick run back to the CAD software. Took the model from the connector, cut it in half and then put a pointed tip on it. Printed a number of those out and placed them in the pipes. Aligned and sat the connecting foam piece down on them making an indent at the exact spot the matching connector needed to be.

The top of the lid needed to move so I couldn’t connect the top to the sides. Each side was already connected on three of its four sides with the connector approach outlined above. A force applied outward or inward near the top of the sides would put a lot of stress on the foam and might rip the pipes out of the edges. I want things to be a sturdy as possible for the rough transport down to the trail.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Although I couldn’t connect the top to the sides, I could strengthen them by connecting the sides together at the top. Another trip to the CAD room. Went back to the original connector model, cut it in half again, duplicated it and then added a coupling cap. Marked their placement across the top edges of the sides, sunk the holes, glued in the PVC pipes and task completed!

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Here is what it looks like with the cross connector inserted – right side wasn’t pressed all the way down yet. Will take the time to mention here that red happened to be the color I had loaded into my printer. I’ll probably reprint these in white sometime just to fit the color scheme of the final product better. At this point I was just trying to get everything designed and working right.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

By this point I couldn’t be happier. The foam was fitting up nicely, incredibly sturdy and best of all could be taken apart quickly and folded flat.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Time to start adding the details. Didn’t want to go to elaborate with the lettering on this prop. Unlike the tombstones I made previously, the carved pieces were not going to be the center of attention (link here). The classic RIP would do just fine. Found a font I liked and printed out a template and traced it on the top of the coffin.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The prop was going to have something pop out of it, why not give the impression that it was alive and had been trying to get out before the guests got there. A couple of scratch marks would do the trick.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Charged up the micro Dremel and carved out the patterns. Only engraved the lettering, but went all the way through with the scratches

Coming along nicely. My friend in haunt Brad always gets on me about how “nice” and clean my grave props look. He is right, of course, they really should be dirty from the years of weathering and grime. Always hard to start messing something up you spent so much time on to get to that point. Oh well, time to add some damage. I use the standard approach documented on several haunt sites. Take a somewhat dull pocketknife and wiggle random lines in the foam. I try to very the depth from 1/4 to 1/2 inch or so as I rip through the foam. At the outer edges I rip out larger chunks – have fun, be creative and try not to think about all the work you have into it.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Once the cracks are all laid in, hit it with a heat gun (or hair dryer) to widen the cracks and melt any sharp edges to give it a nice weathered look. I tried to crack several of the sides as well, but be very careful you don’t hit the connectors as you don’t want them to be melted out of the foam. Here is what it looked like before entering the paint phase.

This is when it gets a bit tedious. My go to gravestone paint is Drylock. With the grit added to that sealant you get a nice rough stoney looking surface. Problem is that it takes several coats to properly cover the pink coloring and black lettering on the foam. It took me 4 coats to get the coverage I wanted. I used the mini-roller for the larger parts and a brush to get into some of the tight places. Initially I had covered all the connector holes to keep them clean – that took too long so just used a brush to get around those. Oh, almost forgot. I air brushed all the lettering, the scratches and the cracks with black paint. Be sure and use the roller to go over those parts so the black shows through as it passes over.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The shot below gives a better view of how the roller makes the valleys pop.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Finally, all four coats on the foam! Drylock will also stiffen up the foam and make it a lot sturdier – still lighter than real stone ha!

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Time to reassemble. Put the connector rods back into the base.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Connected the sides back on and then added the top side connectors at the corners. Now you can see while I will probably reprint those top connectors in white.

Just another angle of the now painted coffin.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

For now simply sat the top on. There are more plans for that… and I still need to figure out how to make that happen!

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

It only took 18 months and a complete flop on the first attempt to finally have a coffin worthy of the Haunted Trail. In addition, I now have a consistent method to cut foam for future projects and a new connector mechanism to be able to store in the off season and quickly reassemble when the leaves start turning.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Did a quick test to see how it will look on the trail. We were in a Camping World and saw a set of LED lights you put in your cooler. A sucker for waterproof LEDs we bought two red ones knowing some point in the future I would find a use for them on the trail. – Sure enough, this was a perfect time. dropped them in the bottom of the coffin and turned the lights out.

Project Foam Coffin Halloween Project for Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Hope you enjoyed another Halloween project walk through. As this post was already pretty long, decided to cover the second half of the prop design in another post. Stay tuned for that as we’ll cover the animated parts. Until then, haunt on.

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