Making Billy’s Tombstone from Stranger Things

Billy’s gravestone without bottom base.

Believe it or not, from all the props made this year, making Billy’s tombstone was probably the most frustrating. In hindsight, since it was my first-ever tombstone made from foam ( I know, can you believe it?), I probably should have watched a few videos from the more seasoned creators, that have. Yet, I overcame the mishaps, and learned along the way. I’ll share what I did, and what I’d change, for the next one I make.

Supplies Needed:

  • 8 ft. x 4 ft Foam Insulation Board (0.75 thickness)
  • A Hot Foam Cutter (3 in 1 kit) or a saw or knife – but a hot inscribing tool makes for easy lettering
  • Foam Glue Spray
  • Exterior Grey Paint for basecoat (check returned cans in paint section, for cheap option)
  • Acrylic Outdoor Paint (Black and a few different shades of gray, to offset base grey)
  • About 3 Plastic grocery bags
  • Paint Brushes
  • Printer/paper for gravestone inscription
  • Scissors, tape, and pencil
  • Measuring tape

Words of Caution: Don’t use spray paint, unless it is specifically made for foam. Regular spray paints will melt foam.

For Mishaps in Measuring (I’ll explain later, for you to prevent)

  • Hot Glue Gun/Sticks
  • Exterior Caulking/gun

Measuring and Cutting the Foam

The measurements I chose, where based on eyeing the height/width of the stone, while Max was sitting in front of it (on a Stranger Things episode). Yet, when I completed the top portion, I saw it ran a bit bigger, then it should be. Leaving off the base, made it a perfect size. If you want to add the base, you might want to adjust the top measurements a few inches smaller.

Billy Hargrove gravestone
Measurements of Billy Hargrove gravestone.

Mistakes While Cutting

I used the 3 in one kit of a Hot Foam cutter. It came with a wire cutting tool, a hot knife, and an inscriber tool. For under $25, I didn’t think it was a bad deal. I had used foam so many times, but have used electric knives, reg. knives, or blades. I splurged and bought the hot cutter, but using the wire cutter to make a straight line, was harder than I thought. I practiced with other pieces of foam, but the give in the wire, made me switch out, to the hot knife tool. I practiced again, and was getting straight lines.

Measurements Thrown Off

Since I switched to the hot knife tip, I did not think about the width of the hot knife, and how it would throw off my measurements. I measured and cut the front face of the gravestone – no problem. I measured and cut the first width, then laid it on top to use as an outline for the next piece. This is how the measurements got thrown off. I did not take into consideration, the space of hot knife, and the next pieces out-lined(instead of measured), were different. The width pieces that are positioned on the top of stone, and sides did not match. No, I did not recut them.

When to Glue Together

Most importantly, DO NOT glue everything together, then work on the inscribing of the front of stone. It will be far easier to work with a flat piece, than an entire headstone. I at least, got that right. You glue after you engrave the front of stone, and paint the fonts black.

Controversy Over the Name

There has been a lot of talk about which name is correct for Billy’s gravestone. One of the reasons, is NetFlix had promo ads that showed different stones: One with William Hargrove, and another with Billy Hargrove. I wasn’t going to think hard on that. Billy was always Billy to viewers. That name would be instantly recognized.

Choosing the Font/Size

At first, I thought someone has to offer the font size/info for free. I searched without any luck. People were selling downloads of it. They haven’t met this Frugal Gal.

After working with some free poster programs, I decided to stick with Microsoft Word to match the type/size font needed to match the gravestone. For anyone wishing to save themselves the effort, see the paragraph below. *Remember, if you make a smaller headstone, you’ll need to size down your fonts, accordingly.

Times New Roman is the font used for all lines. But the sizing between the name, and the dates/Gone… line are different. The name uses 190 size, and the dates/Gone line uses 125. * If you are using Microsoft Word, you’ll need to delete the number in the font size box. Type the first letters of the name inscription, highlight the letters, then type in 190 into the font size box. Finish typing the rest of name, which should all be in 190.

Repeat the same procedure for the other lines, but change the font size box to 125. Before going to print, do a page set up for printing to landscape. This will get the most letters lined up on a reg. (8×11) piece of printer paper. Better yet, if you have longer paper, use that. It just helps with lining up things easier. I used the reg. sized printer paper, then lined up the lettering, after cutting out sections.

Once each word or letters are cut out, center them on the flat front foam piece.

Tracing the Words

After taping all the words onto the front of the headstone, step back and ensure everything is centered, straight, etc. See images, below. Take a pencil, and write over the lettering. Press down hard enough, to get guidelines for burning. When you are sure you’ve made clear enough guidelines, remove the paper.

Trace font lettering with enough pressure to give guide lines in foam.
Font placement on Billy’s gravestone.


Using a hot foam inscriber made this task so easy. I did practice two or three letters on another piece of foam, to ensure, I had a handle on how it worked/melted the foam. My lettering is not perfect, but I am still proud of how well it came out. If you happen to flub up a letter or two, when burning, you can make it less noticeable, with paint.

Painting the Gravestone

This is another place I learned from my mistakes. Unfortunately, I painted the entire headstone in a layered technique first, and then did the black lettering last. Just to make this clear: Paint the forged inscription black FIRST, then move on to using my paint technique for the entire stone. It took forever and a day, to carefully paint the lettering later.

Gluing the Pieces Together

After you’ve burned in the inscription, and painted the lettering black, glue all pieces together. Using the foam spray directions, this is a pretty easy job. Make sure both pieces you’re joining are sprayed. I didn’t use a vice grip to hold. I pressed hard for about 5 minutes, for each section. I also waited about 15 minutes to let each joint dry, before moving on to next. If you have flubbed up on measuring, or didn’t take into consideration the spacing of the hot knife, like I did: Once all the pieces are together, fill in smaller gaps with hot glue. Larger ones can be filled with exterior caulk/gun. With large gaps, even when a manufacturers says “good to paint in 2 hours”, wait overnight. Big gaps do not dry in 2 hours.

Painting Technique to Look Like Stone

I’ve been using this same paint technique for over 16 years. I’ve used it to make my daughter’s bedroom, a castle in the clouds, and an ancient Mediterranean villa, for our bedroom. It’s easy, but a little time consuming. Yet, the results are worth it.

Paint the entire gravestone(minus the lettering), a light grey. You’ll more than likely have to add a few coats. I used an exterior primer/paint, and still had to go over the headstone, four times. Once the base grey is dried, grab a few grocery bags and your black/alternate grey shades of acrylics. If you’ve never done this technique, I suggest practicing on a foam board sheet from the dollar store.

Pour out about a tablespoon of each color onto a paper plate. Bunch a grocery bag tightly, into a ball (like the size of a plastic scouring pad). Keeping the ball tight, dip the plastic bag ball into a color, and randomly dab (approx. spots the size of a quarter, dime, or nickel) over about a 12″ x 12″ area. Any bigger, and you risk spots drying before you can work them.

After you’ve dabbed on some color, start hammering the tight, plastic ball, over the paint spots, moving it, adding speckles to other spots. If you hammer a paint dab hard enough, you can also pull up and off enough paint to have the background gray show through. Repeat and repeat, with all the colors, until you are satisfied with results.

Final Thoughts

Let me know if you have any questions, or even tips, that may make the next time I make a gravestone out of foam – easier. Also, if you want a video tutorial on this paint technique, shoot me a request in the comments. Thanks!

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