What's all this, then?

Each Halloween season, when the Greenwood Reaper inhabits my yard, people ask me “How did you make it?” and “What is it made from?”.

Since I’m making a bigger and better reaper I figured I’d make this blog to answer those questions. This is also a way for interested parties to ask questions and see the progress of the project.

The only regular time I spend building is on the week-ends, so it’s likely posts will appear early in the week.

The posts appear with the newest on top, so if you're new to the sight scroll to the bottom to read the beginning.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Anyone want to adopt a giant Reaper?

Well, the times they are a changing...

I no longer live at the 3rd and 76th house and the Reaper will not be there any more.

Does anyone want it? Free of charge.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I get light with a little help from my friends...

I just wanted to give a big shout-out to to new friend and fellow Burner Joe Cole.

Joe was kind enough to loan me a brilliant, professional grade light for the Reaper. Joe owns a Seattle based lighting company. Joe Cole Lights

Thanks Joe!

Reaper 3.0

Well, after 2 years of struggling with the second version of the Reaper I decided to re-redesign the basic structure. The big problem was the raising of the torso. It was just too heavy and cumbersome. My solution was to simply weld the top structure to the bottom and leave it up all year. The base structure could potentially be used for other holiday decorations (either with or without the skull).

Since it will be up all year I decided to re-make the top section and make it look less torso-like. After a bit of research I borrowed design elements from the Eiffel Tower and The Space Needle .
After a week-end of welding and painting I got it done. With help from my buddy Eli we got the new base standing in under 30 minutes.

The arms are now being held in place by rectangular piece that gets slid in vertically through the top leg hole things.

After the head and arms (the same ones from Reaper 2.0) were in place, it was just a matter of re-using the same robe as last year.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to simplicity

Well... some things work and some don't.

After two raisings, I have come to a determination: The method of raising the Reaper (illustrated below) works fine on paper, but does not work well in real life.

The biggest problem is that I can't get the pulley high enough to gain decent mechanical advantage when it's needed most. The result is that I need to raise the torso using direct muscle power. This is not good engineering.

There are quite a few ways to resolve this problem, I could rent a scissor-lift every year, I could build a crane on my roof, I could just leave the Reaper up all year round, ...or I could just eliminate the need to raise the torso.
The plan now is to simply weld the torso to the base, add some embellishments, and do strange and unusual things with it all year round.
Wish me luck.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Reaper in his natural habitat...

The last few steps were pretty simple; get him dressed (using more of the landscape fabric) and add a few more cheap landscaping lights.

Now it’s your turn. Get out there and create!
Start sketching and collecting useful junk…
find a tool and learn how to use it…
conspire with your friends and neighbors…
be creative and don’t be afraid to fail!

Formulate, craft, create, build and construct!
Feel free to write to me if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

I hope to see a whole legion of yard critters out there next year.

Big thanks to strixboy (Wayne Buck) for the great photo! http://www.flickr.com/photos/14114878@N00/

Monday, October 6, 2008


Raising the whole thing was a simple 3 step process.

…wait, did I say simple?

Rigging: With the able-bodied help of Dave, we rigged a modified mechanical belay system (replacing the center snap link with a pulley) between the chimney and the far corner of the arbor. This was the best way we devised to get the pulley point as high as possible. A rope was attached to the torso (about 2/3 of the way up the spine), through the pulley then down to the ground.

Joining: This step involved connecting the torso to the legs. Two of us held the torso in place while a third inserted the hinge pin (see Structure Basics for more details).

Lifting: Two of us lifted the torso from the front until the angle was right for the rope to pull effectively.

Once everything was upright a few swings from a framing hammer persuaded everything in place. Six truck cargo straps leading to five foot steel stakes cinched everything securely to the ground.

Attaching the lamp

Not really rocket science here... using a cheap landscape lighting kit I hooked up 4 of the lights (16 total watts) inside of the lamp, attached a loop of 5/16th steel rod for the handle and hooked up the wire that was inside of the right arm.

The landscape lighting kit came with a timer.

Fitting the robe

After the robe was complete I twisted and folded it up and jumped up and down on it to give it that “been reaped in” look. I made a simple hood and put it on the head. I fitted the top part of the robe on the torso and attached the hood using hot glue then proceeded to hack and slash the life out of it. This made the robe tattered looking as well as allowing the wind to pass through it.


The scythe needed to be tall strong and light. My first plan for the blade was to carve a skeletal frame out of a white pine board, then put a fiberglass skin over the whole thing. Once I cut out the basic shape I realized how light it was. The fiberglass was not necessary.

To make sure the base of the blade (where the most torque is) was bullet-proof I welded a length of aircraft cable to a steel ‘L’ bracket, attached the bracket to the base of the blade and ran the cable down a groove that I carved into the top of the blade. I attached a piece of ¾” aluminum square tube through the bracket.

I ‘sharpened’ the blade with an angle grinder and left the tool marks for texture.

After that, I fastened a 3” ABS ‘T’ joint to the aluminum tube.

The post was fifteen feet of bent ABS smudged with some brown spray paint.

That's one BIG party dress

My original plan for the Reaper's Robe was to use the modern, light-weight nylon fabric one would find a tent made out of… but then I spied a roll of landscape weed-block in the corner of the yard.
This particular stuff was/is pretty rugged. It’s stiff like construction paper and looks to be made out of fiberglass. I got my trusty sketches of the robe, tallied up the square footage needed and started unrolling. There was plenty for the job.
One Saturday morning Suzanne (my wife) and I sewed all 93 total feet of the outfit. I showed her the sketches and made a very quick scale model out of paper. Once it all gelled for her she said “Oh, like a party dress?”
I stared blankly and replied “Uhhh…, yeaaa…”

To get everything lined up I used a regular office stapler to hold the pieces in place. I piled all of the stapled pieces in the living room and walked them into the dining room (where the sewing machine was) and, as they were sewed, pulled them into the kitchen. The fabric sewed surprisingly easy. No catches, no bunching and very little swearing.
Once it was all sewed and pulled out into the yard and the scale of the nearly 100 feet of costume came into focus Suz chuckled and said “That’s one big party dress.”


One of the delay problems I was having was the need to make everything dis-assemble-able. This increased the complexity times ten. Making a static, permanent sculpture is a piece of cake, but when it’s something that needs to come down and be stored, ‘easy’ goes out the door.
Then one night while I was watching the Discovery channel (which is almost all I watch) I came to realize that maybe it doesn’t need to be completely modular…
The documentary was about one of those enormous tunnel-digging machines. Turns out that even though that gigantic machine is assembled on-site there are still tons of pieces that need to be welded in place. This ‘allowance’ made the last part of the torso construction move right along.

I needed to make sure all of the parts were going to fit properly as well as make sure the geometry and stresses were geometry-ing and stressing correctly, so I ended up putting together the torso 4 or 5 times.
The girls next door (Paige and Lauren) appreciated this since they are big fans of “The Scary Guy”.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Grind and stain

Covered head to toe including safety glasses, a hat and a resperator, I used a few different tools to grind down the undesirable bits of the cured fiberglass.

After everything was gound down I followed the same method as before for painting: Flat black then rolled on white.

I decided that the white was still a bit too white so I lathered on some yellowy/browny wood stain.

I let Slim bask in the sun to dry the stain.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bending legs and more fiberglass

Since the post holes (in the metal and concrete foundation) are set at four feet and the hips are only three feet wide I needed to make two bends in the legs. I used a 12 ton pipe bender for this.

Once I was satisfied with the bends I temporarily set the legs and hips in place. I was pretty happy with the fit.

Fiber-glassing the arms and chest plate started off as a procedure of measuring, mixing, daubing, brushing and applying. Over the next few hours this eroded into squirting, sloshing, smearing, swearing and shoving. Although Connie and I were very ‘done’ with the fiberglassing process at the end of the day, the pieces came out pretty well.

To arms! To arms!!

Since one of the arms will need to be wired to accommodate low-voltage landscape lights I opted to make it out of ½” steel pipe and rebar in a truss configuration (sort of like the way a construction crane is made). 

When it was all welded together I ran the wire through the arm and zip-tied the end of the wire to the index finger.  

To ensure the knuckles looked like knuckles I cut pieces of PVC pipe and taped them to the joints.  

That done I covered the whole thing in expanding foam, let it cure, 

and proceeded to carve away the parts that didn’t look like a skeletal arm. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Chest Plate

When I made the first reaper I wanted to make sure that the end-product didn’t look like a tent with a skull on it, so I added a an aesthetic rib-cage (a chest plate) to the front.  This was something that I had been thinking about for a while but didn’t have any real plans for.  I ended up spending an hour or so drywall-screwing and duct taping together some PVC pipe and sheet metal.  The end result was passable, and I liked the effect, but it was not my best work.

The new chest plate needed to be light-weight and durable so I went with fiberglass over foam.  To get the correct, scale shape I used my life-sized plastic skeleton and a ruler and made a drawing on my shop floor (scaled up, of course) using sidewalk chalk.  I then covered the drawing with plastic wrap and duplicated the shape in expanding foam.

Once the foam was cured I pulled off the plastic wrap and carved off the non-rib-cage-looking bits.  Since the foam ribs were so thin and would not keep the intended shape I needed to hold them in shape while the fiberglass was applied.  I used a piece of galvanized sheet metal bowed across a trashcan.  I duct-taped down the ribs (I should have used masking tape) and started the fiberglass.  Having learned my lesson last time I opted to do the work in the open air of the driveway rather than inside the shop. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Hands

After a scale drawing I cut out pieces of 3/8th inch rebar to make the basic shape and welded it together.

I notched the fingers at the joints then used a piece of pipe to bend them to the right angle. After the bends were the way I wanted them I welded them in place.

More rebar for the wrists...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Oh boy. Well, I’m in full panic mode now… That’s what I get for slacking and doing other projects. It’s almost September and I feel like I am waaaay behind. I did get a lot done this week-end though.

The first reaper relied on the posts that extended from his feet (and acted like stakes) for stability. I wanted the new reaper to have something a bit more. I decided on making a full on re-enforced concrete foundation that would lie below ground level.

I decided to repurpose the leg trusses from another project (Mary Annette) for the base structure. Since the whole design is a tapered, triangular column, the base is, of course, a triangle.

Using the same super heavy-duty steel pipe that will end up being the new legs, I cut off three 9” sections and welded them to the corners of the base.

…then gave the whole thing a coat of RustOleum. Since I am not the most patient person I typically do not use RustOleum (it takes longer to dry than Krylon), but in this case I really needed something that was gong to work well on top of surface oxidation and armor-coat the rebar while underground.

After about an hour of digging (and sweating and swearing) the hole was ready for the metal base. It took a while to get the base plumb in the hole, but with help from Connie we made it work.

600 pounds of concrete later the base was done.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Structure Basics

A few years ago I made another 18 foot Halloween creature. Her name was Mary Annette and she was so big and heavy and cumbersome that I nearly killed two of my neighbors while trying to put her up.
The problem was the design.
With the original Reaper (at 13 feet) I could stand on a ladder and put on the head and arms without too much of a problem. At 18 feet that tactic was not an option for Mary. I would have no way to put on her head or arms. The plan was to have her fully assembled while laying down and simply stand her up. 'Simple' it was not. After much pushing and pulling and grunting we finally got her standing. Even though I lashed her down very securely, I stressed out every time the wind blew and I was certain she would become the target of vandals. Taking her down was pretty easy, I just loosened the tie-downs and let gravity do it's thing. I really didn't care if she got damaged.

Although Mary had a short life, her parts will live on. I re-used the central truss for the new Reaper. The new strategy for erecting such a tall piece is to take a lesson from nature (one of my favorite engineers), and have the Reaper bend at the waist. Using a steel pipe and some round-stock I made a very large hinge. This hinge will connect the bottom section to the top section.

Since I need to be able to store the Reaper during those dreaded 'non-Halloween' months, and since I have somewhat limited storage space, the whole thing needs to be as modular as possible without compromising safety. (my motto for building is "Why just build it when you can over-build it?")

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Lantern

The lantern for the original reaper was (see the picture in the very first entry) a candle-holder lamp thing that I found at Costco on clearance for $10. It worked well enough, but it was a bit heavier than I wanted it to be and it used actual glass for the panes. I always hesitate using any glass in my outdoor projects since Fall can get pretty windy in Seattle.
I did some research (on-line) trying to find a classic ye oldee lantern that wouldn’t be too difficult to scale up and fabricate.

This is what I decided on.

Simple, basic lines that are immediately recognized as a lamp or lantern.

My two goals for the construction of the new lamp (after picking the style) were low weight and high strength. I figured if this thing is going to be 18 feet in the air that a flimsy, heavy object flapping around in the wind was not a good plan.
A steel frame made of ¼” round-stock, blanketed with aluminum angle ought to do the trick.

I was going to need about 50 linear feet of round-stock and aluminum angle each. Doing the math in my head at Lowe’s while standing in front of their metals section, it turned out that it was going to be waaay out of budget buy raw materials in the standard way.
Time for plan ‘b’.
Plan ‘b’ happens a lot. It’s not very often that I just go out and buy raw materials, I almost always need to find less expensive way.
First, I spent about an hour in the lighting section hoping to find a porch-light or something similar that would work. There were a few promising candidates but they were either too expensive, too heavy or the wrong scale. Next, I went to the ‘storage’ area hoping to find a tall, wire laundry basket that was about the size of the lamp. No go. While in the roofing section I found some drip flashing (used to protect the bottom edge of a roof from drips). It was like aluminum angle but steel, thinner, ten feet long and far cheaper. After a second pass by the lighting section (and a second time talking myself out of spending $100 on a lantern) I found some ¼” all-thread that is normally used to hang lighting in commercial construction. It was 10 feet long and $2.44 each. They were threaded and galvanized, but I could live with that. $40 later I was on my way. Bonus! I got a $10 off coupon attached to my receipt.

Making a rectangular box out of round-stock isn’t all that hard, particularly when it’s going to be covered with flashing. Once I got done with the basic shape I took a long hard look from different distances. The shape was just ‘ok’ and the structure was a bit wobbly. Using the flashing, I made the bottom part and one of the corners of the lamp and temporarily attached them to the frame then had another look… still just ‘ok’. I took the flashing off and went back over all of the joints of the frame with big, thick welds… Or that was the plan anyway until I ran out of welding wire. I was sure I had a second roll… dang it. Back to Lowe’s…

I got two rolls of welding wire and some sheet-metal screws to attach the flashing together. In addition I was going to use some construction adhesive to glue the whole thing together, but for some reason instead of getting Liquid Nails I ended up back in the dang lighting section. Lo and behold, a lamp appears. I’m sure I had seen it before, but dismissed it due to its price. But there was something that I didn’t notice before, it was on sale…
and I have a coupon…hmmm.
After doing more mental math exercises, adding up the rest of the supplies I’d need to fabricate the lamp I took the easy way out and just bought dang lamp.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Spine

The original Reaper had a frame that was bent at the back to mimic a spinal column. It worked ‘ok’ but it was a lot of effort for not much pay-off. It took hours to get the bends right and to weld it all together.
Since the shape of the new frame does not lend its self to the lines of a human skeleton I need to add some non-structural parts so that the costume hangs right.
I started off with a 10 foot long, 4 inch diameter piece of ABS (black plastic) pipe.
To get a decent bend I applied heat, first with a small space heater, then with a heat gun.*

Once it was hot to the touch (and my work space had a very vague odor of plastic) I used a ratcheting tie-down strap to apply compressive force on one side (in other words I put one hook on each end and ratcheted away). I only used as much force as I was able to using one hand.
Over the next few hours I moved the heater and heat gun around to various places and tightened the tie-down strap enough to get a nice gentle, spine-like bend.

I used the same method to un-bend the base of the spine (the lumbar curve).

I made the individual vertebrae using some cheap irrigation pipe (white).

After consulting my friend Deb (a licensed massage therapist, who has forgotten more about anatomy than I will ever know) I used more of the cheap irrigation pipe to make the Spinous Process and the Transverse Process.

I used ¾” drywall screws to attach all of the vertebrae pieces directly to the ABS.

*IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Do not, under ANY circumstances, use an open flame to heat plastic pipes. ABS, in particular, catches on fire quite readily. Nothing will ruin your day faster than a ten foot chunk of blazing plastic in your workspace. Such a dramatic event didn't happen to me, but I did set a 1 foot section on fire a few years back (I was trying to smooth out a badly drilled hole by using a MAPP gas torch) ...dumb.