A headstone can be very personal and a way to show off the personality of yourself or the person that you are burying.
You may want to install and make the headstone yourself to really show that you cared, or to save some money. But can you put your own headstone on a grave, and if so, how?
Yes, you can put your own headstone on a grave in almost areas in The States. The major factor if you are allowed to put and/or make your own headstone, would be the cemetery that you choose. Some cemeteries will allow any type of headstone, many don’t for aesthetics. Check with the cemetery first.
Choosing this route may be the best option for you, but it will take some research and some knowledge of basic construction to do it. Otherwise, it could be a very costly mistake!
The information below will help guide you through this in your time of need or if you are planning ahead to make it easier for your loved ones.
Why would someone want to do make or put up their own headstone?
There are three main reasons that one would want to do this.
- Cost- The first is that it will save you money. Funerals are a very expensive endeavor and a headstone can cost a lot of money (check here for my article about the average price of a headstone). By making the headstone and installing it yourself you could be saving yourself thousands of dollars.
- Sentimentality- The second is that you want to represent the person that has moved on. You want to show off what they stood for, whether it be for the environment or having a simple life. Having your own homemade headstone is a great way to do this.
- Environmental- This could be considered a “green funeral” depending on how you look at it. While cement can be very industrial intensive to create they have greener options where it is mixed with other materials to lower the carbon footprint (You can learn more about green funerals in my in-depth article).
What are the rules behind erecting a headstone?
The main and biggest law on who is allowed to erect a headstone is if there is a “Grant Deed” and who is on it. The grant deed is the legal document that would legally put a person in charge of all aspects of the funeral including the headstone.
If there is no grant deed, the family and relatives would be the ones who would choose what happens to it. If this cannot be agreed on, it would go to court. You can read a more in-depth article about dealing with family disagreements over funerals here.
How to choose a cemetery and what questions should I ask?
Now that you have chosen to build a headstone and/or install it yourself you need to choose a cemetery if you are not erecting it on a private plot of land.
You need to choose one that allows you to do this yourself. Here are some main questions to ask them before you pick one.
- Are you allowed to put your homemade stone there? By law, they have to take a stone from an outside source they may not take one that you made yourself. If they do take it you may not be allowed to install it on your own.
- What type of headstones are even allowed? Chances are that if you are making your own you are going to make a flat stone. Some cemeteries only allow upright headstones bronze markets, etc.
- What are the size requirements? Most cemeteries will have a maximum and minimum size allowed, so you need to stay within these to have it allowed.
- Are there any material and color restrictions? Cemeteries often have color and material stipulations, black granite being the most commonly required.
- Are there any other specifications they require? This is a strange one and often forgotten. One common example is that Catholic cemeteries that will often require a cross on the stones. Other institutions have similar requirements.
- What paperwork do I need? As with most things in life, paperwork will most likely be needed here. This is where you may need to show the grant deed, or that you are next of kin and legally allowed to choose the stone. Another common document would be a release of liability, as you create the stone yourself, they want to make sure that they are not responsible for normal wear and tear or an “act of God”.
What skills do I need to create a headstone?
Unless you have a major physical disability, that prevents you from heavy lifting most people can do this process simply and for quite cheap. The basic process just involves water, a few tools, time, space and cement. No special skills are required.
What materials do I need?
Mortar Mix- Get the sand and concrete mix only. You do not want an aggregate mix, the one with rock in the mix.
Lumber– The size of the headstone will dictate how much wood you will need. It is always better to get more than you need to in case of an accident. Also, one extra piece to smooth over the headstone.
Plastic lining– A simple tarp or a large strong plastic bag will suffice. These are used in the pouring and to keep the mess at bay.
Newspaper- This again is used for cleaning and to absorb the cement, as regular paper towels will not work.
Water buckets- You want to have two to three of these for washing your hands and tools as you go. Five-gallon spackle bucket is easy and cheap to come by.
A large container- This is for mixing the cement, a wheelbarrow, a large tub, etc. will be necessary.
Liquid measuring tool- Now you don’t have to go out and buy some, the ones in your kitchen or even soda bottles will work. But make sure you know the exact measurements because you want the concrete to mix and set correctly.
Rebar/fiberglass/wire- This is optional but when mixed in, it can add a layer of durability and stability to the headstone.
Stamp letter- Unless you have a very steady hand these will really help and make it look more professional when putting on the inscription. You can find this ready to go pack of letter concrete stamps on Amazon at a great price.
What are the steps in making the headstone?
I will not get very detailed but will just lay out the basic steps that are done so you get an idea of the process ( you can check out here for)
- Create a plan- This sounds obvious but often forgotten. Make sure you know and have it before you start.
- Setup- You need a fair amount of room indoors or outdoors where it can dry. Layout the plastic and the materials on top of it.
- Create your frame- This will mean cutting the wood and having plastic laid inside or the wood has no gaps.
- Have the letter ready- You don’t want to be rushing around as the cement sets, place the letters and have them spaced before you mix.
- Mix the cement- Do this slowly and add little amounts of water as you go. You can always add more water but cannot take it away. You want to get to the consistency of peanut butter, without the lumps!.
- Fill the frame with the mix- Just pour the mix into the frame making sure that none is leaking out.
- Hammer the sides- Don’t hold back you want the bubbles out of it so it sets right. After this is done you can smooth over the top with a piece of wood.
- Put in the lettering- Wetting the letter or using some pam spray will prevent the letters from sticking when you take them out.
- Wait- Letting it set will take time, especially if you live in an area that is humid and wet.
- Shaping the stone- After you are sure it is set you can remove the frame. Here you wan tot make sure it is dry then you can round the edges and smooth over the top if need be.
- Admire your work- You worked hard, enjoy it and what you have done for your loved one.
Installing the headstone
The installation of a headstone often requires specific skills of experienced professionals. Why might you ask?
The weight and shape of the tombstones necessitate very careful handling to avoid damaging it and harming other people or headstone. The ground also needs time to set after the body is placed, so it is not something that can be done quickly. You can learn more about this in my article here
What wording to choose?
There are countless words to honor your loved one and it is up to you to choose, looking here (Choosing Headstone Bible Verses) will give you some good idea of what to put on the stone.
Maintaining a Headstone
There are certain ways to maintain a headstone and this link will provide the best steps to do it on your own.
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