swinging skeleton

When Dave Raulerson moved into his home eight years ago, he was pleased to finally have a tree in his yard large enough to support a swing — perfect for the swinging skeleton Halloween prop that he had in mind. And while this swinging skeleton is probably “old hat” to his neighbors, Raulerson has only recently posted a tutorial to recreate the swinging mechanism that brings this child-sized skeleton to life.

I had never seen anyone build something like that and also had never seen a prop like it for sale in a store. I’ve always liked the challenge of building a prop that nobody has ever made before.

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The mechanism that moves the swing is a two-piece rig comprised of a swing rocker and a motor platform that are attached to two different limbs of the tree. The swing rocker itself is pretty simple. Each rope of the swing is attached to a wooden support that provides the necessary pivot point to make the swinging motion consistent.

A PVC pipe allows the swing supports to move in an arc when a fishing line pulls back on the extended handle of one of the supports, rocking the swing. The second piece of equipment is the motor itself. Raulerson uses a 24 RPM gear motor, but any slow, rotating gear motor would do. A rotating crank on the motor pulls the fishing line that rocks the swing. This same configuration could probably be assembled with some minor tweaking on a single platform for one tree limb.

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If he had to do it again, Raulerson said he might tweak the design so the swing rocker and motor would be on the same platform, or use a quieter motor, but for the most part he’s pleased with the design.

This was one of the few props I’ve built that ended up working just like I envisioned it in my head, without a lot of adjustments to the original plan. Over the years, I’ve had to change out or upgrade certain parts of the swing. For instance, one very important part of the swing rocker I had cut from an old broom handle. I found out quickly that wood tends to swell up when it gets wet, which caused the swing to not want to swing properly. Replacing that part with PVC pipe solved that problem.

Raulerson said that the swinging skeleton is especially popular with younger kids, though he’s seen plenty of passersby stop to stare. Since it’s the first prop he sets up every year, it’s come to mark the start of the season in his neighborhood.

When I first built it, I had hung the swing up with the skeleton, but the motor assembly wasn’t quite ready. A neighbor lady of ours commented: “Oh, you have a skeleton in a swing.” The next day, I mounted the motor and had him swinging away. She came home from work and came to our door: “He’s…He’s ….SWINGING!” I said: “Oh, yea…”

Raulerson’s tutorial goes through the steps to recreate all elements (minus the skeleton) involved in creating this whimsical and spooky prop.

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