Halloween 2016: [How-To] Huge Dragon Prop With Viking Ship


Ok, this year Tera’s idea was to build a big dragon and a Viking ship, put the dragon on the roof of our house, and have the Vikings shooting at the dragon. That leaves us with a fairly easy theme for our party guests to comply with, and also it appeals to the kids (who, most of which, have probably seen “How To Train Your Dragon”).

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My first thought was, “how are we supposed to make a dragon?”

My second thought was, “how am I supposed to get this dragon on top of our pergola?”

Tera took the initiative to get us going this year.  She started making the head of the dragon which I thought for sure would be the hardest part.


This is approximately where she was with it when I found my drive to make the body. With weight being a big issue, she began the base of the head with a cardboard box; a method that I wasn’t quite sure about until she continued to build it out. The above picture has the following materials put into it:


-Lots of masking tape

-Duct tape

-Cellulose “clay” (papier mache clay)

-Crumpled brown paper from Amazon packaging

-A few wood sticks I cut for her (to hold shape and give strength; also something sturdy to connect to the body with)


After looking at several Google images of dragons, I decided to begin here.  These sticks of wood were left over from milling the wood for my pergola this summer, so they didn’t cost anything and would have been burned or thrown away otherwise. I used a block of wood to tie two 8′ pieces together, then added some crossbeams which provide the curve.  Most everything I do has been done with a finish nail gun (pneumatic) on my 2 gallon air compressor. Nothing fancy.


Here again is basically the same idea.  I set the piece upright, added these four horizontal crossbeams, and then added this first stick to the left side.  There is no science to this.  I have not used a tape measure once on this project, and have simply eye-balled the sizes of wood to what I was conceptualizing as his body shape.


This picture shows the two outer side sticks added, as well as a few 45 degree pieces on the vertical inner sticks to sturdy it up. The bent wood that is curved around the form is just scrap wood that I have run through a table saw at about 1/8″ and wet down to make it more pliable.


…and this is just the back end of the same thing.


Coming up on about 2 hours or so now, I added in lots more small supports and the simple sticks that will be his legs. I’m envisioning that his body will be well covered, so many of these pieces of wood go through the body from one leg to the other for support, but hopefully won’t be seen.


This is just more of the same from the other side.


Quite a bit more has taken shape on him now. This looks a lot more complicated than it actually is. For the curve of the neck, I simply added more posts (attached to the body at different angles), bent 1/8″ thick wood sticks around it, and hand-sawed off the excess of any posts that were outside of the range of the neck. I was very intimidated about curving his neck, but it turns out that it was quick and easy!


…and more of the same from a different angle.


Now that we’re happy with the body shape, I threw a wing on him (and several fin spikes).  This had to have been the most difficult part by a long shot.  I used 1″ X 1″ X 8′ sticks, and there wasn’t much to nail them together with in terms of having them end-to-end. Again, I used little scrap pieces to connect them. I am hoping that they will be covered by whatever the wing will be made out of.


We decided to use a bunch of muslin that my wife had laying around in the basement to cover him with.  There are also a few strips of chicken wire that I used to form his rib cage a little better than it was.  This was donated to us by my father-in-law, who is leaving a house behind with lots of junk to rummage through.  Thanks, Jeff!

We used some grey paint that was left over from a room in our house to give him the base coat color. I just haphazardly slapped it onto the fabric once it was in place.


…and more from the front end. One trick I found helpful was to use a simple office stapler to attach the fabric to the wood. The wood is so thin that anything more would be overkill. We’ll see if it withstands the winds!


Meanwhile, Tera’s head in the garage is coming along nicely! She has watered down white school glue, dipped the muslin fabric in it, and added it to the base structure she had going on above. She also left a little access hole going behind the eye so we can light it up later. It also has some paint done, but not quite finished.


The spikes on his head are looking awesome!


What a morning it has been so far… Neighb Johnny and brother-in-law Jason came through like a couple of champs and helped me get this thing up and in place.  I have to say that it is just not that heavy, but it is incredibly awkward to maneuver this huge, winged creature up 12 or so feet, then have the footing to slide it sideways without falling off a ladder. We dropped it from about 8 feet up, and I was so proud that it didn’t have one single break that I had to fix! Many thanks to Johnny, who muscled a lot of the weight up, and to Jason, who sustained nasty battle wounds from the chicken wire.


Notice the little square I tacked together coming from the pergola. I am working alone today, so this is how I’ve decided to try attaching the head.


After almost dropping and trashing this head twice, here it is temporarily.


Wow, after lots of tries and fails, here it is attached!  I ended up having to support his head from the bottom side and I had to tack one board into the pergola.  Looks like this dragon is going to have a neck beard to cover that up.

He still needs now:

-Neck beard

-Feet and claws

-A tail

-A fog machine routed through his mouth


Fog machine…check and check.  I just can’t help turning this on at night now. People are beginning to stop and take photos!


Lookin’ good! I really like how the neck beard turned out.


So you can see that the same method is happening on his tail.  Just a thin wood strip frame with fabric over it and paint to come.


Here is the beginning of the Viking ship.  The dragon (now referred to as Rupert) now has his tail, his feet and claws, and I added fabric to fully connect his head to his neck. Once the Viking theme is done, we can sit back under our new pergola and watch the folks come to look!

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Halloween night!

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Halloween was NUTS! We are guessing that around 1500 kids came, based on our candy count, which probably doesn’t include a lot of parents, who don’t take any candy.

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