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Animated Swinging Skeleton

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I built this prop about 8 years ago, and it's always a big hit in the neighborhood. I've gotten a lot of requests from various forum members over the years for information on how I built it. I even wrote up a tutorial for it about 4 years ago, but never posted it. Don't know why---too busy building other props, I guess. I just recently had a few requests for info. on it, so I figured it's high time to finally get this thing posted. It may take a couple of days to get it all on here and for me to correct any dumb mistakes I might have made.
Anyway, here it is:

Animated Swinging Skeleton


http://vidmg.photobucket.com/albums/v630/DaveNTracy/Swinging Skeleton/DSCN0546_zps1wcbq6hc.mp4

http://vidmg.photobucket.com/albums/v630/DaveNTracy/Swinging Skeleton/DSCN0547_zpsgyxgukzr.mp4

Parts List

(1) 14 1/2 X 5" piece of wood, 3/4 to 1" thick (or similar)
Sisal Rope (about 12 ft.)
(1) Skeleton (I used a 3 ft. child size skelly)
Fishing Line
(2) Long wood screws, 2 to 3 " long.
Bailing wire

(1) Wood piece, 14 1/2" long.
(2) 1 X 2" wood pieces, 6 1/2" long each.
(6) #8 X 1 1/4" wood screws
(2) 3/4" PVC straight couplers
(6) #8 X 3/4" wood screws
(2) 9" long sections of 1 X 2" wood.
(1) 1/2" PVC section, about 14 1/4" long.
(1) 11 1/2" long section of 1 X2" wood.
(3) Small eye bolts
(2) #8 Flat Washers
(1) Large U-Bolt w/nuts (Or a 1/4" X 20 Threaded Rod and Nuts and a 6" long scrap wood piece.)
Thin Nylon Rope


(1) 24 RPM Gear Motor (or similar)
(1) AC/DC Power Adapter for Motor
(1) Wood board, measuring approx. 11 X 5 1/2"
Hardware to mount Motor to wood board. (Varies, depending on motor type-Bolts, Nuts, Lock Washers..)
(1) 4 inch section of 1/2 X 1/8" Flat Aluminum Stock for motor shaft.
(1) Small Pulley
Hardware to mount pulley to motor crank.
(1) 13 1/2" section of a 1 X 3" wood board.
(1) 13 1/2" section of a 1 X 2" wood board.
(4) #8 X 1 1/4" Wood Screws
(1) Large 1/4" diameter U-Bolt w/ nuts. (Or 1/4" X 20 threaded rod w/ nuts, washers and a 8" long piece of scrap wood.)
Thin Nylon Rope
Fishing Line

Theory of Operation

The way in which the swing works is fairly simple. The whole system consists of three different parts: The Motor Platform, the Rocker Assembly and the Swing itself (with the skeleton).
The Motor Platform supports the 24 RPM gear motor that turns a crank with a small pulley on the end of it. Onto this pulley is tied a length of fishing line that is connected to the Rocker Assembly that moves the Swing.
The Rocker Assembly is basically a reciprocating rocker that moves the Swing back and forth in a realistic manner.
The Swing is connected to the Rocker Assembly by its two ropes.
All three parts work together to make a very unique and whimsical addition to any yard haunt.

PART 1 ---The Swing and Skeleton.

(I recommend making the swing first, that way any size changes needed for the other assemblies can be made easily.)

1. Cut a 14-1/2 X 5" section of 3/4" thick wood. Drill a 1/2" hole about one inch from the left side, centered in the middle. Repeat this step on the right side of the swing board. Insert a length of brown sisal rope into each hole (from the top of the bd.) and tie a half knot on the bottom to hold it in place.
You can make you swing ropes any length you want, it depends how high off the ground you choose to mount the swing.

My ropes are 65" long each. Tie a loop at the top of each rope. Try to make sure both lengths of rope are even, or you'll end up with a crooked swing.
NOTE: When I first built my swinging skelly, I hung the swing from the eye bolts on the bottom of the swing supports. This caused a problem by giving the swing an extra pivot point, causing the swing to stop swinging consistently. I fixed this problem by mounting the tops of my swing ropes about 3" up from the bottom, back-side of the swing support with a screw and flat washer and then using some thin bailing wire to secure the rope (a few inches lower) onto the eye bolt. This fixed my problem. (See Picture)

The skeleton I used is about 3 feet tall. If you are using a bigger skeleton, you might need a larger swing board to mount it on. I used two long wood screws thru my skeleton's hips to mount him to the swing board. Make sure he is centered in the middle. I had to modify the skelly's arms at the shoulders and elbows by taking separating the joints and re-connecting them loosely with some bailing wire. This allowed me to position the hands on the swing ropes in a more natural looking pose. I then used fishing line to tie his hands to the swing ropes. (Before tying the hands on the ropes, I used my heat gun to soften the fingers and curl them around the rope for added realism.)

This completes the Swing for now.

PART 2 ---Swing Rocker Assembly

Start with a section of 1 X 4" wood cut to 14-1/2" long. On the top of this board will be mounted a pair of 1 X 2" boards, cut to 6-1/2" each. Center each 1 X 2" piece on top of the 1 X 4 board at 2-1/4" from the edge. One end of each 1 X 2 will overlap the front edge of the horizontal flat board. Mount both 1 X 2s on top using #8 X 1-1/4" wood screws (two screws for each board), making sure the BACK end of each 1 X 2 overhangs about 3".

On the overhanging end of each of these 1 X2s we will attach a 3/4" PVC Straight Coupler. Drill a 1/8" hole all the way thru the center of each coupler. Then drill ONE of the holes on one side of each coupler a bit bigger--big enough so you can fit a screwdriver into and tighten the screw that will hold the coupler in place. Using a #8 X 3/4" wood screw for each coupler, fasten one coupler (horizontally) onto the end of each 1 X 2.

Cut two more sections of 1 X 2" wood, measuring 9" a piece. These two pieces will be our left and right Swing Supports. Measure 1-3/4" from one end on the flat side of each piece and drill a 7/8" diameter hole. This is where a 1/2" diameter PVC crossbar will be mounted into.
Cut a section of 1/2" PVC 14-1/4" in length. This will be our PVC crossbar. Insert the end of the PVC into the hole in the left side swing support. let it come thru out the other side about 1/4". Hold it in place and drill a 1/8" hole into the swing support and through the PVC. Screw in a #8 X 3/4" screw to hold the PVC in place.
Slide the free end of the PVC crossbar into the left side PVC coupler and thru the right side coupler. Slide the right side swing support onto the PVC crossbar until the end of the crossbar is flush with the outside edge of the right side swing support. Lay the whole assembly flat on a table to make the swing supports even and then drill a 1/8" hole into the right side support and PVC. Secure that side with another #8 X 3/4" screw.

Cut another section of 1 X2" wood measuring 11-1/2" long. This piece will be called the Rocker Arm and will be mounted flat on the outside of the right side swing support. Insert a small eye bolt into the top end of the rocker arm. (This is where the fishing line coming from the motor crank will hook on.) Measure 4-3/4" down from the top of the right side swing support and place the bottom end of the rocker arm (the end without the eye bolt) at this spot. Mount it there to the swing support using two #8 X 1-1/4" wood screws.

Insert a small eye bolt into the bottom end of each swing support.

NOTE: My swing ropes are 12-1/2" apart. The two eye bolts on my swing supports measure 13" apart. If your swing ropes are further apart than mine, you will have to increase the length of the PVC crossbar and the distance between your swing supports.

Measure up about 3" from the bottom of each swing support and drill a 1/8" hole on the rear side of each one. Screw in a #8 X 3/4" wood screw and flat washer to each hole. Don't tighten them all the way down yet. The very tops of the swing ropes will mount to these two screws.

I drilled holes and used a large U-Bolt and nuts to mount the Swing Rocker Assembly to the tree limb. (See Pic) If your tree limb is too thick for a U-bolt, you can use a short piece of wood with 1/4" holes drilled in it and use 1/4" threaded rod sections and nuts to secure the assembly to the tree limb. Also, you can use some long wood screws thru the assembly into the tree limb to stabilize the whole thing.

IMPORTANT: One thing I had to do to keep the rocker arms from rubbing/binding on the PVC couplers, was to cut some "washers" out of some plastic milk jug material. (This plastic is very slippery against itself.) Insert two of these washers on each side of the rocker assembly (over the PVC crossbar), where the wooden rocker arm meets the PVC coupler. (See pic.) This will prevent many headaches down the road.

This completes the Swing Rocker assembly.

Look further in this thread for continuation of tutorial!
1 - 20 of 32 Posts

Funeral Crasher
7,480 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Swinging Skeleton, Pt. 3--Motor Platform

I used a 24 RPM gear motor that I got from Surplus Center.com to power my swinging skeleton. Any gear motor with a similar RPM should work well.

This is the motor I used. It's really a 45 RPM, 24 volt motor, but it runs at 1/2 speed using 12 volts DC. This motor has been running my skeleton for 8 years :


Start with a 1" think wooden board measuring approximately 11 X 5-1/2". I mounted my motor on the board about 4-1/2" from the front edge, about 4" high. Also, if you use the same motor I did you'll have to drill a large hole in the board to allow the rear part of the motor to go through the board.
Use the necessary bolts, nuts and washers needed to secure the motor to the board.

The shaft for the motor can be made form 1/2" wide, 1/8" thick aluminum stock. Cut a piece about 4" long. Drill a hole big enough for the motor shaft and mount the crank to the motor. (You can just bolt the crank arm to the large, black pulley that comes mounted on the motor shaft.) Mount a small pulley on the opposite end of the crank, 3-1/4" from the center of the motor shaft. The fishing line that moves the Swing Rocker Assembly will be connected to this pulley. I used a small, white pulley I salvaged from an old dishwasher.

NOTE: If you don't have a pulley, you might use a small flat washer on a screw instead. Then just drill a hole in it for the fishing line to attach. Kind of like a Flying Crank Ghost set-up.

Next, cut a 13-1/2" section of 1 X 3" wood board. Then cut a 1 X 2" board to the same length of 13-1/2". Use some of the 1-1/4" long wood screws to mount the 1 X 2" board flat on top of the 1 X 3" board, flush with the right side edge of the 1 X 3" board. (See pics) Take the board with the motor mounted to it and stand it upright on top of the 1 X 3" board, with its back side flush against the 1 X 2" bd. you just mounted. Then use two of the 1-1/4" wood screws to mount the motor board to the 1 X 2" board.

Drill a 1/4" hole thru the 1 X 3" board, in front of the motor board and about one inch from the front end.
At this point is where you should estimate the diameter of the tree branch you will be mounting the motor platform to. Add about an inch or two to this estimate and measure that far (branch thickness plus a couple of inches) from the first hole. Drill another 1/4" hole thru the 1 X 3" board, but this time on the back side of the motor board.
Cut another 1 X 3" board measuring a few inches longer than your distance between the 1/4" holes.
Lay this board under the motor platform board and drill thru the same two holes, into the small board so that the holes will line up with each other. This is where both of the 1/4" threaded rod pieces will go to mount the motor platform to the tree limb. (See pic) Or if your tree limb is small enough, a U-Bracket might work also.
This completes the Motor Platform.

Read further in this thread for the rest of the Tutorial

Funeral Crasher
7,480 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Set-Up and Operation of Swing


First, paint both the Motor Platform and the Rocker Assembly flat black.

I recommend mounting the Motor and Rocker assemblies on parallel limbs of a tree, at the same height if possible. It would be ideal if both limbs were only two or three feet apart from each other also.
Mine was originally set up this same way, but over the years the tree limbs have grown bigger in diameter and are no longer parallel to each other. This doesn't affect the operation of the swing, it just takes a bit longer to align the two assemblies for proper operation.

If you can mount the two assemblies high up in the tree and out of sight--it adds to the mystery of how that skeleton is swinging by himself. I’ve seen passers-by stand there in wonder, trying to figure out how the skelly is swinging himself. Even had a fire truck stop once to watch it.
I recommend mounting the Rocker Assy. and Swing before mounting the Motor Platform. The Rocker Assy. needs to be mounted on a limb that is as level as possible, so that the skelly will swing straight. Mount the Rocker Assy. to the branch and use a bubble level to get it level. You may have to shim it with small pieces of scrap wood in some places (like I do) to get it level. Add the metal keeper onto the U-bolt under the branch and tighten the nuts to hold the whole assembly in place. (Or add the small wood keeper and tighten the nuts on the two 1/4" treaded rod sections---if you used those instead.)

For added support, I tie a length of string to one of the 1 X 2" pieces that the PVC coupler is mounted to and tie the other end to a limb above the Rocker Assy.

Hang the swing ropes to the rocker arms. I used some hardware (I’m not sure what they are called –it’s a C-shaped metal connector with a screw thing that fills the gap in the “C”. (See the close-up pic in the first part of the tutorial.) If you don’t have those, even some bailing wire will work to hang the swing from the two screws/flat washers on the back sides of the rocker arms. Tighten the two screws. Then use some bailing wire thru the two eye bolts at the bottom and tighten around each rope. (See close-up picture)

This next step is VERY important for making the skeleton "sit up" properly on the swing. First, drill two small holes in the top of your skeletons head. Insert some fishing line thru the holes and tie it off. Run the fishing line up to the middle of the PVC crossbar of the Rocker Assy. Pull it taught and wrap it from the BACK SIDE of the crossbar, over the top, and around the FRONT SIDE for several turns. Insert a small screw into the crossbar and tie off the fishing line to it. IMPORTANT--make the line just tight enough to hold the skellys head up straight. If the fishing line is too tight, it takes the pressure off the swing ropes and causes the swing to swing crooked. Your skelly should be sitting up properly now.

NOTE: This fishing line not only holds up the skeleton, but with the way it is wound around the crossbar has an added bonus in the fact that as the Rocker swings forward, the line unwinds itself a small bit allowing the skeletons head to sort of "lean forward" as he swings forward. This helps to add to the illusion that he is actually powering the swing himself.

Mount the Motor Platform straight across from the Rocker Assembly on a parallel tree limb. Try to line up the motor crank as best you can with the Rocker Arm and eye bolt.
Rotate the motor shaft so that it is pointing to the left, straight at the Rocker Arm. (9 'o clock position or whatever position gets the pulley AS CLOSE to the Rocker Arm as possible.) Tie a length of fishing line to your pulley (or washer). Run the other end to the eye bolt at the top of the rocker arm, which should be pointing straight up by the weight of the swing/skelly.

IMPORTANT: It would seem logical to want to tie the line to the eye bolt as tight as possible, to give the motor the most “pull” for the money. But, through trial and error I’ve found that the swing will swing with the best motion if you feed the line through the eye bolt to where it has NO slack at all, then pull TWO INCHES of more line BACK toward the motor crank. For some reason, the swing needs this two inches of slack to allow for the back-swing. Now, depending on the weight of your swing/skelly, more or less slack may be needed. Like I said---trial and error.

Before tightening the mounting bolts on the Motor Platform, you may have to point the whole assembly downward or upward toward the Rocker assembly for proper operation.
Lastly, I drilled a hole near the rear of the Motor Platform and tied on some nylon string. Then I tied the other end to a tree branch above the assembly for added support.

Final Thoughts
One possible option if you don't have two tree branches parallel to each other might be to mount the Motor Platform ABOVE the Rocker Assembly (pointing down to it). The rocker arm that the fishing line attaches to would be horizontal, instead of pointing straight up.
I haven't ever tried it, but I think it would work.
Or, another idea would be to use a longer board as the base for your Rocker Assembly and just mount your gear motor assembly to the same board. Then add a support line, tied to an upper branch.
I may have to do this as my “swing” tree continues to grow.
END of Tutorial

1,329 Posts
Awesome tutorial. I now wish I had a tree large enough to try this with!

Funeral Crasher
7,480 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
DaveInTheGrave, how did you secure the shaft to the motor rod in the middle? In the picture, I see you used two screws. Can you provide the closeup picture of that assembly if possible? Thanks.
The motor shaft is flat on one side. So I just put my crank on the rounded side, then used a short piece of the same metal stock on the FLAT side with two holes drilled through. Use the short piece as a guide and drill matching holes in the crank. Then use small screws, lock washers and nuts to secure it tightly against the motor shaft.

If you need a picture, I can go out in the yard and take one. Mine is swinging out there now.

Funeral Crasher
7,480 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hmm. Says "Video is Private" when I click on it.
But I can tell from the picture he looks fantastic. Great job!
And that's cool you can control the speed. I hope he lasts for many Halloweens to come!
1 - 20 of 32 Posts
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