How to Make a DIY Small Wooden Cross for a Grave: Step-By-Step

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You may choose to make a small wooden cross for many reasons: you can mark the grave of a beloved pet buried in your backyard, use a cross as a grave decoration or temporary grave marker for a loved one who died, or use it to decorate your yard.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Let’s learn how to make a small wooden cross for one of these uses. We’ll go over the materials you will need and give you a step-by-step guide on making the cross. We will also provide you with installation tips. 

If you're interested in other unique ways to honor a loved one, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva.

Materials You’ll Need to Make a Wooden Cross for a Grave or Cemetery

The trickiest part of making a cross is that you need to have some way to cut the wood. Several cuts need to be made to create a wooden cross from scratch, so you must have a saw to complete this project.

Here’s what else you will need:

  • 2 x 4
  • Table saw with rip fence
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil for marking
  • Safety glasses
  • Straight edge
  • Wood glue
  • Wooden mallet
  • Paint or stain (if desired)

Steps for Making a Wooden Cross for a Grave

Even making a simple, wooden cross takes some skill. You need to know how to use a table saw and other basic tools. Remember to be patient with yourself as you attempt this project, especially if you have never built anything before. If you find yourself getting frustrated, think about how your struggle will ultimately honor your deceased loved one. 

As you attempt this project, please wear the appropriate safety gear to protect yourself. All levels of do-it-yourselfers can get hurt working with power tools.

1. Cut a 2 x 4 into a 36-inch length

Your cross’s height may vary, but we find that 36 inches is usually the right height for grave markers. Keep in mind that part of the length will be formed into a point and driven into the ground, so the final cross will not actually be three feet tall.

Before cutting with your table saw, measure the length with your tape measure and mark the cut with your pencil.

2. Cut the 2 x 4 into 1 ½ inch strips

Set the rip fence on your table saw to 1½ inches. Make three cuts down the length of your 36-inch piece of wood. Keep the two boards that now measure 1½ x 2 x 36 and dispose of the scrap wood.

3. Cut one of the boards into a 9-inch segment

Of course, measure out the 9 inches with your tape measure and mark your cut with the pencil. This segment will act as the horizontal section of your cross. Dispose of the scrap wood.

4. Cut a 1 ½ inch wide and ¾ inch deep dado joint

The dado joint cut should be made in the center of the nine-inch board. This cut will allow the cross’s horizontal section to fit into the 36-inch, vertical section. 

A dado joint may be made using a particular type of blade or woodworking tool, but it is possible to make it with a table saw. You may want to practice on a scrap piece of wood before cutting on one of your keepers. 

If you do not know how to cut a dado joint, consult a YouTube video. You may need to refine your search so you know how to make that particular type of cut on your model of table saw. You will have to change the height of the blade to make this cut. 

5. Cut a 1 ½ inch wide and ¾ inch deep dado joint on the 36-inch board

Cut nine inches on center from one end of the board. This board will be the vertical part of the cross. 

Remember, the most important rule of woodworking is to measure twice and cut once. 

6. Place the two pieces of wood together at the joints that you cut 

They should fit tightly together. In fact, you may need to place a scrap piece of wood at the intersection of the two pieces and tap gently on it with a wooden mallet to force the pieces into place.

7. Secure the two pieces of wood at the intersection with wood glue and a screw

Once you know that the two pieces of wood will fit together to form a cross, take them apart and place wood glue at the intersection. You may also want to drive a screw into the back of the corner for extra security.

If you choose to do this step, make sure the screw is the right length, so it doesn’t poke through the other side. 

8. Measure a 2 ½ inch diagonal line from the center of the bottom of the cross. Repeat this step on both the right and left side so a point is formed 

You will find it necessary that the cross is pointed at the end to make it easier to insert into the ground. You will need to make these two additional points at the bottom of the cross to make this point. The 2 ½ diagonal lines should be measured from the center of the bottom.

Cutting at this angle may require some skill. 

9. Paint or stain the cross

Once your cross is assembled, it’s ready to be painted or stained. You could also add a coat of polyurethane to preserve the wood from the natural elements. 

This step is not necessary. If you are using this cross as a grave marker while you wait for the headstone to be engraved, you may not want to take the time to paint or stain the cross. If you plan to use the cross as a permanent marker of your pet’s burial spot or as a grave decoration, you may want to take more care to preserve the wood. 

10. Glue a nameplate to the cross

You may want to personalize the cross by writing the name of your deceased loved one on it. Instead of writing directly on the cross, consider gluing a nameplate at the two pieces’ intersection. Use a permanent marker to write the name and birth/death dates. 

11. Drive the cross into the ground

Congratulations on completing your project! Finally, drive the cross into the ground. Of course, this may be more difficult than it sounds if the ground is hard or the soil if full of clay.

Carefully tap the top of the cross with a mallet until the point enters the ground. Keep driving the top of the cross until the bottom three inches of the cross are in the earth.

Other Options for Making a Cross

Not everyone has a table saw at their disposal and words like “dado joint” and “rip fence” may leave your head spinning. 

There are certainly other methods for making a cross. The most challenging part is finding two wood pieces that are the right proportions to each other. If you are able to do that, you may be able to complete the project in a flash. 

You may consider creating the cross by lashing the two pieces of wood together with a piece of durable leather. Before wrapping the leather around the wood intersections, secure it with a dab of wood glue.  

How to choose a headstone? You may use wood glue to secure the two pieces together, and then also attach them with a small nail. 

Other Ways to Decorate a Grave

Still wondering how to make a wooden cross for a grave or other purpose? Don’t get discouraged with this project. If you find it overwhelming, you can also simply purchase pre-made crosses online.  

Before you insert your purchased or DIY cross near your loved one’s grave in the cemetery, make sure that it does not go against the rules. Many cemeteries do not allow additional items to be placed into the ground near the grave. Ask about crosses, shepherd’s hooks for hanging plants, or cone-shaped containers holding artificial flowers. 

If you are using the cross as a temporary grave marker, consider how your loved one’s permanent headstone could be used to reflect their Christian faith. You may consider having a favorite Bible verse engraved in the stone, or you can choose to have an image of a cross, praying hands, or an angel engraved as well.

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