How to Do Tombstone Rubbings

by Richard Lupu
with notes by Joel GAzis-SAx

I am really just an amateur, but I have found that rubbings are a beautiful form of art. It is a fairly easy and inexpensive hobby that is a wonderful way to learn about history. There are some basic rules you should follow and some tools you need to get started.


If you plan on doing rubbings of your family or relatives then some of these wont apply. I like to rub very old tombstones. They have a certain charm about them.

  1. Many cemeteries are private property. Be sure and ask before you start rubbing tombstones. Trespassing fines are not cheap. Many do not understand what rubbing is or have ever heard of it.
  2. Treat each tombstone as if it were your own mother's. Somebody loves these people and old tombstones can be delicate.
  3. Make sure and clean off all marks accidently left on tombstones. Leave the cemetery cleaner than when you got there.
  4. If it is a private cemetery or a municipal cemetery, don't rub at night. Your actions will most certainly be mistaken by local law officials. You would think this would not have to be mentioned but a friend of mine wanted to get some rubbings done when he got off of work one night. Bail is not cheap either.


  1. A soft brush. The kind you might use to polish your shoes work well. A tooth brush is also a good thing to bring.
  2. Paper, White or rice paper works best. I like rice paper. It has a really nice feel to it and can be surprisingly strong.¹
  3. Black or gray chalk. I like chalk, it can be messy but if you're careful it makes a very nice texture. Flat black crayons and rubbing wax are the most common, but I still like chalk.²
  4. Scissors or exacto knife.
  5. Masking tape or painters tape
  6. Small spray bottle and a soft absorbent rag.
  7. If you use chalk you will need Chalk spray. Krylon makes the best.³


Once you have found a nice tombstone you need to make sure it is clean. Use the soft brush and remove dirt and debris from the surface. Be gentle, and respectful, if the it looks as if you might scratch the tombstone then move on.

After you get most of the dirt off spray it with the bottle and then wipe with the rag. Let the tombstone become perfectly dry before you go on. Cut the paper larger than the tombstone itself and wrap tightly aroundthe stone. Tape it very securely so that it doesn't move, if the paper moves when you start rubbing you will probably have to start over.

Start rubbing on the outside edges and make yourself a frame of sorts. You don't need to rub real hard, you can always make it darker by going back over it but you can never make it lighter. You should start to see the patterns emerging at this point.

Once you have the darkness down to you liking carefully spray the paper down with the Chalk spray. Be careful not to get any on the tombstone. When it is dry you can remove it and trim it in the shape of the stone or leave a border around it. This is all there is to it. Practice with it and develop your own style.

I live in Texas and have found a couple of old cemeteries that are all but abandoned. The dates on a lot of these date back to the late 1800's. If you also live in Texas, E-mail me ( and I will give you directions.

Remember the respect you show now will ensure that tombstone rubbing will always be looked at as a way to preserve history and not as vandalism.

Caretaker's Notes

¹Rice paper was recommended by nearly all the Caretaker's advisors on this page. Butcher paper was mentioned as a cheaper substitute. I had a bad experience with a grainy drawing paper. Smooth surfaces work much better than grainy ones, though you may decide otherwise.
²In my experience, chalk was a bit messy. Other contributors suggested using charcoal. You can also use ink if you follow the method used in China for making stone rubbings.
³There's an alternative to Krylon and that is hairspray -- "the cheapest you can find" as one advisor put it.

Copyright 1996 by Richard Lupu and Joel GAzis-SAx.

The Caretaker also wishes to thank Lydia Thompson, Carolanne Szoke, and other contributors to alt.society.funerary for their tips.

Do you have samples of your own rubbings? Send me a gif or jpg.
I will display your best work.

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