Reasons You Should Build Your Own Coffin or Casket

Man measuring a piece of wood

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While many people do not want to talk about dying, death, and their own mortality, many others not only want to discuss the inevitable but also to plan for it. Generally, such preparations include prearranging their funeral service with a funeral home, possibly paying for it in advance, and/or purchasing a cemetery plot before death occurs. Many people, however, desire a far more hands-on, do-it-yourself (DIY) experience when it comes to the final disposition of their mortal remains. This article offers three reasons why you might want to build your own coffin or casket.

Make It Personal

You might find it surprising to learn that many modern funeral homes in the United States, England and elsewhere evolved from businesses that initially started out by crafting furniture and/or cabinets. Before the late 1800s, when companies first emerged that specialized in the manufacture of coffins and/or caskets, these small, local furniture, and cabinetmaker shops would handcraft a coffin or casket on an as-needed basis after somebody died. (Placing the deceased in purpose-made containers, however, is an ancient practice, dating back to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, both of which used sarcophagi.)

Today, many people, particularly those who enjoy the hobby of woodworking, like the idea of returning to the heritage of a unique, handcrafted burial container, rather than using a mass-produced vessel, to house their eternal remains. This is a natural extension of the modern concept of a "personalized funeral," in which an individual (before he or she dies, or his or her surviving loved ones after the fact) plans a service that incorporates readings, music, memorabilia and other meaningful ceremonies and gestures that honor and reflect the unique life and personality of the deceased.

While manufacturers offer plenty of options these days to personalize a casket to some degree such as casket corners; cap panels (which fit inside the lid) bearing an embroidered scene, a medallion or photographs; and even an internal drawer to hold mementos important to the deceased, some people want a casket or coffin that completely reflects who and what they were in life. For instance, one woman carved a Christian cross by hand from a fallen tree branch near her hometown and affixed it to the lid of her DIY casket. Another woman constructed her burial vessel entirely from the wood of a pecan tree that once grew on her parents' property.

Make It for Less

Another reason that some people choose to build a DIY coffin or casket is to save money. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the casket is the most expensive item in the median cost of a funeral in the United States, with an average cost of $2,395. (This 2012 survey only reflects caskets made of metal, not wood.) In contrast, it's possible to build your own coffin or casket for as little as a few hundred dollars, not including your time, or even less if you already possess the wood and other materials necessary.

Some DIY casket and coffin builders, for example, like to reuse lumber salvaged from old buildings that are torn down. In some cases, this wood might cost nothing more than the time needed to load it into a truck and the gas used to haul it away. Once run completely through a wood planer, which removes a thin layer from the lumber's surface with every pass, the natural beauty of the wood is revealed and this recycled timber appears almost new. On the other hand, some DIY builders prefer to keep the lumber's original rustic, weathered or aged appearance.

Make It Green

For many people interested in a DIY coffin or casket, handcrafting their own burial vessel allows them to build a simple, natural container suitable for a green burial. While definitions of green burial vary, at the heart of this concept, is caring for the dead in an eco-friendly manner that creates the least impact on the environment. When a casket or coffin is used for a green burial, the container should be constructed from biodegradable, nontoxic and, ideally, sustainable building materials. Handcrafting your own casket or coffin affords you with the opportunity to ensure that every part of your project meets these criteria.

In practice, this might mean building your coffin or casket from solid hardwood, or an environmentally friendly certified plywood. Instead of using glue or mechanical fasteners, such as screws or nails, wooden pegs or dovetail joinery is preferred to hold everything together. For handles, many DIY casket and coffin builders use natural-fiber rope or even branches from fallen trees (with or without the bark removed) in order to give the pallbearers something to hold.

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