Caskets and Urns

Since 1981



Dovetail Detail image: In 1981, an elderly friend who was dying and who knew I was a woodworker, asked if I would make her "a simple pine box." It was quite a challenge to figure out how to make the unusual joints for an old-fashioned hexagonal coffin, and the finished product became a focal point during their home funeral -- a deeply moving experience. After a neighbor asked me the same thing within a year, I realized that this could be an interesting niche for a woodworker, as in the old days, when any village's carpenter or cooper also furnished coffins for the locals. I've been making both coffins and caskets -- see the first FAQ, below -- since then, and added urns about 15 years ago.
  
Rough Pine Casket image:

Here are caskets for those who want a simple, beautiful container for someone they love, or for themselves. I admire and value the simplicity of traditional, utilitarian design, and I enjoy working with the beauty and warmth of New Hampshire's native white pine. My casket design has evolved into something the Shakers might have used in the 19th century: simple lines, pleasing proportions, dovetailed corners, and the top showing a narrow, graceful overhang.

2014 Price List [pdf]


I offer caskets in this basic style with three exterior options. Each is suitable for an open- or closed-casket service, and either burial or cremation. Most people find that a favorite quilt or blanket is much more appealing as a lining than a white or peach satin-upholstered mattress, so the interiors are plain and unfinished:
  • The simplest features an unfinished, rough-pine top and sides.
  • The mid-range model has a smooth exterior with a plain finish.
  • The most expensive features the best grade pine with a beautiful hand-rubbed finish.
A pine casket reflects the values of simplicity and sustainability instead of costly ostentation, and is handsome and suitable in all settings: for a wake or funeral at home, in a funeral parlor, at a church, or for a graveside service.
  
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Urns to hold the ashes from a cremation are available in much more varied shapes and materials than caskets. I make cubic urns in a variety of woods, including pine, birdseye maple, walnut, cherry and rosewood. I use hardwood inlays at the corners, for both aesthetic and practical reasons: the hardwoods in contrasting colors are beautiful, plus they protect the corners from damage.

  
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Casket and funeral topics

What is the difference between a casket and a coffin?
Only the words -- both mean the same thing: "a container for a body to be buried or cremated in." The term "coffin" fell out of favor in the Victorian age, when many straight-forward words were euphemised to reduce their supposed shock to the sensitivities of genteel people. Morticians and undertakers became known as "funeral directors," who began to operate "funeral parlors" instead of mortuaries, and who preferred to mention only "caskets." The coffin's hexagonal shape fell out of use, too, in favor of the casket's rectangular shape, which was thought to be less grim because it didn't suggest the shape of a dead body.

Are the caskets you make and sell legal?
This often-asked question is a testament to the effectiveness of the funeral industry's decades-long effort to promote funeral directors as the only legitimate source of funeral goods and services. This is not the case, even though the funeral industry has pretty much written its own regulations, state by state.
   Many people mistakenly think they need to purchase a casket from the funeral home that provides all the other funeral services they select, but this is not true. Anyone who makes funeral arrangements with a licensed funeral director is entitled by federal regulations that govern the industry (the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule) to purchase the casket from any source -- or even to use one made by a family member or friend.

Why are the caskets you make only available in New Hampshire and Vermont?
Delivery further than 100 miles is impractical, so I deliver free within 25 miles and charge a modest rate up to an additional 75 miles. Because pine caskets are quite light relative to their size, it is quite expensive to ship an empty one by commercial carrier.
   Anyone may arrange to pick up a casket at my shop in Lyme, NH, however, or, when time permits and the extra cost is OK, I will arrange to ship a casket as far as cross-country. The Funeral Consumers Alliance encourages people to "buy local": ask local artisans to make caskets and coffins, and many are listed, state by state, under "Buy locally from casket and urn artisans," at  http://funerals.org/frequently-asked-questions/casketretailers#artisan.

What constitutes a traditional funeral?
Formerly in the U.S. -- until recent decades in rural areas, and still in some religious communities -- families and community members performed all the after-death tasks that most Americans now turn over to the local furneral director. This included furnishing the casket, preparing the body, welcoming people for a wake or visitation, notifying the town clerk, and transporting the body to the funeral and burial.
   That is the tradition in most of the world, except in major cities.
   Today, however, "traditional" has been completely redefined by the U.S. funeral industry to mean that a funeral home takes care of everything. All the family does now is pay for everything, which at an average $6500 to $10,000, can represent a major consumer expense. Unfortunately, few deceased have thought ahead about a funeral, or actually tried to learn about funeral options that might result in a better experience at a reduced cost, and carefully considered decisions are usually not possible in such a stressful situation.
   So today, funeral directors usually describe as "traditional" a funeral that includes maximum funeral goods and services, which they suggest creates a dignified, respectful ceremony for a family member: embalming, cosmetology and an elaborate casket for viewing the body; a funeral service at a funeral home or church with the casket as the centerpiece; and a funeral procession to the cemetery, where the actual burial will be attended only by the cemetery staff after the service, when the casket is usually placed in a concrete vault before the grave is backfilled.

Are embalming, cosmetology and special burial clothing necessary?
No. Neither federal regulations -- nor state regulations anywhere -- require embalming, unless the family wants to have a public viewing of the body. Preparation for this involves embalming, cosmetology and the funeral home will often push for a casket that features a mattress and fancy interior, and sometimes special burial clothing. A funeral director may suggest that a viewing somehow helps family and friends accept the finality of a death, but because these optional services are lucrative for the funeral home, the funeral director's advice has to be considered biased in favor of his own financial success.
   Many families see no need for most, or any, of these expensive funeral extras, and the next of kin or a designated representative are entitled to handle as many funeral details as they wish, which can cut funeral costs dramatically.

Where can people get information about less elaborate funerals?
The best source of consumer information about funerals is at www.funerals.org, the national website of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a non-profit information service with many state and local chapters. Their site offers extensive information about planning a funeral to your taste (simple, or with pomp) and your preferred level of expense ($1000 or less, or the $6500 U.S. average, or even much more) as well as what to be wary of when planning a funeral.  [Link to Links page]
   You can also download the Federal Trade Commission's excellent booklet "Funerals: A consumer Guide" from www.ftc.gov/funerals.

Can the family handle some of the tasks?
Any family can themselves easily handle some of the legal and ritual tasks associated with a death, funeral, and burial: planning and arranging the service with a minister, ordering flowers, writing the obituary and delivering it to the newspaper, arranging the service, hiring and paying the organist or other musicians, buying (or making) the casket, inviting pallbearers, scheduling a reception.
   Although it is possible for the family to handle all details, including the legal paperwork and cemetery arrangements, only those who have planned ahead to do this should proceed without a funeral director's involvement. In any case, which services to purchase from a funeral director, and which to decline, remains solely a family choice. The FTC's consumer booklet about funerals (above) provides excellent information.
  
Where is information available for planning a funeral?
The Internet offers easy access to extensive informational resources. Although funeral home websites predominate, excellent consumer-oriented information can also be found. Visit our Links page, and note that sites of for-profit businesses -- those that end in "dot-com" -- will mostly carry messages that represent the funeral industry's viewpoint and sales pitch, which funeral directors hope potential customers will believe and accept.

Is it wise to pre-plan* a funeral, and what about pre-paying?
Planning a funeral ahead is always a wise choice, even if no more than writing down a few clear ideas about how simple or elaborate a service you may want for yourself. This will keep your survivors from guessing, during a time when anguish may make good decision-making very difficult.
   Pre-paying for a funeral, on the other hand, is not a good choice, because countless changes that can occur after money has been paid can mess up the deal or cause a loss of the funds: the "prepayer" may move to another locale; the funeral home can be sold (or fold) and the prepayers' interests not protected; services or funeral goods (casket, urn, etc.) may be no longer available, requiring extra expense; the cost of services may increase; the money supposedly held in trust can be plundered. Each of these are common causes for additional grief, and each can be avoided by not paying for goods or services to be delivered at an unknown date in the future.
   So plan it, but don't pre-pay it.

*Funeral-industry people seem to have invented the term "pre-plan." They mean to say "plan" but seem to feel that "pre-planning" somehow implies doing it further ahead, or that pre-planning refers exclusively to funeral plans.

  

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