Caskets and Coffins: A Guide for Choosing a Funeral Casket

    July 24, 2012 3 Comments

Selecting a Casket or Coffin

Funeral casket prices can vary – a lot! Use this guide to choose the casket that best meets your needs.

Caskets are generally the single most expensive funeral cost, so it’s not surprising that one of the most frequent questions we receive from funeral planners is how to choose a funeral casket.  To try to ease some of the difficulty and stress, we have put together some information to help funeral planners understand their options and the prices associated with caskets.

Funeral Casket Options

Generally, funeral planners choose between wood and metal caskets, although there is emerging interest in fiberglass caskets and eco-friendly coffins made of bamboo, willow, or banana leaf.  Whichever casket a funeral planner selects, he or she may choose to add special features, like interior liners, a lift and tilt bed mechanism to help achieve an ideal viewing height, and interchangeable corners that showcase various themes (hobbies, religion … etc), among others.

Wooden Caskets
More and more funeral planners are choosing wooden coffins as environmental concerns over metal caskets rise and cremation rates increase. Funeral planners interested in a wooden casket may choose from basic cloth-covered plywood, wood laminates, or solid hardwoods, with solid hardwoods being the most expensive option.  Individuals may also choose from various features like hand-carved details, hand-rubbed finishes, or multiple sandings.  Other than the features, there are several factors that affect the price of wooden coffins: labor costs associated with the harvesting and milling of lumber, availability (species like mahogany often have to be transported from far distances since it’s indigenous only to certain areas of the world), and materials waste (walnut, for example, has a large frequency of knots that renders a major portion worthless).

Hard and soft wood caskets: The term ‘hardwood’ refers to wood from leaf-bearing trees, while ‘softwood’ refers to wood from needle or cone-bearing trees.  Popular species include mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, pecan, oak, popular, and pine, and as with furniture, the species of wood and craftsmanship of the coffin affects both the appearance and cost of the casket.

Wood laminate coffins: Wood laminate caskets are the next level below hardwood coffins.  These caskets are made of plywood with hardwood strips laminated or glued to the surface of the plywood. The laminate material is then sanded and polished.

Cloth-covered caskets: These are the most inexpensive type of casket and are usually made of plywood or pressboard covered with an cloth that comes in a variety of colors.

Metal Caskets
Funeral planners may opt for metal caskets, which are designed to be impermeable to air and water.  Metal casket options include solid steel, stainless steel, copper, and bronze, with bronze being the most expensive option.  Funeral planners may also choose from a number of different finishes and weights and may select an option with a ‘gasket’ that seals the coffin shut after the casket is closed for the final time.

Steel and stainless steel caskets: These are the most commonly chosen metal coffins.  There are a variety of grades of steel, and the relative durability of the coffin depends on its chemical composition (represented by the grade of the steel).  The thickness or ‘gauge’ of steel casket walls may vary, with a 20 gauge model having the thinnest walls and a 16 gauge model having the thickest walls (the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel).

Copper and bronze coffins: Many funeral planners opt for a copper casket because they are naturally rust-resistant and durable. Bronze coffins include copper in their composition (along with tin or zinc) and are generally known as having the finest material and construction.

Choosing the Right Casket for Your Loved One
Prior to selecting a coffin, consider the specifications that you are most interested in.  And, keep in mind that regardless of casket material and construction, embalming, and/or the addition of a seal or gasket, the body of the deceased will not be perfectly preserved following burial.  In some cases, a sealed casket may actually speed up the decomposition process.

Coffins range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the material, craftsmanship, and added features. The National Funeral Directors Association reports that in 2009, the average cost for a metal casket was about $2300.  Take the time to research your options online and consider having a comprehensive discussion with funeral directors regarding their assortment of merchandise.

Do you have any additional questions about funeral caskets or coffins? Do you have any additional tips for saving on the price of a casket? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And for more information on what to do when a loved one dies, how to save money on a funeral or memorial service, or tips on planning a funeral, visit eFuneral’s online resource center.

Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.

  • Kenny M

    Thank you,this information was/is very, very helpful.

  • Robert

    Who stores the cachet until my loved one passes?

  • Robert

    Who stores the casket until my loved one passes?

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