A case or receptacle for dead human remains which is anthropoid in shape.
- Name derived from the Greek word kophinos (basket).
- Term came into use around 1525
- Generally resembles the form of a human being (narrow at the feet and wider at the top)
- 6 or 8 sides
In much of the world outside of the United States and Canada, this is still the standard, or preferred form of burial container.
- Cultural or religious tradition, practice and preference.
Six Sided Coffin
Generally the preferred style of burial container in North America.
A rigid container which is designed for the encasement of human remains and which is usually constructed of wood, metal, or like material, and ornamented and lined with fabric.
Casket (FTC definition)
A case or receptacle in which human remains are placed for protection, practical utility, and a suitable memory picture; any box or container of one or more parts in cremation which may or may not be permanently interred, entombed, or cremated with the dead human remains.
Casket (ABFSE definition)
A small box for jewels, implies that the contents therein are a prectious and valuable nature.
Alternative Definition for Casket
- Not uncommon for dead to be buried with no casket at all.
- Efforts were made for survival, not making caskets (even though there were many skilled cabinet makers).
- As general welfare increased- use of coffins because more common
- First among the well-to-do
Early Colonial America
Buried in coffins made by their families or friends, as there were no professional coffin builders (persisted well into the 20th century in more isolated areas).
- Coffins made on an “as needed” basis
- Constructed from locally available materials
- Lined with white or black cloth
- Either a roughhewn or finely finished appearance depending on the skill of the builder.
- Many painted or covered in cloth to conceal surface or finishing flaws.
Settlers in Rural Areas
Coffins were more frequently provided by professional cabinetmakers.
- By the early 1800’s specialized in the production of coffins or even offered “undertaking” as a supplemental sideline to their already established business.
- Something of a status statement (materials varied)
- Regardless of financial status of the deceased, coffins were generally simple and relatively unadorned containers of practical utility.
Settlers in Urban Areas
Emphasis of the basic functionality of the coffin gave way to an increasing interest in the coffin’s aesthetics, or “eye appeal.”
- Prosperity and availability of materials- coffins no longer exclusively wooden.
- 1836- James Gray’s “metallic coffin”
- Clay cement, stone, rubber, paper-mache, glass
- Trapezoidal, mummiform, cruciform
- Offered protection from resurrectionists
- Short-term body preservation
- Fisk Metalliac Burial Case and Stein Patent Burial Casket- patented caskets
- Smaller casket-making proprietorships waned
- Cabinet makers turned undertakers began to specialize in providing funeral services, purchasing ready-made caskets wholesale and reselling them to their own customers.
Large Industry and Mass Production
A new ear had dawned, dramatically changing both the casket’s appearance and the manner in which it would be constructed, marketed, distributed, and subsequently sold to the consuming public.
End of the 19th Century
- Polymer plastics
Casket Shell Materials
Wood and metal account for nearly 98% of all adult caskets sold in America.
Two Dominant Materials Used in Casketmaking (modern)
No two caskets made of this material are identical. Made up of hollow cells formed from tiny cellulose fibers, and it is estimated that over three million of these fibers can be found in a one inch square block of this material. The more densely packed together these cells are, the harder this material is. These fibers and the cells they form are held together by tenacious, naturally waterproof but flexible glue-like substance known as lignin.
Two kinds of wood found in any given species of wood.
Hartwood and Sapwood
The tree’s best quality of wood, that wood which is in the center of the tree.
- Cells (though they may store sugar) ar eno longer actively participating in the day to day life functions of the tree.
- Cells are saturated with resins that make the wood slightly darker in color and make the wood more decay-resistant.
- The preferred wood of casket construction
A term that refers collectively to the layers of wood found between the heartwood and the bark of the tree.
- Usually lighter in color than heartwood
- Cells of this wood are the tree’s vascular system, engaged in the ongoing life functions of the tree, circulating water and nutrients.
Key to understanding the different species of wood.
- These terms do not refer to the actual reative hardness of the wood
Softwood and Hardwood
Coniferous (cone-bearing) trees with needles or scale-like foliage, like pines or cedars.
Softwood Species (Gymnosperms)
Board-leaved deciduous trees (annually lose their leaves) like oaks and maples.
- Account for about 40% of trees in the United States
Hardwood Species (Angiosperms)
- Select Hardwood
Woods Commonly Used Today
- Found primarily in the eastern US
- Typically reaches a height between 60 and 70 feet.
- Strong, dense, and hard
- Fine, straight-to-wavy grain similar to maple
- Sapwood is white
- Heartwood is reddish brown
- Commonly used in furniture, doors, cabinetry
Birtch (Betula Genus)
- Common in eastern and midwestern US
- Height 60 to 80 feet
- Wood is relatively strong
- Very fine, straight grain and definite growth rings
- Sapwood is very white
- Red or reddish-brown heartwood
- Frequently finished in reddish stain
- Does well with a high gloss finish
- Easily recognized by general public
- Commonly used in fine furniture, cabinetry, veneers, and architechural moldings.
Cherry (Prunus genus)
- Three types commonly used today: South American (Swietenia), Philippine (Shorea), and African (Khaya).
- Some species can grow to over 140 feet
- Strong wood
- Reddish brown
- Fine, even grain, some (especially African) can show “ribbon” graining and demands a premium price.
- Medium to heavy weight
- Frequently used in furniture, boats and musical instruments.
- Relatively expensive raw material
- Considered by many to be the ultimate hardwood used in casket manufacture.
Mahogany (Swietenia genus, Shorea genus, and Khaya genus)
- Most found in eastern US
- Grow from 60 to 120 feet in height
- Very strong
- Fine grain- frequently exhibits curious grain patterns known as bird’s-eye, fiddleback, and curly.
- Varies from medium-hard to very hard
- Sapwood ranges from creamy white with a reddish-brown tint to grayish white
- Heartwood is light to very dark reddish-brown
- Public is generally familiar to this material
- Frequently used in flooring, kitchen cabinets, cutting blocks, and architectural milwork.
Maple (Acer genus)
- Eastern United States
- Red and white varieties
- Most widespread and abundant species of hardwood in the region
- Height ranges from 60-80 feet
- Grain is pronounced and relatively straight, with a somewhat coarse texture
- Strong wood, hard and heavy
- Sapwood can be white to light brown
- Light to dark reddish brown heartwood
- Singly most easily recognized hardwood
- Used in pews and other church furnishings, flooring, furniture, and paneling.
Oak (Quercus genus)
- Found throughout eastern United States
- Extremely fast growers- commonly reaching heights of 150 feet.
- Many species used in casket construction: yellow/tulip tree (Liriodendron), cottonwood (Populus deltoids), salix and willow (salicaceae)
- All species share common grain- straight and medium fine in texture.
- Sapwood is usually white
- Heartwood is greenish in color
- Relatively strong, but somewhat soft
- Widely available
- Exterior siding and trim, doors, and millwork
Poplar (Populus genus)
- Commonly growing eastern US- primary commercial souce is country’s central region
- Average height between 100-150 feet
- Grain is typically straight, but occasionally shows a curly or wavy patterning.
- Sapwood is usually creamy white, is sometimes steamed to a darker coloration.
- Heartwood ranges from a light brown to a deep chocolate brown
- Strong and heavy
- Rarely used today
- Black is the most costly new materia used in casket production.
Walnut (Juglans genus)
- Ubiquitous pine (conferious evergreen) found throughout North America
- Often exceeds 100 feet in height
- Fine grain that is typically straight- often has presence of knots (makes for either very attractive or very unattractive wood)
- Ranges in color from creamy white to pink to yellow or light brown
- Medium strength, light in weight
- Depending on species, can range from very hard (longleaf pines) to very soft (white pine)
Pine (Pinus genus)
Describes a hardwood casket that has been constructed from a variety of hardwood species, including poplar, willow, or cottonwood. The component parts of a single casket will not necessarily be constructed of the same species of wood.
Select Hardwood (Salix) (various species)
- Extremely heavy, dense and strong
- Production requires the use of specially hardened tools.
Hickory and Pecan
- One time widely used in the commercial production of cloth-covered caskets
- Occasionally used today in casket manufacture
- Abundance of knots
- Unique coloration
- Finished casket is rather unusual
- Extremely resistant to decay
- Soft and weak
Most wood caskets are constructed of this, utilizing planks betwen 1” and 4” in thickness.
The production of a good quality wood casket will require this range of board-feet of lumbar, with some units incorporating up to 300 board feet.
130-150 Board Feet
A unit of dimensional measurement, equal to a piece of lumber 12” square and 1” thick.
- Extremely labor-intensive, hands on task
- Inherent variability and instability
- Must be properly air and kiln-dried to the proper moisture content (around 5%)
- Careful attention to detail must be paid at every stage of casket construction, particularily in areas of aligning the grain of adjacent plants, joint-fitting and finishing.
Production of Wood Caskets
- Wood vaneer
Other Materials Used in Wood Casket Construction
Made by uniting superimposed layers of different materials.
- Upper layer is finer quality (typically) than layers underneath.
- Can be artificial- A photo-reproduction of a finished wood grain is transferred to a vinyl=like material; then it is applied to an inexpensive wood or composition board base material. Finished product resembles a solid wood casket, but is a fraction of the price.
Created by gluing a thin layer of wood of superior value or excellent grain to an inferior wood.
- Composition board
- Corrugated fiberboard
Composed of particles of wood bonded together with waterproof glue, together with heat and pressure. The different types are distinguished by the size and shape of the particles of wood used. Several types:
- Particle board
- Oriented-stand board (OSB)
- Medium density fiberboard (MDF)
- Pressed board
Thin sheets of wood glued together so that the grains are at right angles to one another; an odd number of sheets will always be used so that the grain on the front and back will always run in the same direction.
- Like a laminate of many wood vaneers.
- Relatively strong
- Has a tendency to shrink, swell, and warp is much less than that of a solid piece of wood.
Refers to a product that is, in fact, all wood (with the exception of some hardware components), but utilizes wood by-products, such as particle board.
Refers to a product that, excepting some hardware components, is made from solid wood pieces; the casket shell has no components formed from wood by-products.
Accounts for about 69% of adult caskets sold in 1999, with steel constituting the bulk of metal casket sales- nearly 63%.
- Carbon steel
- Stainless steel
- Can be crafted and finished in a wide variety of ways
- Some are designed to be resistant to the entrance of soil and water.
Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metal
Two Groups of Metals
Any metal formed from iron such as steel and stainless steel.
A metallic, silver white element that is easily formed and shaped, rusts easily and is magnetically attractive.
Any metal which is not formed from iron, such as copper and bronze.
A metal alloy consisting mainly of iron and carbon; used in caskets it is low in carbon which keeps it soft (mild) and malleable; commercial contains carbon in an amount up to 1.7% as an essential alloying constituent.
- Ferrous metal
- Classified according to gauge
- Sometimes is galvanized
A measurement of the thickness of metals, roughly equated to the number of sheets of metal necessary to equal approximately one inch of thickness. US standard- a measurement of weight based on specific steel density, with corresponding values for average thickness.
- The lower the number, the thicker the steel
- Caskets are typically 16, 18, and 20
Represent the more economically-priced metal units available. Most often formed in a square-corner design, they typically feature rayon twill or crepe interior linings.
- Many automobiles feature panels constructed of this.
20 Gauge Caskets
Some are formed from 19 gauge steel, others posses caps and bottoms of 18 gauge steel paried with 20 gauge steel body panels.
- ~ 16% thicker than 20 gauge steel
- Last 29% longer than 20 gauge steel when buried in direct contract with the earth.
19 Gauge Steel Caskets (uncommon)
Mid-line of steel casket value. Available in a variety of styles, they are typically lined with higher quality textiles and feature a higher standard of construction and attention to detail than their 20 gauge cousins.
- ~ 33% thicker than 20 gauge
- When buried in direct contact with the soil, will last 133% longer than 20 gauge.
18 Gauge Steel
Considered to be the finest available within the carbon steel range; they are costly to produce, frequently featuring round corner designs, and are usually lined with better quality velvets.
- 67% thicker than 20 gauge
- When buried in direct contact with the soil, will last 133% longer than 20 gauge steel.
16 Gauge Steel
Manufacturers are experimenting with this guage.
22 Gauge Steel
Steel that has been coated with zinc (a bluish-white, rustless metallic element) for increased resistance to rust.
- Infrequently seen for casket production, commonly employed in manufacturing of steel burial vaults.
A metal alloy of steel, chromium, and sometimes nickel; noted for its ability to resist rust.
- Not rustproof, it is rust resistant made so by a minimum chromium content of 10%- chromium atoms within the material react with oxygen to form a protective film on the metal, inhibiting corrosion.
- Significant durability over carbon steel- does not approach the rustproof durability of non-ferrous metals.
- Relatively new for casket manufacture (1960’s)
- 4% of all caskets sold in America in 1999
Stainless Steel (SST)
Two Types of Stainless Steel
An alloy often referred to as “400 series” or “409 stainless,” a basic grade of stainless steel with good corrosion resistance properties.
- Composed mainly of iron and carbon, chromium added not less than 10% (typically 11-12% with no appreciable amount of nickel).
- Ocassionally referred to as “11-0” or “12-0 stainless, the first number is chromium content, the second is nickel content.
- Relatively easy to machine and weld.
Ferritic Stainless Steel
Excellent corrosion resistance represents a significant increase in quality when compared to 400 series stainless. Sometimes refered as 300 series or 304 stainless. Possesses higher chromium content (18%) and the added element of nickel (8%) and is therefore sometimes called 18-8 stainless.
- Versatile and widely used alloy
Austenitic Stainless Steel
- Offers additional corrosion resistance
- Renders the alloy non-magnetically attractive
- Allows for stronger welds.
3 Effects of Nickel in Austenitic Stainless Steel
Both are non-ferrous metals and represent the “high end” of the metal casket price and quality spectrum, and both are considered semi-precious metals.
Copper and Bronze
- Bronze- 32 ounce or 48 ounce referring to the weight of the wrought material used to construct the casket shell.
- 32 ounce copper typically compares to 18 gauge steel, 48 compares to 14 or 15 gauge
- The greater the number, the thicker the casket
Ounces per Square Foot (Brown & Sharpe Gauge)
Not an alloy but a naturally occurring element, a malleable, ductile metallic element having a characteristic reddish-brown color.
- Easily drawn-out and pressed, shaped and formed and is relatively soft.
- Does not rust when exposed to moisture, but can get verdigris
- Mankind’s oldest known metal
A mellow blue-green patina caused by deposits of mainy copper carbonates on the surface of metal.
- Wrought Copper
- Copper Deposit
Two Categories of Copper Caskets
Caskets are formed from copper metal rolled into sheets. The resulting sheets are then stamped into the casket’s component parts and assembled.
A casket made from a solid core of copper metal to which copper ions are combined by an electrolytic process.
- Wrought copper casket body shell is placed in a liquid bath of copper salts and given a negative electrical charge. A rod of pure copper is placed in the same solution and given a positive charge. Copper ions then flow from the positively charged copper rod and are deposited on and bound to the negatively charged casket body; forming a completely solid copper skin. (Process is repeated for the cap)- Very expensive
A metal alloy consisting of 90% copper with tin and sometimes zinc comprising the other 10%.
- Long considered the ultimate material used in metal casket manufacture.
- Far more durability and strength than copper
- Wrought Bronze
- Cast Bronze
Two Varieties of Bronze Caskets
Formed from bronze metal rolled into sheets.
Formed from molten bronze poured into a mold and allowed to cool.
- Can weigh over 1,000lbs
- No longer in regular production
- Mostly found in casket hardware
Offer the most unlimited longevity when buried in the earth. More infant caskets are sold of these materials (0.3% of adult caskets).
A material consisting of very fine filaments of glass embedded in various resins.
- Very lightweight
- Relatively strong
- Wide variety of finishes- print faux woodgrain and faux marble.
A synthetic or natural organic material shaped when soft and then hardened.
- Less frequently seen in casket shells and more commonly used in hardware components
A compound, similar in appearance to plastic, that has a high molecular weight creating an extremely durable substance.
Refers collectively to the component parts of the casket comprised of the cap (lid) and body of the casket.
The topmost portion of the casket shell, including the ogee, crown, pie, and header. Will incorporate some or all of the following:
- Ogee (rim)
- Pie (Fishtail)
- Header (Bridge, cap filler)
- Ogee flange (Rim flange)
- Gasket channel (transverse gasket channel)
- Header flange (bridge flange, cap filler flange)
- In a non cut-top casket: all of the above except for the gasket channel and header flange.
- Full couch: only the ogee flange, ogee, crown and pie.
An “S” shaped molding that is a component of the casket cap.
- Exact style can vary widely within a multitude of designs.
- Generally, when viewed in profile, it will appear to resemble a double-curved line, or the joining of convex and concave lines.
The uppermost part of the cap, extending from rim to rim; it can also be considered everything above the rim of the cap.
The wedge-shaped portion of the cap at each end of the crown, and is actually part of the crown.
- Particularly critical area in wood caskets; during construction, great care must be taken to achieve a tight fit and attractive finish with a minimum of filler.
- Wood expanding and contracting can make gaps in this area joins the rest of the crown if poorly engineered.
That portion of the cap/lid that is constructed into caskets that display a cut top; it provides strength/rigidity at the point of the transverse cut.
- Also provides a measure of aesthetic value
- Seen in pairs- one at the foot end of the foot cap and the other at the head end of the foot cap.
Header (Cap Filler, Bridge)
Exclusively found on cut-top gasketed caskets; it is an integral part of the foot panel header on gasketed caskets; the function of this is to hold the transverse gasket to seal th space betwen the head and the foot caps.
Gasket Channel (Transverse Gasket Channel)
The turned-under edge or horizontal portion of the header.
- In a gasketed casket, would come into contact with the gasket held in the gasket channel.
Header Flange (Bridge Flance, Cap Filler Flange)
That portion of the casket shell containing the top body molding, body panels, base molding, and casket bottom. Will incorporate all or some of the following:
- Body ledge (top body molding)
- End body panels and side body panels
- Base molding
- Body ledge flange (top body molding flange)
- Casket bottom
- Actually receives and holds the body of the deceased. Will
A molding along the uppermost edge of the body panels.
Body Ledge (Top Body Molding)
Compose the sides and end of the casket.
Consists of the molding along the lowermost edge of the body panels.
The horizontal portion of the top body molding (body ledge) where the gasket is placed on gasketed caskets.
- Present on both gasketed and non-gasketed caskets, it is the body’s counterpart to the cap’s ogee flange.
Body Ledge Flange (Top Body Molding Flange)
For additional support, this is very often reinforced with transverse supports or, in the case of metal caskets, strengthened with stiffeners, elongated indentations stamped into the metal during the manufacturing process.
Refers to the handles, ornamental fixtures, and their fittings that are attached to the casket shell.
- Can be either practical or aesthetic elements
- Rather than using this term with the general public (tends to be cold and a utilitarian implication) use words like “handles,” “fittings,” “enhancements,” or “decorative elements.”
Moveable casket handles with hinged arms.
- Seen in both full-length and single (individual) styles
A non-moveable casket handle.
- Seen in both full-length or single varieties
A variety of the stationary bar, appears to completely encircle the casket body, using full-length cars on the casket’s sides and single bars on the casket’s ends; the gaps betwen handles at the casket’s corners are concealed by corner hardware.
Continuous Stationary Bar
- Lug (ear)
4 Components of Casket Handles
That part of the casket handle that is attached to the casket body.
The part of the casket handle that attaches the bar to the lug.
What one actually grips when lifting the casket: that part of the casket handle, attached to the lug or arm, which is grasped by the casketbearer.
The decorative or ornamental part of the casket handle that covers the exposed ends of the bar.
- Caps off the bar’s ends
The tip curves inward toward and is attached to the casket body panel.
A unique handle that is a single handle which the lug, arm, and bar are combined in one unit.
- Attached directly to the casket body panel.
- Seen in some cremation containers or Orthodox Jewish caskets (actually do not have handles)
- Several caskets have handles concealed under the base molding (actually enlarged grooves) or incorporated into the casket’s body panels.
- Often has a sleek and unique appearance
- Difficult for pallbearers to carry
Appearance of No Handles
An optional part ofthe hardware that is attached to the four corners of the body panels.
- Can add strength and rigidity to the casket or act as lugs for continuous stationary bar handles.
- Aesthetically, can enhance eye appeal and used to cover otherwise visible unfinished weld seams in less expensive caskets.
These items can be placed on compatible cakets to allow families the opportunity to “personalize” the casket.
- Religious, military service, avocational themes
Interchangable Corner Accents
The most expensive hardware production method in which molten metal is poured into a mold, allowed to cool, and then removed from the mold.
- Found on better quality caskets
The result of a hardware production method of lesser expense whereby the casket hardward sections are pressed out on a hydraulic press.
- Commonly found on less expensive caskets
A method of molding plastic by injecting molten plastic into a die.
- Plastic hardware (corners, lugs, tip most commonly)
- Plastic may be colored prior to molding or later painted or plated with a metallic finish in order to better coordinate with the casket’s color scheme.
Plastic Extrusion Molding