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Earliest manufactured wood coffins were discovered here.

Valley of the Nile


Nearly 1,000 years after wooden coffins were discovered in the Valley of the Nile, approximately 5,000BC is when these were constructed.



Wood casket developed from a short, almost square wood container, in which the human body was placed in a sitting position, into the long case fashioned on the lines much as we use today.

  • Concept of using an inner and outer casket was observed by the Egyptians.

Interm between first wooden caskets and construction of pyramids.


Came upon the ruins of a city thought to be at least 6,000 ears old.

  • Discovered tombs in which the bodies of the dead reposed in coffins made of wood.

1935 Scientists when Digging in the prehistoric mounds of Northern Mesopotamia


Feared future punishment if the dead were not properly honored.

  • Turned to caskets of wood as a suitable means of showing their deepest respect. 
  • Beauty and lasting qualities of these wood caskets have made them noteworthy and historical.



  • Hardwood piles supporting the old London bridge found to be sound on removal after a service of more than 800 years.
  • 600 years in the foundation of the old Savoy Hotel in London had no adverse effect on the wood piles which had supported that building.
  • Wood piles also bore the weight of Waterloo Bridge in England for 120 years.
  • Off the coast of Norway- vessel of wood in almost perfect condition of Norse King after being buried for over 1,000 years

Evidence of the service wood gives over long periods of time


For thousands of years, in every country and climate, this has been the preferred material for the burial of countless millions of people.

  • Plays an important part in our lives
  • When it is genuine it reflects warmth and beauty and harmonizes with home surroundings.



The wood of any broad-leveled tree as distinguished from a confier.



Evergreen trees and shrubs, including not only those of the Yew family, bearing a berry-like or drupaceous fruit.



No definitive degree of _____ divides the hardwoods and the softwoods.



  1. Cedar
  2. Cypress, Red
  3. Fir, Douglas
  4. Hemlock, West Coast
  5. Pine
  6. Redwood
  7. Spruce, Sitka



  1. Ash
  2. Basswood
  3. Beech
  4. Birtch
  5. Buckeye
  6. Butternut
  7. Cherry
  8. Chestnut
  9. Elm
  10. Gum
  11. Mahoganies
  12. Maple
  13. Oak
  14. Philippine Hardwood
  15. Poplar
  16. Walnut
  17. Locust
  18. Hickories
  19. Willow (Salix)



These woods are very durable and have an estimated durability of approximately 25 years when in contact with the soil.

Class I Woods


  • Cedars
  • Cypress
  • Red Wood

Class I Softwoods


  • Chestnut
  • Locust
  • Walnut

Class I Hardwoods


These woods are durable and have an estimated durability from 10 to 20 years when in contact with the soil.

Class II Woods


  • Duglas Fir
  • Pine

Class II Softwoods


  • Oak
  • Mahoganies
  • Willow

Class II Hardwoods


These woods are classified as being intermediate and have a relative durability from 8-15 years when in contact with the soil.

Class III Woods


  • Douglas Fir
  • Pine

Class III Softwoods


  • Gum
  • Oak

Class III Hardwoods


These woods are on the borderline and some may fall in class 3 and therefore cannot be definitely in Class 4. They have a relative durability of approximately 10 years when in contact with the soil.

Class IV Woods


  • Hemlocks
  • Pine, Lodgepole
  • Spruces

Class IV Softwoods


  • Ashes
  • Beech
  • Birtch
  • Hickories
  • Maples
  • Poplar

Class IV Hardwoods


  • Density: weight per unit volume
    • might be expected to serve as a factor of durability, since it is dependent primarily on the amount of substance (cell wall) present in a given piece.
    • Shows little or no correlations with decay resistance
  • Decay resistance: influenced cheifly by the toxicity of the extraactivities present in the woods.
  • Durability will increase with density although distinct variations in amount of the extractivities will have much more significant effect in determining decay resistance.
  • With decay and other factors being equal, the heavier pieces of a given kind of wood may be expected to have longer service life than the lighter ones, when attacked by the same fungus.

Durability of Woods


  • Northern white cedar and chestnut- rank higher on the durability (level of extractives)
  • Beech and hickories- lower in extractives and less durable despite being denser woods

Example of Wood Durability


The wood extending from the center or pith to the sapwood the cells of which no longer participate in the life processes of the tree.

  • May be infiltrated with resins and other materials which usually make it darker and more decay-resistant than sapwood.



The layers of wood next to the bark, usually lighter in color than the heartwood 1/2 inch to 3 inches or more wide that are actively involved in the life processes of the tree.

  • Not essentially weaker or stronger than heartwood of the same species.


  1. Appearance
  2. Amount and kind of material contained
  3. The resistance of the material when buried in the earth

Today, the Merits of Caskets are Classified Primarily by:


Varies with the kind of wood and the particular design of the shell of the casket.

  • Thickness of the wood varies; usually 3/4 and 7/8 inch stock is used, this again varying with the style and quality of the intended finished product.

Finished Appearance of the Casket


Microscopic threadlike structures developed from fungus infecting wood.

  • Almost universally recognized that the decay of wood is the result of the activities of low forms of wood destroying fungi.



  1. Supply of suitable food
  2. A sufficient degree of moisture
  3. At least a small amount of air
  4. A favorable temperature

Conditions for Development of the Decay-Producing Fungi in Wood


Supplied chiefly by the actual wood substance (cell-walls) of the host, although the starches, sugars and other materials stored in the cell cavities may be drawn upon.


Supply of Suitable Food


25% to 30% will greatly retard the growth of fungi while a 20% or less completely inhibits the growth.

  • Sound wood that has been kiln dried is immune to decay unless subject to wetting or to dampness sufficient to raise the moisture content above the required amount.

A Sufficient Degree of Moisture


Attributed primarily to the chemical changes that take place after the sapwood is transformed into heartwood.

  • Deposition in the cells of the heartwood of certain materials (extractives) which are formed when some of the cells lose their protoplasm and die.
  • These extractives tend to prevent or retard the development of wood fungus hyphae

Durability of Heartwood


  • Southern Cypress and some Cedars- contain essential oils
  • Other Cedars and Redwood- Contains water soluable chemicals of high toxicity
  • White Oak and Chestnut- infiltrated with tannins 

Examples of Extraactives


  • Few are able to attack all kinds of wood indiscriminately (dissimilarities of woods, variations of the enzymes produced by the fungi)
  • Some woods are suspectible to an attack by a number of fungi

Wood-Destroying Fungus


Give rise to definite discoloration in the wood without noticably affecting the continuity and texture of the material.

  • Most important is the blue stain- lowers the selling price significantly.

Wood Staining Fungi


  1. Kiln drying is so important that no hardwood casket can be of a high grade unless watchfulness has been given to the moisture content of the lumbar in all stages of manufacture
  2. The jointing must be accurate and competent
  3. Cabinet work of the very highest quality is required
  4. The lumber for the various parts of the hardwood caskets must be laid out and sorted so that the grains match and the color is uniform and even.
  5. Even the insides of the casket must be sanded and the surface of the casket prepared for teh finish.
  6. Finishing must be so skillful that the finish will not break or crack.

Quality Hardwood Caskets- Mahogany or American Walnut


The warm color which allows the beauty of the grain of the wood to show through and still give the impression of depth.

The test of Finish is Richness


  • Normally softwood caskets are cloth covered
  • Most common materials: velours, plush, oxford cloth, broad cloth, liberty cloth, doeskin, moleskin, lambskin, felt, and wool.
  • Crepes and satins are used on the exterior of infant caskets
  • No cloth used on expensive hardwoods
  • Hardwoods finished with natural grain, sprayed lacquer finish, hand grained, stippled.

Exterior Wood Finish


Should be elevated to its proper level of importance, but not over emphasized; A receptacle for the deceased. Origin of the word comes from the French word cassette (a small check or box)

  • Should have suitable dimensions
  • Practical utility
  • An acceptable appearance
  • Provideo protection to the deceased
  • Provide the surviving family, and loved ones, with a suitable memory picture
  • A practical means of holding, transporting, protecting and providing the final disposition for the deceased.




  • Constructed from wood
  • Womenfolk lined the coffin with ornate material such as silk or satin, in some cases, they also lined the bare earthen walls of the grave with this material.
  • Had to be constructed for the dead of the War Between the States so that the bodies could be decetly and properly shipped home for burial.
  • Demand for caskets following the war- casket manufacturers began to emerge, which led to the manufacture of metal caskets.
  • With the exception of hte period during WWI and WWII, metal caskets have been the most popular.

Caskets in the Past- Pioneers until Present


Three basic materials:

  1. Metal
  2. Wood
  3. Plastic

Caskets Today


Divided into ferrous and non-ferrous materials.

  • Ferrous- one which contains iron, and is often referred to as steel
  • Non-ferrous- one which does not contain iron; i.e. copper and bronze
  • Other alloys: aluminum, zinc, nickel

Metal Caskets


Just because a metal may do this does not mean that its usefulness and strength is destroyed. The progression of this is vertually halted, once the contributing factors of moisture and oxygen are shielded from the metal beneath the covering of rust.

  • Rate of corrosion of metals when placed underground decreases over time



The relative durability of the casket depends upon the amount of these that are present in the metal.

  • Carbon
  • Phosphorus
  • Maganese
  • Silicon

Impurities in Steel


The steel sheets used for casket construction usually have this.

  • Affords a smooth paintholding surface for laquer and other finishes
  • Lubricates the press dies that form the casket parts which are very accurate.
  • Tempered or annealed so that they draw (stretch) when placed under the die

Lead Coating


This is done with a deposit of cadmium. Cadmium resembles zinc in appearance and is extremely resistant to corrosion.

  • Process is known as "undyliting"
  • Maganese may be substituted for the cadmium and this process is known as "bonderizing."



  • Cold Galvanizing
  • Hot Galavnizing
  • Sheradizing

Other Processes Which Add to the Life of Steel


This process has the advantage of being carried out at ordinary temperatures.

  • A more uniform deposit of zinc is placed on the metal.

Cold Galvanizing


The iron or steel is cleared and passed through a bath of molten zinc. A substantial coating of zinc is then applied.

  • To smooth the zinc coating, the metal must be heated to 460 degrees centigrade.

Hot Galvanizing


Zinc is applied to the steel by imbedding the metal in zinc powder and raising the temperature to about 300 degrees centigrade.

  • After galvanizing, the metal is painted.



  • Found free in nature
  • Found from early times
  • Not acted upon by most acids
  • More resistant to corrosion when protected by a coating of iron oxide



Made from steel sheets which have been copper plated.

Copper Plated Caskets


A wrought copper core is immersed in liquid copper and the copper adheres to the core by way of electrolysis.

  • Some manufacturers pour liquid copper into a mold and solidify the copper through the process of electrolysis.

Copper Deposit (Seamless Copper Deposit)


Largely made from copper.

  • Copper 92%
  • Tin 6%
  • Sometimes Zinc 2%
  • Also made from sheet bronze or cast bronze



Number of sheets of metal (placed one on top of the other) necessary to measure one inch.

  • The higher the gauge, the thinner the metal
  • Most common: 16, 18, 20, 22
    • 16 gauge= .062 (1/16) inches thick, average weight of 200 lbs
    • 18 gauge= .050 (1/18) inches thick, average weight of 160 lbs
    • 20 gauge= .0375 (1/20) inches thick, average weight of 120 lbs
    • 22 gauge= .032 (1/22) inches thick, average weght of 100 lbs

Gauge- Thickness of Ferrous Caskets


Measured in terms of ounces per square foot.

  • The higher the ounces, the thicker the metal
  • Most popular weights are 48 ounces psf (3 pounds) and 32 ounces psf (2 pounds)

Thickness of Non-Ferrous Caskets


  • Very few are cloth covered
  • Baked enamel
  • Sprayed lacquer
  • Brushed metal
  • Natural finish
  • Stippled
  • Plated
  • Imitation wood

Exterior Metal Finishes


Most common type of plastic. These represent a small percentage of all caskets selected. Not produced by a mass scale.The thickness and style varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer (difficult to find a standard thickness). Most finished in same manner as metal caskets.

Constructed basically by 2 methods:

  1. Thermoplastic
  2. Chemoplastic

Fiberglass Caskets


A method of spraying or molding the plastic into shape using heat as a catalyst.



A method of spraying or molding the pastic into shape using a chemical substance as a catalyst.



  • 78-79 inches in length 
  • 23-24 inches in width 

Average Interior Casket Dimensions


  • 83-84 inches in length
  • 28-29 inches in width
  • Anything larger would be considered oversize

Average Exterior Casket Dimensions


  • Americans are getting larger
  • Some caskets are 82X30 inches outside and are now considered standard
  • Casket sizes will continue to increase

Note: Standard Casket Sizes


A useful chart

Standard Casket Sizes (Interior)


  • Increase in length increments of 3 inches 
  • Increase in width increments of 2 inches
  • Each extra size is indicated with an X 
  • Most manufacturers stock up to XXX
  • May require an oversized vault

Oversize Caskets


Constructed in the same manner as adult caskets with the dimensions varying.

  • Most come in length increments of 6 inches

Infant Caskets


  • Shell
  • Handles
  • Exterior material
  • Interior Material

The casket is divided into four categories


  • Lid (cap)
  • Body and bottom
  • Molding
  • corners of the shell
  • Variety of shapes and styles

Casket Shell


  • Head panel and foot panel
  • Lid molding (edge of the lid)
  • Ogee

Lid (Cap)


A term provided for early casket manufacturers. A part of the lid between the panel and the lid molding that resembles a gutter.

  • Tinsmiths- a metal gutter on a building
  • On some caskets, this is hinged to fold out to display the interior of the casket, on others it is attached to the panel and is one solid piece.


  • Side panels
  • end panels
  • Top molding
  • Bottom molding

Body of the Shell


A term for the edge of the caksket, and usually provides a decorative appearance to the casket. Classifed two ways:

  1. Runside (Stuckside)-  Applies to wooden caskets whereby this is a seperate piece of wood which is nailed and/or glued to the body of the shell.
  2. Milled- Applies to metal caskets whereby this is stamped or cast with the body of the shell. (they are one piece)



  • Oval
  • Round
  • Log
  • Square
  • Ledge
  • Modernistic
  • Stepped

Shapes/Designs of Molding


  • Flat
  • Swelled
  • Round
  • Square
  • Urn shaped around entire casket
  • Some have an applied metal decoration attached to them

Corners of the Shell