In Loving Memory

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Make your own casket

The word "casket" means any type of receptacle which is used to contain and transport a dead body. In the US and NZ the word typically refers to a rectangular casket, while the word "coffin" refers to the 6-sided style of casket which we are all very familiar with. The tapered shape has no particular advantage over a rectangular casket - it simply used less material so was less expensive to make - and over time this shape has become traditional.

Making your own casket

Any person with good practical skills, a decent set of tools and a large enough working space should be able to make a perfectly good rectangular casket from plywood or MDF. If you do have these skills already then watch a few YouTube videos and give it a shot. Any kind of board can be used - I prefer plywood because it is strong, light and easy to source. MDF is also a popular choice in the funeral industry but it is relatively heavy and not as strong as plywood. Of course reinforcing battens must be used, and even though it's fairly simple joinery there is still quite a bit of work to it.

I sell a "DIY kit" which you can use to build your own direct-to-cremation casket out of plywood you provide yourself. If you are interested in this, please click here.

What standards apply to caskets in New Zealand?

Because the funeral industry is relatively unregulated in New Zealand there is no legislation which sets standards for the construction of coffins and caskets. So there is no legal certification process or any requirement for this under NZ law. However local councils, cemeteries and crematoria will have their own rules about what is and isn't alllowed. For example some councils will not allow cardboard coffins to be used; others will.

Shrouding boards (also known as shroud bearers) are also gaining in popularity in New Zealand, with many local councils, cemeteries and crematoria now allowing bodies to be buried or cremated on one. A shrouding bearer is basically a simple board with handholds, usually with ends and sometimes with shallow sides, on which a body can be carried. The body must be wrapped in a shroud (a fancy word for a sheet of some kind) which covers it completely, and must be tied onto the board. A shrouding board is probably the cheapest form of casket you can hope to make, although commercially obtained ones still cost a small fortune.

To watch a video of a home funeral which used a shroud board, which the family is happy to share publicly, please click here.

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Certification of caskets

The professional bodies representing funeral directors may have private certification requirements for the coffins they use, but generally they will not refuse to accept a casket or coffin which has not been certified. What they will do instead is to use a gurney or trolley of some kind to move it, and may not allow it to be carried by pallbearers. This is a liability issue and only arises if you are using a funeral director. They may charge a handling fee if you use your own casket.

In the case of natural burials there is an informal certification process (ie not based on legislation) which you can choose to follow when constructing a casket. The process is administered by Natural Burials, a not-for-profit organisation, and basically requires that coffins be "made of chemically untreated and unprocessed soft woods from sustainable / organic plantations". This rules out recycled pallet wood as its source cannot be established, which seems a little unfortunate.

Caskets and coffins certified for a "natural" or "eco-burial" are not allowed plastic or metal in their manufacture (other than a minimal number of nails and screws) and there are restrictions on the type of glues which can be used (eg. water-based PVA is preferred over silicone-based or construction adhesives which do not break down easily). A corn-starch liner can be used instead of plastic, which serves the same purpose of protecting against leakage.

There is no official monitoring programme, but people wanting a natual burial may have to agree to use a casket or shroud board which meets the certification standards (outlined here) in order to buy a plot in a natural burial cemetery or designated area within a public cemetery.

For a slightly dated but still interesting video by a funeral director on things to consider when making your own casket, click here.

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DIY casket kit

This kit contains corners, screws and battens which can be used to construct a plywood "direct-to-cremation" casket without handles. Detailed plans and instructions are provided. You will need to purchase two sheets of plywood, and pva glue or construction adhesive. A large hardware store should be able to cut the plywood to size for you, otherwise you will need to do it yourself. Buying this kit is only a good idea if you are competent at assembly and construction, can read diagrams and follow written instructions, have tools and a workspace and ideally someone to help you. This casket is not recommended for burial. Please order by calling or texting Frances on 022 561 5620 or emailing me at fnp@diyfuneral.co.nz.

Price $150 plus freight

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