Make a Handmade Casket Using Air-Dried Lumber

Learn how to build a handmade casket using air-dried lumber as part of an earth-friendly, low-cost home funeral.

This handmade casket made at home is beautiful and inexpensive.

This handmade casket made at home is beautiful and inexpensive.

PHOTO: STEVE MAXWELL

Content Tools

Build a handmade casket using air-dried lumber for an earth-friendly funeral.

Make a Handmade Casket

If you have the skills, tools and inclination to build a solid wood coffin like I did, then you probably don't need me to tell you how. What might be less clear is how to make a more direct connection to the forest by selecting and air-drying your own lumber. That's a specialty of mine, a technique I learned when I began buying wood directly from small country sawmills back in the early 1980s. Building with this lumber saves money and yields better material to make a coffin.

What surprises some folks is that you don't need a kiln to prepare wood that's dry enough for reliable use indoors. And the drying process doesn't even take that long. I select logs and have them cut into boards 1 to 3 inches thick. Immediately after sawing I stack the boards in the shade (though not in a building), with spacers between each layer. That's where the wood sits for six to eight weeks during the spring, summer or fall while moisture content drops to about 14 percent. At this state, the wood is dry enough for rough cutting, but not yet ready for final fitting.

After sawing to length and width, I smooth boards using a bench-top thickness planer (you could have this done at a sawmill), bringing them down to 1/8 inch thicker than final size before restacking the wood indoors for final air drying.

Three or four weeks of heated indoor storage brings 1-inch-thick softwoods down to the 7 percent to 9 percent moisture content required for fine work.

Dense hardwoods and thicker softwoods might take three or four additional weeks. By stacking the lumber with spacers between the layers, you'll get excellent and speedy results. A household fan aimed at the pile helps hurry things along.


Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 


Read more about green funerals: Planning a Green Funeral at Home.