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.
By Steve Maxwell
April/May 2003
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Make a handmade casket using low-cost air-dried lumber.

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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.

Post a comment below.


7/19/2012 3:23:04 PM
My father had requested a homemade casket for his burial. He had a terminal disease and wanted to see it before he died. My husband and build it in our garage. the funeral told us how to measure and what materials were allowed in this area. we burnt his name on the side. Inside we placed items his mother had made in his childhood. It was stored at the funeral home until needed. He got to see pictures of it. We had a lot of comments on it. Even had requests to buid others. We build one more....for my mother. She wanted to use hers as curio/bookcase before it was needed. If you build a casket for someone, personalize it as much as possible. And let them see it. It's a true labor of love.

Dayton Fournier
12/17/2010 11:08:27 AM
How do I get the plans for these caskets? I could not fine the link to get to the plans? Thanks Dayton

sue kruskopf
11/11/2010 11:05:14 AM
More and more, people want to have their funerals personalized and this is another way to do it. On our free site,, you can let your loved ones know exactly what you want along with your homemade coffin, and ease their burden.

3/18/2010 3:09:28 PM
this is a good article and i think very helpful for those who would be interested in making there own going to make mine soon and store it in our storage shed..but there is also a great web site for wood workers and there are some folks there who have made caskets also its called lumber jocks. a good resource also...thanks...grizzman

3/18/2010 3:03:03 PM
this is a good article and i think very helpful for those who would be interested in making there own going to make mine soon and store it in our storage shed..but there is also a great web site for wood workers and there are some folks there who have made caskets also its called a good resource also...thanks...grizzman

Joey Teem
6/16/2009 10:57:26 PM
I am a wood worker/beekeeper. I build and sell Top Bar Hives and would like to offer my skills as a coffin builder if needed. I am also building an online community for Homesteaders, wood workers, beekeepers and so on at Thank you. Joey

12/19/2008 4:22:11 PM
Don't know if you are taking names still of those who would build coop or casket for others. But I'd be willing and able to do this in the Seattle area. Thank you, Brian Hayman

12/19/2008 4:07:43 PM
Making coffins article. Do more and when possible have drawings or more pictures close up. Thanks

12/8/2008 5:59:10 PM
Wonderful article,however how can I get some rough plans,and how do I get the legal requirements for being buried in a National Cemetary? thank you Rusty

Heidi Hunt_2
1/2/2008 2:50:35 PM
To print the images from the Image Gallery, hit Ctrl+P on a PC or Apple+P on a Mac.

12/30/2007 9:17:29 AM
I also have found it impossible to print the drawings in the article. I need them to guide me in making my own casket from solid wood. Please advise me on how to obtain the drawings.

12/29/2007 8:22:41 PM
I need the photos that go along with this article. My son, 31 year old Peter, died of hypothermia. My friend is going to make his casket, since Pete loves nature. He needs the drawings. I can't seem to print the gallery photos out to get to my friend.

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