Does it come as a surprise to you that more people are wanting to buy old fashioned, hand-hewn caskets that look like Alexander Hamilton or Abraham Lincoln would have been buried in them? It shouldn’t. Anyone who has spent twenty-minutes in a Whole Foods check-out line holding a carton of kale juice or hemp milk knows that when a death strikes a family that eats carefully and recycles, that family will likely desire a handsome, all-wood vessel without much metal hardware. Some Baby Boomers want simplified boxes so badly, they’ll Google around for them on their own if the funeral director fails to offer them. Good for green, Jewish, Christian, secular simple burial, these usually-unlined wooden boxes are also selected by cremation families when a cardboard box just doesn’t feel like the right thing. In short, it’s official: more funeral directors and planners are befriending independent casket makers–those savvy, committed, business-minded carpenters with a padded hammer in one hand, and an inventory Excel sheet in the other.
So meet (in photo above)“The Windsor” by the Connecticut Casket Company, a 79-inch-long Eastern White Pine and Walnut coffin that blends humility with an old-fashioned grandeur to form what I think is one of the nicest handmade caskets out there right now.Bill Covey, the casket’s designer, who’ll only sell to funeral homes, says: “The Windsor is one of those products I just can’t stop touching. The smooth finish of the tung oil on clear pine sends a tingle down my arm that causes me to spend a lot of time inspecting each one before it goes out to a funeral home. It’s my favorite casket and the only one we have used within our own family since its creation. It’s what I want to be buried in.” Almost 40 man hours of work go into it, he says. Retail price is surprisingly reasonable and depends upon funeral home mark-up.
Another casket maker near New York City who I’ve met numerous times and whose work impresses me is David Campbell, of TheWoodSmyth.com. David goes on long walks in the Pennsylvania woods to find fallen trunks, then makes custom boxes for clients–some of whom have just been released to hospice. Farther afield, Donald Byrne of Piedmont Pine Coffins in Bear Creek, NC, was an early activist in the green burial movement, and has been instrumental and totally supportive ever since. His simple, handmade caskets are beautiful.
Here’s a list of other hand-made casket-makers whose work I feel stands out: Aldergrove Caskets in North Carolina, Green Man Caskets serving North and South Carolina, North Woods Casket in Wisconsin, Nature’s Casket in Colorado (which has a cedar model made of shingles), Bert and Bud’s Vintage Coffins in Kentucky, Victory Coffin Company in Central Illinois, and The Old Pine Box in New Mexico. My favorite Trappist Casket maker is in Iowa (though the Trappists in Louisiana fought admirably against a shameless funeral directors’ lobby to win the legal right to sell simple boxes down there).
Here’s the Green Burial Council’s list of certified funeral products, including handmade caskets. And here’s an excellent little documentary about the classic, pegged Jewish pine box that you can watch if you’d like to know more about the belief that a simple box at the funeral is the ultimate statement of respect and humility.