If you decide on a traditional burial for you or your loved one, the next important decision that you will need to make is determining the type of casket. Before purchasing, do some research on various types of caskets and the costs associated with them. Below is a basic outline regarding the process of selecting and purchasing a casket.

Casket or Coffin?

Before examining the different caskets available, we need to make sure that we know exactly what we are referring to when we use the term. While the word casket is often used interchangeably with coffin, there is an important difference between the two terms: a coffin is hexagonal or octagonal, while the casket is rectangular. Also, a casket often contains a split lid for the purpose of viewing the body, while a coffin does not. The two pictures above illustrate these differences. Caskets are more popular in the U.S., while coffins have a long tradition of popularity in the U.K.

Materials

Caskets are generally made of wood or metal. The following are materials commonly used in their construction.

Wood

  • High-cost materials: Mahogany, Walnut, and Cherry
  • Medium-cost materials: Oak, Birch, and Maple
  • Low-cost materials: Pine, Poplar, and Willow

Metal

  • Standard Steel: Least expensive type of metal casket available. Available in 20-gauge, 18-gauge, and 16-gauge. The term “gauge” refers to the thickness of the metal. The lower the gauge, the thicker the material.
  • Stainless Steel: More durable than standard steel and a little more expensive. Available in the same gauges as standard steel.
  • Copper and Bronze: Have rust-resistant properties that steel lacks. While they do not technically rust, they will eventually oxidize and break down in a manner similar to rusting. Durable, high quality metals, but far more expensive than steel. Unlike steel caskets, they are measured by weight instead of gauge.

Eco-Friendly

If you want to go green, environmentally-friendly options are also available. Wicker caskets made from bamboo, willow, or sea grass are popular choices. You can also choose a cardboard casket, which is easy to decorate with a digitally-printed design. Burial shrouds made of wool, cotton, linen, and silk are also worth looking into.  If you want to be environmentally conscious but desire a traditional wooden coffin, consider a coffin made from sustainably-sourced wood.

Alternative Containers, Cremation Caskets, and Rental Caskets

If you opt for cremation, you will probably still want to decide on a casket or container to use. A cremation casket is a wooden casket that may be cremated with the body after the service. An alternative container, generally made of wood, cardboard, or fiberboard, is a cheaper option. If you want a ceremonial casket at the funeral, most funeral homes offer a rental casket for the service, which isn’t as weird as it sounds. Rental caskets are crafted to include an insert for the cremation container, so the cremation casket is placed inside the ceremonial casket for the service. After the service, the cremation container is removed for cremation, offering the best of both worlds.

Gasketed and Non-Gasketed

You may have heard people refer to certain metal caskets as “gasketed.” A gasketed casket, also known as a protective casket, is sealed with a rubber gasket to keep the elements from entering the casket. While this seal will protect the casket for a long time, it will not preserve it indefinitely. It simply delays the natural process of decomposition.

Purchasing the Casket

You may want to visit your local funeral home to browse the selection in person. If you do, know that your funeral director is required by law to show you a list of the caskets available before showing you the caskets. Make sure to ask to see a variety of caskets in different price ranges. Some customers buy the first caskets they see and don’t review all the options. Don’t rush through the process of buying the casket. Get the full picture, explore all of the available options, and ask your funeral director if you have any questions. Remember that the funeral director is there to help, and his or her experience can be very useful.

Burial Vault or Grave Liners

Grave liners and burial vaults are outer burial containers that play an important structural role in maintaining the level of the ground in a cemetery. Over time, caskets deteriorate, weighed down by six feet of earth and the heavy machinery used to dig graves. When this happens, the ground sinks, leaving an uneven landscape in the cemetery. To avoid this, caskets are usually placed in solid structures that can bear the weight of the earth, helping to maintain the structure of the cemetery grounds. The grave liner or burial vault holds the casket solely for this purpose. Though not required by law, most cemeteries require the use of a burial vault or grave liner. However, green cemeteries and nature preserves generally do not. Do some research into the cemetery that you are considering if you do not wish to have an outer burial container.

Research

Caskets are one of the more expensive elements of the funeral and burial process. It’s important to make sure that you know what you want before purchasing. Do some research and visit your local funeral home to ask questions before buying. Take advantage of all the resources at your disposal so that you can make an informed choice that is fitting for the burial you want for yourself or a loved one.