How to build your own coffin

White Rose Blog Article

The regulations on coffin construction for a cremation funeral aim to ensure that it will be easily combustible and won’t emit smoke or toxic gas.

Most commercial coffins are made from chipboard with a good quality wood veneer or wood effect film finish. These are normally finished with brass-effect handles, nameplates and ornaments made of plastic materials.

If you plan to make your own coffin for a cremation funeral, here are some guidelines to help you.

Construction of the coffin

If constructing your own coffin, you should use fully combustible materials such as wood (e.g. pine wood), blockboard, chipboard or MDF. If using cardboard, plaited willow, wicker or bamboo, the coffin must have a smooth, rigid base typically made from plywood or MDF.

If you don’t want to use wooden peg and dowels, a small number of ferrous screws can be used, with wood braces or cross pieces to give strength (but not placed on the underside). Wooden strips placed lengthways can be used to strengthen the bottom of the coffin.

PVC, sealant, plastic, rubber or heavy metal (e.g. lead) should not be used.

Lining of the coffin

For the inner lining of the coffin, you can use polythene not exceeding 75 microns in thickness (in the funeral industry this is known as crem film which you can buy online).

Typically this would be covered with a with a more decorative silky, satin, lace or calico material overlay. You can also pad out the coffin using absorbent cloth, cotton sheets or cotton wadding.

Materials such as lead, zinc, saw dust, cotton wool, polystyrene or shredded paper must be avoided.

Decoration of the coffin

External coatings to a coffin must allow for smokeless combustion. Water based paint or lacquer (free from additives containing heavy metals) may be used for coating of a coffin.

High varnish, gloss, melamine or oil-based paint finishes, should not be used. Metal furniture or fittings (e.g. metal handles) are not allowed.

Name plate

The full name of the deceased, the date of death and their age (in years) must be displayed on the coffin either in the form of a plate or card.

Coffin dimensions

The coffin dimensions should be relative to the measurements of the deceased. Oversized coffins should be avoided.

The maximum external coffin size allowed will depend on the specific crematorium, so you should check with the relevant crematorium, especially if it will exceed 81 inches long, 28 inches wide and 22 inches high.

Typical internal dimensions (length x width x depth) are:

  • 5’8″ x 20″ x 12″
  • 6’0″ x 22″ x 13″
  • 6’5″ x 24″ x 14″

A coffin is normally wider at the shoulders than at the base and has six sides (i.e. hexagonal unlike a casket which is rectangular).

Example custom coffin

Here is an example of a homemade coffin for a cremation hand built by a family member for a funeral organised by White Rose Modern Funerals. They crafted a beautiful boat shaped coffin, complete with sail featuring precious photographs. It created a stunning centre piece for the funeral service at South West Middlesex Crematorium:

Homemade boat coffin

Other points to note:

  • If desired, the coffin may be covered with a decorative pall or velvet-type cloth which may be removed prior to cremation.
  • Cardboard coffins should not contain chlorine in the wet strength agent, i.e. not using polyamidoamine-epichlorhydrin based resin (PAA-E).
  • The use of nitro-cellulose varnish, polyurethane, melamine and any products containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or melamine must not be used in coffin construction or furnishings.

There are additional regulations about what types of clothing, jewellery or other items can be placed inside the coffin. No inflammable items should be included. Natural fibres are allowed, but materials made from glass, copper, plastic or PVC must not be placed inside the coffin. Pacemakers and battery-powered medical implants should be removed before the body is placed in the coffin.

White Rose Modern Funerals are independent, family-run funeral directors based in Teddington in Richmond upon Thames. We provide No Fuss and Personalised funerals for families locally in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames and throughout the SW London and Surrey area. If you need help with organising a funeral please contact us.