There's a lot of jargon specialized to the funeral business, so it might be difficult to tell whether you're using the correct phrases. Before meeting with your local funeral director, you may want to familiarize yourself with some of the funeral terminology.
Although they have distinct meanings, the terms "coffin" and "casket" are often used interchangeably. Luckily, we're here to explain what distinguishes the two and how you can tell whether you're using the correct terminology.
What Is the Difference Between a Casket vs. a Coffin?
The most notable contrast between a coffin and a casket is size and shape. Unlike coffins, which have six sides and taper at the head and foot, caskets are enormous rectangles with four sides. In addition to the hinges, the lids on coffins and caskets may swing open to reveal half of or the whole body. On the other hand, coffins' lids can be detached and used either off or on.
The connotation is another significant distinction between them. For instance, the term "coffin" conjures horror tales, vampires, and zombies. As soon as you hear the term "coffin," you're reminded of death. As the word "casket" doesn't trigger similar thoughts, many started using them to provide a clean, dignified resting place for their departed loved ones.
In the United States, most people refer to burial containers as caskets rather than coffins. However, the distinction between these two terms is minimal, and most people would consider them equivalent. The term "casket" is generally seen as the more "modern" of the two.
Does the term "coffin" or "casket" actually matter? Unless you're mainly looking for a burial container angled in at the legs and shoulders, the answer is no.
Note: Even if you prefer a coffin over a casket, you're unlikely to find one at any major US stores. Meanwhile, leading funeral retailers often have four-sided caskets in almost every conceivable material. Still, only a handful take a hexagonal coffin form.
How We Went from Coffins to Caskets
Changes in English law in 1700 allowed people of all religious and social backgrounds to use coffins. Before, only the rich could be buried in them, while the rest were shrouded in a linen or wool cloth.
Coffins were commonly used in Colonial America for burial and transport of the body. The six-sided coffins were traditionally constructed from wood and sized to provide the right amount of space for the deceased's feet and shoulders.
Coffins were the standard burial container until the American Civil War transformed burial preparations. The massive death toll and the vast number of fathers and sons who died away from home prompted the introduction of the first funeral director.
Early funeral directors would embalm and return cadavers to families for a small fee once they were removed from the battlefield. When remains were transported by rail, embalming was required to keep the scent from bothering other passengers. It also slowed the deterioration of the corpse till the family could say their last farewells.
Back then, death was a common occurrence in the average household and people were used to the discomfort it brought with it. The embalming trend in funeral services was created to help the living cope with their loss, giving way to the shift from coffin to casket.
Other American mourning customs rose along with this transition. Rather than importing mourning cloth, Americans started to purchase local fabrics as funeral gatherings became more grandiose.
Today’s Casket: What Are My Options for Buying a Casket?
Remember that a coffin will only keep a corpse safe for so long before it becomes useless. No matter how you look at it, caskets are nothing more than decorative containers for the deceased. And the following are a few options you'll see in a store's catalog.
Wood Caskets: Veneer or Solid
Retailers can offer you either veneer or solid wood caskets. As the name suggests, solid wood is constructed from a single piece of wood. It's a kind of wood formed into a coffin by gluing together pieces of wood fragments.
Veneer wood caskets, on the other hand, tend to be less expensive. However, the difference between a veneer wood coffin and a solid wood casket can't be seen with the naked eye.
Wooden caskets are often less expensive than other types. On top of that, they have a timeless, classic look about them. Many people are acquainted with the practice of burying loved ones in wood since this is what most people have had access to for millennia.
The two primary kinds of wood used to construct caskets are softwood and hardwood, with the former being the more common.
This kind of wood comes from conifer trees, which generate softer, more pliable caskets. Although cheaper than their counterparts, softwoods are also less durable than hardwood caskets. The latter is typically fashioned from mahogany, oak, cherry, and walnut.
Due to their sluggish growth, hardwood caskets are known to be more costly. Although technically a hardwood, the poplar tree lacks the abrasion resistance of the other species, making it the most affordable in this category.
A wood veneer casket combines the best of both worlds, utilizing wood-like composite board coated with veneer to seem like high-end wood without the price tag. Traditional wooden designs might appear remarkably similar and come as a bargain deal in most cases.
Metal Caskets: Gauge and Sealability
When purchasing a metal casket, there are various gauges to choose from which indicate the thickness of the metal. The metal is thicker when the gauge number is lower. It should be noted that different gauges are difficult to tell between, much as with wood.
Metal caskets account for around half of all caskets sold in the United States, making steel the most frequently used metal. However, copper and bronze are also alternatives. It's best to shop around since prices might vary substantially. For instance, steel caskets have a starting price of $3,000 for a 16-gauge model, dropping to $1,300 for a 20-gauge one.
Also, consider installing a gasket seal to prevent air, moisture, and liquids from entering a metal casket if you're worried about preservation. Since non-gasket caskets are often placed in a vault, this doesn't imply that they will leak or get filled with water, but rather that the casket and your loved one will be shielded from these elements.
While traditional caskets have fixed looks, the modern casket may be customized to match your preferences, including color. Cherry wood caskets are particularly common among high-end caskets because of their reddish hue and durability.
Ivory or white interiors are often seen in cherry wood caskets, but this isn't always the case. The reddish-brown wood complements any color of hardware, but you can go with a non-metal handle if you choose. While there's nothing wrong with blending red flowers with cherry wood, you may want to think carefully before doing so as their color contrasts with the wood.
Some online casket suppliers will allow you to choose three distinct colors for the personalized casket so the base and lid can be in different colors. You may also add a third color to the coffin's midsection or change the cushion and liner's color upon request.
Casket Sizes: Standard vs. Oversized
The standard casket can accommodate someone who weighs 350 pounds and is up to 6' 10" in height thanks to its conventional measurement of 79" length and 24" width.
In most cases, funeral directors can make minor adjustments to the casket to accommodate individuals who fall somewhere in the middle of this size range.
There are two scenarios in which an oversized casket will be required: the first is when the deceased was taller than 6'10", and the second is when the dead weigh more than 350 pounds. These things make it impossible for funeral staff to securely place the body in a standard casket.
Casket Style: Half-Couch or Full-Couch
For most of the world, half-couch caskets are the most widely available in the market. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of a half-couch casket is the lid, which comprises two different sections. That way, mourners can get an up-close look at their loved one's upper body and face during viewing or wake. Half-couch casket lids also allow you to open both sections so guests can see the deceased's whole body.
As you would expect, the lid of a full-couch casket is built of a single piece. When the lid is opened, the deceased's whole body is seen. Because of this limitation, many people are hesitant about purchasing full-couch caskets. Yet some still choose this style for a couple of reasons.
According to some faiths, displaying the deceased's whole body is standard practice, making a half-couch casket unnecessary. The lack of a clearly defined bottom and top portion of the lid gives the full-couch casket a complete look in a closed casket burial.
It's also worth mentioning that certain "hybrid" caskets have a lower lid than a typical half-couch casket. This usually displays everything over the deceased's knees. While this casket form is rare and difficult to locate, it's still an option worth considering depending on your situation.
The Price Difference Between Caskets and Coffins
For some, a casket represents a loved one's last resting place, while it's an unnecessary expense for others. But the sort of casket you pick for a loved one or yourself is heavily influenced by these beliefs.
Based on the table, we can say that caskets are generally more expensive. This is because of materials used to line them, including extras such as interior trimmings and cushions.
Pro Tip: Many funeral homes and third-party companies offer casket rental services that range between $100 and $1,000. Besides this, you must also purchase the casket inserts, which may be constructed of wood, cloth, or other materials, for an additional $700-$1,000.
Do I Have the Option of Being Buried in a Coffin?
Choosing to be buried in a coffin over a casket is entirely up to you and your family. Of course, there are a few exceptions, as some cemeteries require a coffin or a casket, while others also need a vault.
If you're looking into natural burial, be sure that whatever you'll be buried in is decomposable. This means that metal buttons or zippers are forbidden, and only natural fabrics are accepted.
Coffin vs. Casket: Which One Should I Pick?
While both caskets and coffins may be used for burial or viewing, many families choose to rent a casket for the funeral and then buy an inexpensive coffin for burial. As burial containers are among the most expensive aspects of burial, establishing your family's preferences and the item's function may significantly lower the entire cost.
Why Do Americans Say “Casket”?
In the United States, the terms "casket" and "coffin" are used interchangeably to refer to the same item. However, this isn't the case in other countries. Those in the UK and other Europeans use "casket" to describe a jewelry or memento box.
As a way to help those grieving and dealing with the loss of a loved one, the word "casket" became popular in the United States in the late 1800s. As the design of a casket is less like the human body than a coffin, it was considered less unpleasant for mourners during a funeral.
Here Are Four Things to Consider If You Are Deciding on Coffin vs. Casket:
Although caskets are more common these days, a coffin may still be used for burial. For those that prefer the history, macabre, old-fashioned items or are no-nonsense and practical, a coffin may be the perfect option for a resting place.
Caskets are significantly more common in the United States since most funeral companies exclusively stock caskets. While coffins can be purchased online or made by hand.
You and your family should discuss this option with the funeral director if you want your deceased to be buried in a coffin. They would have to double-check with the cemetery to see whether coffins are allowed there before going forward with the burial.
Hiring a local carpenter to build a six-sided coffin may be required if you can't find one online. This might be delayed by the carpenter's availability, lumber cost, and finding someone with a reasonable hourly rate.
Coffins are more affordable since they require minimal materials. On the other hand, online vendors often have lower overhead, making their caskets more reasonable.
Due to the labor costs involved and wood expenses, hiring a carpenter to build a coffin will be more pricey. For $900, you can get your hands on coffin kits for an already-made model for less than half of what you'd pay to retailers.
A casket usually costs around $2,000-$5,000. Those made with intricate features and high-end materials like mahogany wood and other copper or brass ornamentation may cost $10,000 to $30,000. By contrast, coffins are less expensive than caskets since they require less wood for building.
However, their rarity will prompt a special order, significantly increasing their cost. A wooden coffin, for instance, may cost anywhere from $600 to $3,000 including delivery (if you're buying online). You should anticipate spending about $300 on timber and supplies for an average-sized, simple coffin.
As coffins are challenging to come by, the funeral director may have to put in more time and effort. Funerals are already a terrible time, and there is a lot to think about while planning one. For the purpose of convenience, a casket may be an alternative. We suggest purchasing or making your own coffin ahead of time if you're determined to go with this option.
Many of us are looking for creative and exciting ways to commemorate our loved ones' deaths. A Viking funeral may seem like an excellent idea, but that's against the law, so we can say that being traditional at times can pay off.
Consider the expectations of senior relatives, friends, and those with a less developed sense of humor while joking about it. The only exception is if your whole family agrees on an unconventional funeral, like a coffin burial.
Can You Be Buried in the Ground Without a Casket or Coffin?
It's entirely possible to have a burial without a casket or coffin, though not all cemeteries are lenient enough to accommodate this request. In this case, you'll be better off having a natural burial instead.
Caskets aren't required for burial and are just part of a custom to make the body's transportation easier. Only a handful of caskets can prolong biodegradation, though their price typically leans on the higher end.
If you don't want to be cremated and want neither a coffin nor a casket, you may be interested in tree pod burials. This unusual option allows you to be buried in a "tree pod" that nourishes a sapling as you disintegrate. Sadly, complete tree pod burials are currently under development and not yet accessible to the public.