Home » Cheap Coffins » Flatpack Coffins » DIY Coffins

DIY Coffins

If you or a friend of yours is a bit handy with their wood working skills, then why not make one yourself from a couple of sheets of 8’x4′ plywood and some batten. If you used recycled wood this could be a way to make a very cheap coffin – even free (minus your time of course).

How to make your own coffin.

There are obviously many ways and materials you could use to make your own coffin, but as a starting guild, we found the following detailed description (for the Huelin DIY Coffin) on the globalideasbank website.

The Huelins, a couple in Oxford, gained a great deal of satisfaction from making their own coffins in the 1990’s and found themselves quite a centre of media attention as a result. There were a number of interested enquiries from members of the public so David Huelin sent the Natural Death Centre the following detailed description and drawings of the design that he used:

Materials: The most convenient, though possibly not the cheapest, material is three quarter inch (18mm) blockboard; it is lighter and stronger than chipboard, and is much easier to work. It is normally sold in sheets measuring 8ft x 4ft (2.44m x 1.22m). The half inch (12mm) version is cheaper but seems rather flimsy for a coffin, and the one inch (25mm) appears unnecessarily heavy, and costs more.

Three sheets of 8ft x 4ft blockboard are enough for two coffins, with a little fiddling. It is possible, though more difficult, to make one coffin with a sheet and a half, though it is not always possible to buy half-sheets. The following suggestions are for making two coffins with three sheets of board.

Other Materials (for two coffins):

36ft (11m) wood strip 35mm x 10mm (rim round lid)

(42ft (12.8m) batten 25mm x 25mm; this is not needed if the joining is by dovetailing – see below)

400 (2 boxes) steel wood-screws, gauge 8 x one and a quarter inch

100 panel pins three quarter inch

250ml (quarter litre) wood-working glue, e.g. Evo-Stik Wood Adhesive

1 litre paint (optional)

Handles: special subject dealt with separately below.

Tools: hand-held electric circular saw is invaluable for cutting the basic shapes in the blockboard, which by hand would be arduous work. If dovetailing is intended a coping saw is useful; beyond that, a tenon-saw, chisel, angle-gauge, and sanding equipment for finishing off.

Method: Take the measurements of the future occupant of each coffin, not forgetting the hip width; allow extra space for the possibility of putting on weight before the coffin is needed.

With these measurements the main components for the two coffins can be drawn out on the blockboard: floor and lid, sides and ends (see the illustrations). Since the basic measurements are internal, allowance must be made for the thickness of the wood when drawing the basic shapes.

It is advisable to defer cutting out the lids until the main boxes are built (see below).

Joining: Attaching the sides and ends to the floor of the coffin, and to each other, can be done in several ways; the simplest would seem to be one of the following:

1. With internal battens or corner-blocks, using the 25mm x 25mm batten listed above. With plenty of glue and screws this can be quite satisfactory; the batten joining the sides and ends to the floor of the box can be fixed below the floor for extra strength. As the four corners are not right angles, the internal block or batten will have to be shaped to the actual angle.

2. With dovetailing (so called, though it is not true dovetailing); that is by cutting alternating tongues and recesses all along the edges to be joined, so that they fit together. Each tongue and recess can be 3 or 4 inches long; once the whole thing fits snugly together, the joins can be glued and screwed with a one and a quarter inch screw through every tongue. The recesses need to be a whisker over three quarters of an inch (19mm) deep to match the thickness of the board.

This system involves more work and precision than the batten method, but the result is neat and very strong.

Shaped sides: To achieve the bends in the sides of the coffins, the inner surface of the board should have five or six saw-cuts made across it, to a depth of about three quarters of its thickness; it will then bend to the shape of the floor. The saw-cuts can be filled with glue to add to their solidity, but this is not essential. If the batten method is used, the batten itself can be treated in the same way.

(In this particular lay-out for three sheets of board it has been necessary to divide the sides of coffin ‘A’ into two sections; they can be joined together by dovetailing at the appropriate angle. With four boards this dividing would not be necessary.)

Lid: The precise shaping of the lid of each coffin can be left until the main body of the box is complete; this can be placed inverted over the piece of board reserved for the lid, and its outline drawn straight onto the wood. The lid should have a rim or lip all round its edge, made from the 35mm x 10mm strip listed above; this can be fixed with glue and panel pins.

Once it fits nicely, the lid can be drilled for screws, about 8 inches apart, using gauge 8, length one and a quarter inch screws, and pilot holes can be drilled in the main box. The thoughtful coffin builder will provide a bag of screws for the purpose, and possibly a screwdriver too.

Head-rest: dead person’s head falls back unbecomingly unless it is supported. The coffins should therefore have a small platform across the head end, slightly sloping, some two to three inches from the floor of the box.

Packing: Though not strictly part of the construction, there is the question of packing or lining. A very economical, attractive, and adequately absorbent packing is wood-shavings. If shavings of nice-smelling woods, such as cedar or pitch pine, can be obtained, so much the better. One dustbin-liner-full is probably enough.

Paint: Blockboard is not a very interesting colour; a litre of matt emulsion paint will make the two coffins look much more interesting; they can also be embellished with paintings of flowers, or boats, or castles, to taste.

Handles: The importance of handles depends on how the coffins are to be carried: if at shoulder height by skilled men, then no handles are required at all (professional bearers never use them). If the intention is that a coffin should be carried by family and friends, with their hands, then the handles are necessary and should be functional.

Metal or tough plastic handles, such as are used on swing and sliding doors, are inexpensive, but great care is needed in fixing them. It may be advisable to use one and a half inch screws going through the comparatively soft block-board into a hardwood block inside. Note that if cremation is chosen, then no large metal parts such as handles should be employed.

Another method is with nylon rope of half inch diameter. Half inch holes, some five inches apart, in three pairs, to be drilled in the sides of the coffin; the rope (must be nylon) is cut into lengths of 12 or 13 inches (30 to 33cm) and the ends are threaded into the holes from the outside, so that at least one inch projects on the inside of the box. Next a metal washer with exactly a half inch hole is fitted over the projecting end of rope, which is then melted with a hot-air gun so that it flattens down and spreads over the metal washer; when it cools and hardens it is very firm.

This method is easier than it may seem; it is extremely strong, and the rope loops on the outside of the coffin look attractive and appropriately modest.

Materials: metres (2m each coffin) half-inch nylon rope obtainable at boat chandlers’ shops. 24 half-inch washers.

Tool: Hot-air gun.