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What are Casket Made of - Wood - Metal - Steel

Wood Caskets

Throughout history, wood has been a popular material for the creation of caskets and coffins. Many feel that wood is an ideal material for caskets as it is rustic in appearance, and of course, a natural material that tends to give the effect of a person 'returning to nature', which is, understandably, very comforting for many. Another reason for the popularity of wood in use for manufacturing caskets is vast number of different wood specie, resulting in the huge diversity in the appearance of the wood. These differences are often impressive, ranging from soft, peaceful light maple, to rich and regal dark walnut wood colors, and even elegantly reddish rosewood finishes. Wood caskets are not only made for traditional, and permanent, burials, but are also available for use as cremation caskets, in which the wood is usually left unfinished, and no noncombustible material is used. These caskets, as the name implies, are intended to be used in cremations, as they break down almost entirely. Natural wood caskets can also be utilized for natural burials, in which no non-biodegradable material can go into the earth. While the latter may sound unbelievable to some, this trend is becoming more and more popular as society is becoming more earth and environmentally conscious. While metal and steel casket popularity has been on the rise in recent years, wood caskets have made a comeback  as a popular choice for burial container, especially for those who are planning on having traditional memorial ceremonies or green burials. There is also an economical side to the renewed interest in wood caskets. Since about 1973, environmental concerns as well as the dramatically increased number of cremations have helped wood caskets to regain their place at the top of the most popular types of caskets.

Some wood caskets feature details as elegant as those on expensive wood furnishingsUntil the early 1800's, wood caskets were, by far, the most common type of caskets used for any memorial service. Consistent with the Biblical idea of "dust to dust," inexpensive wood was considered the most appropriate casket material for many generations. Then, as the industrial revolution took hold across the Western world, people began turning to metal, and eventually steel, and wood caskets began their unfortunate century-long decline in popularity. Manufacturers of wood caskets responded to the competition by finding ways to make wood caskets more durable and sturdy all throughout the 1800's and early 1900's. Most of today's wood caskets, unlike the very simple wood caskets of old days, are made of hardwoods, which make them quite heavy and more durable, and they are always crafted with as much care as expensive home furnishings. This attention to detail can still be seen today in the gorgeously shaped caskets, such as the one to the left, which features ornate corners and elegant carving along the edge of the lid. And this tradition in wood caskets has its roots in the manufacturers of the late 19th and early 20th century trying to make their wood caskets appeal to customers wanting longer lasting steel caskets instead.

But despite the manufacturers efforts, wood caskets eventually all-but disappeared from the Western World by the time of World War I. During World War II, however, steel came in high demand by armies across the world, so its use for creating metal caskets became impractical and expensive. Also, because of the need to conserve as much metal and steel as possible for use by the military, it sometimes was even impossible to manufacture caskets made from the metals. As a result, suddenly the hardwood, or heavy wood caskets, were considered the best option available, and wood caskets returned to the memorial market in droves. In fact, many of the soldiers who lost their lives serving in World War II were buried in these wood caskets.

But the popularity of wood caskets was relatively short lived, as the end of the second World War came about, and metal was no longer in such a high demand. By 1948  the demand of steel had decreased dramatically, and manufacturers almost immediately returned to using steel to manufacture most caskets again. By 1953, wood caskets had been almost completely replaced in the market once again, as many were more interested in the newly available steel caskets, especially considering that, again, steel was relatively low in cost, which was reflected in the price of the steel caskets. That's not to say that cost is the only reason that steel began to replace wood for the use of caskets. Some simply were drawn to the change in appearance, and many were understandably drawn to the smooth, sleek, and peaceful appearance that only steel was able to produce.

With the renewed rise in popularity of metal caskets, wood once again took the back burner, so to say, in the memorial industry. While the popularity of metal and steel caskets was on the rise for quite a number of years, they began to raise environmental concerns, not only for their displacement of the earth and overall effect of the natural elements, but also because of the rise in pollution due to the actual production of these metal caskets. As cremation became increasingly popular, especially in later years, and as environmental concerns over burial of steel caskets became more prevalent, wood caskets came back to the market again in about 1973. As mentioned above, now in days even bodies that are to be cremated are commonly presented in memorial services, in beautifully crafted wood caskets that are then incinerated with the body in the crematory. For this purpose however, many prefer cremation caskets, or caskets specifically made to be able to be used as the cremation container. And many people, going back to the "dust to dust" tradition, are most comfortable with the idea of burial in wood caskets that will degrade much more quickly than steel caskets.

All in all, steel caskets still remain the most popular choice today, but wood caskets are an increasingly common choice.

Wood caskets can be made from a huge variety of woods. Among the most popular woods, however, are mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, oak, pecan, popular, and pine. A good deal of consumer information about wood caskets (particularly wood caskets that are to be cremated) can be found through the Cremation Association of North America.

Metal Caskets

When we lose a loved one, were are often shook to the core due to the loss of someone that was present in our lives. Suddenly, we find ourselves broken at the thought of never being able to spend time with that loved one. While this is one of the most unfortunate of events, it is, or will be, a part of everyone's lives at one point or another. This is one of the reasons that metal caskets are, and have been, popular in use for traditional memorial ceremonies. They offer us a promise of sorts, that they will not only contain, but protect our lost loved ones for all eternity. Since the early 1900's, metal caskets have been probably the most popular choice of families for use in most traditional funerals or memorial services. These durable caskets rose to their status as the most common type of casket just as the Industrial Revolution swept the Western World, and steel became the material of choice for thousands of consumer items. People flocked to metal caskets as soon as they became available because consumers wanted a longer-lasting, sturdier casket than the traditional light-weight wood could provide. Also, many found that caskets made of metal were not only more durable, but more affordable, and extremely versatile in design. By the time of World War I, most manufacturers had turned to making metal caskets almost, if not, exclusively.

Traditional Metal Caskets offer a diginified and memorable farewellDespite their popularity, metal caskets left the market for a few years during the mid-20th century. During World War II, and as steel was rationed world wide for military uses, metal caskets all but disappeared from the memorial market. During this time, wood caskets become once again prevalent. But as soon as metal became widely available for consumer uses again after the war, metal caskets quickly regained their popularity. By 1948, the more durable caskets of metal, again, were just about the only choice available in the market. Metal caskets gained such rapid popularity for their classic, dignified appearance, and they quickly became a main staple in traditional funeral services. Sadly, consumers did not seem to miss the availability of wood caskets once again, at least not for a good while.

In recent years however, metal caskets have started facing more and more competition from their hardwood-casket cousins for several reasons. Environmental concerns have prompted many consumers to choose the more easily degradable wood material instead of the longer lasting metal. It is strange to think that when it was not available, many desired caskets that were longer lasting, and now in days, as we are all becoming more environmentally conscious, many look for caskets that do not have such longevity, and that have as little impact on the natural elements as possible, regardless of the fact that the casket is for a loved one. In fact, many people make a strict note in their wills or final wishes that their disposition have as little impact on the environment as possible! But, nevertheless, metal caskets continue to be the most popular type, as there are many still who hold the traditional desire for their loved one to be protected and at peace in their final resting place for as long as possible, if not all eternity. It goes without saying that the sturdier, longer-lasting material is a great comfort for many families.

A metal casket can even be personalized with photos or personal messagesCaskets today are made from a variety of metals. The most popular include bronze, copper and stainless steel. They can be made in a variety of thickness and weight. Bronze and copper metal caskets are often made from 32-ounce metal, and steel metal caskets can come in 16, 18, or 20 gauge metal. Typically, the lower the gauge of the metal, the more resilient it will be. Metal caskets are solidly welded and the openings are gasketed, so it can protect a body from all elements for many, many years. They are, typically, also very carefully crafted and painted using a sanding process that is very similar to that of painting cars. Metal caskets are also typically adorned with luxurious velvet lining designed to give the body a comfortable, long-lasting rest. Metal casket designs are very different from that of their wood counterparts as they can be finished in almost any color a person can think of. There are even some manufactures that produce personalized caskets, such as that to the right. These personalized caskets feature photos or even personal messages of the deceased, and can be a great source of comfort for families that view this 'ultimate casket' as a distinct source of closure. Properly selecting a casket can also greatly help a family take another step closer down the long road of grieving, as the thought of the deceased properly being lain to rest is comforting.

Since most metal caskets are designed to survive the elements for as long as possible, they typically feature a special locking system or mechanism that makes the metal casket difficult to open once it has been closed. While these locks do make the caskets difficult to open, most can be opened with a special key that the funeral home may have. Most of metal caskets have a special compartment on the side in which written records about the deceased person can be stored for possible later reference. There is usually a special compartment for these documents, many families, especially children who have lost a parent or grandparent, place small mementos in the casket with their loved one, as a sort of gift, or way to give a small part of themselves to the person who has passed away. While many caskets come with a pocket for precious mementos, for those that don't many utilize a casket accessory, such as an angel pocket, to hold the remembrances.

Metal caskets continue to be the most popular type of casket available. Their renowned durability proves, year after year, to be a great comfort to love-ones. It is important to note, however, that, metal caskets cannot be expected to protect a body from the elements entirely, or forever for that matter. That said metal caskets are certainly much more durable than even the sturdiest of their hard wood competitors. But, in recognition of the Bible's "dust to dust" tradition, many people today choose wood caskets over metal caskets. The important thing to consider in this discussion is that, today, unlike in previous generations, consumers have a good choice of two equally viable casket materials, and metal caskets are still quite popular.

Steel Caskets

Steel is a material renowned for its strength and integrity. It stands without reason that this popular material would have been eventually incorporated into the creation of caskets for funeral services. Stainless steel is an allow steel, in which different metal alloys have been added to modify the strength and appearance of the steel. Steel caskets have quite an interesting history in the death care industry. This is obvious by the the many intriguing 'custom-made' steel caskets that are on-display at the National Museum of Funeral History, and many other museums throughout the world. On a side note, these 'custom-caskets' may sound in a way outrageous or even gaudy to some, but to others they provide a dignified, yet highly personalized tribute, that provides a final farewell that is as unique as the person it memorializes. In fact, many families who have selected these highly-personalized caskets often leave the memorial service with a smile, that was brought on by the whimsical and unforgettable appearance of the casket they selected. Some of the steel caskets that are part of the museum’s “A life well lived” display include steel caskets sculpted in the form of an airplane, an Eagle, a car, and even a Lobster. These steel caskets are all intricately designed to capture the fun-loving spirit of the loved-ones who will ride in them to eternity. That is not to say that all steel caskets have to fall into this 'custom-casket' category. On the contrary, steel caskets are typically very simple in appearance, decorated only by the interior bedding, color and common fixtures on the casket body, such as corners and handle bars. Steel caskets, more than anything else, provide a dignified and peaceful final resting place for our loved ones.

Aside from their colorful history and display, steel caskets, which have, in the last 30 years, returned as king of the casket industry, also have a very important history. Here are a few highlights:

Steel coffins revolutionized the production of casketsThe word casket itself, as it is currently used as a interchangeably with coffin, owes its modern meaning to the advent of steel caskets. In the nineteen and early 20th centuries, caskets were known exclusively as coffins and they were almost all made of wood. Interestingly, coffins were ordinarily made by the town carpenter, who, as a result, usually oversaw all other funeral arrangements for a family, rather than a funeral home cemetery. As the Industrial revolution took hold across America, that trend gradually changed as steel became more readily available for use in making steel caskets. Consumers in those days were squeamish about the idea of decomposing bodies, and they felt most comfortable with steel caskets because they were under the false impression that a steel casket could and would preserve a body for longer periods of time than their wood counterparts. In reality, experts have discovered in recent years that steel caskets, or any airtight enclosure for that matter, and for a variety of reasons, can actually tend to speed up the decomposition process, as the lack of air promotes the growth of bacteria. Experts are now careful to warn consumers that no casket, no matter how sturdy or, especially, airtight, can be expected to keep decomposition at bay for more than a few days. When a feature such as 'airtight' is promoted, it is more for the purpose that the elements or any outside organic matter will enter the casket once it is sealed. But, again in the earlier years, many thought otherwise, and so, steel caskets became by far, the most common type of casket in America by the early years of the 20th century, even though they were usually still quite simple in appearance. Despite their popularity, they were still called “steel coffins,” about that time, rather than their more popular name, casket.

Eventually, competitiveness in the memorial industry led one or more sellers to remake the image of caskets into a more luxurious product. The exterior of the casket was then painted into rich, or stylish colors, and the interiors became plush and highly decorative compared to their earlier versions. The new steel casket interiors began to feature elegant stitching, pleating, or even, in some cases, embroidering. To this day, tailors are often used to create the beautiful interiors for these, and any, caskets. Since many caskets of that time resembled larger versions of the jewelry “casket,” the makers of steel caskets decided to use “casket” as a marketing euphemism for coffin, and the name has stuck ever since. Steel caskets are occasionally, today, referred to as coffins, but, in general, that term is applied more to wooden coffins. Steel caskets, meanwhile, still almost exclusively enjoy the luxurious connotations of their euphemistic new name.

Armed with their new name, steel caskets went on to outsell wood caskets by the millions through the early 20th century. The only time that steel casket sales ever really slowed, or came to a complete stop almost, was during World Word’s I and II, as most metal, and especially steel in America, was required for the war effort. So as a result, for about 20 years, steel caskets took a back seat to their hard-wood cousins for the first time since they were created. Once the wars were over, however, Americans could not wait to jump back upon the bandwagon for steel caskets, and the product quickly became the best selling in the industry again. In fact, steel and metal casket sales soared almost instantly after they became available, as many were looking to break away from the traditional appearance of wood caskets. Steel caskets offered a way to do just that, while still maintaining a noted air of respect.

Since then, steel caskets remain the best seller, even still today. It should be noted, however, that while steel caskets are still among, if not, the most popular choice for many, they are becoming more and more challenged by their wooden counterparts, as many are becoming aware that steel caskets are really no different than wooden caskets, as far as preservation goes. Aside from that, as more and more people become environmentally conscious, they are turning to wood caskets for their natural appeal.

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