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"Without Stain or Blemish": An Experience in Hand Building A Burial Casket

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 2988 days ago 22699 views 16 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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UPDATE 3-28-2012:
MISSION CASKET BOOK & PLANS AVAILABLE:

After Posting my Casket Stories and Photos on Lumberjocks, I have been overwhelmed by the response from readers. There is quite a thread of folks wanting to assist in their funeral planning by building their own casket, or building one for a close friend or family member. There are many reasons a person would build their own casket, including saving money, assisting someone with a need they have, doing something custom made because it is special, just because you want to, keeping your hands busy at something during the grieving process, a conversation piece, etc.

All of this email traffic about caskets has relayed to me some really sad stories, and stories of great courage, and exposed a real desire by some do-it-yourself folks to build a casket. And, there isn’t much on the internet or in Print Form to help you get started.

So, All of this internet attention lead me to a teaching invitation at the John Campbell Folk School in the summer of 2011 on the art of casket making.

To assist the students in that class I wrote a step-by-step instruction book and drew some drawings, making the Book a total of 78 pages. There isn’t much help in book form, or the internet, for making your own casket, so I tried to use my Book as a way to teach the project, but also teach woodworking skills in the process.

If you would like a copy of my Book/Plans, visit my Etsy.com store to purchase a copy for yourself

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NOW BACK TO THE ORIGINAL POSTING:

I built this Casket specifically for a family friend, but if you would like to order a casket from me, email me and we can discuss your thoughts and the details.

Email: (mark@decoustudio.com)

Thanks for looking,
Mark DeCou
www.decoustudio.com
email: mark@decoustudio.com

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Here is a link to another custom casket I have built

If you would like to see my other posted projects please visit here

To visit my Blog listings, go here

You can also visit my Website

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Project Story:
I know, I know, this is a pretty morbid project to think about. Give me a moment of your time, and I hope you’ll see why I included it in my postings. The photos aren’t great, just shot in my front yard with a hand held camera.

When you think about it, we will all need a box like this at some point, hopefully later than sooner.

I had been thinking about making my own casket for a couple of years, but whenever I would talk about it with my wife, or someone else, they would just look at me strangely, more than normal.

I was really “wrestling” with the thought of doing a casket, and I had these thoughts every few months, but always put it off.

About this time, a friend of ours stayed the weekend with us while she was attending some weekend courses toward her master’s degree at Emporia State University, and I asked her about the subject. She thought it was a great idea to make a casket, and encouraged me to give it a try.

About a week passed, and I received a sad email from some old friends I had met while taking a short-term missions trip to Mexico City to help build a church for a group of people that didn’t have much money to build their own church. This sad email informed me that their son-in-law was losing his battle with bone cancer, and they asked if I would consider building a casket for his funeral. I agreed, not really knowing what I was agreeing to do.

This young couple had been married only a couple of years, and now they were facing separation by death. I was broken-hearted for them, as I had known the man’s wife since she was about 8-9 years old. I couldn’t get out of my mind the joyful photos of her wedding that her family emailed me a couple of years earlier.

I didn’t know anything about what it took to build a casket. What design rules apply, what does the funeral director need, how to close and lock the lid, what about state laws, how long, how high, what materials?

I only had about about three more days to get the casket done, and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I just started building the box without much direction, and many scattered thoughts.

My instructions were to keep the casket as cheap as possible, as the couple didn’t have insurance for the funeral, and had very limited funds after missing work so often with the chemo and doctor’s visits over the past year. But remember, whether it goes into the ground or not, I still will be putting my name on the finished work, so I tried to do my best work, in the time allowed, with the budget considerations.

I worked about 40 hours putting the box together, finishing it, and adding the hardware for lifting the box. Then I moved the box into the house in the middle of the living room, where my wife helped me sew and make the satin lining, padded mattress bottom, and pillow.

There was a strange sadness followed by “understanding” that came on me as I was crafting this box. First, I know that I will not avoid death, as we all are appointed to death. Second my wife will not avoid death, nor my children. Third, there isn’t enough extra room in a casket for anything other than the body. No room for possessions, just a box and a body, all the worldly possessions are left behind. The only thing going to heaven with me are the souls of those around me that accept the right path there.

As this casket was being finished up in our living room, my two kids were crawling around on it, playing under it, playing with the handles, asking questions the way 3 and 4 year-olds do, and they were completely oblivious to the implications of what a casket means, and that was fine with me.

After all the work was done in about 46 hours over 3.5 days, we were finished, and my wife and I went to bed. My wife usually has no part of any of my woodworking projects, so I was very appreciative of the chance to work together, and we accomplished more than I could have on my own.

As we were laying there in bed together, exhausted after such a hectic weekend, my wife rolled onto her side, facing me, and said, “honey, I would be honored to be buried in one of your boxes some day.” It was a pretty teary eye moment, even so today as I write about the memory. Unless there is some kind of tragic accident, or unforeseen disease, my wife will surely outlive me, if we both get the chance to grow old.

The next morning, I loaded up the casket in my old pickup truck, and drove about an hour to the funeral home. I backed up to the door of the preparation room, when the funeral director opened up the roll-up garage door, and waived me back and told me where to stop. Before I could even open my door, he was calling through the open back window of my truck that he wanted me to start making him more caskets like this one. I was pretty shocked, and so I waived to him that I would come around and talk more.

As we stood there, he complimented my work, and begged for me to build more caskets for him. As we talked, there seemed to be a market available for me to make more money on caskets than on my furniture and hand-made fine-art objects. But, I was left with the question, “did I want to be known at the end of my career as the guy that built caskets…? I haven’t made that decision yet.

A couple of days passed after the delivery of the casket, and I attended the Celebration Service at the funeral plot, laid out beside a little country church. As I walked up to the gathering, I was greeted by the family, and then introduced around. I listened as many people described how much having such a nice casket for their friend, husband, son, son-in-law, and co-worker, meant to them.

I was pretty shocked, and honored, after all, I had only spent a short amount of time on this project, and had a very tight budget to keep in. There were two pastors presiding over the funeral, and they both interviewed me for quite awhile, and we talked about death and ministry, and helping families in the grieving process.

I had mentioned in one “progress update” email to the family as I was working on the casket that I had decided not to use any wood stain on this casket. The young man that had died had given his heart to Christ a few years earlier, and through the sacrifice of Christ, this young man was viewed by God the Father as blameless and “stain-free”, being set free from the judgment of sin through his faith in Jesus Christ. I told the family in that email that I had decided to build his casket the same way. This email statement and decision to complete this casket without wood stain resonated with the family and pastors, and this illustration was used as a part of the funeral service.

I have felt honored many times by the work I have done when it is in the hands of those that paid me to do it. Most of the time, living so meagerly on my earnings, the only thing that keeps me going is the honor and praise that others provide me. There are many times that I think about how much easier living could be if I would just get a job and be willing to sit at a desk, and my wife reminds me of this quite often.

Woodworking seems to be the one thing in my life right now that I feel that am built to do best, and thus receive the most appreciation for. Most of the other things in my life I feel I’m doing pretty poorly at. Few times in my life has a project meant as much, or has sunk so deeply in my heart, as this project.

Eph 5:25-27 (NIV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

I hope you enjoy meditating on this story,
Mark DeCou
www.decoustudio.com
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Here is another casket project
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(The project design, photos, text, and story are protected by copyright by the Author, M.A. DeCou. No unauthorized use of this material is permitted.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com





18 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 2919 days


#1 posted 2872 days ago

Thanks Mark! I was going back and looking at some projects from before my time and was touched by your casket. My mother in law passed this summer so i am aware of how much rituals help us heal and love as families. This project should leave us all greatfull. I can’t think of a greater use of our talents.

View Joe Cumbo's profile

Joe Cumbo

26 posts in 2851 days


#2 posted 2849 days ago

Mark,

You are a good man with fine talent and a great heart! It looks like you made all the right choices in your life…

Joe

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1973 posts in 3011 days


#3 posted 2848 days ago

Hey Joe: I’ve made more bad choices than good ones over the years. I guess that is how I learn most lessons. There was only one perfect Man, and I am far from that, but thanks for the encouragement.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View jockmike2's profile

jockmike2

10635 posts in 2852 days


#4 posted 2797 days ago

Touching story buddy. I lost mom a couple years back and my heart still aches. The only solace is knowing she is in heaven with the Holy Father. I’ve seen the casket in here before and had no idea why such a talented guy would build one. So I decided to read the story and find out. Wow, I just looked up the word friend in the dictionary and by gosh there was your picture. buddy, friend, mike.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1973 posts in 3011 days


#5 posted 2671 days ago

I continue to get emails from folks that were surfing the internet about caskets and ended up on this project.

I am amazed each time at the impact of a short story like mine can make in other people’s lives, and I appreciate the notes I receive because of it.

I have a favorite Uncle that is failing to liver cancer now, and I have proposed to my family that I build Casket #2 for him. So far, no approvals to go forward with the project.

Talking with family about building a casket while a person is fighting a disease is a hard topic. I have had about a dozen situations since I built this first casket, where I would have enjoyed building a casket again, but it was just too tough to talk about it before the death.

After the death, I don’t have time to do the work involved before the furneral. Here in the USA, there is a couple of days time before the casket is needed, and the 3rd or 4th day the furneral takes place, which has been too quick to build a casket. I feel that for families that sense death is coming, embracing the transition can be better for the situation than deciding to not talk about it. I have known families that wouldn’t even do a Will after a terminal diagnosis, as they didn’t want to think “negative.” It is a hard topic to discuss for sure, and my heart goes out to anyone out there that is in the situation.

Email me with your own “casket building” story, they are gut wrenching, motiviation, and wonderful to read.

thanks,
Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 2905 days


#6 posted 2671 days ago

I remember reading your story when I joined Lumberjocks last August. I’m glad you made a new comment, so I just finished re-reading it. It’s a very touching story.
It also reminded me of a project I did a few years ago. I made 2 twin sized captains beds. I made each of them in 3 sections, & was looking for a way to fasten the sections together.
I found my solution in the Rockler catalog. I used the casket lid latches, they worked perfect.
I have to get some images of the beds to post as a project.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Greg3G's profile

Greg3G

815 posts in 2690 days


#7 posted 2671 days ago

This is a wonderful inspiring story. When I finally get my shop better organized, not too much longer now, I am planning on building a few caskets a year and donating them to families in need. We have had a couple of deaths in the community where the families were in very poor faincial shape after prolonged illness and could not afford a proper funeral. This is story is a great inspiration. Thank you.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View kerf's profile

kerf

1 post in 2131 days


#8 posted 2131 days ago

That’s quite a story, and death is an honest realization. God bless you.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1973 posts in 3011 days


#9 posted 1535 days ago

I updated today, adding the Casket Building Class dates in the write-up above.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112002 posts in 2182 days


#10 posted 1527 days ago

wonderful story Mark

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View RonPeters's profile

RonPeters

708 posts in 1485 days


#11 posted 1480 days ago

Nice recollections.

There was another carpenter that walked the Earth once….

-- “Once more unto the breach, dear friends...” Henry V - Act III, Scene I

View Jim Reeves's profile

Jim Reeves

201 posts in 1628 days


#12 posted 1426 days ago

Mark, to help anyone in need is always a great thing, to help a family no insurance etc dealing with a future death only married a few years very sad.
Just need a lot more people with your heart in the world Mark, would be a much better place.
nice job for a sad sitsuation Mark
God Bless thanks for bible verses, PTL

-- jim

View Beginningwoodworker's profile

Beginningwoodworker

13337 posts in 2278 days


#13 posted 1426 days ago

Mark, thats a great idea. Building casket is something I wont learn how to do.

-- CJIII Future cabinetmaker

View bigike's profile

bigike

4031 posts in 1894 days


#14 posted 1168 days ago

I was thinking of making one of these for myself but I really don’t want to jinx anything you know!

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://www.icombadaniels@yahoo.com

View James Frederick's profile

James Frederick

106 posts in 2325 days


#15 posted 1143 days ago

Our true rewards in life that meant the most are usually a result of selfless actions we take on behalf of others. You have done a great thing for this young man and his family, proud to have you as a fellow lumberjock.

God Bless you and your family

-- Change begins somewhere may as well be with me.

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