When the leaves start to change color and the air grows crisp, we all know what that means: Halloween is here. It’s the time of year when people decorate their front yard with tombstones and coffins. Kids and adults alike dress up as zombies and ghosts and skeletons. Halloween is a time when death is decoration and the end of life is a costume.
But what is the difference between casket vs. coffin? For one, no one puts caskets up in their front yard during Halloween. Coffins are also normally seen as a thing of the past - something out of horror stories, vampire movies, and old cowboy stories - while caskets are a more modern, dignified alternative.
What Is The Difference Between a Casket vs. Coffin?
The biggest difference between a casket vs. a coffin is the shape. Caskets are one big rectangle that have 4 sides. Coffins are tapered at the feet and the head, then wide at the shoulders; coffins have 6 sides. Another key difference is the lid. Caskets have a lid with hinges that can swing up to reveal either half the body or the entire body; whereas coffins have a removable lid that is usually entirely either on or off.
While caskets and coffins are normally used as interchangeable terms in popular culture, another key difference between them is the connotation. For example, when we think of the word “coffin,” we normally think of vampires, zombies, and horror stories. The word “coffin” is scary and it hits you over the head with the idea of death.
The term “casket,” on the other hand, does not evoke images of monsters or send shivers down your spine. Caskets are comforting and dignified; they are a clean, comfortable final resting place for our loved ones.
How We Went From Coffins To Caskets
In 1700, English law changed to allow people of all creeds and classes to be buried in coffins; prior to this, only the wealthy were buried in coffins and everyone else was wrapped in a shroud. In Colonial America, coffins became widely used both to transport the body and for burial. The 6-sided coffin was traditionally made out of wood, and designed to easily accommodate the loved one’s shoulders and feet, without too much extra room.
Until the Civil War, coffins were the no-frills default for burial. However, the Civil War sparked a revolution in funeral arrangements. Because of the massive scale of death and the fact that so many sons and fathers died so far away from home, the original funeral director was born. Embalming was in its infancy, and these early funeral directors would pull bodies from the battlefield, embalm them, and send them back to the family for a nominal fee. At this time, embalming was necessary for transporting bodies by train without disturbing other passengers with the smell. It also kept the body from deteriorating until the family could say goodbye.
The invention of embalming sparked a new ideal for the beautification of death. Before this time, death was witnessed in the home and the unpleasantness of it was a normal part of life. Embalming and early funeral directors spread the idea that death should be neatened and made more palatable for the benefit of the family. One part of this change was a shift from coffin to casket.
During this time, the coffin vs. casket distinction was quite similar to how we currently think of caskets vs. coffins. Coffins were viewed as morbid, old fashioned, and unsavory. The newly emerging 4-sided caskets, on the other hand, were dignified, clean, and Godly. In the transition, 6 and 8-sided caskets without the taper at the feet became the norm. President Ulysses S. Grant was buried in an 8-sided casket that was packed with ice to preserve him.
Along with the shift from coffin to casket, other distinctly American mourning rituals emerged. Americans began buying local fabric for mourning instead of importing them. Funerals also became more grand, with larger gatherings, grander mourning clothes, and more elaborate caskets.
The Modern Casket: What Are My Options For Buying a Casket?
In the 21st Century, caskets are the default for burial and coffins have become a Halloween decoration staple. Caskets today come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and colors. Most caskets are made from either wood or metal.
Wood Caskets: Veneer or Solid
There are 2 types of wood caskets: solid wood or veneer wood. As it sounds, solid wood is made from one big block of wood. Veneer wood is thin slices of wood scraps that are pressed together and made into a casket. For this reason, veneer wood caskets are normally more affordable. However, to the naked eye, it is very hard to tell the difference between solid wood caskets and veneer wood caskets. Both options offer a beautiful, classic resting place to give your loved one a dignified send off.
Metal Caskets: Gauge and Sealability
You also have several different options when you buy a metal casket. First of all, caskets come in different gauges; this describes the thickness of the metal that is used. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal is. Like with wood, it is nearly impossible to spot the difference between different gauges. No matter how thick the metal is, your loved one’s casket will be high-quality, modern, and comfortable.
Metal caskets are also able to seal; this is called a gasket casket. The purpose of the seal is to keep out water, air, and moisture. If you are concerned about preservation, you may want to consider getting a metal casket. This does not mean that non-gasket caskets will leak or become filled with water. Standard caskets are normally buried within a vault, which can also protect the casket and your loved one from the elements.
Unlike old-fashioned coffins, which were one size fits all, the modern casket is easy to customize to meet your needs. Caskets come in different colors, sizes, and styles. Overnight Caskets carried caskets in blue, black, silver, pink, white, grey, and in several wood shades. Many caskets come with insignias on the lid, such as flowers, crosses, or praying hands.
Casket Sizes: Standard vs. Oversized
Caskets also come in different sizes to accommodate a range of body types. The standard casket is 24” wide and 79” long, which can accommodate anyone who is under 6’10 or 300 pounds. However, there is nothing wrong with needing a larger casket. Everyone deserves to rest comfortably. Oversized caskets are normally 30” wide and 90” long to accommodate people who are taller than 6’10” and over 300 pounds.
Casket Style: Half-Couch or Full-Couch
Your final choice when buying a casket is whether you want a half-couch or a full-couch. Half-couches are the more popular option; they have a split in the lid so only the top half can be opened to reveal the person’s face and torso. Most funeral directors prefer half-couch caskets because it is easier to arrange loved ones in them. However, your choice should not be driven by convenience, but by what your loved one would have wanted.
Full-couch caskets are ideal for the fashionistas in our lives who matched their shoes to their hat and their earrings to their nails. We all probably have one flamboyant aunt or uncle who would be horrified if half of their final outfit was hidden. While the more modest people in our lives will probably be just fine with a half-couch casket. The pricing between the two styles of caskets are very similar, and you can’t go wrong either way.
Do I Have The Option of Being Buried in a Coffin?
The answer is yes. It is your life and your death, so you can be buried in almost anything you want. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. Some cemeteries require a casket or coffin, others also require a vault. If you are considering natural burial, it will be important that whatever you or your loved one is buried in is decomposable. This means only natural fabrics and no metal zippers or buttons.
If you or a loved one want to be buried in a coffin instead of a casket, that is absolutely your choice. In fact, coffins can be cheaper than caskets because they use less materials. However, they can also be harder to find because most casket retailers and funeral homes don’t carry coffins. If you really want a coffin, you can always commission a local carpenter to make you one, or you can make it yourself if you have the skills and the materials. DIY coffins have become very popular in the UK and in New Zealand; this phenomenon has been called The Coffin Club.
Coffin vs. Casket: Which One Should I Pick?
Caskets might be more popular now, but it is also an option to be buried in a coffin. If you or your loved one is a carpenter, has a taste of the macabre, enjoys history and old-fashioned things, really wanted to be a cowboy, or is very practical and no-frills, then a coffin might be the best choice.
Here are 4 things to consider if you are deciding coffin vs. casket:
1. Availability - Coffins are harder to find than caskets are. For example, you can easily buy a casket online at Overnight Caskets for $900 to $2,000 and have it shipped to your house or to the funeral home. Coffins are much harder to find. Most online retailers don’t carry true 6-sided coffins, so it may be necessary to commission one from a local carpenter. Factors like the carpenter’s availability, cost of lumber, and their hourly rate can delay the coffin and make it harder to procure.
2. Cost - On one hand, coffins use less materials, so one would think that they would be cheaper. However, caskets are also available online, and online retailers are usually more affordable due to lack of overhead. Paying a carpenter to make a coffin might turn out to be more expensive depending on their prices and what you would have to pay for materials. There are several DIY coffin kits on the market that cost around $900. For less than that price, you could easily get a simple, already-made casket from Overnight Caskets that you would not have to put together yourself.
3. Effort - Because coffins are harder to find, that could mean more work for the person planning the funeral. Keep in mind that funerals are already a difficult time and there is so much to plan. It may be easier to opt for a casket for the sake of simplicity. However, if you really want a coffin for yourself, it is recommended that you plan ahead by making or buying one yourself.
4. Expectations - A lot of us want unique, fun things for funerals. Maybe your loved one joked about a viking funeral (which is sadly against the law) or being buried in their favorite sports car (which has happened). It certainly is a fun thing to joke about, but you need to consider the expectations of older family members, grandparents, friends, and others with less of a sense of humor. Sometimes it is better to be traditional. Unless, of course, your entire family is ready to get behind a coffin burial or another unique burial.
The Best Way To Buy a Casket is Online!
If you decided that you or a loved one wants a casket, then we recommend buying a casket online from Overnight Caskets. Not only are caskets online more affordable, they also ship fast and free to anywhere in the US. If you have questions about coffins or caskets, feel free to contact us. Our team is happy to answer all your questions and help you find the best casket or coffin for your family.