Casket or Coffin: What’s the Difference?

Are coffins and caskets the same thing? A look at coffin shapes and types of modern casket – and how to tell them apart

Last updated: 2 August 2019

casket with flowers an d people standing around

Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

When you are arranging a funeral for your loved, you might find yourself having to choose between a casket or coffin.

Choosing a coffin is a basic part of funeral planning, and people usually consider a range of factors to help them decide.

Are coffins and caskets the same thing?

The words coffin and casket can both be used to describe a container for cremation or burial.

The only real difference between a coffin and a casket in the sense that most people tend to use the words, is the shape. A coffin’s shape is tapered along the lines of the human body’s typical proportions – wider at the top and narrow at the bottom, like a kite with six to eight edges. The shape of a casket is rectangular - it has a lid that can be half-opened to view the person at the service or wake.

But they both essentially have the same purpose – to place the body of the person who has died inside.

Why are we buried in coffins?

The earliest origin of the word coffin can be traced back to the Greek word kophonos meaning “basket”.

The practice dates back from Egyptian times when embalmed bodies were preserved in sarcophagus that was placed in the pyramids. As part of some funeral rituals, the ancient Celts also buried the bodies of the dead in coffins made from stone and natural materials.

One of the reasons people started burying the dead was to preserve the body from decay, and also to protect it from wild animals or natural causes such as floods that could wash away the remains. Sturdy coffins were also believed to protect the dead.

What does a casket or coffin cost?

Coffins typically cost anything upwards of a few hundred pounds, and this depends on the design, material, fittings (handles, engravings) and degree of customisation.

Usually caskets are the most expensive option as they are bulkier and more elaborate than the standard coffin. They can cost upward of a thousand pounds depending on material, design and interiors.

Types of coffins

You may choose the style, design and type of coffin depending on its cost, material used, whether is environmentally friendly and to reflect the personality of your loved one.

From traditional coffins made from oak, pine or mahogany to crazy coffin designs that look like something else altogether, and there are some great alternative coffin designs, quirky artwork – and even sparkles. In short, there are numerous types of coffins to choose, as well as a range of fabrics and pillows to upholster the inside of the casket, if you choose.

Traditional coffins

The classic British coffin has a flat top, simple wooden or brass fittings and handles and is tapered from head to feet.

They are usually made from wood veneer or traditional wood such as oak, pine, mahogany or elm. You can choose to have a plain wood coffin or have additional details added to it such as raised lids, themed engravings, symbols and Christian or religious iconography.

Eco coffins

With an increasing number of people attracted to the idea of returning to nature with a green burial, there’s been a rise in a number of eco friendly materials being used for coffins or caskets.

Several coffin makers and suppliers in the UK ensure that the wood and other materials for their coffins come from sustainable sources. Others specialise in eco-friendly or ethically sourced materials such as willow, wicker, bamboo, wool, seagrass, banana leaves, hyacinth and pandanus – which has palm-like leaves.

Types of coffin sizes

Until the mid-twentieth century, coffins were made to measure, usually by the funeral directors themselves.

Coffins ‘sets’ – helped speed up the process, with the timber needed for each coffin supplied in pre-cut sizes. Today, coffins can still be made to measure, but are mostly manufactured in a number of standard length sizes, as well as smaller coffins for children and babies.

In recent years, too there’s become a wider choice of larger coffins and caskets suitable for bariatric patients and larger people.

Customised coffins

Many people today are choosing to go with bespoke coffins that truly reflect their loved one’s life and personality.

Fancy being buried in a coffin shaped like a guitar? Or how about one featuring a montage of your most treasured photos printed on it? All of that and more is possible, thanks to a multitude of customisable options now available for those who want to go bespoke.

A recent trend has seen Coffin Club workshops pop up around the country for people intrigued by the idea of decorating their very own DIY coffins. Cardboard coffins are used as the starting point for painting, stickering, writing and embellishing completely bespoke caskets, which can be folded away and stored at home until the time comes.

  • Read more about choosing a coffin or casket suitable for the funeral that you are arranging and circumstances when a certain type of coffin or casket tmay be needed.