How to choose a Coffin or Casket

Guide to Selecting The Right Coffin

Arranging a funeral need not be the complicated scenario you envision.


It only seems more harrowing because usually at the time of making decisions you are grieving. It could be helpful to have someone else present to help guide your decisions, an unconnected friend or another family member. 


While there isn’t many aspects to decide upon, because of what the coffin or casket will mean to the service does bring a burden that it otherwise shouldn’t.

What's The Difference Between A Coffin And A Casket?

  • Caskets are rectangular shaped and tend to be more elaborate, often with split open top for viewing.
  • Coffins are the more traditional five sided shape, with a tapered surround towards the shoulders and head.

As with everything in life, you cannot please everyone and you should really try to only meet the wishes of the departed.  Anything else, such as furnishings and casket furniture are additions that you can make should you feel them necessary, they are by no means essential. So how do you choose a coffin or casket for the funeral?

What Is There To Consider When Choosing A Coffin?

Evidently the coffin cost or expense of a casket, unless borne by the deceased will narrow your options.


It is probably best to start with the necessities such as a basic coffin and build in the different materials, style and design from therein.


Materials range from cardboard, plywood to solid timbers and metal through to eco minded natural materials such as banana leaf, sea grass, bamboo and calico cotton.


These decisions will of course be challenged by the cost but also the wishes of the person you are saying goodbye to.


You may need to consider their personality, especially when it comes to individualisation of the coffin or casket.


What does that mean?

Well, we each find our own path in life and it is exactly the same procedure on the way out. 


While there are of course a great many religiously themed coffins, there are alternatives that take into account for a person’s musical fandom, the many decades they supported a football club or another belief system or simply one based upon a care for the earth and using ecologically sound materials.


A coffin could be wrapped in a foil which allows for any number of designs to be printed, a football club emblem, a nation’s flag, a favourite film character, pictures of family.


A cardboard coffin could be decorated by family members and children, leaving a personal message or picture.


Caskets can also be adorned with a varying degree of exuberance or a more contemporary coffin design which emphasises individual character.

Are There Any Laws Or Guidelines Defining Coffin Use?

  • There are rules, regulations and laws that stipulate how a body and coffin might be buried.
  • The rules may also vary across country borders too.
  • You will need to take into account burial and cremation when it comes to selecting the coffin, as not all materials are suited for each eventuality.
  • Burial sites may also require certain materials be used or not utilised.
  • Repatriation laws are often handled by airlines, in most cases a coffin may need to be zinc lined and the body embalmed before flight.
  • Sea burials too, have stipulations and even with cremation, the dispersal of ashes after a service need to be met by local laws.
  • You need not be hassled by all these regulations, a funeral director will be able to easily ascertain which apply according to the materials, styles, service and choices you make -- TALK TO AN EXPERT HERE --

Frequently Asked Questions About Coffins

How Much Is A Coffin? Should No Expense Be Spared?

When you start planning a funeral, it’s not only good to divide it into parts, such as Order of Service, Funeral Procession or menu for the caterers but to also budget for each section too.


One of the priciest aspects of a funeral is the coffin, let’s first understand what the person purchases and the reason why.

  • The deceased has been kept at a single location for several days, the next journey will be long, possibly across miles of road by horse and carriage or by hearse.
  • The coffin may also be carried by Pallbearers or relatives and observed throughout.
  • The coffin therefore has multiple purposes: It is used as a container for the body during transportation.
  • It is used to aid in making the carrying of the deceased easier and more respectable.
  • The casket is also used as a feature of the funeral, either at the foot of the congregation, and also enabled as a surround for viewing.

At the end, the coffin is taken to the final resting place and usually buried / cremated with the body.

Today we are not so bogged down in tradition and there are no strict adherences to how the deceased should be contained or presented fora funeral, in most denominations at least.


Should you spend lots of money on a coffin?


What’s the usual cost of a coffin or casket and does presentation and the coffin itself matter?


The cost of a coffin tends to be more than an open top casket but equally the amount can rise depending on additions and choice of materials, accessories, lining and other requested features.


The minimum cost could be £100, the maximum upwards of £10,000 it really depends on how basic or detailed the coffin or casket is made to be.


An average amount for a coffin could be £500 and is usually the most expensive single item of a funeral, next to the burial plot itself, headstone, and so on.


If we go back to the reason for a coffin and offset this against cost, we will find that there are many different types of coffin or casket that can be chosen for any given aim.


Of course, should you wish to use the very best of woods, Mahogany and furnish the sides with gold handles, gold embellishments then this is more about stature.

Coffin Comparison - what you get in return

However, you may opt for a cheaper coffin that is made from a less costly wood and the coffin isn’t for display and simply for burial or cremation purposes.


  • Why be so extravagant price wise when the container for the body is merely going into the ground?
  • The costs involved in pricing a coffin take into account the following; the labour; the type of material, is it expensive wood? or cardboard with wool covering, is it made of metal?
  • Or perhaps bio degradable and bamboo or banana leaf?
  • Will it be decorated, varnished, accessories added, detailed with images or wood effects?

The base cost of a coffin or casket will always have a secondary percentage added on by the funeral director as their mark up for reselling. Which is why some people employ a carpenter themselves or a purchase a coffin separate and get it delivered to the funeral parlour so the body can be prepared and interred.


What seemed like a simply task of choosing a coffin from a list can quickly turn into a major decision, both on design and budget. Which brings us to again the reasons for using a coffin in the first place.


For display purposes, we may opt for a higher end coffin that looks the part. Unless the family agrees that looks aren’t everything and that a cardboard solution will suffice.Which aspects should we compare coffins on? Material look versus material cost.


Can it be re-used or hired and does it have an internal disposable coffin inside a higher end more expensive coffin? Is the coffin bio degradable and if being used for cremation do you understand that certain fittings will be removed as can’t be turned to ash?

There are different types of coffins

For burial only, for cremation only, for green funerals and bio degradable:


  • Made from bamboo, banana leaf, cardboard, wool and cardboard frame, Wooden; Oak, Cherry, Maple, Rosewood, Willow or Water Hyacinth.
  • With brass handles or another material, name plate, different types of closures, and come with furnished interiors offering quality gown and frills with cushioning and extra features for open top caskets.
  • The coffin may be panelled, handles at different locations with different styles and lengths.

It may also be possible to image wrap the coffin in a landscape or favourite football team’s colours or flag. 


As the bereaved we often forget that we have a real choice in services we choose that form a funeral.


Time is short and we feel guilty if start to penny pinch, “the deceased should be sent out in style.” 


Do compare, do consider what the actual use is of the coffin. Compare cost either direct from manufacturer and from the undertaker.


Compare look, feel, design, features, interior furnishing, weight, is it ecological? Is it right for you and the deceased?

Do I have to have a coffin to be buried / cremated?

You may be surprised to discover that you do not need any form of container to be able to bury the deceased, the only law that references the use of anything similar to a coffin is the statute that states no dead body shall be visible on a public highway or public place. 

  • The Common law affected would be 'Outrage of public decency'; an offence which carries an indefinite period of prison time or a unlimited fine.
  • A coffin or casket today is tradition, some cultures do not use a container at all and simply a shroud.
  • With the law being so simple and no requirement to purchase a coffin, it is entirely up to you how a body is covered when being transported from home to funeral location.
  • A coffin shaped box is normal considering movement and any other covering may be more cumbersome.
  • The only distinction to make is related to cremation:

    A crematorium may wish for the body to be contained to ensure easier or more even body disposal, this is up to individual crematoriums to decree.
  • In England you do not need a shroud or a container and body can be placed directly into the soil.
  • It is possible to make your own coffin and even go down the eco route and a green funeral with fully bio degradable unmarked resting places.
  • Some religions may have individual preferences and religious rites pertaining to burial and or cremation.

What Are Customisable Coffins?

In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of services offered to customise a coffin.

This process is an intriguing way to personalise a coffin in much the same way you can buy decals in a shop for a wall decoration or for a car.


The objective is to provide a partial or full wrap around of a chosen image and impress it on to a coffin or casket. The coffin can be traditional, modern, made of any material, the image is simply pressed on to the funeral container.


It could be a picture of horses, family photos, football team colours and ground or an indicator of a hobby, deceased’s favourite band, singer, sport, anything at all. As long as the facility where the funeral is being held does not object to the imagery used.


A funeral director may offer this service or you can supply the undertaker with your own sourced product.

Are Cardboard Coffins Really Cheaper Than Traditional Coffins?

Aside from wrap around imagery, you can also purchase cardboard coffins that can be decorated by family members and children of the deceased. Signed by family and friends with messaging and drawings. 


Less formal and more about participation and quite different to the image wrap around decal detailed above.The availability of coffins made from cardboard are now nation wide.


They are quite different from any idea of a pauper’s funeral in that while they are probably the cheapest burial container alongside a shroud, they are used for ecological reasons too. Yet can still come in the traditional tapered shape.


The basic premise of burial is that the body decomposes naturally and is ‘returned to the Earth’, encasing a body in metal or materials that take longer to degrade is against the whole concept. Which is why green embalming may be chosen at the same time as a brown cardboard or white cardboard coffin.


Normal embalming chemicals are not ecologically safe, the latter white coffin being a choice for those wishing to have a visibly different funeral as opposed to the usual dark materials used. 


The paper tends to be 70% recycled and sourced from British mills and offers one of the cheapest most ecological ways to both build a coffin and see that it decomposes rapidly too. Accessories also need to be ecological sound and degrade in a similar way.

What is a body disposal?

There are two main forms of body disposal in the UK, by way of burial or cremation. Both can make use of a coffin or casket for each procedure to be carried out.


While a sea burial, recomposition, shroud green burial, eternal reefs, bios urns and Promession would not require a container.

Does Direct Burial mean no coffin?

Believe it or not, it is possible to both not have a coffin and not have a funeral when you die. This service is denoted a Direct Disposal or Direct Burial or Direct Cremation.


Pertaining to directly going somewhere without anybody saying goodbye in a formal ritual before it occurs.The process is a simple one, there is no funeral service with the deceased in body form present.


Otherwise known as a corpse ritual. The deceased is simply buried or cremated and there may be a service or harvest ritual afterwards. With cremation the ashes may be handed to the parties concerned.


Why would someone choose to have no funeral?


It’s considerably less expensive and there’s less of a focus on mourning perhaps as opposed to a post service which could be more celebratory. It would evidently be a rather personal choice not to have a funeral either through cost or bother and not wishing to have a fuss made over themselves in their absence.

With a funeral plan paid, how do I choose a coffin?

Most providers will have set coffins to choose from based on the plan you choose at the time, such as a basic coffin, or a premium coffin at the other end of the scale. Talk to us if you’d like some help deciding which funeral plan is right for you, and what kind of coffin you would like.