For some people, the choice of coffin in which they are cremated or buried is irrelevant and may leave this decision to their friends and family whilst for others it is an important part of their funeral plans.
Funeral traditions in the UK have evolved over many centuries, and though alternative funerals such as natural burials and direct cremations are becoming more popular, there are many people who would prefer an ornate and conventional casket to a contemporary or alternative style of coffin.
At the end of the day, the choice of a coffin is a very personal one, whether you are choosing for yourself or for a loved one.
In this guide, we provide you with a comprehensive list of coffin choices and a guide to the kinds of prices you will pay for each option. We also look at some important things to consider when choosing a coffin.
How To Choose a Coffin
For some people, the idea of spending a lot of money on a coffin is nonsensical; particularly in younger generations who consider that, if they are cremated, a coffin is used simply to transport their body for an hour or so and is then burned.
For others, the choice of coffin is far more significant and should be both a dignified and respectable mode of accommodating a body during the last offices and funeral service. It can also be seen as a way of demonstrating wealth and status.
Whatever your personal preference for a type of coffin, there are some things to consider before choosing one.
Type of Funeral
Your choice of coffin may be limited depending on the type of funeral service you have in mind. For example, natural burials which are designed to limit the impact of death on the environment will mean that you are restricted to choosing a coffin or shroud which is biodegradable.
Cremation services also have certain criteria when it comes to coffin choice and the use of metal must be limited to that which is strictly necessary to maintain structural integrity. Materials used for coffins placed in a cremator must also not contain certain chemicals which can be used for the finishes on some coffins.
Some religions also have different beliefs on the choice of casket which may influence the style of coffin you select. Buddhism and Hinduism, for instance, both advocate simple funerals and coffin choice should reflect this. In Judaism, caskets must be made from plain wood and not contain any metal.
Size & Weight
It goes without saying that the size of coffin is important in order to accommodate the body of your loved one in preparation for their final disposition.
However, there are some other considerations about the size of a coffin which should be borne in mind.
Firstly, crematoria usually have specific dimensions that can be accommodated and not all can offer a service for coffins that do not fit these guidelines. In general, these dimensions are given as follows:
- 206cm (81 inches) in length
- 71cm (28 inches) in width
- 56cm (22 inches) in depth
If you are considering a more elaborate style of coffin then these measurements should be taken into consideration.
Lastly, you should consider the size and weight of the coffin you choose in terms of transportation and handling.
The cost of coffins ranges considerably from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds so having a budget is key.
With that in mind, we have provided a guide to cheap, mid-range and expensive coffins below and the typical costs you can expect to pay in each category.
Price of Coffins
Coffins vary as much in price as they do in construction materials, design and style. We have provided a broad guide of the most common choices in each of the three main budget ranges with more detailed guidance about each option given below.
- Shroud – From under £50 to £600+
- Cardboard Coffins – Approximately £150 to £450
- Flatpack Coffins – Approximately £300
- Veneered Wood Coffins - £300 to £1,000
- Willow Coffins - £500 to £900
- Bamboo Coffins - £400 to £800
- Seagrass Coffins - £500 to £900
- Woollen Coffins - £700 to £900
- Picture Coffins - £300 to £2,000
- Metal Caskets - £2,000 to £6,000 with some being upwards of £20,000
- Solid Wood Coffins - £2,000 to £4,000
Budget Coffin Choices
Cardboard coffins have become very popular in the UK owing to the fact that the are both cheap and eco-friendly. The construction methods have improved significantly over the last decade and the material offers a sturdy and solid finish suitable for either cremation or burial.
There are plenty of ways to order a cardboard coffin including online suppliers who can deliver one to your home address or that of a funeral director. Your funeral director can also provide you with costs for a coffin made of cardboard.
When buying a coffin of this construction it is very important to ensure that you purchase one from a reputable manufacturer that can guarantee the strength of the material to hold the weight of the deceased during handling.
Prices vary from as little as £150 to £450 and come in a range of styles from sleek and simple designs to those that replicate the look of a more traditional casket. Some can even feature printed picture finishes to offer a more personalised look.
The Cardboard Coffin Company has a small range of these caskets available but you can find extensive selections available online or via your funeral director.
Second Hand Coffins
There is no need to be alarmed at this budget option and using a second-hand coffin isn’t exactly the way it sounds. Sometimes referred to as rental coffins, it is possible to organise the temporary use of a more ornate coffin for the purposes of public viewings. Open casket services and visitations (or reviewal) are common with some religions or are popular with the older generation and having an elegant or ornate coffin may be preferable for these.
Some people place a great deal of emphasis on the quality of a casket for this part of the funeral service and would prefer to opt for an elaborate coffin.
Funeral homes can often arrange for the rental of a pre-used coffin for this purpose and simply transfer the deceased to an alternative one after the viewings are over. In these circumstances, the coffin lining is purchased new and will be moved with the deceased to their final coffin choice.
With the number of people considering private or home burial on the increase and DIY funerals gaining in popularity, it is possible to buy a self-assembly coffin.
There are quite a few companies that offer this service and a range of styles available but ultimately you can order them online for as little as £300 and have them delivered within a few days direct to your door in a compact parcel.
The Netherlands based company Christann offers an eco-friendly, natural wood coffin with cotton lining for £329 including shipping and VAT.
One of the benefits of a simple flat pack coffin of this type is that the untreated wood can be personalised with your own decorations after it is assembled.
Always check the dimensions and weight restrictions before ordering.
Solid Wood Coffins
Wooden coffins have been the most traditional form of funerary box for many centuries and can be constructed in a huge variety of styles from any number of domestic or imported woods.
The most traditional style of wood coffin in the UK is the tapered one-piece sided coffin that curves at the shoulder. At the lower end of the budget, these are often made from pine but the more expensive coffins will be made from oak, mahogany or redwood.
Prices vary enormously for these kinds of coffins depending on where you purchase them from and whether they are hand-crafted, tailor made or using rare woods. However, they are typically priced in the region of £2,000 to £4,000.
Veneered Wood Coffins
Similar to the above, veneered wood coffins offer a traditional range of styles but can be purchased at a lower cost as they are often made from plywood, MDF or chipboard with real-wood veneers.
Again, prices vary but a budget of £300 to £1,000 should cover most styles and options.
Metal caskets are less common in the UK as wooden coffins are more traditional; however, metal remains a material of choice for some people particularly those with links to the U.S.A. where these are more popular.
For some, the choice of a metal casket over one constructed of wood is about offering a sealed enclosure that preserve the remains from external factors.
The choice of metal is often highly significant and can indicate wealth.
The cheapest form of metal casket is steel with other choices being bronze, copper and gold. The thickness of the metal can also vary with either of these metals being used as a finish or as a plating rather than being solid gold (for instance).
The price of metal caskets varies enormously and can start from as little as £2,000 but can go up to (and beyond) £20,000.
Eco-Friendly and Natural Coffin Choices
Wicker and willow caskets and coffins made from bamboo, seagrass or fabric offer a more sustainable alternative to wood. Often a more ethical choice as well as an economic one, these materials are softer and more gentle looking.
They are often chosen to suit individuals who lived a natural lifestyle and who want to create a lower carbon footprint in death.
As with wooden coffins, there is a huge range of styles that are manufactured in these materials with some emulating a traditional shape of a classic coffin whilst others are designed specifically to appear more natural.
The choice of a shroud instead of a coffin can be one made for financial reasons or to satisfy environmental restrictions such as for a natural burial. It may also be a personal choice to suit the personality of the deceased.
A shroud can be something as simple as a cotton sheet combined with a base made from willow/bamboo or can be hand crafted and more ornate.
Bella Couche, a UK based felt textiles designer offers a beautiful selection of handmade alternatives to an eco-coffin including a felt ‘cocoon’. These soft coffins are fully biodegradable and are individually hand crafted in Devon.
Made from recycled and pulped newspaper, the eco-pod is 100% biodegradeable but constructed to provide a sturdy funeral box for transportation of the deceased to their funeral.
Eco-pods are contemporary in design and resemble the seed case of the acacia tree. They come in a range of colours and can even have a screen print motif incorporated into the design.
Prices are available on request.
Alternative & Creative Coffins
Just as funeral services themselves are becoming less traditional and embracing much more individuality, coffins are also available in some highly unique and creative styles and designs.
Picture coffins, or colourful coffins, have been available for many years and are created using a wrap which is applied to the wood (or cardboard). Some companies offer a range of hundreds of predesigned pictures in themes that include landscapes and famous prints to highly unusual images that make the coffin look like something else entirely. Examples include speakers, a mobile phone and even a skip. Other companies will let you design your own wrap with some people opting for a personalised portrait of the deceased.
If you are choosing a picture coffin then it is important to find out whether the wrap is suitable for cremation or natural burial if either of these is your preferred funeral choice.
Prices vary a lot and will also depend on the underlying construction of the coffin you are having ‘wrapped’. At a budget entry price for a simple design, expect to pay around £300 but for a bespoke design service applied to a solid wood casket then you could be paying up to £2,000.
Made popular in parts of Africa, notably in Ghana, fantasy coffins offer an elaborate way to give your loved one a final send-off.
Also known as figurative coffins or proverbial coffins, these custom-made funerary boxes can be tailor made to suit the personality of the deceased that a standard coffin may not be suitable for.
A recent BBC News article described some of the more unusual coffins put to use recently in Ghana including models of a chilli pepper, a Mercedes Benz and an aeroplane.
Often carved from solid wood, these coffins are specially made by skilled carpenters. Whilst these are not widely available in the UK there is no reason why you should not consider one but sourcing a supplier may be tricky.
What this option demonstrates is that coffins do not need to be traditional in either shape or design and with a little imagination could be adapted to be made perfect for a loved one who perhaps lived a non-traditional lifestyle. Remember that DIY coffins are also a possibility.
If you are considering a fantasy coffin then you will need to bear in mind the practical considerations of size and weight in order to transport the deceased. If you are using a crematorium or having a natural burial then you will also need to bear in mind the regulations on your choice of materials (see ‘How To Choose a Coffin’ above).