Dennis Hintz is a “pine box” kind of guy.
You know the type. When the high cost of funerals comes up, they say, “Just put me in a pine box.” (Hear! Hear!)
The response is understandable. Caskets alone can set you back anywhere from $2,100 to $25,000, according to one 2016 list from a funeral home.
So what’s a “pine box” person to do?
Dennis’s answer: Make your own casket!
That’s what he’s doing, anyway. I heard about his plans a few months ago at a meeting, where he told a story about a special suit he purchased back in 1978 for his pastor’s funeral. The hefty price tag made his wife, Kathy, say, “You’re going to be buried in that suit!”
The suit is still part of the plan, and so is the DIY casket.
“It’s really a stewardship issue for me,” says Dennis, who retired in 2012 after 40 years as Director of Christian Education (DCE) at St. John’s in Topeka. “It’s been some time ago since I had it in mind, that this is something that I’d like to do, mostly because the cost of caskets is just out of this world. To spend upwards of $10,000 for a casket just blows my mind.”
|The real Dennis Hintz, in his DCE days|
He recalls jokingly telling Kathy in one conversation: ‘If I had my druthers, you could put me in a black bag, take me to the Flint Hills, and drop me off.” That tongue-in-cheek comment gave way to more serious consideration of the build-your-own casket.
As a frugal Midwestern Lutheran, I’m pretty intrigued by the idea, but how realistic is it, really? After talking to Dennis about the project, I’m convinced: If you want to do it, you can do it.
Let’s call that lesson #1. Here are nine others takeaways from my interview with “The Casketmaker.”
1) The Web has everything you need.
The Web is full of information on this topic. You can see examples, watch the process, obtain plans, and even buy kits, which is particularly helpful if you’re not a woodworker of This Old House caliber. (Dennis, by the way, is pretty handy; he received his grandfather’s cast iron jigsaw for Christmas in fifth grade and was making signs for local ranchers by middle school.)
One of Dennis’s favorite sites: Northwoods Casket Company.
|Dennis browsing one of many bookmarked sites|
2) You can save a lot of money with the DIY route.
If you don’t want to cough up $8400 for the “Wabash Cherry with Beige Velvet Interior” casket, you’re in luck. How about a few hundred bucks for a simple pine box? “The least expensive kit I’ve discovered so far is listed at $431,” Dennis says. “That’s remarkable.”
3) Funeral homes should accept your DIY casket.
If you want to use your DIY casket, your funeral home should accept that, says Dennis, who knows his stuff when it comes to funerals. He currently serves on the Topeka Cemetery Board and also works part time at Penwell-Gabel Funeral Home in Topeka. The only requirement, really, is build quality, but there shouldn’t be much worry there. As Dennis notes, “If you follow the design and suggestions that the companies provide with kits and plans, most of the designs can take a 600 lb. weight test.”
4) Making a nice casket is a lot of work.
It might be easy to assemble one of those casket kits, but if you want anything more than a few boards joined together, it will involve some work (and time and tools and skills). If you have a few minutes to spare, check out these videos. The first shows a young man building a casket for his father (with several helpers in a very well-equipped workshop); the second shows caskets being manufactured. After watching the videos, I can see why nice caskets don’t come cheap.
5) Maybe I don’t want just a pine box.
The more I looked at those pictures of the plain pine boxes, especially the interiors, the more I started rethinking my own pine box idea. When they’re propped open, they look kind of like the wooden crates that sit in our home office, filled with books. If I used a similar box for a casket, would I look like a shipment from Pottery Barn at my funeral? I’m still aiming for inexpensive, but maybe a little less “pine boxy.”
|The VERY simple pine box, upper right|
6) What’s up with traditional Jewish caskets?
Dennis’s own casket will be very simple in design and have holes in the bottom, similar to a traditional Jewish casket. Dennis has talked with a Jewish friend about the “dust to dust” principle that guides Jewish burials, and that got him thinking. “I was fascinated with the concept of dust to dust, as we have at Ash Wednesday, and so I said, ‘Well, it seems to me it sounds like a good thing to do as well.’” So he’s going with the holes, which allow remains to return to the earth. And if the cemetery requires a vault? Dennis says the lid can be removed and it can be used upside down.
7) What will cousin Freddy think?
Let’s say you want the super simple casket. If your loved ones follow through, will they have to worry about what others think? (Whispering relatives: “Really? They couldn’t do better than a shipping crate? Didn’t Aunt Marge deserve more, after all she did for them?”) To help alleviate the concerns, Dennis plans to include some explanatory information in the funeral program.
8) Oh yeah, this thing has to be stored.
It’s one thing to build the casket. Where does it go after that? Dennis and Kathy don’t have room to store the casket, so they’ve had to think about alternatives. There’s been some talk about using the casket as a coffee table, but Dennis is now thinking about a bookcase. Some kits, in fact, even come with shelves for exactly that purpose. “What a conversation piece!” Dennis says, laughing.
|Picture casket here|
9) And speaking of conversations…
Dennis has shared his casket story at various times, and he’s gotten a range of reactions. “It’s amazing how people react. ‘You’re going to build your own casket?’ If you can get them to talk about why it would seem abhorrent to them, that can be an interesting conversation. It’s another way to open the door to talk about things that are really important, and that’s life and death and eternal life and what it is that the Gospel assures us of. This life and this world is only the precursor.”
That might be a nice thing to engrave on a casket, if you have the tools.