When planning a funeral for a loved one, you have many options and many decisions to make. Based on their last wishes, you could decide to cremate them, have a natural burial or a traditional funeral.
With a traditional funeral, you have the most significant number of choices to make of all the disposal methods.
It would help if you decided whether embalming is necessary or whether there is a need for cosmetics. Most importantly, funeral directors will ask you to choose between a coffin and a casket.
Often, people use the two interchangeably. Mostly because a casket is considered the modern coffin. The two are, however, different, despite their shared function.
Most people don’t understand the difference and so maybe confused when asked to choose one.
To help you understand the difference and unique benefits, in this post, we will discuss the meaning of a casket and a coffin and what sets them apart.
We will also look at the difference in cost and which one is suitable for specific occasions.
What is the Difference Between ‘Coffin’ and ‘Casket’?
Both coffins and caskets are considered burial boxes used to carry the remains of the deceased. They, however, differ starting from appearance.
Their shape and design are one way of telling them apart. Other differentiations are described below.
A casket is a burial box specially designed to hold the remains of a deceased. It’s a four-sided rectangle that is hinged on one side, so it swings open.
Sometimes it’s split into two, so you can either only open the top or the bottom. The top is also usually domed, and the inside is lined with a soft cloth, like silk or satin or cotton.
The cloth is added to create a quiet and relaxing place where the deceased can be laid to rest. Along the sides, you will find rails that pallbearers use to carry it during a funeral service.
Caskets are mainly made of either metal or wood. You can therefore get a stainless-steel casket or one made of mahogany or oak. So, if you are an environmentalist, you could opt for a metal casket.
If you prefer wood, then you can opt for a wooden casket. Metals caskets are considered more durable compared to wooden ones. They, however, require a gasket, unlike wooden caskets.
The hinged design and the split top make caskets suitable for open visitations, viewings, and wakes. They can easily be opened up and closed.
You can use the casket for the visitations only or both visitations and funeral services. You can choose to cremate the remains afterward or bury the casket with the body. You could also place the ashes in an urn and bury them along with the casket.
The term “coffin” is derived from the old French word “cofin,” which translates into “basket.” The modern French word is “couffin,” which translates into “cradle”. Like the casket, coffins are also specially designed burial boxes used to carry the deceased.
The difference, however, is that the coffin has six sides. It’s tapered both at the top and bottom, with wide shoulders. It is created to mimic the shape of a human body.
To open the coffin, however, the lid has to be lifted completely off the case. This is because, unlike the casket, it is not hinged at one of the sides.
Coffins also have a cloth lining for a more comfortable resting place. They also have rails that make it easier for the coffins to be carried.
Compared to caskets, coffins have been used in funeral ceremonies the longest. The first evidence of their use dates back to 5000BC.
In the past, the coffins were mainly made of wood and didn’t have complicated designs. Today, they can be made with many different materials, including metal, oak, mahogany, pine, or even fiberglass.
For natural burials, the coffins are fashioned out of bamboo trees or banana leaves. The designs of the coffins today are also more complicated, like a domed top, and use stronger materials.
You can use the coffins to hold the body for funeral services. They are especially suitable for closed casket services since it’s a lot harder to open the lid.
However, the lid of the coffin can be made of clear glass. This allows viewing and open visitations. They are also suitable for holding a deceased’s remains with wider shoulders.
You can bury it or place it in a vault with the body. You could also place it and the body above the ground in a mausoleum.
Alternatively, you could only use the coffin for the wake or services and cremate the body after. It’s also possible to bury the ashes in the coffin underground.
What this Means for You: Costs
Another defining factor that differentiates the two is their pricing. Generally, caskets are more expensive when compared to coffins.
Several factors also determine the cost. This includes the design, material used, among other reasons.
To begin with, a coffin is cheaper because its tapered design requires less wood than the rectangular design of the casket.
Additionally, coffins don’t have as many intricate designs on them as caskets do; hence they are easier to make. In terms of material, caskets tend to use higher quality material compared to coffins.
Also, while a casket needs a gasket to help seal it, a coffin can do without it. The lack of a gasket significantly reduces the price of a coffin.
For that reason, you can find coffins ranging from as low as $200 to $3000, or slightly more. Caskets, on the other hand, may start from $700 to $10,000+.
Of course, the price varies by state; there are some states where the funeral items are higher priced than in others. Additionally, it depends on the designs and material.
The more frills you want on the casket or coffin, or the more customized it is, the more it’s likely to cost. Markups are another reason why the prices would vary.
The funeral homes usually have the highest markups, followed by retail showrooms. So, depending on where you buy the casket or coffin, the prices may be higher.
To help reduce the cost, you could opt for a simpler design.
You could also choose ones made of cheaper material. Wicker coffins, for example, are becoming popular.
They are made from environmentally friendly cheap material woven together by a skilled basket maker. Hence, they are a cheaper option compared to traditional coffins and caskets.
Alternatively, you could use shrouds or opt for a natural burial where you bury the remains with no casket or coffin.
If you must use a coffin or casket, then it’s normally cheaper to purchase them online, where you are buying directly from the whole seller at a lower markup price.
The Difference Between ‘Casket’ and ‘Coffin’ Outside the United States
Coffins have been in use the longest compared to caskets when it comes to funerals. Caskets, however, existed just as long as coffins, only they had different uses at the time.
In the past caskets usually referred to the ornamental chests where people kept their jewelry, precious items, or important documents. They varied in sizes and designs.
In places like Europe, the term casket still refers to that ornamental chest, while the coffin is used to refer to the funeral box that holds the deceased remains.
There are those, however, who use small versions of caskets like urns to place ashes in them. Other places use the terms coffins and caskets interchangeably.
In places like Ireland, however, there is a distinction between what a coffin is from what a casket is.
They’re both used funeral boxes in Ireland but differentiated by their shape and design, as well as the materials used to make them.
Caskets in Ireland, for example, have metal finishing, while coffins have veneer wood finishing.
Why Do Americans Say ‘Casket’?
When you picture a funeral in the US today, you’ll most likely picture a casket.
That is because caskets are the most commonly used funeral boxes in funerals in America today. This, however, wasn’t always the case.
In the 1700s, when everyone was allowed to be buried in a funeral box, not just the wealthy, coffins were very popular all over the world, not just in the US.
They were mostly made of wood, and the tapered design was made to fit the form of the deceased. It wasn’t until the 1800s that caskets came into the scene as funeral boxes.
They were, however, still not as popular as the coffins then.
During the Civil war in 1861-1865, the caskets began gaining more popularity in America. The large scale of death led to what was known as the “beautification of death”.
This was where people tried to reduce the unpleasantness of death for bereaved families.
Given the form-fitting design of the coffins, they became less popular as they were a more open and gruesome reminder of the passing of a dear one.
For that reason, more and more people began using caskets by the mid-19th century. Another reason was that caskets were originally meant to store precious items, and the deceased was viewed as a precious person by the family.
Initially, the designs of the caskets weren’t as elaborate.
Today, however, there are many designs to choose from. Caskets are the most predominantly used funeral boxes in America, which is why most Americans use the term caskets instead of coffins.
While you can get a coffin in the US, you have to have it specially made since it was phased out in the funeral industry.
Can You Be Buried in the Ground Without a Casket or Coffin?
While traditionally, one is buried in a casket or a coffin, it is possible to be buried without one. This is possible through a green or natural burial.
Such burials involve no embalming or caskets, or coffins. The body is buried naturally and directly in the ground.
There are many reasons why one would choose such a route.
One reason is religion, where some religions such as Islam and Judaism require that the body be buried as naturally as it was created.
Another reason is financing since caskets and coffins can be quite costly. Therefore, opting out of both is a great way to cut down your funeral costs.
The most common reason for most people today is environmental. A lot of people today are self-proclaimed environmentalists who view a casketless burial as a non-invasive burial method.
They also see it as a way for them to give back nutrients to the earth as well as ultimately become one with it.
Legally, however, it’s not as simple to bury a body directly into the ground without any form of casket or coffin.
This applies even if the burial is being done on your property.
There are state laws that normally regulate the burial process, and some states like California have stricter laws than others.
Additionally, there aren’t a lot of cemeteries that allow natural or green burials. Therefore, the only other way to avoid using a casket or coffin is through direct cremation.
You could choose to bury the ashes afterward or spread them in a particular place. There are still some legal restrictions in some states about where you can spread or bury your ashes.
Therefore, if you are thinking of a non-traditional burial without a coffin or a casket, then ensure you refer to the state laws and follow the right procedures.
Coffins and Caskets have their benefits despite their differences.
Caskets, for example, are made of higher quality materials and therefore more durable than coffins.
They are also easier to open, especially for viewings, wakes, and visitation, thanks to their hinged designs.
Coffins, on the other hand, are lighter because of being made of less material.
They are also cheaper for the same reason. Both are suitable funeral boxes for holding the remains of the deceased.
Whichever one a family chooses has more to do with preference than their difference. Still, it is better to be aware of their differences.