How to choose the right coffin or casket

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You go through life choosing clothes, cars, furniture and home decor that makes a statement; why should it be any different when it comes to your final journey?

This guide helps you choose the right coffin or casket.  We review the differences in design, materials, and their suitability for cremation, burial and greener funerals.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone who wants to know what choices are available for coffins and caskets
  • Anyone who is thinking about personalising their choice of coffin or caskets
  • Anyone who wants a prepaid funeral plan and is curious about the types of coffin or casket included

Reading time:

 4 mins


What is the difference between a coffin and a casket?

Have you ever imagined your own funeral?  

Are mourners lining the streets, and TV newscasters celebrating your example of humanity at its  finest? Or maybe no-one’s there. Whatever you’ve imagined, there’s one major detail missing from your fantasy funeral. No, not the dying part.

Picture this… you are planning ahead and you are standing in the funeral director's showroom being shown the latest models. The funeral director lifts a lid to show you the plush white velvet button-backed interior and asks you whether you prefer the look of a coffin or a casket. And then you realise that you don't know the difference - except that one is hugely more expensive than the other in this scenario.

So, what is the difference and how do you choose the right coffin or casket?

Let's start with the basics.

A coffin

A coffin has six sides and is tapered at the foot end. The sides can be plain or panelled.  The lid can be flat, or go up to three tiers in height.

Coffins tend to be cheaper.

A casket

A casket has four sides and is rectangular in shape.  The lid can be split, which means the top half can be left open during a viewing or funeral service.  

Caskets tend to be more expensive.

(The term 'casket' can also refer to the box-shaped container that houses someone's ashes, following a cremation, but those are obviously a lot smaller!)

Both coffin and caskets come in a huge range of different materials and finishes

The interior materials, colours and prints used for the linings and pillows are also varied. You can have pretty much anything you want. Casket interiors tend to be more luxurious - typically being upholstered in a soft brushed velvet or crepe material, including the inside of the lid.

The coffin is more frequently chosen for funerals in the UK.   Perhaps this is owing to the British reserve - caskets are more 'showy' (see American TV shows for examples), or down to the fact that coffins are typically cheaper.  Funerals can be expensive.  

The average cost of a basic funeral in 2021  is £4,184 (rising to £9,263 when you factor in the funeral extras and legal bill for estate administration).  There are plenty of people who won't have the money for this unexpected expense (1 in 7 go into debt).  

What are the different types of coffins and caskets?

Coffins and caskets come in a variety of materials and designs. 

  • Wood effect  (made from MDF or similar, and wrapped in paper that looks like wood)
  • Wood veneer 
  • Solid wood 
  • Wool 
  • Cardboard 
  • Wicker (made from e.g. willow, seagrass, bamboo, banana leaf, pandanus)

Caskets are also available in metal, which makes them more durable and suitable for vault burials.  They come in a variety of finishes too,  including gold, bronze and copper.

How much do coffins and caskets cost in 2021?

As you might expect, prices vary massively - from cheap as chips to steeper than Everest!  Some examples of typical costs:

You can get a basic wood effect or cardboard coffin starting from £200  

You can get a simple wicker coffin from £300.  

You can buy an American steel casket for around £950 rising to as much as £25,000, depending on the material and interior.


Sources for average pricing:   About the Funeral, London Coffin Company, The Coffin Company, Comparethecoffin

What type of coffins and caskets are included in a prepaid funeral plan?

Each set prepaid funeral plan includes one of three types of coffin.  The types  can be broadly categorised as: 'Basic', 'Standard' and 'High quality'.  The funeral plan details will generally include the coffin material, e.g. wood veneer, solid wood, wicker.  

The reason the descriptions are so vague is because no-one knows when the funeral will take place and the type of coffins and caskets available today, quite possibly won't be available when the time comes.

The type of coffin almost always matches the level of service benefits provided in the plan, i.e. the 'Basic' lowest cost wood effect or natural eco coffin will be included in the lowest cost and simplest in the range of funeral plans on offer.

Caskets are not usually included in a set plan.  See our Top tips below if a casket is what you want.

Top tips for getting the coffin or casket you want when buying a prepaid funeral plan

If the coffin included in your set funeral plan doesn't match what you had in mind, here are a few things you can do:

  1. 1
    Make a request
    Have a chat with the funeral plan provider.   If it's possible to personalise the plan, ask them to update your funeral plan notes with the details of the coffin or casket you would like if it is available at the time of the funeral, and that doesn't incur an additional charge for your family. Or if your budget allows, you might even like to think about purchasing a coffin in advance, may be even personalising it.  And providing the plan provider agrees it's fit for purpose at the time it's needed, ask them to use that instead.
  2. 2
    Tailor your funeral plan
    Ask the plan provider if you can tailor your set funeral plan.
    Swap the coffin type (e.g. 'Basic' for 'Standard') or let them know the specific coffin or casket type you want and would be willing to pay extra for now, or make a contribution towards - this means that any shortfall would have to be paid for at the time of the funeral.     
  3. 3
    Change your funeral plan
    If you are set on using a particular funeral plan provider, it may be cheaper and better value to upgrade your plan if you want a better standard of coffin, e.g. go for the 'Gold' funeral plan with the extra services included, instead of the 'Silver' funeral plan.   As with all major purchases, research and compare your options before you buy.

What is an eco-friendly coffin or casket?

Eco-friendly coffins and caskets are 100% biodegradable and made from sustainable sources, e.g. recycled materials constructed from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sourced timber. Eco coffins do not contain plastic or metal.

Types of coffin and casket linings include jute and unbleached organic cotton. Handles can be wooden or made from rope. Lids are fastened with closing toggles or poles.

Eco-friendly coffins are locally sourced in the UK and imported with consideration to the environment, such as Russian Doll style (one inside another, insider another, inside another …).

Pebble coffin & urn
by Pebblewood


Adult pebble coffin shown in use as a coffee table (left).  Commission only.  

Matching urns available from £425, and keepsake urns from £215.

Soft coffins and shrouds:  The alternatives to traditional coffins and caskets

An alternative to a coffin or casket is a soft coffin or shroud. There are various choices of materials for these too, such as cotton, bamboo yarn and wool felt, with integrated handles. The shroud can be carried with the aid of a willow stretcher.

Woollen shroud 
by Bellacouche

Prices from £835

Which coffins and caskets are suitable for cremation and burial?

Any type of coffin is suitable for burial.  Only eco-friendly biodegradable coffins will be accepted at natural burial grounds.   And metal caskets are suitable for burial only and repatriation.

If you like the idea of making your funeral as green as possible and would like to be cremated, an  untreated solid wood coffin or casket is the best option as it takes less energy to burn than wicker and cardboard.

Can you buy a coffin in advance of the funeral?

Yes, you can.

For those who want to think outside the box, so to speak, your coffin or casket could be purchased long before you need it for its intended purpose and could be used in the meantime as a bespoke piece of furniture, such as a bookcase, a coffee table, wine rack or a blanket box.  Any of these (which, incidentally, have all been done) would undoubtedly become a talking point.

Shelves for Life by William Warren
Shelves For Life
by William Warren


At the time of the funeral, the shelves can be taken apart and reassembled to make your coffin.

The brass plate (on the bottom shelf) is for inscription with your name and dates.


Email if you would like measurements and instructions to build your own. (Include your height and build). 

How to personalise a coffin or casket 

Even if you decide to run with the coffin or casket's original function, you can still personalise the design if you buy it ahead of time or your family can decorate it before the funeral.  It could be painted in your favourite colour, with a memorable scene, or just paint the coffin lid in blackboard paint for the mourners to write messages.  Or how about covering it in decoupage using album covers, sheets of music, sentimental photos, football programmes ...

Glitter coffins

Glitter coffins from The Glitter Coffin Company

Off the shelf out-of-the-ordinary choices include sparkling glitter coffins in every hue imaginable, and for the more glamorous effect, a coffin or casket covered in Swarovski crystals.

'Picture' coffins and caskets are popular. This is where the coffin or casket is wrapped in one of many existing printed designs of flowers, animals, transport, sport and hobbies.  You can even create your own design from your favourite photos and  photos of memorabilia.

All the above mentioned off the shelf options are available with matching ashes caskets.

Useful RESOURCES

Natural coffins
Woollen coffins - Natural Legacy
Natural coffins - JC Atkinson
Pebble coffin –  Pebblewood Urns
Woollen felt coffins and shrouds - Bellacouche

Decorated coffins
Glitter coffins -  Glitter Coffin Company
Crystal coffins -  Colourful Coffins


Picture coffins
Picture coffins -  JC Atkinson
Picture coffins -  Colourful Coffins


DIY
Flatpack coffin -  Coffin Club
Shelves for Life -  William Warren

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About the Author

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Derek Thompson is a writer and author, who has written extensively about grief and the funeral industry. He thinks humour is a much-underrated commodity. And thanks to a mix-up, when his name was read out during a committal, instead of his brother’s, he has technically been to his own funeral.


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