A friend asked me to build him a coffin for his ash. He is planning on being cremated then buried. Although his isn't old or near death, he wants to have everything prepared just the way he wants it. He asked if I could design it similar to what the Pope was buried in.

The Pope's coffin was made from Cypress with the ends dovetailed. The coffin was tapered at both end in width and height. I first sketched a design. The dimensions ended up being about an inch larger from the numbers listed in the sketches below. The numbers listed were the inter dimensions he requested so I had to add for the dovetails, the set in bottom and the drop in top.

coffin drawing


I used my circular saw cutting jig and my circular saw to cut the wood. I will say that I hope I never have to use Cypress again. It is the softness wood I've ever used, everything dents it and I mean everything.



I cut the wood so the pattern starts from the back, to the right side, to the front, then to the left side.


I dovetailed the ends of the board. Because it's such a soft wood I made the dovetails fit tight because I didn't want them to loosen as a tested the fit it a couple of times. Once satisfied with the fit I used hide glue to secure the corners. I've come to love this glue because of the easy clean up and it's lacks the problems that yellow glues have with staining. I use the disposable glue brush but I cut the brush so it fits in the dovetails easily.



The bottom was planned down to 1/2", while the sides and top were 5/8". I used a rabbet bit to cut around the bottom of the box so the bottom would set flush. Instead of chiseling the corners I keep them round and rounded the edges of the bottom. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I glued the bottom in place.


Next I used a 5/8" rabbet bit to to cut the top



Since the coffin is tapered the dovetail didn't fit perfectly so when I routed the rabbets, I saved some of the sawdust. I added some hide glue to a small plastic needle, that I pick up at a pet store.

I placed some hide glue in the spaces, then I pressed and rubbed the sawdust in the spaces. I let it dry overnight.


The following day I sanded and slightly rounded the edges.





My friend was given a cross that he wears all the time. He asked if the cross could be inset in the top of the box. After much thought here is how I inlayed the cross.



I purchased this Dremel base which allowed me to hold the Dremel steady and maintaining the dept while I was clearly able to see what I was doing. I drew the outline of the cross onto the top then used several of the very small but very strong router bits. It worked very well. I purchased the base off of Stewart-MacDonald's web site. They also sold the router bits but I located them on Ebay for about $25 less.

I tried a test piece first to see if I would be able to route the cross by hand. It actually wasn't that difficult to do as it looks. I took my time and slowly routed out to the edges while I continued to test the fit of the cross. The finally fit was very snug.



The string will be removed when it is installed in the top of the coffin. It was rather an easy project but still if offered several new techniques I was able to try.

My friend that wanted the coffin wanted to stain it himself. These are his finished photos.

stained coffinstained coffin


stained coffin


If you have any question about this or any other project please email me.