Coffins vs. Caskets: What’s The Difference?

Coffins vs. Caskets
“Casket” and ”coffin” are sometimes used interchangably, but a casket differs from a coffin by its shape. Caskets are rectangular boxes with 4 sides, hinged lids, wood or metal exteriors, and rails for easier carrying. In contrast, coffins are tapered with 6 sides, removable lids, wood exteriors, and no rails for transport.

Caskets and coffins are terms used for the boxy resting place for the body after death. When a loved one dies, family members select one of these vessels to be used for the funeral service and eventual burial. How do you compare coffin vs. casket?

The terms may be often swapped by laymen outside of the funeral industry, but there are distinct differences and in modern times, burial containers are more referred to as caskets than coffins. The two containers serve the same purpose but when comparing coffin vs. casket, you will find that they vary in shape, construction, and features.

Coffins are thought to be more economical than caskets and can be a way to keep funeral costs down. As caskets are more frequently used today, some funeral homes do not stock coffins, but the funeral director can order one for the deceased upon request.

wooden coffin

What Are The Main Features Of A Coffin?

A coffin has six sides so it has a hexagonal shape. They are made to be wider at the shoulders and tapered at the bottom to mirror the shape of the dead body held within. Their streamlined shape uses less material, which makes a coffin more economical than a casket.

Although the shape is a clear main difference between a casket and a coffin, the cover is another one. The coffin has a removable cover or lid, whereas a casket has a lid on a hinge. The box lined with cloth

The materials used for coffins may be lower quality than those used for caskets. Types of coffin materials include wood, particle board, low-density fibreboard, or soft materials like willow, bamboo, or banana.

All this makes no difference to the deceased. The choice of a coffin more impacts the living who have to transport it. Coffins seldom have handles so they are more difficult to move from the funeral home to the services to the graveyard or mausoleum.

What Are The Main Features Of A Casket?

Caskets have a rectangular shape, but the number of sides is not the only difference. A casket typically is hinged so that the top can be lifted either partially or all the way. Caskets also typically have handles for the pallbearers to facilitate easier carrying and manueverability.

These burial containers can be made from many different materials, with wood, stainless steel, and other metal caskets being the most popular. There are even fiberglass options.

The type of casket you purchase depends on personal preference and finances. While you obtain one online for under $1,000, most start at $2,000 and up. The sky’s the limit for a vessel that goes deep in the earth as costs can top $20,000-$30,000 for highly embellished caskets made of precious metals.

Although there are eco-friendly caskets available, most are not.

Replication of Lincoln's coffin
President Abraham Lincoln lying in repose in replicated coffin at the National Museum of Funeral History, Houston, TX

The History of the Coffin

Years ago the average person was not placed in either a coffin or a casket; rather, people were often buried in a burial shroud. Coffins were reserved for people of higher financial and social standing.

Coffins were widely used in Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman culture for the elite. In the US, a replication of Abraham Lincoln lying in a coffin is on display at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas.

Historically, the word ‘’coffin” came from the French word for “basket” – “coffin.” The word came to be used to describe a “sarcophagus,“ a stone container that held a coffin or just the body. Eventually, ”sarcophagus” came to mean any stone coffin placed above ground.

The term “casket” originally described an ornamental box for holding precious items such as jewelry. It became associated with burial containers for bodies in the mid-19th century during the Civil War. The bodies of loved ones became as precious as jewels.

Why Are Caskets The Norm Today?

In an attempt to create beautification of death, new rituals were developed around death to ease the grief of the living. This led to the development of the casket, which was a more comforting shape for the family and other mourners when displaying the body.

As the science of embalming developed, undertakers became known as funeral directors who could delay funerals long enough to gather the family, while maintaining the integrity of the body.

Caskets overtook the funeral market, while coffins are what zombies emerge from in Hollywood movies.

Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a funeral home with coffins in stock as most stick to carrying only caskets. They have become the norm for use at visitations, funerals, and graveside services.

Do Caskets Show Decomposition vs. Coffins?

Although the embalming process does provide some time before a human body starts to decompose, neither chemicals nor a sealed casket can stop the inevitable from happening shortly after death. Many families choose a fancy and expensive casket in the hopes of slowing decomposition. However, all bodies will decompose as time goes on.

Purchasing a coffin or a fancy casket won’t stop this process.

Casket showroom in Montana

How Do The Costs Compare For Coffin Vs. Casket?

A coffin should be fairly inexpensive since they are usually made of wood. and use less material. Ironically, while caskets are built for economy, the costs for ordering them can add to the price.

Not as many vendors make and sell coffins today. Unless you build their own or contract with a carpenter. you would most likely need to purchase your coffin online. When you search for “coffins,” you will find many online retailers who are actually selling caskets not coffins. In other words, many people still use the two terms synonymously.

One online vendor that specializes in urns and “toe-pincher” coffins sells their least expensive wooden coffin for $1,450. It bears mention that you can get a very nice wooden casket for a similar price or less.

As a word of caution, you should speak to the funeral director if you plan to use a coffin instead of a casket to be sure where you are planning to be buried is equipped to accommodate your wishes. Some cemeteries cannot accommodate the burial of a coffin.

When Is A Coffin Used Today?

Coffins may be resurging in popularity due to the growing preference for cremation. When the body is burned, the container can include no metal. A coffin made of cardboard, wood, rattan, or other light materials will be just right.

A coffin is also used today for someone looking for a more natural burial, although you can also get a green casket. Since coffins are made out of wood, they can be made in a way that the entire thing decomposes over time.

Having said that, in many countries caskets have taken control of the funeral scene for burial. Yet, coffin furniture – cabinets and such made from coffins or in coffin style – is popular.

What to Choose?

Whether you are funeral planning for yourself or making funeral arrangements for a loved one, there are many decisions to make about the disposal of the body.

If you really want to be buried in a coffin vs a casket, go for it. You might have to search to find a coffin.

Deciding what to be buried in is a very personal decision and no one should feel pressured to make particular choices. Pick what is right for you and your family.


Pam Berg is a former English teacher with a passion for writing. She has written for many years on a variety of topics and considers herself to be somewhat of a jack of all trades when it comes to writing. Although most of us tend to want to avoid the topic of death, whether it is us or a loved one, it is inevitable. Pam is dedicated to ensuring that as people are funeral planning they have access to a no-nonsense, straightforward laying out of the facts. However, she also recognizes that this is a topic that needs to be approached in a sensitive manner.

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