One fairly common need when someone dies is a coffin. There are various sorts on the market, from bamboo eco-coffins to embarrassingly-tasteless photo wraparounds to heavy walnut ones with carved panelling, which seems rather overkill for something which is to be observed once and then buried underground. I was discussing this with my father when he remembered that he actually has several sets of what are called coffin “blanks” stored away in a roof space. A coffin blank is basically an uncustomised coffin – the top and bottom are full size, waiting to be cut to fit, and the set includes the necessary extra pieces (sides and trim) to make it up.
When the local joiner in our home village retired 15+ years ago (and the jobs of joiner and undertaker were the same job for many centuries) he had several sets of blanks spare, and my father obtained these from him and stored them. They are made of elm, which is a traditional material for coffins but is now almost never used since Dutch Elm disease devastated the British population of elm trees in the 70s and 80s.
We found a joiner here in Loughborough with experience of making up coffins (although he says this is the first time he’s been commissioned to do one by the eventual occupant!). We had the blanks shipped to him, and I sent him my height and shoulder width. On Wednesday, we went to view the result. Elm is rather a “wibbly” wood, as can be seen from the first photo below, which means it’s relatively hard to work but also means it has lovely grains which come up beautifully when polished. Without further ado:
We’re very pleased with the results – it’s a lovely job.