How Hardwood Caskets are Made
Aurora Casket Company's hardwood caskets undergo a six-stage production process that ensures consistent quality through craftsmanship and attention to detail. This process is so focused on producing quality products that each casket spends two and a half days in production. The end result quite literally has the look of fine furniture.
Lumber preparation is a critical step in the process of producing high-quality caskets. Victoriaville, Aurora Casket Company's hardwood manufacturing partner, receives lumber in a rough cut state--the logs have been cut into planks. The planks don't have straight edges and they're very rough; the texture can be compared to the outside of a peanut shell. At this point the lumber is considered 100% wet.
Wood splits less and consistently produces higher quality products when the moisture content is in the 6% to 8% range. The goal of lumber preparation is to reduce the moisture content to that level.
This is a two-step process; in the first step, the planks are stacked outside with spacers between them so the airflow is uninhibited; this speeds up the drying process. After about three months, the moisture content is reduced to 30% and the lumber is ready for stage two.
In stage two, the wood is placed in large kilns capable of drying 250,000 board feet of wood at one time. The wood generally spends 15 to 30 days in the kiln. Once the moisture content has been reduced to 6% to 8%, the wood is ready for parts production.
At this stage, the rough cut lumber is planed, trimmed, sanded, and assembled into recognizable components. Component parts consist of ends, lids, sides, corners, bottoms, lugs, and braces.
To form large components, like the lids, ends, sides, and bottoms, several narrow boards (2-6 inches in width) are connected in a process called joining. The boards are joined using a stronger-than-wood glue to ensure the strength and integrity of the parts.
The boards for the lids are pieced together using a special form of joinery called "tongue and groove." This method of joinery is superior to others because the entire lengths of the boards interlock. One edge of the board has a protruding edge called the tongue; the other edge is cut with a groove. The two boards are glued together.
When the component parts are finished, they are rough sanded, then placed in inventory.
Craftsmen skilled in the art of cabinetmaking assemble the caskets by hand. Depending on the complexity of the shell design, a cabinetmaker will spend anywhere from three hours to more than a day assembling a casket. This is not an automated process; the craftsmen pay very close attention to the smallest details while building caskets using tools common to home workshops, like hammers, rasps, wood chisels, and drills.
Foundations for anything need to be strong, dependable, and of high quality; caskets are no different. The bottom is the foundation of every hardwood casket. It prevents the caskets from twisting and bending and supports the entire weight of the casket.
The bottoms are attached to the caskets three ways as security measurements against failure. They're screwed, glued, and nailed into position. As an additional measure of protection, two boards run transversely across the bottoms of the caskets in high-stress areas. These bottoms are called "safety bottoms."
Once the casket is completely assembled, it's sanded, then inspected in preparation for the finishing stage. At this point, imperfections in the casket are easy to fix. Once the caskets are finished, the expense and difficulty related to repairing them skyrockets.
During the finishing stage, it's important to make a distinction between two types of wood: open grain and closed grain. Closed grain woods are the most common, and the finishing process is straightforward.
The most recognizable open grain woods are oak and ash. Open grain woods are very porous and because of this characteristic, it's extremely difficult to put a gloss or polished finish on them without adding a step to the finishing process. A viscous filler material is applied to the casket by hand with a brush, allowed to dry, then rubbed off. This simple step greatly enhances the eye appeal of open grained woods.
Once this step is complete, open grain and closed grain woods are treated the same throughout the rest of the finishing process.
Several coats of lacquer are applied to the caskets. In between each coat, the caskets are oven-dried for two hours, and then hand sanded so that each application of lacquer adheres properly to the previous coats. To achieve the brilliant high gloss shine of the polished look, the caskets are wet sanded with a rubbing compound and then buffed, creating a finish that we like to say "looks a foot deep."
Expert seamstresses create all the interiors, giving them the same attention to detail as the makers of fine clothing. A great variety of interior styles are created from velvets, crepes, and satins.
Installation of the interiors requires skill and attention to detail.
The final steps in the manufacturing process occur in the shipping department. Just before the casket is shipped, the handles are installed, point of purchase materials are included, the casket undergoes a total quality inspection, and is then packed and shipped to the local family-owned funeral home.