Coffin-Building Advice from a Master Woodworker

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Funerals and wakes are great parties thrown on one day the guest of honor can’t enjoy them. Master woodworker Chris Schwarz presents one way around that conundrum, sort of, in this description of a coffin-building party.

Chris Schwartz is the best popularizer of hand-powered wood working of his generation. His manifesto The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is a wise and skilled reflection on the simple collection of hand tools necessary to build most furniture, as well as instructions on making a handsome chest in which to store them. He writes with a wry wit and practice-honed insight. In a recent blogpost, Schwarz describes his experience of building the last piece of furniture he’ll like use, his own coffin.

The style he chose featured a tricky but elegant design that bends the boards used on the sides. To accomplish this feat, a fire is built in the cavity of the coffin which helps coax the necessary bending. This stunt required assistants and what better way to summon helpers than by having a coffin-building party.

We’re written before about home-grown funerals. I myself built a couple practice coffins using a modified toe-pincher style construction which I use for bookshelves. To be honest, my attempts weren’t entirely satisfactory, but the results are distinctive, functional book-holding shelves as well as “conversation pieces”. Even as a non-master woodworker, I totally comprehend the urge to build my own coffin. It’s yet another way of getting more comfortable with and recognizing one’s own mortality. I wouldn’t mind a couple dozen more years though to improve my woodworking skills and get used to the thought.

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