No outer burial container, coffin, or casket can promise to preserve the deceased’s remains. Despite this functional similarity, there are aesthetic, price, legal, and regulatory factors that impact which type of burial container can be used.

Casket vs Coffin

When most people think about funerals and death, they think about a coffin. Coffins are just one specific type of outer burial containers that can be used in the burying process. The coffin itself has evolved into the modern casket.

In practice, a coffin is simply a burial container with 6 or more sides. The mortuary industry jokingly refers to these six-sided containers as “toe-pinchers” since they get very narrow at the feet.

Today, Europe manufactures most “coffins” are and they are very expensive.


Caskets, unlike coffins, only have four sides. Caskets typically come in wood or metal form though its possible to find concrete, steel, stainless steel or copper burial containers. Caskets are much more common than coffins as well as more affordable.

Usually, a casket also has a cranking mechanism to help position the body better in the grave.

Wood vs Metal Caskets

The first question a funeral home director may ask is whether the family prefers a wood or metal casket. This is purely a cosmetic decision based on what the family feels is most appropriate or attractive.

The most popular wood casket material is Cherry Wood, followed by reclaimed wood, and then barn wood caskets.

Caskets and vaults cannot be guaranteed to protect the body from outside or biological elements regardless of their material. 

What they do accomplish is protecting the structural integrity of a plot or grave, particularly the more heavy-duty polystyrene or incredibly expensive bronze vaults.

Casket Customization

Both the interior and exterior of casket can have customizable accents, colors, and engravings.

In addition, family members can select the interior cloth from different fabrics and stylings such as crepe, velvet, and brocade.

Families often choose to include picture panels over the head of the deceased and even corner molding that displays what interests the deceased had during life, like golfing or firefighting. Most common is to include religious symbols in these photo panels.

Half-Couch vs Full-Couch Caskets

When selecting a casket for an open casket funeral, family members will have a choice between a half-couch casket or a full-couch casket.

A half-couch casket has a split lid that allows the deceased to be viewed from about the waist up. On the other hand, a full-couch casket’s lid is one piece and makes it so the deceased may show off their taste in footwear and clothing.

Full-couch caskets are fairly rare and very much a cultural and regional choice.

Rental Caskets

Until recently, “rental caskets” were illegal. Now, with the invention of rental inserts (which are just alternative containers themselves), families may choose to have a funeral with the body casketed in a traditional manner and the option for cremation after the services.

Cremation Caskets

Cremation caskets, sometimes referred to as “alternative containers,” are designed to be easily and quickly consumed by flame.

“Basic” alternative containers are mostly cardboard-based. Some basic alternative containers may be produced with light wood-composites with increasing costs with weight. These non-carboard cremation caskets are commonly purchased when the family wants to have a viewing or visitation before the cremation.

Cemetery Guidelines for Outer Burial Containers

Some cemeteries do not require a liner or vault at all.

However, National cemeteries do require a simple concrete grave liner.

The federal government pays for these concrete grave liners for deceased veterans and their spouses so there are distinct and tidy rows of cemetery military markers.

After a burial, there is a natural settling of the earth on the grave. Outer burial containers take the pressure and weight of the “earth load.” Earth load changes when heavy construction equipment gets moved over the site for maintenance or when Mother Nature starts meddling with topography. With vaults, caskets, and grave liners, the chances of the remains shifting from their plots is greatly lessened.

No burial container can promise to preserve the remains in the immediate or indefinitely, however. No matter how much a casket weighs, the protection is relatively equal.

Selecting a Casket at The Funeral Home

Many funeral homes have a selection of casket inventory on the premises. In addition, some have samples of vaults, their angled corners cut to show their thickness and polystyrene cores.

In the absence of cut samples or full-sized inventory, your local funeral home may provide a series of detailed photographs of all the cremation receptacles and burial containers offered. The full range will usually include a variety of materials such as cardboard, woven fibers, composite wood, and the rental casket option with its cardboard and crepe insert diagrammed.