N.B. woodworker's do-it-yourself casket kit allows people to assemble their own exit
FREDERICTON -- It has been called the Ikea of the coffin world: A ready-to-assemble casket kit.
New Brunswick woodworker Jeremy Burrill has been selling simple pine caskets locally for about two years, aiming to give people an affordable and more environmentally friendly option for their send-offs.
But when the owner of Fredericton's Fiddlehead Casket Co. decided to expand his business beyond the local market, he found shipping the coffins to be expensive because of their heft and size.
So, the entrepreneur came up with an unconventional solution -- a "stripped-down," do-it-yourself casket kit that could be easily assembled and shipped anywhere a delivery truck can travel.
Hence, the comparisons to the Scandinavian chain known for its ready-to-assemble furniture.
"It is like that, but there are no Allen keys to fuss with," Burrill said with a chuckle. "The response has been generally positive, but there have been a few people who have put their eyebrows up and been like, 'What? A kit for a casket? I'd never do that.'
"It's just totally not their thing, but a lot of people say, 'Oh that's what I want -- just give me something simple and don't make a big fuss about it."'
Burrill came up with the kit idea after he started getting inquiries for his rudimentary caskets from people in the United States, B.C., and other parts of Canada. He discovered that the cost of shipping the plain boxes would be about $1,000 -- roughly the same cost of his already assembled coffins.
He fiddled with the design of his assembled casket and came up with one that could be put together on the receiver's end in about a half an hour, though he says he can do it 10 minutes or less.
He's been marketing the $700 kit for about two weeks, and has already had orders from B.C. and Ontario.
Burrill said he also wanted to expand the reach of his business, since funeral directors were constrained by contracts that didn't easily allow them to buy caskets from anyone other than two big suppliers.
"There were a lot of barriers and a lot of them just didn't get it and would say, 'Why would anyone want that, why wouldn't they want one of these fancy hardwood ones like I have?"' he said, adding that a conventional casket can start at around $2,000.
The 35-year-old woodworker says the biodegradable, all-wood kits include 10 pine panels, 38 cherry pins for joinery and a rubber mallet. They do not have any metal and are joined with wooden pegs.
His assembled caskets include cotton cushioning filled with wood shavings to minimize waste and were inspired by a relative looking for a simpler coffin than what they found at local funeral homes.
He said his family asked him to make one for his grandfather, a cattle farmer who died last year. Burrill said he added a personal touch to the casket by writing an expression on the inside that his grandfather used to say "as a bit of a farewell."
"I carried it in and out of the church so that was a bit different, I mean, the emotions around that," he said. "Looking back on it, I was proud to have been able to do that for him."