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DIY before you die

Elvis coffin made by coffin club member

In Rotorua, New Zealand an eclectic group of creative and rebellious senior citizens dance to blaring music and celebrate life while decorating their DIY coffins. They all belong to the town’s coffin club.

What is a coffin club?

A coffin club provides a friendly environment to openly talk about death, and be sociable while doing so.

The New Zealand-based club began in 2010, when former palliative-care nurse, Katie Williams thought of the idea to recognize people’s life journeys with a more personal farewell. Katie, who had no prior craftsmanship experience, approached a group of local handymen to help her with build a casket.

“The coffin club helps people feel useful, and it is very social. We have morning tea and lunch, and music blaring, and cuddles,” Katie told The Guardian.

The Coffin Club describes itself as the ‘makers of fine, affordable, underground furniture,’ and has inspired a number of communities across the world to continue the legacy.

Many funeral homes in the U.S. can help families to arrange for a personalized funeral service, which truly reflects their loved one’s individuality. A DIY casket could be a feature of an alternative funeral held to celebrate the life of someone who loved to spend time in their home workshop.

Is there a coffin club in the U.S.?

Although there is no official coffin club in the U.S. yet, there are a number of coffin companies that can assist you while you learn how to build a casket. One of which is Northwood’s Casket Company, who supply ‘Build Your Own Coffin Kits’ that come complete with pre-cut wooden parts, screws, glue and sandpaper.

Woodworkers who love making things around the house may also be inspired to make more ambitious final furniture. Casket Plans, for instance, provides step-by-step instructions on how to build a casket of your choice, according to your level of skill. Its Birchwood Casket Plan is a detailed 16-page guide with lots of pictures to assist competent woodworkers with everything from building the rounded lid with textured panels, to making the coffin handles.

With over 60 members attending the club in New Zealand, each coffin is more elaborate than the next. One coffin clubber has decorated their coffin with a montage of Elvis Presley, while others have chosen landscapes or newspaper cuttings to decorate theirs.

This coffin club attracted filmmaker Briar March to create a musical documentary about the friendly society and its members, some of whom are living with a terminal illness. In the film, every part is sung, danced, and performed by the coffin club members, who have been attracting fans and followers around the world.

Coffins clubs around the world

The trend has also inspired Australians in the Tasmanian town of Ulverstone, who gather together weekly in a community shed to build caskets. The members of the club supply their own coffin materials but get free access to the space, equipment and a coffin design mentor.

Founder of the Australian coffin club, Lynne Jarvis says: “A coffin club is bound to make a positive impact to individuals themselves, and their communities.”

The first coffin club has also recently launched in the UK and its founders say that its provided a safe space for death-positive conversations, as well as make new friendships.

“Within the first five minutes of the club starting, everyone starts bonding and getting along,” says co-founder Kate Dyer.

Discover more on how to choose a coffin or casket on our Help & Resources pages.

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