A wooden casket is a wonderful way to honour a beloved pet.
Several times now I’ve been asked to build a box to hold the ashes of someone’s beloved and departed pet. Each time it’s a challenge to design a box that remembers the pet with respect and dignity yet remains low-key enough so it doesn’t attract too much attention.
This is one such box, made of mineral coloured maple with walnut end caps. The woods can be chosen from trees your pet may have lived near. You can even choose different colours of woods to represent your pet. Notice with this box that the main portion is off the ground, and the top is gently curved, inviting someone’s hand to touch, and rest a minute. The design is reflective of the pet in whose honour it is made.
This project takes a weekend to construct and uses about 5 bd. ft. of lumber. It’s design follows the basic rules of the “golden rectangle”. Joinery is decidedly simple. The plywood bottom is screwed on, completing and sealing the final resting place.
Prepare the Stock
Begin by squaring and thicknessing your stock. Rip your stock to the appropriate widths and cross cut to their appropriate lengths. Be sure to use a stop-block when cross cutting the lid and the sides. This will ensure that the pieces are of identical length.
Shape the Wood
Putting the angle on the faces of the end caps can be done several ways. I chose to use the bandsaw. Clamp a tall fence to your bandsaw table. Make sure the spacing between the fence and the blade is matched to your stock’s thickness (use your stock for reference rather than measuring).
Place a 1/4″ x 1/4″ spacer on the table and at the fence. This spacer will assure that you maintain the correct angle while you make the cut. Set a featherboard to hold the stock tight to the fence just ahead of the blade. Make the cuts slowly but with a steady feed rate. Use the appropriate push-sticks for safety.
Don’t cut the angles into the ends of the end caps yet, as you will need square stock to create the rabbets.
Cut the Rabbets
Mount a dado blade in your table saw and add a sacrificial fence to your existing rip fence. Make sure it’s at least 1″ thick. Set the blade height to 1/4″ and set the fence to give you a 1/4″ wide cut. Run the rabbets in the bottom of each side as well as along the ends of the top piece. Reset the fence to 1/2″ and run the rabbets along the long sides of the top piece. Set the fence for a 3/4″ cut and run all four sides of each rabbet. Set the fence one more time to 1 1/8″ and run the short dimension (cross grain) portions of each end cap. After the rabbets are finished you can cut the tapers in the ends of the end caps.
Cut the Curves
If you have a large enough bandsaw you can rough cut the curve on the top piece. I chose to use a hand plane as it gives me a little time to be part of the magic that transforms wood into something people appreciate. It sounds like a lot of work but after about 20 minutes with a sharp #4 hand plane (and some final touches with an apron plane) you can complete the top curve. When the top is shaped, run it through the table saw with your blade set to 45º. Running it through the table saw clips the long edges off and creates the bevels. If you like, you can also use a block plane to remove the bandsaw marks from the angled faces of the end caps. The block plane can also be used to shape the curves on the tops.
Prepare Pieces for Assembly
Use your biscuit joiner to machine the slot in the inside face of each end cap. Now make the clips that hold the top on. Clips can be made from cut-offs. They are simply nibbled away on your table saw. The clips will be hidden and do not need to be of “finished” quality. Use more of your scrap to make the glue-blocks to use during assembly. Cut a 1/8″ x 1/8″ strip on the table saw to make the contrasting pegs that hold the sides on.
Shape The Pegs Round
Shape the pegs round using a plane clamped to your bench. Cut your pegs to 1 1/4″ long. That way you will be sure your pegs can be installed and removed by hand during the dry fits.
Drill the Peg Holes
Using a clamp-assembly, carefully drill the 1/8″ diameter holes (1″ deep) that will be used for the assembly pegs. Be sure to drill these accurately, as they will breakout if not drilled properly. Be sure to clean the bit often while drilling to prevent any binding. Note the clamp blocks used to pre-assemble the box for drilling, shown on the edge of the drill press table. For gluing up boxes, and for procedures such as this, they’re indispensable.
Gather Pieces for Dry Fit
Dry fit your pieces and check for fit. I used an old Stanley #75 Rabbet Plane to help me fine-tune the rabbets. I used an apron plane to finish removing the tool marks left by the machinery. Mark your pieces, to show which side is mated to which corner, and decide which faces give you the nicest effect. Use the pegs you made to hold it all together. Fit the top clips into place and drill the pilot holes. Be careful not to break through the top.
Glue and Clamp
When you’re satisfied with the components and their fit, disassemble the box and give each piece a final sanding, breaking all the edges and corners. Apply glue to the mating surfaces. Make sure not to use too much glue. Assemble the sides with an end cap first. Dip the pegs in glue and place them into their holes. Make sure they seat. Add the second end cap and the pegs. Place a small dab of glue on the middle of each rabbet, of each end cap, for the top to sit down on. Do not glue the outer edges. The top will need to expand and contract with changes in humidity.
Assemble the top to the rest of the assembly and turn the whole thing over to install the top clips. Place glue on two surfaces of each glue block and press them into each of the inside corners. Make sure to slide them against the top. Place the completed glue-up in clamps until it’s dry.
Remove the box from clamps and square the bottom by running the box across 80- grit sandpaper sitting on your table saw. Use a flush-trim saw and sharp chisel to pare the pegs flush. Clean up any glue squeeze out using scrapers. Final sand the entire piece, and fit the bottom, using four screws. Be sure to run a steel screw in each hole, first, to cut the threads. Wipe the box down with a tack rag and apply your favorite finish. I used four coats of tung oil, wiped on, scuffed with 0000 steel wool, and finished with paste wax.
If you build your own version of this cremation box, be sure that it is sized appropriately (i.e. approx. 1 cubic inch of space per pound of weight of the pet).
This box is dimensioned to have approx. 135 cubic inches total. Some locations will return the pet encapsulated in a sealed rectangular metal can and others will use a plastic bag. Be sure to understand the exact space requirements for your project prior to setting down the dimensions.