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Wooden Cremation Boxes and Cremation Urns

by Maggie Thompson

Wooden cremation urns

Image by Andrew Collins*

“I’d like you to make my cremation urn. Just use whatever spare wood you have. It will be fine.”

This is my friend Kevin’s story. His mother, a woodworker herself, asked him to make her burial urn. Kevin was a fine carpenter, as was his dad. Kevin chose cherry and bird’s eye maple to craft a lustrous square box with rounded corners and a lift off top. The cremation box honored his mother in a meaningful and aesthetically pleasing way. The wooden urn with her ashes is now resting in the family plot in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The natural beauty and warmth of wood make it a desirable option for cremation urns. Kevin’s family was fortunate to have a fine artisan among them who could carry out his mother’s request. For those who don’t have a skilled woodworker in the family, we will explore three ways to choose a wooden cremation urn.

  • by type of wood
  • by style or theme
  • by purpose

Choosing cremation boxes by type of wood

If you gain a distinct pleasure in a grain or color of wood, you’ll find a variety of woods represented in the range of wooden cremation urns and boxes. Each wood possesses distinct qualities. Below is an alphabetical list of the common woods used for urns.

  • Apricot is heavier and harder than cherry. It can be stained and has a unique grainy texture.
  • Bamboo is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Solid bamboo stalks are pressed to make boards that show the distinctive grain of the stalks. It is a warm, blond color with thin tan lines.
  • Cedar is red in color, with lighter striping, and a strong straight grain. It is gently aromatic and can handle moist environments without rotting.
  • Cherry is a hardwood with a fine, straight grain that ranges in color from reddish brown to blond. It polishes well and can be stained or unstained.
  • Maple is a creamy white hardwood that sometimes has a reddish tinge. It takes dark stains well. Tiger stripe maple and bird’s eye maple are distinctive variations.
  • Oak is a hardwood with a fine, even texture. Its color is golden, with reddish or orange casts and darker streaks.
  • Pine, a readily available softwood, can be yellow or white with brown knots and well defined grain.
  • Rosewood gets its name from its sweet smell. It is a rich chocolate red color with darker veining that can appear purplish.
  • Walnut and black walnut are straight-grained hardwoods that range in color from a dark brown to a softer yellow or gray-brown.

Choosing a cremation urn by style and theme

Many wooden cremation urns for adults, children and pets are box style, made for ashes to be loaded from the bottom. Your choice can be determined by the beliefs, aesthetics, or passions of the deceased.

  • Corrine T. chose the Hummingbird Urn of walnut, with an inlay of flowers and a hummingbird. She says, “If your loved one loved hummingbirds like my mom, this is the urn to get. It’s beautiful - truly amazing to look at.”
  • There are nature scenes, such as the handmade Heartland Deer of cherry with a laser etched forest and deer scene. Another, of oak and hand carved inlay, depicts a Desert Wolf howling under a full moon.
  • Those with religious themes include walnut cremation boxes with inlays in oak of the Star of David or a Menorah. Others are Bible shaped and depict either the Lord’s Prayer or doves, a Celtic Cross, or other faith symbols such as angels. The religious-themed urns are available in wood with leather, mahogany and cherry veneer, cherry and other woods.
  • A triangular flag cremation urn in walnut features a patriotic theme, with a window on top for view of a folded flag, space for ashes below, and a rose granite insert on the side for engraving.
  • Elegant clocks, such as the Heritage Clock cremation urn in cherry, include a discreet back panel with an urn insert.
  • For those preferring simplicity of design, there are beautifully crafted plain chests, such as the Contemporary Wooden Urn, hand carved with beveled edges in red and white oak; the Natural Cherry Urn, a minimalist design with a hidden sliding panel for loading ashes; the Boston Wooden Cremation Urn, in cedar, reminiscent of traditional cedar chests. Of the Windsor Cherry Cremation Urn Box, Martha M. says, “My husband was an avid woodworker and very artistic – a perfectionist. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the box. It is residing on an American cherry entertainment center he built. A perfect memorial for someone who loved working with wood.”
  • Additionally, handmade wooden cremation urns provide a great choice for those with a preference for artisan pieces.

Choosing an urn to hold ashes by purpose

A memorial urn’s primary purpose is to hold the ashes of a loved one in reverence, beauty, and honor. Additional purposes revolve around how the urn will be used.

  • Will the urn hold the ashes of an infant, child, adult or pet? Small, medium and large wooden cremation urns are available. Small wooden cremation boxes and burial urns accommodate the ashes of an infant, child, or pet up to about 45 pounds. Medium size urns for cremation ashes hold ashes for a child or pet up to about 85 pounds. Cremation urns for adults hold the ashes of a person weighing up to 200 pounds and above. 
  • Burial urns can be interred in a cemetery plot or placed in a columbarium.
  • If keeping cremated ashes at home is your preference, memorial urns can be tastefully displayed with consideration given to style.
  • A companion urn with a removable divider is an option for two people who wish to have their ashes together in one memorial urn, or for a pet’s ashes to be buried with the pet parent’s ashes, something we're seeing more often. A good example of this is the popular Floral Wood Companion Cremation Urn.
  • If ashes are to be scattered, there are urns such as the Serenity Scattering Urn, of lightweight wood fiberboard with a sliding cover for easy access. The urn can be kept or recycled after scattering.
  • For a green burial, biodegradable urns are suitable. The Biodegradable Wood Cremation Urn made of catalpa wood has ingenious sliding panels to seal the ash compartment.
  • Keepsake cremation urns, memory boxes and wooden photo frame urns are options for holding small amounts of ashes to keep in the home as meaningful symbols of enduring relationships. They also make wonderful gifts.

Engraving is possible on certain styles. In most cases, engraved plaques are easily attached to flat surfaces of wooden cremation urn chests, or engraving may be done directly on the urn. Check the product description for details.

Costs range from $20 for a small cherry heart keepsake urn, with low- to mid-range prices, to $449 for a lovely ambrosia wood cremation urn, and $513 for a tribute clock. As you can see, the nuances and many options are what make wooden cremation urns and keepsake urns satisfying choices. And for those to whom buying USA made products is important you will find that most of the good wood urns are made entirely in America. They may cost a bit more, but the craftsmanship and beauty is certainly worth it.

 *Image can be found here:

Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.