Woodworking from the Cradle to the Grave


One of the most essential pieces of woodwork provided by joiners was the coffin – it’s a topic I’ve been doing research on for the “Furniture of Necessity” book. Coffin-making is a fascinating trade with special jigs and construction techniques that have to match the local mores.

As part of the research into coffins, I’m planning on having a coffin party with a bunch of woodworkers where we will all make our own personal vessel – and each will have bookshelves in them until we buy the farm.

It’s interesting to me how even children’s books on woodworking from the 19th century made note of the sometimes-morbid part of the job.

Below is the text from “Was soll ich werden? : ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch von Lothar Meggendorfer.” Text by von Franz Bonn München : Braun & Schneider, 1888. Translation by the ever-sturdy Jeff Burks.

All ‘s let our furniture, table and bench,
the chair, the box and the cabinet,
We thank the cabinetmaker’s diligence,
He knows how to make everything well.

He built us the cradle,
In which we beheld the light of the world –
He once carpentered us the chest,
That we will wear for eternal rest!

Download the entire book scan here.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to Woodworking from the Cradle to the Grave

  1. fitz says:

    That dude looks like Ron Herman.

  2. A coffin party! How interesting. I for one would like to know more about coffin construction. Will you be posting any blogs about it? Please!


  3. plockc says:

    great idea, though I guess you’d get funny looks if you tried to make any for your family

  4. tsstahl says:

    I thought I was alone in wanting to build a casket. I heard Frank Klausz talk about the Pope’s dovetailed casket several years ago. Intrigued by the challenge, since then I’ve been collecting pictures of wooden casket styles I like. I hope to have the skill for such a project some day.

    I had not thought of using a coffin for something else until the far distant, if ever, time it is used as intended.

    By the way, Rockler sells coffin hardware.

  5. Wilbur Pan says:

    Love that shirt.

  6. I watched my father in law make a simple pine coffin for his dear friend who passed away. It was beautiful. It was then that I vowed to make this my practice for my loved ones. Please do share more info, Chris. I would love to know more.

    Joshua Klein – http://workbenchdiary.com

  7. bobjones2000 says:

    So I guess turners get cremated? 🙂

  8. miniaturepanjandrum says:

    “As part of the research into coffins, I’m planning on having a coffin party…”

    The Whitechapel Club of Chicago (founded 1899 by “literary-minded newspapermen”) used a coffin for a table in their club. The original source of one of their drinking songs appears to be a poem entitled The Revel and credited to Bartholomew Dowling (1823-1863). In part:

    Then stand to your glasses, steady!
    We drink in our comrades eyes:
    One cup to the dead already
    Hurrah for the next that dies!

    According to some sources, Dowling wrote the poem as a British officer in India. The poem has been co-opted by numerous military units around the world, often under different titles.

  9. bbbailes says:

    This is a slide show of a casket my friend Greg and I built for a great woodworking friend of mine when he passed away.

    Natural Expressions Furniture – 3 Day Casket Build

    via McTube for YouTube.

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