Coffins are traditionally made with six sides, tapered around the shoulders, or rectangular with four sides. Another form of four-sided coffin is trapezoidal (also known as the "wedge" form) and is considered a variant of the six-sided hexagonal kind of coffin. Continental Europe used at one time to favour the rectangular coffin or casket, although variations exist in size and shape. The rectangular form - and also the trapezoidal form - is still regularly used in Germany, Austria, Hungary and other parts of Eastern and Central Europe, with the lid sometimes made to slope a bit from the head down towards the foot. In Medieval Japan, round coffins were used,which resembled barrels in shape and were usually made by coopers. (In the 1961 Kurosawa film Yojimbo, the protagonist, anticipating a shortage of coffins due to an impending battle (planned by Yojimbo) persuades several coopers to start making more coffins.) In the case of a death at sea, there have been instances where trunks have been pressed into use as a coffin.
They may incorporate features that claim to protect the body or for public health. For example, some may offer a protective casket that uses a gasket to seal the casket shut after the coffin is closed for the final time. In England, it has long been law that a coffin for interment above ground should be sealed; this was traditionally implemented as a wooden outer coffin around a lead lining, around a third inner shell. There are occurrences of coffins lined with or constructed from lead to bury radioactive-contaminated dead. However, in practice, after some decades have passed, the lead may ripple and rip. In the United States, numerous cemeteries require a vault of some kind in order to bury the deceased. A burial vault serves as an outer enclosure for buried remains, the coffin serves as an inner enclosure.
Some manufacturers offer a warranty on the structural integrity of the coffin. However, no coffin, regardless of its construction material (e.g., metal rather than wood), whether or not it is sealed, and whether or not the deceased was embalmed beforehand, will perfectly preserve the body. In some cases, a sealed coffin may actually speed up rather than slow down the process of decomposition. An airtight coffin, for example, fosters decomposition by anaerobic bacteria, which results in a putrefied liquefaction of the body, and all putrefied tissue remains inside the container, only to be exposed in the event of an exhumation. A container that allows air to pass in and out, such as a simple wooden box, allows for clean skeletonization. However the situation will vary according to soil or air conditions, and climate.
Coffins are made of many materials, including steel, various types of wood, and other materials such as fiberglass. There is emerging interest in eco-friendly coffins made of purely natural materials such as bamboo, willow or Banana Leaf.
Custom coffins are occasionally created and some companies also make set ranges with non-traditional designs. These include printing or painting of peaceful tropical scenes, sea-shells, sunsets, cherubs and patriotic flags. Some manufacturers have designed them to look like gym carry bags, guitar cases, cigar humidors, and even yellow dumpster bins. Other coffins are left deliberately blank so that friends and family can inscribe final wishes and thoughts upon them to the deceased. In Taiwan, coffins made of crushed oyster shells were used in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Coffins are sometimes personalized to offer college insignia or different head panels to better reflect the deceased's life choices or aspirations: in Ghana, Seth Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in the 50's was at the beginning of a tradition, still alive under his grand son Eric Adjetey Anang who creates elaborate coffins built in the shapes of various mundane objects, like automobiles or aeroplanes, fish or pigs, onions or stools.
In the 1990s, the rock group Kiss released a customized Kiss Kasket, which featured their trademark makeup designs and KISS logo and could also be used as a cooler. Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was buried in one.
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