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Kent Woodworker Offers 'Natural' Burial Choice

All wood caskets part of Down to Earth Woodworks product list

Brek Jacobson doesn't want to put anything in the ground that doesn't break down.

That ideology is what led the Kent woodworker and owner of Down to Earth Woodworks to create his "green casket," an all wood coffin available directly to the public and via Bissler & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory.

Jacobson said the idea came about as part of a discussion with his friends in the woodworking business. He started researching eco-friendly burial methods when he came across a statistic showing the enormity of products used in modern burials.

Enough steel, used in coffin construction, is buried annually in the U.S. to build a span the size of the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Discovery.com.

Add to that the granite headstones, concrete burial vaults and other materials and Jacobson sees a lot of waste.

"You just think about the resources that go into building that and how much it costs to be buried in a cemetery. It’s astronomical. I thought, for one, this is a green product," he said of his wood casket.

Scientific American, citing National Geographic, reported that American funerals consume 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and 30 million board feet of casket wood each year.

Jacobson's caskets are made with zero steel. Not even nails are used to assemble it. Instead, engineered wood dowels fasten it together.

The wood caskets are not stained or finished. Biodegradable glue also is used. No lining is provided, but custom sizes are available.

"It’s meant to be kind of a raw, rustic product," Jacobson said. "People seem to like the idea. It’s intended to be a back-to-earth type of process."

It's essentially a no-frills, natural burial option. And that makes it cheaper. Jacobson declined to say how much the coffins cost but said, in general, they are cheaper than a typical steel coffin.

"I think typically people that go this route are not thinking about adding a lot of things to the inside of the casket," he said.

He started making the caskets in 2012.

For now, the wood use to build Jacobson's caskets is white pine that comes from areas certified by the USDA Forest Stewardship Program. That certification means the lumber used is being replanted faster than it's harvested.

Eventually he would like to consider using local hardwoods or sentimental lumber — wood that may have been kept or used by a family member.

Bissler & Sons is listed among the approved providers for green burials by the Green Burial Council, a non-profit organization that encourages environmentally sustainable death care in the U.S.

In the Kent area, Jacobson said there haven't been too many requests for the wood casket. Much of his work since opening shop in Kent in 2006 has been for cabinetry, custom furniture and other custom woodwork.

He anticipates that will change gradually.

As for Jacobson himself, he's not sure if he'll be buried in a wood casket.

"I’m toying with the idea of donating myself to science," he said.

Brek Paton Jacobson January 14, 2013 at 02:20 PM
Yes Sarah, the cost of lumber changes like the price of gas, but a typical pine casket that I make is $750. They are designed in a way that maximizes strength and minimizes materials. Each casket is rustic, by some measures, but also refined in construction, worthy of the respect we give its passenger.
Brek Paton Jacobson January 14, 2013 at 02:52 PM
The answer is, yes. My caskets are also sold by Bissler and Sons and are approved for burial at Standing Rock Cemetery, or any other. It's funny how we have been conditioned to think that caskets prevent the pollution of ground water, by slowing the natural process of decay, but federal law does not see it that way, and does not impose restrictions on casket materials. Burying a bunch of steel in the ground is far more polluting, than allowing nature to take its course. As far as I know, most cemeteries don't or can't restrict the type of casket. They are more concerned with, and often require a concrete vault, which supports the ground after decomposition occurs. I guess this makes mowing the grass safer.
Sarah Skibiski January 14, 2013 at 04:47 PM
That really is very affordable, and I really like the idea that we are starting to go in a greener direction.
Bob Heimann February 01, 2013 at 01:08 PM
Brek, How nice to hear of your involvement in this. I know first-hand of the results of your craftsmanship, and it is world class. I hope you are well!!!! Just curious, can you build a burial box that a crematorium (such as Bissler's) can use in the send off? Bob Heimann
Brek Paton Jacobson February 01, 2013 at 07:03 PM
Hi Bob, Great to hear from you too! I regret not getting to see you around here anymore. I hope your move to Tennessee has brought you and Carolyn lots of joy! Speaking of the Oval Cabinet, I am bummed out that I am not around to make any slight adjustments to it's moving parts. Over the years, I'm sure it has experienced the extremes of it's natural wood movement, and thus, could use some adjustments. To answer your question, yes, I have thought about making urns, if that's what you mean. I made one for my grandmother some years back. It's not something I'm trying to market at this point, but I would certainly build and customize an urn for someone, if that would be meaningful. Take care, Brek

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