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Woodworking Hobby Turns Into Coffin Business For Provo Man

PROVO, Utah — At a time of year when thoughts turn to ghosts and ghouls and vampires, a coffin, understandably, might seem a little scary.

Creating that coffin or casket out of simple planks of wood, however, is a process that can actually be quite sentimental and introspective, according to Michael Scheetz.

“It’s helped me have that examination of what I want in my life, how short it might be, how long it might be, what am I going to do,” he said as he stood in the middle of his two-story workshop located behind his house.

Scheetz chanced upon the craft of coffin construction more than a decade ago.

“A coworker was making preparations for his mother,” Scheetz recalled. “His mom was 95 at the time and he knew that I loved woodworking and he said, ‘hey, could you make a cedar coffin for my mom?’ I had never done anything like that before.”

Scheetz made a cedar coffin with hinged lids and a lining on the inside.

“It turned out gorgeous,” Scheetz said. “I was displaying old-fashioned woodworking at a colonial event, and behind me, I had the coffin on display and it just got so much interest that people were asking for my number and wondering how much I charged and it just rolled from there. I was getting more calls and more requests for simple pine box caskets.”

Within a year-and-a-half, Scheetz had a business.

The Craft Of Coffin-Making

Today, he offers traditional wooden caskets through American Handcrafted Caskets and Coffins.

His wife, Wanda, designs and picks the linings.

“I had different ideas of how to do it,” she said. “I wanted to do it more how like you would do upholstery.”

Wanda Scheetz said the couple often tries to incorporate the person’s life into the end product.

“We’ve put fishing rods on some, golf clubs,” she said.

In one case, Scheetz said a woman liked her cherry red car so much, she wanted her casket to match.

Scheetz obliged and made a casket modeled after the car.

While most of his business involves families with immediate or near-future needs, Scheetz said about one-third of his customers are looking for caskets and coffins for the long-term, or even for decoration.

One client bought a casket with shelves inside to place next to a piano in a parlor.

Another purchased two caskets to house food storage and camping gear.

Coffins & Connection

Scheetz said the process can become surprisingly personal.

The couple tries to get to know the families and people for whom the coffins and caskets are intended.

“It’s more meaningful when I cut or carve or grind or sand, I know who this is going to be for and it’s important for me to do a good job,” Scheetz said. “After the event, we make sure to make a copy of the obituary and we read it as a family.”

Through the process, Scheetz has forged connections he never expected to make.

“I didn’t bargain for that,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

Now retired from his other job as a water worker, his casket and coffin business has led him to contemplate his own mortality.

He said he’ll probably make his own casket someday.

“I think about it more,” Scheetz said. “I think it’s a way for me to leave my mark and I’m learning that, for me, leaving a mark is important.”

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