Cardboard Coffins (DIYing Free)




About: Justin Tyler Tate is an artist, designer, animator, teacher, jeweler and maker/hacker who produces with thoughts of culture, science and interactivity.

In paying respect to the dead, to our loved ones, we often forget the cost of that respect. DIYing Free ( is a website/project/intervention seeking to alleviate the economical and ecological costs of death through design and technology.

Through the following Instructable you'll be given the tools to construct a cardboard coffin for yourself or a loved one.

Why should I make/use a cardboard coffin

  • Using lasers is cool.
  • Cardboard is the prefect material for making coffins out of: often it is already headed towards a landfill after its initial use which also means that it can be acquired for free, it is biodegradable and it is very strong in relation to its weight.
  • It prevents the unnecessary processing and disposal of raw materials: during 2008, in the United States alone, 1.8 million bodies were buried in coffins resulting in the approximate disposal of 1,632,932 kilograms of material not to mention the energy used in the fabrication of the materials for those coffins, shipping, labor, manufacturing, finishing, et cetera
  • It's cheap: if every one of those coffins was the most economically priced coffin on the market at about $500/€350, that would still result in a total consumer cost of $859,064,350/€630,000,000…per year in the United States
  • Cremations are bad: In the United States during 2008 there were 68,249 cremations performed equating to approximately 108,009,760,401.22 kilojoules of expended energy which does not include the amount of energy wasted that is stored of the deceased or accounting for the negative environmental impact caused by the emissions of each of those bodies into the atmosphere.
  • Death of a loved one is a stressful situation: by assembling a coffin for a loved one you are able to channel your grief into a positive result and reduce stress in the process.

Step 1: Gather Materials

For building your coffin you'll need to get enough cardboard which can be cut down to 21 sheets measuring 61 x 96cm.

*Bike shops, appliance & electronics stores all are good sources of free cardboard which is pretty heavy-duty and comes in the sizes you're looking for.

You will also need:

  • Several pieces of wood ( 2 x 2m long, 2 x 1m long and at least 3cm x 5cm) to create a base to carry the coffin on/lower it into the grave.
  • Some sturdy rope or paracord for lowering the coffin into the grave.

Items which could be useful when assembling:

  • Tape (packing would be most appropriate but duct would also work).
  • A box-cutter/sharp knife.
  • A drill and drill bit large enough to pass your sturdy rope through.

Step 2: Download the File

Step 3: Sort Your Coffin Components

We'll begin by separating your pieces into those destined to be the lid and those for the coffin.

Lid Pieces will be numbered with the labels TS### and J###. Everything else is for the coffin.

Let's begin by constructing the lid.

Step 4: LID001

Insert the TS001 through TS003 tabs into their corresponding slots; for example, the tab labeled TS001 slides into the slot labeled TS001 to assemble the main sheet for the coffin lid.

Step 5: LID002

Insert the small tabs located on the top of the J### pieces into the large sheets making up the top of the coffin lid. The J### pieces give structure to the lid.

Step 6: LID003

Slide the sides onto the J### pieces, matching the corresponding TS###s and J###s.

Step 7: LID Finished, COFFIN About to Begin

At the point the lid should be finished and you are probably ready to move on to assembling the coffin.

Step 8: COFFIN001

Begin constructing the base by connecting the end piece, which is marked with A/B/C/D/001, with the first two side pieces which are labeled A002&B002- A007&B007 and C002&D002- C007&D007.

Step 9: COFFIN002

Connect the rest of the side pieces, marked to A/B/C/D-022, to those you just put together. Remember to leave one side of the end piece (the one marked with 022) not connected, otherwise you would not be able to complete the next step.

Step 10: COFFIN003

Fold all of the joined side pieces in the middle down their long axis. The sides should fold down two score lines which run the length of the pieces.

Step 11: COFFIN004

Now you are able to connect the remaining open end-side to the other partially-connected side.

Step 12: COFFIN005

Fold the rectangular pieces marked 002 through 022 along their score lines into a triangular tube and insert them into the triangular holes in the side pieces of the sides.

Step 13: COFFIN006

Connect the remaining 4 pieces and place it in the coffin to adjust the angles of the walls to fit. Slide the tabs at the end of the floor pieces into the slots located at either end of the coffin.


The purpose of the carrying frame is to create a base for the coffin to sit on, allowing it to be carried by up to 8 individuals while not allowing the coffin to twist or slump.

Connect your 4 boards(atleast 2.5 x 5cm, 2x2m & 2x1m) together, as shown in the illustration, using a couple of nails or screws to hold together the sections of board which overlap.

Alternatively, you could use twigs woven and bound together in a lattice formation and trimmed to slightly larger dimensions than the coffin to prevent twisting/slumping in the coffin.


This is where your sturdy rope or paracord is necessary and

there are two ways I will suggest that you implement it…

  • Going with Option A will mean that you will not get your rope/cord back but the ropes will definitely not slip off of the boards which would causing a terrible incident. Simply make a loop which fits snugly over each end of the boards, drill a hole at both ends of each board (if you were to imaging a square at the end of each board, drill the hole in the center of that square) and slide the rope through the board so that it locks the loop on the board.
  • Option B is simpler but the rope does not lock onto the boards; just tie a loop snugly over the end of each board so that after the coffin has been lowered the rope can be slid off the end of the board.

Step 16: R.I.P.

Put the coffin into use.

Take note that the structural ability of the coffin is not meant for living bodies. Because dead bodies are rigid and have no mobility, it is necessary that others place them in the coffin and so their total weight is evenly distributed across the beams. Placing a large portion of weight on any beam will cause it to sag excessively and damage the integrity of the coffin.

Also, DIYing Free is an ongoing open source project so please feel free to comment with ideas or suggestions for future designs.

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    17 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Holy cow, the detail...the DETAIL! Nice work in documenting this project. The sketches are really good....


    5 years ago on Introduction

    One of the most useful I'bles on the site. Posting this requires a lot of courage... Respect to put this topic on the map, thanx!

    Btw: I've seen higly decorated sarcofage-stylish coffins made from papier maché. Creative & beautiful. And free.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I'm dying to try this out.

    That aside, I do like the idea. It allways seemed wastefull to have an object valued at thousands, and then just burn it, or bury it... Make this out of resyk cardboard, even better. Make a small box filled with treeseeds, and perhaps make the cemetery slightly less bleak.

    Interesting, at least in this area when someone is cremated they use a cardboard box instead if a coffin in the retort. The family only pays a rental fee for the coffin for the viewing (if there is one) & it is reused for the next body. Makes great sense to me ! Thanks for this !


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I agree with the emissions part for cremation, but land should be used to grow food, not keep bones. Besides, I want to guarantee that I won't come back as a zombie.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    To negate the chances of you coming back as a Zombie, put a provision in your will specifying that you in your cardboard coffin be run through a wood chipper ala "Fargo".

    -Assign the wood chipper clean up to someone you didn't care for in life...


    Reply 5 weeks ago

    I'd make Bob do it. Eff that guy.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    We bought a cardboard coffin for my father in law. Beautiful picture printed on the side of it that totally told his essence. Way better than any wooden box could have done. The only problem was that the crematorium didn't allow us to use it, so we had to go elsewhere. Now if only the energy for the cremation could have been used towards electricity or heating water...

    There is nothing creepy or fun, good or bad, disgusting or enchanting about just is and a reluctance to discuss the issues revolving around it does not help anybody.


    5 years ago

    this is truly a good idea. I'm not sure though if you are allowed to be buried in a cardboard box in countries less liberal than the us.

    Jonny J

    5 years ago

    I'm sending a link to my kids. :)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I have it in my will that I want to be buried in a plywood box. Cardboard box doesn't seem sensible because lifting to and from to grave will have messy result. But yes, I believe these additional costs for coffins, to head stones are ridiculous since we are dead!

    1 reply

    I included the carrying frame into the design to remove the chance of messy results when carrying/hoisting/lowering.