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Ten Things to Think About Before You Die

When someone you love dies, it is hard to know what to do. Chances are, you’ve happened upon this blog because you’re searching for a cremation urn or beginning to research what to for a spouse or relative who has died or is nearing the end. And as you know, it is a difficult time.

But you have the opportunity of sparing those who love you some of these difficulties by talking about what you want when your time comes. Here is a good checklist of ten things to think about before you die from the Funeral Consumers Alliance, adapted from Harold Schechter’s Whole Death Catalog: A Lively Guide to the Bitter End:

  • Do you want your organs donated? Which ones? Should they go to any particular medical school?
  • Do you want to be buried? Where?
  • What kind of coffin do you prefer? A cheap pine box? The best casket money can buy?
  • Do you want to be embalmed? Do you want an open-casket viewing of your body?
  • What sort of funeral do you want? Who should officiate? Is there a specific funeral home you wish to handle the arrangements?
  • Do you want a memorial service? Where and what kind – in church, at home, graveside? Are there specific instructions – favorite poems to be read, special music to be played, etc?
  • What sort of grave marker do you want, if any? What should the inscription say?
  • Would you prefer cremation? What about your ashes – do you want them preserved? Or should they be scattered? Where?
  • Who should be notified of your death? Who should be invited to the funeral/memorial service?
  • What information should be included in your obituary?

“Given how discomforting it is to contemplate our own deaths, it’s no surprise that when it comes to funeral preplanning, most of us are prone to the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” But it’s important to keep in mind that making these decisions – and communicating them to your family – is good for everyone concerned. It will give you the grown-up satisfaction of taking charge of your own destiny. And it will relieve your loved ones of a terrible burden at a time when they’re least capable of coping with it.”
The Whole Death Catalog, p. 47

Final Arrangements

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Hand Turned Urns | Hand Spun Urns

For a one-of-a-kind cremation urn, take advantage of the superior quality of handmade cremation urns

Urns Northwest has recently partnered with a one-of-a-kind urn artist who specializes in hand-spinning the highest quality hardwoods into cremation urns that highlight the unique textures latent in every piece of wood. We are proud to offer this line of hand-turned cremation urns to you, that you may memorialize your loved one with an urn unlike any other in the world.

For an example of the variety and craftmanship we bring to you, see the unique characteristics of these three hant-turned urns, all made from black walnut hardwood:

The craftmanship involved in these unique cremation urns is readily evident. Moreover, these urns are eco-friendly because they are made without screws or nails or metal of any kind, and thus these one-of-a-kind urns can be a part of an earth-conscious green burial.

Generally, a small variety of these specialty cremation urns are kept in stock; wood varieties include the popular Black Walnut and Ambrosia Maple (which are always in stock and ready to ship), as well as American Elm, Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, White Poplar, Cherry, Sweet Gum, Locust, and more, depending on local availability. Each one-of-a-kind urn is specialy crafted to highlight the distinct woodgrain qualities in latent in every tree. No two of these urns are exactly alike, and thus serve as a unique memorial to your loved one.

Don’t settle for cheap urn imitations, pieced together in a foreign factory. Celebrate the beautiful life of your loved one with a gorgeous and unique hand-turned cremation urn from

Feel free to contact us to discuss options regarding our line of hand-spun cremation urns.

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The Sustainable Funeral: How an Eco-Friendly Burial Urn Can Honor the Life of Your Loved One

Cremation is a process by which the natural decay of the human body over time is sped up artificially. If done thoughtfully and with grace, the process can stand as a poignant acknowledgement of the human condition, and as such, can be a valuable means for those who experience the loss of a loved one to accept the realities of a world in which life and death are the norm.

The details involved in a memorial service, a burial or scattering service, and the final disposition of a loved one are many and varied, and are usually handled well by those to whom we turn in these times – funeral home directors, pastors, other or older family members, experienced friends. But remember that you have a say in these details, and that what you say through the details can help to honor the memory of a loved one and to ease the difficulty of their passing.

Some of those details center on the handling of the cremains, or burial ashes, during the memorial service and at the actual burial. The crematorium will deposit the cremains in a plastic bag, which is placed in a cheap plastic or cardboard container. If you choose to bury or scatter the cremains, rather than keeping them nearby as a treasured memory in one of our beautiful hardwood urns, then the choice of how you bury or scatter the ashes of your loved one can be an opportunity to celebrate their life.

This is why we at Urns Northwest are proud to offer a line of eco-friendly urns. These biodegradable cremation urns are beautiful enough to display at the memorial service (which eliminates the cost of renting a temporary urn from the funeral home), and, more importantly, provides an attractive and environmentally friendly way for you to engage in the process of returning the remains of your loved one back to the dust of the earth.

 “Return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
– Genesis 3:19

You can celebrate the life of your beloved husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, friend, or mentor by celebrating their return to the earth. Here is an eco-friendly biodegradable urn to celebrate the passing seasons in life:

Or honor the memory of the ocean lover by disposition of the cremains through this water scattering urn, which is engineered to float for about 5 minutes before descending to the final resting place in the deep:

And here is our most popular eco-friendly cremation urn, the Journey Earthurn Biodegradable Urn:

Biodegradable Urn

Remember, you have the choice of how to bring your loved on to their final resting place. Listen to the advice of experienced friends, family members, pastors, and funeral home directors, but ultimately do what most celebrates the life of an incredible individual.

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Custom Wood Cremation Urns

One way to honor the life of your loved one is to have a unique cremation urn custom built to hold their cremains.

We have recently partnered with a master craftsman to bring you the option of customizing a cremation urn for your departed loved one.  Choose a wood type that will reflect memories of their character: solid walnut for the strong, dependable one; red mahogany for the romantic; a cheerful light oak for the joyful outdoor lover.  Customize an inlay design around the edges, and add a carved token of a cross, a butterfly, a rose, a book, a ’66 Mustang, a pair of wedding rings…. the ideas and possibilities are endless. See our Custom Wood Cremation Urn for more details.

Why buy a mass-produced imported burial urn when, for under $1000, you can have a custom built urn with special accents and designs unique to you and your loved one?  Visit Urns Northwest for the best in custom made wood cremation urns.

Cremation Urn with Cross and Butterfly
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Cremation Urn Sizes

Choosing the size of cremation urn needed is determined by the interior capacity of the urn. There are a few typical sizes such as an adult urn, companion urn, child urn or keepsake. They each have an industry standard of 1 pound of healthy weight to 1 cubic inch of cremains.  This calculation is not an exact measurement, but more of a suggestion. Typically an adult urn will be around 200 cubic inches and will accommodate the cremains of most adults.

Adult size urn
Adult Urn size


However, this can very if someone was rather tall in which the skeletal structure of the person is greater than average. The process of cremation leaves an ash that is coarse and made up of bone.  These cremains are placed into a plastic bag in order to keep it contained. If you believe that the deceased may need a larger urn talk to the crematorium about the size you will need. 

Lovebird Companion urn
Doves Companion Urn

Companion urns are typically around 400 cubic inches and some are divided on the interior. Again, using the same calculations as above to determine the need, however, if the urn is not divided it will allow more flexibility if one person was large and the other was not. 

Child Urn
Child Urn


Child urns have 2 categories: child and infant. An infant urn will be smaller and in some cases you can use a keepsake as well. An infant urn needs to only be about 10 cubic inches but a child urn can vary for needs, but again using the calculation of 1 pound per cubic inch you can determine the size needed before purchasing a cremation urn.

Garden walk keepsake urn
Keepsake Memorial Urn


Keepsake urns will vary considerably since a keepsake doesn’t have a set size to conform to. The keepsake capacity will be  determined by the desired function. Some desire to keep a small amount of ash in a piece of jewelry, which is typically only a pinch. Other keepsakes are miniature versions of adult urns which will hold between 1 to 50 cubic inches. 

When choosing an urn always double check the capacity of the urn before purchasing, this will save you time, money and frustration by not having to purchase a second urn.

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Cremation Urn discounts

When looking for discounted cremation urns, be careful and thorough in your search. Some of the urns that are available at discount prices may just be discontinued designs, but others are imported low quality urns. We will run specials on certain urns and have a few discontinued models that we decided not to produce anymore and I know some of the other companies will do the same.

My suggestion is to call or write the company and ask why the urn is being discounted. If it is much cheaper than what you can find at other urn sales sites, I would be very cautious. There are companies who will copy a product, but made with much lower quality materials and workmanship, but will steal the image from us and sell their item as if it is the same.

We know that time is not usually available when buying an urn, but if you don’t take a little time in asking questions you may find yourself repeating the process or being stuck and disappointed with an inferior product.

Some things to look at when ordering anything online:
1. Can you easily find the contact information for the company such as physical address and phone number. Never order if you only get an online contact form!
2. How long has the company been in business: this won’t guarantee anything, but if you are ordering an item such as an urn you don’t want to order from a fake company to find out nothing ever will ship.
3. I recommend calling the company before ordering – even if you just ask a couple of generic questions. If all you get is an answering machine and someone calls you at odd hours on a cell phone, you can probably bet that customer service will be lacking.
4. Do a search for the company name and words like problems, scam, issues, etc… Every company who has done business for some time may have a couple of customers they couldn’t satisfy, look at how people were treated overall.

When ordering  a cremation urn, chances are you are on a timeline. Make sure that you let the company know the date you need the urn in hands by. If no note field is available when ordering be sure to call them. This will make sure they are able to handle your order in a timely fashion and you won’t be at a funeral without the urn. Over the last 9 years we have had maybe 2 instances where the shipping company failed to deliver within their guarantee.  (example: overnight taking two days) but it can happen. Ordering with a faster service than you think you need may save you the headache.

I hope this is helpful to you. 

Please leave a comment or any questions below, we would love to answer your questions.

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Adult Urn Standards

We recently ran into an issue where the cremains of a 6’2″ man did not fit in a 210 cubic inch urn. To be on the safe side we advertise, just as everyone else, that the calculations are approximately 1 pound of healthy weight to 1 cubic inch of cremains. This calculation for most gives plenty of room in a 200 cubic inch urn remaining.

The problem arose which left us wondering about a particular crematorium’s process and standards. The cremains of this man was about 350 cubic inches. This was about 2 times that of the industry standard. So, we are left asking what was mixed in the cremains? Was it those ashes of another person? Was this just left over cremains that the crematorium had left around?  This was screaming to me the need for an investigation.

The poor wife that watched a funeral director attempt to push way too many cremains into a standard urn was left upset and angry at us. The funeral director I also fault for not being honest with his customer and should have told her that the volume of cremains was way more than usual (unless of course he had ownership in the crematorium as well.)

We opted to help out the situation by providing a companion urn at a low cost to replace the standard adult urn. Companion urns typically hold 400 cubic inches or more.

If you have ever ran into this situation or in this situation now, please let the Funeral Consumers Alliance know by filing a report. This kind of unscrupulous activity should be reported to save the next family from unnecessary pain during a very difficult time.

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How to Choose a Cremation Urn

Choosing an urn

Since most people are not in the market for urns on a daily basis, it can be very hard to even get started. Sometimes there are more questions than answers and with the emotional turmoil, this only adds more stress. Here are some tips.

  1. Keep in mind that you are free to use any container you like
  2. Determine the size of urn you need
  3. Decide where the urn will be kept
  4. Decide what type of material you would like
  5. Decide what design, theme, or style you would like
  6. Other considerations: Scattering, sharing, traveling, lasting

Choosing a cremation urn for your loved one

How to Choose a Cremation Urn


MAIN POINT: You are free to choose and use any container you like, and you are not required to purchase an urn from the funeral home or crematorium.

First off, you can legally keep the remains in almost any container you would like. People have used vases for centuries and recently we have heard the stories of coffee cans, ziploc bags, mason jars, and more. You can modify a violin, a guitar, or a brewing barrel to make an urn if you so pleased. You are not required to purchase an urn from the funeral home, or from anyone else.

There may be some restrictions based on what you intend to do with the urn; for instance, burial in a cemetery requires that the urn either be a vault-style urn, or that the urn be placed inside a burial vault designed for holding an urn. But if you’re keeping the urn at home, anything goes.


MAIN POINT: Generally cremated remains will take up about 160-220 cubic inches of space. Most cremation urns have a capacity of 200 cubic inches.

The basic rule of thumb is that each pound of the person’s body weight will require one cubic inch of space for the ashes. In other words, 1lbs body weight = 1 cubic inch of remains. For example, if someone weighed 185 lbs, the resulting ashes will generally be about 185 cubic inches.

Most cremation urns you’ll find will be standard sized 200 cubic inch “adult” urns. There are also smaller versions known as keepsake urns, and double-sized ones at 400 cubic inches called companion urns. We’ve helpfully tagged all our urns that hold larger-than-average volume as large capacity items.

To calculate with a little more certainty and determine the size urn you need, we have the ultimate resource to help you answer this very question here: What size urn should I get?


MAIN POINT: If the urn will go in your home, choose an urn that is beautiful and represents your loved one in a special way. If it will go in a niche or be buried, you may want to choose something a little simpler and more affordable.

The next main question is – Where will this urn be kept? If you plan on keeping the urn in your home then you have more freedom in the choice than if you want to place it in a niche at a cemetery. Many niches are 11″ x 11″ x 11″. which limits your choice to a cremation urn under 11″ in all directions, so the converted-violin-urn idea is out of the question unless you build a miniature violin.

If you plan on burying the urn in the cemetery, you’ll want to choose something simple, affordable, and durable. Marble urn vaults can generally be buried, and you won’t be required to purchase a protective outer shell vault, since the marble urn won’t biodegrade (as wood urns will) or be crushed by the weight of the ground (as ceramic or metal urns can be).

Or perhaps you’d like the urn to go in a niche with a glass door, so that you can still see the urn. In that case you’ll probably want something that looks nice yet still fits within the confines of the niche – usually something rectangular is ideal, such as a wood cremation urn, perhaps one with an inlay art design.

For display in your home, you’ll want to choose a cremation urn that looks beautiful, reminds you of your loved one, and makes sense with your finances. When keeping the urn in the home some people don’t want to draw attention to the urn as an urn. This is where the design can fool people. Many of our urns have been mistaken as jewelry chests others we offer are actually clocks. There are countless options available, so read on for further considerations.


MAIN POINT: Common materials for cremation urns include wood, metal, stone, ceramic, and a variety of eco-friendly materials.

Where you keep the urn will determine what type of materials you can choose from. You certainly do not want to place a biodegradable sand urn in a niche, and you probably won’t want to bury a custom made decorative ceramic art urn.

Another factor is personal choice. Some people prefer brass or granite while others love the richness of walnut wood. This is a personal choice which is sometimes chosen in advance by the deceased, or an easy choice based on a known preference. Let the urn be something that represents your loved one to you, don’t let the salesman sway you by trying to convince you to buy a thousand dollar urn because “he would’ve wanted the quality”, but instead find the most fitting urn to remember them by.

This leads us to the next point…


MAIN POINT: Popular themes include fishing, flowers, military service, dragonflies, “Together Again“, personalized photo engraving, and more.

Just about any theme imagineable has been made into a cremation urn. From popular film and TV characters to sports teams, angels to zebra-stripes, simple silk slip covers to ornate replicas of an ancient Han tomb, you can find just about anything and everything for your loved one. Colors, wood types, shapes, nature themes, religious themes, music themes, and more.


Here are some links to other important considerations when choosing an urn:

One last question that comes up often is “how long will the urn last?”

  • If you are keeping the urn in your home, than how long will similar items last? If it is wood, how long does your hardwood furniture last? How old is that antique that has been handed down for generations? The hardwood urns are built from the same wood as those antiques and with the same high quality finishes that are used on cabinets and furniture sold today.
  • If you plan on burying the urn, most cemeteries will require a burial vault that can be sealed and are made from high grade polymers or metals.
  • For those who will place in a niche within a mortuary, the conditions are usually that which are dry enough and sealed to protect wood or metals from corrosion and rot.

I hope that this will help you in deciding what cremation urn will work best, but always keep in mind that it is your choice. Don’t let anyone make you choose some old ugly looking urn because that is all the crematorium offers. Also, keep things within a budget, by not being forced, even if it is merely by guilt, to buy something that can’t be afforded.

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Buying Cremation Urns

Buying Cremation Urns

Quite often the problem people have buying a cremation urn is that it is their first time. They are not even sure what questions to ask, and often the answers just add to the confusion.

  • Why do I need 200 cubic inches?
  • What kind of urn can I bury?
  • Can I take this urn on a plane?
  • Will the ashes (remains) leak out?
  • How does the urn seal?

These are just a few of the questions people have about the cremation urn itself. Let’s try to demystify the process some.

1. Urn Size

Beginner's Guide to Cremation Urns

Like this urn? Click here to buy

First, the rule of thumb is that you will need a 200 cubic inch cremation urn for an adult. This is based on 1 pound per cubic inch (c.i.) – this is based on the person’s healthy weight. This is the hard part to explain, but it has to do with the person’s bone structure and not that of the flesh. Cremated remains are made up of the remaining bone fragments.

READ MORE: What size urn should I get? (Article)

Other sizes of urns are available. Keepsake urns are a type of urn that is designed to keep a small portion of the cremains only. The sizes vary on keepsake urns from a pinch to 50 c.i. or more. A child urn typically will range from 30 c.i. to 150 c.i. and again the size needed varies on the size of the child. (I really hate even discussing this and I hope this does not come across offensive.) Infant urns are usually smaller than the 50 c.i. size.

Scattering urns are used in the case that you want the urn to open fairly easily for scattering and can also be kept after as a memorial. Often we are asked to engrave the scattering urns for keeping. Again, this is a choice. You can even keep a portion of the ashes as well and seal the scattering urn.

2. Urn Material

What type of material is best for cremation urns?

Like this urn? Click here to buy

Second, the material of the urn is your choice. Wood will decay faster if buried, but that is where a burial vault plays a part of protecting the urn. Most wood urns are kept either in a niche or the home of a relative. Glass, ceramic, stone, and many other materials are also used and have their advantages or disadvantages depending on where you plan on keeping them.

3. Traveling with an Urn

Travel with a Cremation Urn

CLICK HERE for our Fabric Urns collection, designed for elegance in air travel

Third, the latest that the FAA had put out on bringing an urn on a plane is that it has to be able to be x-rayed or it must be open already. They will not open it or allow you to open one there. Now the rules may change so always check before buying an urn if you plan on taking it on a flight. Wood urns can be ran through the x-ray machine. Check the FAA website for more.

MORE INFO: Which cremation urns are suitable for air travel? (Article)

4. Sealing an Urn

Opening and Sealing a Cremation Urn


When it comes to the cremated remains leaking out or sealing an urn, it will depend, again, on the urn you choose. First off, cremated remains are normally in a thick plastic bag. This bag can be placed into most wood urn which have screws that hold a bottom piece on.

Other cremation urns have a port that is held by screws which the cremains will have to be poured into. With wood urns you can add glue or a sealant before putting the screws in, but in most cases that isn’t necessary. Some other material urns will be similar to wood urns and others, such as a vase, will have to have the top sealed with a sealant.

READ MORE: How to open an urn (Videos with notes)

A Final Tip

Hopefully that helped clear some confusion for you about buying cremation urns. If not, feel free to write or call us with any additional questions, and continue browsing our blog articles and resources such as this one:

READ MORE: A beginner’s guide to cremation urns (Article)


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How to Open an Urn

Sharing Keepsake Urns

The one question we had been asked about many times over the years is “how do you open the urn?”  Most of our pages will display (albeit at the bottom) information to the effect that the urn opens with 4 screws from the bottom. This is how most wood cremation urns are opened. However, since many don’t read all the way down to the bottom of the page, they don’t always see the information and so would call us up and ask.

To simplify the answer we made a short video demonstration on how to open an urn:

There are a few exceptions to this, of course, and most of the urns that are different the product page mentions the way to put the cremated remains inside the urn. Some are designed with smaller holes and with others the the top is hinged. Vase style ceramic cremation urns tend to have the standard opening on top with a lid that can be sealed in place or that is threaded. Many stone (cultured marble and granite urns) open from the bottom with a threaded stopper or a plug.

Since making and posting this video years ago, it’s received thousands of views on our cremation urn website and on our YouTube channel, and we’ve made several more videos showing how to open and fill a variety of styles and designs of cremation urns:

If you have any question about how to open a cremation urn, please leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help.