Provo casket crafter helps fulfill final wishes

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:28 AM

James Roh

PROVO — The smell of burning wood from a stove hangs in the air as Michael Scheetz secures a large piece of wood on his workshop counter. Surrounded by tools, diagrams, pictures and decorations, Scheetz can often be found laboring in his garage-turned-studio behind his house in Provo after a day at work as a chemist for Provo City Water Department.

With 20 years of woodworking experience, Scheetz’s high level of proficiency in the craft comes as no surprise; however, the end product just might. With an eye for details and a heart for serving others, Scheetz has begun making unique, fully customizable caskets and coffins that are priced well below the standard price.

“The goal is to help people,” Scheetz said. “It’s something everyone has to deal with whether they want to or not.”

While Scheetz admits that he has experienced some adverse reactions to his business, he insists that handcrafting caskets and coffins helps grieving families in several ways. He estimates that his company, American Handcrafted Caskets and Coffins, is able to save customers at least a thousand dollars when compared to buying through a funeral home. Scheetz’s homemade caskets start at $650 with options to add interior linings handmade by his wife, Wanda Scheetz.

“I think these local craftsmen are offering an incredible service,” said Kathleen Owen of Funeral Consumers Alliance of Utah. Owen says that buying a third-party casket is a good way to save money on funeral expenses. “That’s an important option people don’t know they have.”

But to Scheetz, the real benefit of homemade caskets and coffins is in his ability to accommodate an individual’s wishes. Scheetz hopes that his business will help break down the stigmatization of discussing funeral plans and encourage families to prepare for the inevitable. Everything from a themed casket to a uniquely shaped casket to a simple pine box, Scheetz is willing and able.

“For me, it’s that old-fashioned handcrafted appeal that feels closer and more intimate to the event,” Scheetz said. “Let’s celebrate their life.”

In fact, Scheetz once built a trapezoidal casket that mimicked the casket of Pope John Paul II. Currently, Scheetz is working on a casket that will double as a bookshelf. Once the owner passes away, the shelves will be removed and the piece of furniture will then become a casket. For others, a simple casket is exactly what they have in mind.

“Plain pine boxes are just down to earth and practical,” said Provo resident Sydney Young. Young and her husband, Arnold Young, ordered caskets from Scheetz after seeing his booth at Provo’s annual Pioneer Day Extravaganza. “It’s a really professional job and for the price, it’s very economical.”

After receiving the caskets, the couple placed them in their garage until the day they are needed. For them, it was just one more step to making their funeral arrangements easier for everyone involved.

“We’ll have it done the way we want it done,” Young said. “Nobody has to make any decisions. They’re going to have a tough enough time as it is.”

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