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Four Questions to Consider When Choosing a Cremation Urn February 5, 2016

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+, Uncategorized.
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How to choose a cremation urnOne thing some people would prefer not talking about, is what’s to be done with their body after passing away. It’s a hard one to bring up, especially when caregiving. Some people already have this worked out from birth, while others are still mulling it over. Kris was very forthright about talking about it, and I really admired her fearlessness for that. One part of that discussion was of course deciding whether to be buried or cremated. That was pretty easy because she already knew what she wanted – cremation. Slightly more ambiguous was whether she wanted her ashes scattered or buried and where. The final decision was a combo of scattering and burial; half the ashes were to be scattered in our favorite hiking area outside of Las Vegas, and the other half was to be buried at a family plot in Minneapolis.

We didn’t know exactly how to shop for something like this so first we tried to work it out at the funeral home. They attempted to sell us something quite expensive but we decided on buying a scattering tube that seemed appropriate and fairly priced. We then bought another urn for burial from an on-line site. It took me days to select something online because there were so many urns of different shapes, sizes, colors, materials and purposes. On top of that I didn’t know which vendor to trust. The variety was blinding, much like walking into a North Minnesota blizzard.

Now that I am running an online cremation urn website (is that irony?), I not only have my own experience but hear from many customers facing the same thing I did. I find they are as confused as I was and consequently we spend a lot of time educating when people call in for help.

There are 4 main questions to answer in selecting a cremation urn. Answering these questions will cut through the clutter while saving you time and money.

OneWorld Memorials Urn on Display

A cremation urn on display

  1. How will the urn be used?
  • For display: Are you planning to keep the urn with ashes in your home, office, or somewhere for viewing?
  • To house in a columbarium niche: A niche is a small compartment, often in a wall, into which an urn is placed. Unless the wall is made of glass you probably won’t see it once it’s housed.
  • To scatter the ashes: Many people want to have their ashes scattered in a meaningful place. As Joan River’s once commented, “My husband wanted to be cremated. I told him I’d scatter his ashes at Neiman Marcus – that way I’d visit him every day.”
  • To biodegrade into the earth or water: Green is big. Some want their urn to decompose without hurting the planet while allowing the ashes to naturally disperse.
  • For burial: Have the urn to stay intact with the ashes. Ground and water options are available. The Neptune Society actually has an underwater urn site.
  • For distribution to others: Quite often a family will split the ashes up and give each family member a keepsake or special cremation jewelry to hold a portion of the ashes.
  1. What are the best materials for the urn?

Display urns: With a display urn you’ll want the most durable materials, since, obviously, you expect it to be a permanent part of your life.

  • Urns made of stone such as marble or granite, or metals such as bronze, aluminum, or stainless steel will not lose form or structure. These materials are popular for display. They also stay great looking.
  • Wood makes for a handsome display urn and some forms of wood are quite durable. Caution: Wood can also warp or crack over time if not well crafted. MDF (medium density fiberboard) is made of wood and resin, is less expensive and quite durable.
  • Ceramic urns allow for exquisite artisan touches and uniqueness. The downside is that a ceramic urn is fragile and can break. Display with care.
  • Glass urns can also be aesthetically pleasing. They, too, can be fragile, so select carefully. Some manufacturers make the glass thick and opaque so you are not staring into the ashes.
  • Resin is a good looking, durable material that can be molded to create statuary and other forms. Cultured marble and MDF use resin in their mix.
OneWorld Memorials biodegradable urn

A water burial biodegradable urn

Biodegradable urns:

  • Biodegradable doesn’t necessarily mean “green”. Although an urn may biodegrade, a true green product poses no threat to the environment and will come with certification.
  • Most biodegradables are made of non-toxic, natural materials such as Himalayan rock salt, handcrafted papers made from Mulberry bark, cornstarch, coconut shell, gelatin mixed with sand, and bamboo.
  • Many wooden cremation urns are also biodegradable if they were constructed with natural coatings and no metal fittings.
  • Some materials will biodegrade when buried in dirt, while others are made to biodegrade in water. For instance urns made of paper, gelatin or salt are great for water burials as they break down quickly. Check before buying since you don’t want a land burial urn floating on top of the water taking months to break down.

Scattering urns

  • Anything can be used for scattering ashes but what’s important is that the urn is lightweight, so as to be easy to transport and hold securely while performing the ceremony
  • Fragile urns, such as ceramic can drop and break en-route to your scattering destination.
  • Popular scattering urns come as decorative paper tubes. There are other variants on this theme in other materials worth looking at since they are in the same price range.
  • Traveling by plane with the scattering urn? Natural materials will go through security more easily.

A popular scattering tube

  1. What is an appropriate design?

Much of this is subjective, but there are things to be aware of.
There are 4 major designs today: box, vase, tube and statuary.
For display: Any design you like will do but consider where the urn will reside. For instance if you intend to keep the urn high up on a mantle you might consider a wider base. A box, vase or statuary with a broad bottom will give you less worry.

For a Niche: Size is the limitation. Box style urns are often selected but if you know the dimensions of the niche you can branch out to other designs. Measure, measure, measure.

Biodegradable bury: The only constraint on design with biodegradables is the material and how easily it is molded. You will find a lot of unique designs such as turtles, seashells, acorns, hearts as well as boxes and vases- all biodegradable.

Scattering: Tubes are popular because they can be transported easily, they’re light and aren’t cumbersome to hold while scattering ashes. Remember: light, easy to carry and to pour from is the key. There’s no law against other designs. They used a Folger’s coffee can in the movie The Big LeBowski.

Distribution of ashes: keepsakes for ashes come in every design imaginable from miniature urn replicas to dazzling jewelry. Let your inspirations go wild, but since these are meant to be kept, stay away from biodegradable containers.

  1. How much should I pay for an urn?

Decide on a budget. Urns range from under a hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars for handcrafted urns, and everywhere in between. You’ll find good quality urns in every price bracket. The majority of urns are hand-made by experienced craftspeople. We often hear from customers how surprised they are by the quality.


  • Online retail shops sell urns at up to a 70% discount off the funeral home prices. Some even have bargain areas with urns that are not perfect at a bigger discount. One site even gives the flawed ones away!
  • Urns that generally fall into a higher, but moderate, price bracket of $100 – $350 include those made of cloisonné, highly crafted wood urns, metal with intricate decorations, marble ceramic and some glass urns.
  • Artisan urns are often one of a kind and usually warrant a premium price for the unique design.
  • 3-D printed urns have come onto the scene. You’ll pay a bit for these, but you can design the urn to be whatever you like. Check on the material, they are usually some kind of composite.

I hope you don’t find yourself having to go through this anytime soon, but if and when you do, these questions will help you to consider the themes, style color etc. to finalize your selection. Choosing an urn is a very personal decision. Ultimately, it comes down to answering the question: What’s the best way for me to pay respects to someone I loved and will always love.



1. Christopher MacLellan - February 5, 2016

Greetings Ira,

Such a sensitive topic to discuss, but a very important topic as well to have open discussion about while on the Caregiving journey. There are two aspects to Caregiving that I think are common; the beginning and the end, and in most cases, we are not prepared for either of these life-changing events.
Having open and honest discussions about end-of-life wishes is an important part of the Caregiving process that we often let go until it is too late. I knew early on in our Caregiving journey that Richard selected cremation as we talked about it openly. However, he left it up to me to decide what to do with his ashes and that is where the problems started.
As I look back on purchasing the Urn for his life celebration, then subsequently, purchasing a Biodegradable Urn to place his ashes in the ocean, it would have been much easier for me to work with someone like you who has “walked the walk.”
Thanks for making all of us aware of the need to have this important talk and for being a trusted resource and one of the most difficult times in life.

My best to you!

2. pamoemail-public@yahoo.com - February 6, 2016

Dear Ira,Thank for the great amount of information, in great detail.  I haven’t needed it yet, but  I’m archiving it to have later when I can go back and review.  It’s great to have so much info together in one place, and not have to start researching “from scratch”. Pam Oriard

From: Conscious Departures To: pamoemail-public@yahoo.com Sent: Friday, February 5, 2016 2:08 PM Subject: [New post] Four Questions to Consider When Choosing a Cremation Urn #yiv5136937772 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5136937772 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5136937772 a.yiv5136937772primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5136937772 a.yiv5136937772primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5136937772 a.yiv5136937772primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5136937772 a.yiv5136937772primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5136937772 WordPress.com | ijwoods posted: “One thing some people would prefer not talking about, is what’s to be done with their body after passing away. It’s a hard one to bring up, especially when caregiving. Some people already have this worked out from birth, while others are still mulling it ” | |

ijwoods - February 6, 2016

Hi Pam, can’t imagine how you found me! It’s good to hear from you. I hope you don’t need this info any time soon but as you say, there’s some good resources here. This is not something we typically plan for because it seems so remote, but things happen. And they don’t happen on our schedule a lot of the time.

3. Taylor Bishop - August 14, 2017

Thanks for going over some things to consider when looking for a cremation urn. To be honest, I actually didn’t know that there were different designs for it, like a box or a statuary, and that other factors could affect one’s decision. For example, you mentioned that keepsakes for ashes can come in a lot of different designs. I think it could be cool to see what people have chosen, and what it can say about their loved one. Not only that, but it could be interesting to see how they have displayed them and held onto them over the years.

ijwoods - August 17, 2017

Thanks for the suggestion Taylor, it’s a really good idea and something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Maybe your comment is the inspiration I need to get it started. :-)

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