I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

I was browsing through the books in the woodworking section of my local library, looking for information about making picture frames and staining wood, when this title jumped out at me. I couldn't believe my eyes. Lured in by the title, I picked up the book. It is, in fact, a book about making coffins, for both pets and people, not just something with a grabby title, like Winner of the National Book Award. It seemed very strange. So I checked it out, curious to see just what it was like, the strangest book I have ever seen in a library.

In Do-It-Yourself Coffins for Pets and People (1), the author, Dale Power, describes six coffins, three for pets, three for people. The coffins designed for people include the classic pine box, another out of poplar, and one made out of plywood. The coffins for pets are similar in style, in three sizes. The photographs, by Jeffrey B. Snyder, illustrate the steps well. The textual descriptions of the steps are not nearly so well done, with their order often unclear and their wording vague.

The biggest problem I see with this book is the lack of quality in the craftsmanship of the items described in it. It seems a better title might be Quick and Dirty Coffins for Cheapskates. Woodworking books tend to described finely crafted items - not this title. The stain on one coffin shown on the front cover is obviously applied unevenly. Runs in the varnish on another coffin on the cover are clearly visible. Some of techniques used in making of the structure seem as though they would not support the weight of a body. And plywood? Ug. If money is really that much of an issue, at least use a nice veneer on top of the plywood, please.

This leads me to question the qualifications of the writer, and whether this might have been printed by a vanity publisher. I checked the web site of the publisher, Schiffer Publishing, which claims to offer "more than 2,800 titles of Antiques, Collectibles, Art and Design, Military and Aviation History, Crafts, and Mind, Body, and Spirit. " (2). They have published 12 other books by Power:

I can only hope that these other books are better than this one.

At first, this book just seemed weird. But then I realized, that, for someone who works with wood, the idea of being buried in a ugly coffin might be untenable. So this might be a nice final project. And a book describing such a project would have considerable value. Do-It-Yourself Coffins for Pets and People, however, is not that book. I simply cannot recommend it. For a library that feels the need for a title on this subject, I strongly suggest that they look elsewhere. For an individual, I suggest looking at other books about cabinetmaking and the construction of boxes. I simply cannot find any reason to recommend this book, nor can I, based on the reviews on Amazon.com and on the quality of this book, recommend Power's more recent work, Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself.

Sources cited:
1. Power, Dale. Do-It-Yourself Coffins for Pets and People. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen, PA. 1997
2. http://www.schifferbooks.com/
3. Power, Dale. Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen, PA. 2001

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