Companion Urn

lucas.peters, posted on Apr 07, 2020

Last year, after a high school friend passed away, his wife contacted me and asked me to build a companion urn for her family. A companion urn is a double-sized urn that fits ashes for two people and is commonly used for couples that would like to be interred together. This design is not suitable to directly hold the cremains. Instead, as requested by his wife, it is sized to fit two temporary urns side-by-side. These are the urns, often plastic, that come directly from the mortuary before the cremains are transferred to a more permanent container. The temporary urns supplied by the mortuary in this case were 5"x7"x9". This was on the large size range of temporary urns that turned up in my research, but you'll want to confirm the size with your mortuary.

This design features a panel and drawer faces that are suitable for engraving. For this one, I added walnut veneer to maple panels and drawer faces to add some contrast when the CNC engraved through the veneer.

The keepsake drawer is reversible and the back drawer face is screwed in place without glue so that the drawer can be re-engraved by her children upon her passing if they choose.

The back and drawer bottom are 14 " plywood. The top and bottom plinth are 34 " walnut. Everything else is 12 " hardwood.

Materials or Supplies

Materials or Supplies

Walnut hardwood
Maple hardwood
Walnut veneer
1/4" birch plywood

Assemble the main box

box measurements

Use the measurements pictured for the box parts. All materials are 12 " hardwood except for the back which is 14 " birch plywood. (Not shown here: I drilled a 1" finger hole near the bottom of the back panel so the drawer could be pushed out.)

I created the front panel from maple veneered on both sides with walnut veneer. The rabbets, on the top and sides only, are 516 " wide and 14 " deep. This provides a little reveal around the panel. I V-carved the engraving in the panel before assembling the box so that it would fit in my CNC's envelope.

The sides, top, and bottom are mitered and get 1414 rabbets to receive the back.

The top gets a 1414 groove, 14 " from the front to receive the front panel.

The side panels have some stopped grooves to receive the front panel and shelf. See the next step for detailed measurements.

Assembly isn't difficult, but it's not a straightforward box, so do a dry-assembly before you glue. NOTE: The back does not get glued on. It is instead held on with picture-frame turnbuckles so that the cremains can be accessed.

Apply glue to the miters. Apply glue to the center section of the top's front groove. Clamp the sides, top, bottom, and front panel together using band clamps. I added some pin nails as through the miters through the top and bottom. (These will later be hidden by the top and bottom plinths.) I then applied glue to the front, center edge of the shelf and slid it in from the rear until it mated with the front panel. The placement of your glue will depend on the grain direction of your shelf, panel, and sides in relation to each other. Take into consideration seasonal wood expansion and contraction and avoid gluing cross-grain pieces to one another.

Once the glue dries, reinforce the miters by adding small dowels through the top and bottom of the box. Drill, then glue the dowels in place. When the glue has dried, flush-cut, then sand the dowels. These will be hidden by the top and bottom plinth.

The plinths are made from 34  x 834 x 1278 " walnut with coves routed on the front and side edges. Glue them in place, centered and flush with the back of the box, as shown in the photo.

Side detail

The stopped grooves on the urn side receive the front panel and the shelf: a 14 " stopped groove, 14 " deep, 14 " from the front edge for the front panel and a 12 " stopped groove 14 " positioned as indicated.

I created the grooves on my router table, carefully marking start and stop points on the fence. Keep in mind that the sides are mirrored so the starting and stopping points will be unique for each side. I recommend drawing the grooves on the blank and then doing a dry run of the motion with the router off before committing.

I squared up the ends of the routed grooves with a chisel.

Keepsake Drawer

Cut the drawer bottom from 14 " birch plywood. The remaining pieces are all 12 " hardwood.

I made the drawer front and the removable back face from maple with walnut veneer on both sides. The removable back face is 116 " narrower than the rest of the pieces and the drawer front gets a 116 " rabbet on the bottom to maintain the shadowline reveal.

Cut a 14 " groove, 14 " deep and 14 " from the bottom edges on the insides of the sides, front, and back. Cut 12 " rabbets, 14 " deep on the inside edges of the front and back, as shown.

I engraved the inscription on the front face before assembling the drawer box.

Glue the drawer box together, leaving the removable back face unglued.

When the glue is dry, double-faced tape the removable back face to the drawer back with the top edges flush. Drill and screw through the inside of the drawer to attach the face. Remove the screws, remove the tape, then re-attach with screws.

Last details

I finished the urn with several coats of aerosol lacquer.

I added picture frame turnbuckles to the back of the box to hold the back in place.

Finally, I added some self-adhesive jewelry-box felt to the bottom of the drawer.

I had some walnut that I'd been saving for a special project that had figuring that looked like a heart. I decided to use it for the side of this urn. (The other side came from the same board and kind of looks like wings, to me.) Because I was engraving a fairly intricate pattern on the front panel, I chose to use straight-grained veneer so it didn't interfere too much. If you choose not to do an engraving, the front panel would be a good place to showcase a piece of dramatically figured wood.

The imagery of the intertwined trees was at the request of my friend's wife. It appeared in a favorite story of theirs: the tale of Baucis and Philemon from Ovid's Metamorphosis. The story goes that Zeus and Hermes came through town disguised as peasants. Amongst all the rich, selfish townspeople, only the poor, married couple Baucis and Philemon showed them hospitality by inviting them to their home and serving them wine. Upon realizing they were actually entertaining gods, the couple were taken up the mountain by Zeus and Hermes who destroyed the wicked village with a flood. Where the couple's rustic cottage used to be was now an ornate temple. Zeus and Hermes allowed them to stay there as the temple's guardians. When the two died, they were transformed into two intertwining trees so that they would remain together.

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