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Casket at the craft show

Sheila Sybrant

It’s not every day that you see a casket at a craft show.

But those who made it to the craft show at the Ranch Expo in Bassett recently had the opportunity to see that unusual sight at Allen Baragar’s Niobrara Valley Wood Products booth.

Baragar, a carpenter by trade, is a woodworker hobbyist. The Ainsworth man has been doing woodworking since his high school days, about 40 years ago. Both his father and grandfather were woodworkers.

“I’ve got sawdust in the blood,” he said.

Furniture is Baragar’s main focus. His best-selling pieces are barstools.

Another top seller is bed frames. The “coolest piece” he ever created, he said, was a bed frame made out of box elder wood. However, gathering the material was a challenge.

He tries to use dead timbers when he works, but box elder wood “gets punky and hollow when it dies,” Baragar said.

The guy for whom Baragar made the bed frame had a woodlot the size of a football field, and “it took the whole football field” to find enough good wood for the project.

Baragar’s foray into caskets began about 20 years ago when a friend asked him to make a cowboy coffin for him. He admired Baragar’s woodworking and “thought he would like to have a piece of mine,” Baragar said. (The coffin is still above ground as the friend is still alive.)

Since then, Baragar has made a number of four-sided caskets (as opposed to the six-sided cowboy coffin). The casket at the craft show was the ninth one (including the coffin) that he has made.

That casket was actually already sold — one of two made for a family in Brewster. He decided to bring it, though, because it was “going to be the showstopper” and “get people to stop by” his booth. The casket had the desired effect.

He makes his caskets on order — “hopefully not rush order,” though, he said. His father’s casket was his only rush order so far.

One of his future projects, for an indeterminate time, will be his own casket, he said.

Each casket takes about 40 hours to make — more time than any other piece of furniture.

The process includes procuring materials from the local mill at Springview, edging them, and gluing them for tight joints; framing the box; screwing on the bottom every six inches; and doing the trim work, edges, and grooves. Depending on the type of wood used (he offers pine, cedar and bur oak), the caskets might be varnished or stained.

The caskets, which are not lined on the inside, have a split top for viewing. The tops are built in one piece and then cut in half, a task with which he is extremely careful as there is a lot of labor already invested in the lid at the point when he cuts it.

He has used the same pattern on the majority of caskets that he has made.

Although there are no government regulations for the construction of caskets, he said, he has to make them a certain size to ensure that they fit in the vault.

How long does Baragar plan to continue his woodworking hobby?

“Probably until I’m using my (own) pine box,” he said.

Readers may contact Sheila at svsybrant@gmail.com or 45092 859th Road, Bassett, NE 68714.

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