My Brother-In-Law's Urn

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Project by awsum55 posted 12-13-2020 07:29 PM 975 views 3 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I lost my Brother-In-Law to cancer a couple of months ago just short of his 65th birthday. He was a good guy and I’ll miss him. My sister asked me if I would airbrush a design on a metal urn if she were to buy one, because I had done some airbrushing art on one of his vehicles and he really liked it. I told her I would rather build his urn and she agreed.

I used tiger maple and cherry for the urn. Once I told her the design I had in mind, she also asked if I could find a special piece of wood for the top. I started this build and was very aware of what I was building and there were days it took a toll. I thought this piece of wood looked like a beach with waves and a few clouds. It seemed very peaceful to me , so the selection was made and I chose the section I thought would represent that.

I learned a lot while I was doing this project. One of the things I learned is how fast regular 10% ammonia can age cherry. I read on line that cherry doesn’t fume very well because it doesn’t have an abundance of tannins. I tried it anyway and the results were fantastic. This is what it looked like after 4 or 5 days.

I was very particular when fitting the M&T’s and there were so many parts that fit perfectly only in one spot, so I found it helpful to label each joint to remind me how it all goes together. Tape wasn’t working for me so I pulled out my wood burning pen and labeled each piece with a design like used on playing cards. It was the only way I could keep everything organized so the fit and orientation of each piece was as perfect as I could make it. I also added a strip of foam in each groove to keep the panels from rattling.

I used mortise and tenon joinery on the corners and I wanted it to look masculine if possible. I liked the proud tenon look, but I didn’t like the way things looked when I dry fitted the piece with only one set of tenons poking through. I decided to miter the frames and use fake tenon plugs to get the look I wanted.

I started to glue the frame together and I realized I didn’t like the way the joint looked, so I made another prototype to see if I was able to save what I had already glued up. I used a fine blade saw to cut into the joint and then some files to get the joint to look like it was slightly beveled before glue-up. I was pretty happy with the new look, so I went back and did the same thing to all the frame sections I had already glued up.

Knowing the tablesaw wouldn’t be the right tool to make these plugs I first tried the bandsaw but it would shoot the plug off the table at the end of the cut. I have this tool from an old Christmas gift. It is a kit from X-Acto that included this little miter box. It was the perfect tool for cutting these plugs.

The bottom was probably not done the best way, but through this entire project I was worried about how this was assembled knowing it might have to last for a very long time. I have no experience with urns or cremation so it had me wondering how long this would be passed through generations. I used glue and screws to make sure it will stay together.

Keeping the grain pattern in tact, I wrapped the insert and was able to achieve a piston fit for the bottom.

I beveled and put leather on the feet, burned my logo w/date and waxed. The feel of the wood is the best finish I have ever achieved. I fumed the cherry, used Danish oil on everything, I sanded everything to 400 grit and then 0000 steel wool and then used Briwax.

This was the most stressful project I have ever done. Mostly because it was for my sister who I love very much, but also because my B-I-L would have done the same for me.

I’m sure there are better ways to do what I have done, so feel free to comment if you know of a better way of doing something. This project was different from anything I’ve done before and I’m so glad it is over so I can go back to making things that don’t have such a profound meaning. Once I had it packaged and ready to go I felt such a weight had been lifted. I’m proud of my results, but I’m so glad it is finished.

-- John D, OP, KS

20 comments so far

View Ivan's profile


16716 posts in 3916 days

#1 posted 12-13-2020 07:32 PM

It has some realy cool features and characteristics

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View GR8HUNTER's profile


8337 posts in 1761 days

#2 posted 12-13-2020 07:39 PM

sorry for your loss BUT you have made a very beautiful reminder of him GREAT JOB :<))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN :<))

View SirGareth's profile


133 posts in 3249 days

#3 posted 12-13-2020 07:39 PM

John, I’m so sorry for your loss. You and your sister will be in my prayers.

That is an awesome urn. Every step and detail from the wood selections, wood contrasts, joints, finishing, etc. are a testament to your love for your B-I-L. As grief fades, I hope you can feel pride and even joy at giving his remains such a beautiful home.


-- Even if you fall on your face, you are still moving forward. - Tim, Southern California

View hairy's profile


3265 posts in 4581 days

#4 posted 12-13-2020 07:54 PM

He would be very proud of that box, so should you. Excellent work!

If you haven’t got this far, I used these for the urns for me and my wife.

-- You can lead a horse to water, but you can't tie his shoes. Blaze Foley

View ellgee's profile


70 posts in 2976 days

#5 posted 12-13-2020 10:07 PM

You are so right, it’s very masculine and the top panel nicely restful.
The family will remember you both all the longer and more fondly for it.

Excellent result, and so are your text and pictures describing the process.
Thank you for posting.

View pottz's profile


16055 posts in 2033 days

#6 posted 12-14-2020 01:19 AM

i nice tribute too your brother,im so sorry for your of my friends and coworker of over 37 years is dying of bone cancer,i made an urn for his daughter and sadly ill need to make one for him so i know how you must have felt doing thos did a beautiful job on this and im sure he’ got a big smile.that care my friend and thank you for sharing your tremendous loss.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


2757 posts in 596 days

#7 posted 12-14-2020 01:57 AM

Thats a fantastic result, Awsum! Nice to see you are back in the shop, eventhough the motivation was less than ideal.

-- WWBBJ: It is better to be interesting and wrong, than boring and right.

View MrWolfe's profile


1511 posts in 1172 days

#8 posted 12-14-2020 02:02 AM

Very handsome build and a wonderful memento. I am sorry for you lost but this is a great build and I’m sure your sister and family appreciate your excellent design and craftsmanship. This is a very special piece.

View BB1's profile


2065 posts in 1897 days

#9 posted 12-14-2020 02:17 AM

Beautiful. The top board is lovely and I see the ocean waves rolling. I have built a few memory boxes and the building process was difficult but very meaningful as a way to remember those lost. My sympathy to you and your family. Again, this is beautifully done.

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3615 posts in 4761 days

#10 posted 12-14-2020 04:11 AM


The love you have for your sister (and B-I-L) shines through this project. There are so many incredible details in the box and they are all extremely well executed. It is really a work of art and will, no doubt, be passed down many generations.

One day I’ll post the urns I completed for my parents which also have dark vertical pillars (walnut) on the corners, so yours reminded me somewhat of what I had done. My parents wanted their urns buried so they are no where near as nice as yours (nor could I make anything to compare to yours even if they weren’t wanting them buried). I understand what a mission of love such a project is and how emotional it can be, especially as young as your B-I-L was.

I’m certain you have felt truly blessed for such an opportunity to honor your B-I-L’s memory in this way.


-- “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin -- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View Peteybadboy's profile


3263 posts in 2999 days

#11 posted 12-14-2020 09:39 AM


That is beautiful in every way. I feel the same when when I build a flag box, even if I don’t know the person.

Great tribute and great work.

-- Petey

View TucsonTim's profile


66 posts in 1092 days

#12 posted 12-14-2020 12:23 PM

Beautiful work John. Building an urn for a loved one is an emotional experience. I made one for my father several years ago. It seemed like I had a lump in my throat the whole time. My thoughts are with you and your sister…

-- Tim in Tucson

View recycle1943's profile


5280 posts in 2671 days

#13 posted 12-14-2020 02:40 PM

John, that is one of the nicest builds I’ve seen.
Sorry for your loss -

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View 55woodbutcher's profile


78 posts in 875 days

#14 posted 12-14-2020 02:44 PM

Beautiful work. Something very significant that you can offer up to your sister with no apologies. What a loving tribute, thankyou for sharing.

View splintergroup's profile


4958 posts in 2271 days

#15 posted 12-14-2020 04:09 PM

I know how emotionally difficult these can be to build, but the knowledge that they are a part of you in tribute really helps.
Beautiful work!

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