John Adair worked with wood for 15 years creating custom-made furniture, but he began to burn out on the job.
At his home, across from wide-open fields in the agricultural area southeast of Brainerd, he started a new business. It retained the woodcraftsmanship. But he is now used to the mixed reaction from people when they get to know what he is now handcrafting -- oak and pine caskets.
At the Crow Wing County Fair, Adair had a booth for his new business. He said people either came right up or made a wide detour to avoid the caskets. It started when a furniture customer needed a casket for his wife. That led Adair to the idea for the new business which opened nearly a year ago -- Lakes Area Caskets.
He researched the market and found a limited number of people in the business in the area. Casketmakers established in other areas of the nation. They told him business would be slow to start.
"Once you get going this usually does quite well," Adair said.
About 10 hours of craftsmanship goes into each seven-foot casket. The oak caskets, weighing about 200 pounds when complete, are lined with satin. John Adair, Lakes Area Caskets owner, said the handcrafted caskets offer an economic value.
His business hinges on one of the eventualities of life. For customers, Adair said his caskets provide an economic alternative. A solid oak casket with oak hardware and accents is $1,400. An oak casket with antique gold hardware and accents is $1,500. Caskets may be rented for services as well with linings replaced after a viewing. Solid oak urns cost $125 for a plain box or about $200 for one that is laser engraved. Adair works with an engraver in northeast Brainerd. Scenes also have been engraved on the casket lid.
But Adair said he realizes breaking into a practice where many people make arrangements for caskets with individual funeral homes instead of a casketmaker will take time.
New to casket construction, Adair researched the dimensions and Nelson-Doran Funeral Home in Brainerd let him take a couple of caskets apart to look at the inner workings. He was surprised they had adjustable beds inside that move up and down and locks on the casket.
Lakes Area Caskets also offers preplanning where caskets may be purchased at the current price with money placed in escrow until it is needed. Adair said the customer is then protected and may pull the money out if there is a change of plans or if Lakes Area Caskets were to close. The business is regulated by the State Board of Health. Adair then delivers caskets to the funeral home of choice.
Adair spends about 10 hours on each casket, about seven-feet in length. The oak caskets have ivory satin or crushed velvet linings over a foam bed. Wood comes from St. Croix Valley Hardwoods and Renneberg Hardwoods, which is located just north of Brainerd.
John Adair, owner of Lakes Area Caskets, opened his family business after the first of the year, moving from custom furniture maker to handcrafting oak and pine caskets, urns and pet caskets. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
Those in the funeral business warned him against making the traditional pine box.
"It wasn't probably a month and someone said 'I just want a pine box,'" he said.
The knotty pine comes without a lining and sells for $450. Linings can be added for additional cost. He said a customer wanted an unlined pine box that she intended to line with a bear rug.
Adair also makes caskets for pets. The satin-lined oak pet casket costs $215 for a small version.
When his friends suggest the work may be a little on the macabre side, Adair says he enjoys working with the wood.
"I tell people it's just a box," he said. "I don't fill them."
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