Urn Art in the Appalachians

Urn Art in the Appalachians

We’d like to share our experience with you about being an Urn Artist in rural America. We’ve lived in the NC Great Smoky Mountain region for nearly 20 years and find it a most inspiring and down to earth place to live and work. We are surrounded by the world’s oldest mountains, the Smokies and Appalachian Chain. Just that fact alone makes is a very grounding place to be. Nature abounds everywhere we look from our Appalachia Urns workshop, housed in an authentic tobacco barn. Wildlife, trees, gardens, wildflowers, farm animals and wildlife are everywhere….how could we not be inspired? The pictures in this blog are what we get to see when we go to work each day. We hope you’ll enjoy them, giving you a peak into our lives.

Barn      cows     horses

pump house

We get to work with natures medium,….wood. We use down trees and native hardwoods, such as maple, black walnut, cherry and the like to craft our urns.  Working with a natural product is very inspiring as the wood so often dictates how it should be turned to best highlight its qualities.

Despite the remoteness of our area, we are surrounded by many artists from potters, candle makers, jewelry makers and the like. All of the artist really support each other and enjoy having connections with other like-minded friends and neighbors.

In addition, it feels good to do work that is service, not labor. Crafting urns is very heartfelt work. We are providing a vessel of beauty, created with reverence, to people during a very challenging time. We hope that our urns can bring them a sense of peace knowing they are memorializing their loved one in a beautiful and thoughtful way.

We feel very blessed to do the work that we do, where we do it. We hope more and more people will support the many hand-crafted artists from rural areas. Most are not making tons of money as they might if they had a gallery in a popular city, but are living their dream, living in a way they want, and living their “right livelihood”.


How The Urns Are Made

Wood is selected.

We use only native hard woods from the Great Smoky Mountain/Appalachia region, such as black walnut, cherry, maple and the like.  We do not take any trees down for the purpose of wood turning, only trees that have come down on their own, or ones that have had to be excavated.

Wood is cut.


The manageable size blocks are stored until it is dry enough for turning. Our tobacco barn is the perfect environment for this stage of the process.

The wood-turning process begins.

A piece of wood is selected for the appropriate urn size needed.  It is then mounted on the lathe and turned with various tools/gouges/chisels into the desired form.


The next phase is to hollow the urn on the lathe to the correct size.

Hancrafted urns made on a lathe

The Finishing Steps.

Once the shape is complete, the urn is removed from the lathe for the finishing process. The urn is then sanded smoothly with several grits of sandpaper, progressively finer and finer to allow a flawless finish. Several coats of high quality gloss urethane is applied, with careful drying and sanding in between coats.

After the final sanding  the urn is waxed and inspection of the urn is done before shipping.

Final Notes.

Our Wood Turned Urns are all hand-crafted individually, with care by artist Robert Woods.  These urns are not mass produced. Though we have a line of urns each turns out similar in style but is truly unique and a signed original. Shapes, sizes, grains of wood will vary slightly as often the wood dictates how the urn must be turned on the lathe.

Wood-turned urns are much like a “thumbprint”, no two are alike. We do not remove natural occurrences in the wood such as small markings, spalting, small cracks that were part of the growth of the tree, lines created by insects, mineral deposits in the wood (things that would not affect the functionality or longevity of the product). It is that same thumbprint that makes each product truly one of a kind with its own character. Each hand-crafted item is as unique as the loved one you are memorializing. Each piece is special! You do not get this individuality when your product comes off of “an assembly line”. Many thanks for supporting the hand-crafted artist.

Robert Woods’ studio is housed in an authentic Appalachia Tobacco Barn in the Smoky Mountains of NC.Barn

Calculating the Right Urn Size

What Size Urn is Needed For a Person or Pet?

Though this can be a sensitive subject, it is one that an individual shopping for an urn would want to be aware of to assist in making the proper urn size selection.

If you are not in the funeral/cremation business it is likely one would not know what size urn is needed for what size person or pet.  More and more people are shopping for urns outside the funeral homes and crematories to have a greater selection and more unique choices.  In this case, it is important to understand urn sizing for your needs.

Urns come in various shapes and sizes, but when shopping for an urn you will hear the term “cubic inch capacity”.  This is how remains/ashes are measured.

It is really a fairly simple rule of thumb. One pound of body weight yields one cubic inch of ash.  The size of the urn is basically the size of the deceased.  Approximate weight person or pet is the approximate urn size needed.   A 100 pound person would require a 100 cubic inch capacity urn to comfortably accommodate their ashes.

If one wanted to get very technical, it is really the amount of bone and bone density of a person which really constitutes the ashes, as organs, tissue, fat and fluids burn away during the cremation process.  Again, the basic calculations above are quite suitable in most cases by using ones weight to determine urn size.

An urn cannot be too large, but it can be too small.  Sometime larger urns than needed are purchased because aesthetically that appealed to the buyer and that is fine.  However if dealing with too small of an urn size all ashes may not fit, thus presenting a problem.

At times ashes are divided among family members, other times some of the ashes are spread, whereas smaller keepsake size urns are then suitable.

In the world of urns it is staid that “the standard” urn for an adult is 200 cubic inch capacity.   Evaluating your individual functional needs when buying an urn is important.

We hope this has been a helpful and educating article to offer more ease during this often emotional decision.


The Craft of Wood-Turning


5675693Woodturning is a form of woodworking that is used to create wooden objects on a lathe. Woodturning differs from most other forms of woodworking in that the wood is moving while a stationary tool is used to cut and shape it. Many intricate shapes and designs can be made by turning wood.

Wood turning is an art that dates back to 1300 BC when the Egyptians developed a two person primitive type lathe.  Thanks to electricity and modern technology the craft and tools used have evolved.

The process first begins with obtaining wood.  At Appalachia Urns, we never cut down trees to use for our vessels, but rather re-purpose a tree after it has come down in a storm or perhaps given to us by someone who’s had to do some excavating.  Wood for turning can also be purchased if one does not reside in an area where hardwoods are abundant.  In addition if one wanted to craft items out of exotic woods such cocobolo, purple heart wood and the like, those woods would need to be purchased from wood dealers.

The next part of the process is cutting the wood into manageable sizes.  Some turners will turn wood while it is green (not completely dry) and other will dry the wood fist.  Sometimes wood is soaked in a wood stabilizer to help with the longevity of the product.  Each artist/crafts-person of wood-turning often has their own preference.

The wood needs to be cut in a manner that the direction of the cut is suitable for the type of work the turners is doing, faceplate turning or spindle turning.  If cut on the incorrect direction this can cause tear-out which results in a damaged looking surface texture and would greatly reduce the value of the product.

Once wood is placed on the turning lathe, various gouges, scrapers, shavers are used against the wood to create the shape and desired surface.  Protective eye wear and respiratory equipment are recommended as the lathe is spitting out dust, wood chips and shavings.  Sanding then finishing are the final steps.  Some items can be left unfinished, others coated in a natural food-safe finish such as bees wax, while other preserved with a urethane finish.

This beautiful craft takes skill and artistic ability and can turn raw pieces of wood into amazing beautiful works of art.


wood turning tools (gouges)

Woodturning tools (gouges)

cherry wood turned bowl

Natural Edge Cherry Bowl


woodturned urn with black lacquer

Black Lacquer Accented Urn


Each Urn is Like a Thumbprint 


7033599When you purchase an urn from Appalachia Urns or from most hand-crafted artists
each item is “unique & special”.  Wood-turned urns are much like a “thumbprint”, no two are alike. We do not remove natural occurrences in the wood such as small markings, spalting, small cracks that were part of the growth of the tree, lines created by insects, mineral deposits in the wood (things that would not affect the functionality or longevity of the product). It is that same thumbprint that makes each product truly one of a kind with its own character.  Each hand-crafted item is as unique as the loved one you are memorializing.  Each piece is special!  You do not get this individuality when your product comes off of  “an assembly line”.   Retail cost for hand-crafted items are not necessarily any higher than an assembly line product, as the mark up on those urns at most funeral homes is quite considerable.  This is another good reason to purchase an item as special as an urn from an independent artist or a funeral home that supports local artisan.  Shop wisely for this special purchase.


Pointers &Things to Know Before Choosing an Urn


Choosing a cremation urn can be a challenging and confusing experience.  Most often, emotions are tender during a time in which an urn is needed and even the simplest decisions can seem daunting.  Here are a few tips to hopefully simplify the process.It is very helpful if you know the size of urn needed in cubic inch capacity.  Your funeral home/director or crematory will be able to assist with this information.  The standard adult size urn is approximately 200 cubic inches.  However, a larger urn may be required for a very large size individual and vise versa for a small person or child size urn.  Some prefer to have their ashes co-mingled with a spouse or partner or family member, in which case a companion size urn is advisable, 400-450 cubic inch is usually suitable.

Sometimes, ashes/cremains are divided among family members into “keepsake urns” which can be small to miniature.

If you are in the market for a pet urn, a very small urn may be fitting, such at 50 cubic inch or less for a small pet such as a cat and obviously bigger for large breed animals, sometimes requiring the same size as for a human.

Something to consider is… will the urn be a burial urn, placed in a niche or in a home or will the remains be spread?  This will help you decide if you want a more basic less expensive variety perhaps, or a more ornate, decorative urn to be displayed.

There are many styles of urns from simple to more opulent designs.  When choosing an urn it is nice to take into consideration the style of the individual you are memorializing and what he/she would like.  If the urn is to be displayed in a home it will blend best if the urn is comparable to the style of the home.  For example you would likely not want an Asian style urn in a rustic log cabin and vise/versa.

Think about if you want a hand-crafted urn or one from an assembly line, often made in China or India.  Either is fine, depending upon what you are seeking and what you want to spend.  Many of the urns on the market today and available in funeral homes are the standard “assembly line” style.  If your preference is something more “unique”, you can ask the funeral home for suggestions.  They often have crafters/artists in their files, but may not keep their urns in stock.  Hand-crafted urns can be but are not necessarily more costly. Often individuals choose cremation as a lower cost alternative to burial, in which many cases cannot or do not choose to spend a lot on an urn vessel. Thank goodness there are many price and style options available these days. Shopping on line is a very viable way to find something special.  Of course all of our Appalachia Urns are hand-crafted, made from wood, turned on lathe by artist Robert Woods.  These are all signed originals and truly a “one of a kind resting place”.  Each urn of our urns is crafted with reverence and care.

Sometimes one may feel it is urgent to buy an urn, but that is not always the case, unless you have a date for a service in which the urn is needed.  Remains will arrive from the crematory in a temporary vessel, after which urns can then be transferred to a final resting place.  In fact it may be advisable to wait until you feel rested and clearer to really give some thought to the purchase of the urn, obtaining exactly what you want and will be pleased with for years to come.

We at Appalachia Urns hope this helps clear some confusion about choosing an urn and assist in making your process a bit easier.

Source: old blog

Work… Service or Labor? 

Often our “jobs” are thought of as labor.  At Appalachia Urns, we like to re-frame the idea of labor into “service”, providing a heart-felt, quality product and service to our human family.  This human element is sometimes lacking in our busy society where quantity, numbers, speed is the underlying means of doing business.

Those in this industry are dealing with people at a very delicate time, (needless to say).  It is especially important that families feel compassion and genuine care, not just somebody “selling them a product or service”.  The compassion and care need to be genuine in true service.  Most folks can feel when it is merely an act to attain more business.

In spiritual life, we are to serve others, not just take from them.  Spiritual life does not only exist in the obvious ways of spiritual practice, but in all that we do including our work. Service will make you and the client feel good and adds good energy to our world … it is a win win!

Really being of service to our clients whether wholesale or retail is of the utmost importance to us. You will not find this type of workmanship or heartfelt service when you order your urns from an assembly line out of the country.  I am quite sure you will not find a personal note in your delivery as we include to our clients.  We enjoy connecting with our customers and share in their experience and hope to bring more joy, beauty, peace and compassion to their lives at a difficult time.

Whatever aspect of this industry you are in, please ask yourself if you are providing human connected, heart-felt service.  Doing so will make a difference on so many levels.

For families enlisting the services of a professional during this challenging time, I encourage you to seek out those who will offer you genuine service.  Arranging a funeral or memorial or making final preparation for a loved one is never easy, but working with people who care will definitely make a difference and help ease the process.

Below is what one of our recent customers had to say.  This dear person was making arrangements for his own service to be held in 6 months.  We found it very touching to work with Michael and admire his strength and composure.

Michael, Lexington, Kentucky

“Your gift to me arrived today. Yes, I paid a fee for an urn, and the pictures are good, but I am in awe at the beauty of this piece. There is a lot of love in that piece. The natural beauty and the way you brought out the grain, well it’s art!

I have decided that after my family spreads my ashes, in a location that my daughter and I have many happy memories of in Hawaii. I am going to donate this piece to my home town church in Michigan. When my father’s ashes we placed in the hole in the memorial garden, they were simply dumped from a plastic bag. Your treasure will become available to any member of the church who would like to use it. Your gift to me will go on giving.”

Thank you so much for sharing your work with my family!


We at Appalachia Urns encourage quality product & Service…not just labor.


About Hand-Crafted Work

latheHand-Crafted work is a combination of skill, talent, craftsmanship and passion.  It has a bit of an old timey workmanship feel to it. This type of work is somewhat becoming a lost art in our culture with the ease and low cost of mass produced items.Sure, if you are buying a hair brush, trash can or other “everyday items”, it makes sense to buy from your local department store. However, when it comes to the purchase of something to commemorate and honor your loved one, such as an urn, it is nice to take the time to find something a bit more special.

Each Appalachia Urn is crafted by wood-turning artist Robert Woods and takes about 12 hours per urn.  Smoky Mountain native hardwoods are carefully selected then turned on a wood lathe, soaked in stabilizer, worked on some more on the lathe, then sanded and finished with a high urethane to preserve wood.  Each piece is unique and a signed original.

Robert puts his heart, soul and creativity into each piece.  Being inspired to make urns, he calls these “Sacred Art Objects”.   Each piece is as unique as the individual you are memorializing.

It has been very special and fulfilling to assist families and funeral homes during this deeply felt time and to provide them with compassion and quality product and service.

Many individuals who buy an Appalachia Urn say things like:  “My loved one appreciated art, so this is very fitting”, and the like.  We also receive many comments about how our customers appreciate our compassion and sensitivity during this challenging time.

We hope that you will give us and other artists the opportunity to serve you and in doing so you will support hand-crafted, quality work.


Cremation Urns For Two

9114948Companion urns are a beautiful way to co-mingle cremains.   These are commonly used by couples.  These urns are larger in size than a standard urn.  Standard urns are typically/approximately 200 cubic inch capacity, whereas a companion urn is more like 300 to 450 cubic inch.  Urn sizes can vary a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer.  Some companion urns have dividers and the ashes are side by side, others are one vessel where ashes are combined.  This is typically the style made by Appalachia Urns.  The Elegance style urn pictured was an order we did for a family who wanted a companion urn.  This is one solid piece of cherry wood plus the lid, combined with black lacquer for the stripe and lid, finished in a high quality urethane to preserve the wood.   This particular urn measured 10 x 11 inches, approx. 425 cubic inch capacity and was ordered to fit into a specific niche.   Sometimes, couples will purchase these urns together in advance and have a “say so” in their own choice.  Companion urns are another option to consider.


Choosing a Cremation Urn

Choosing a cremation urn is a deeply personal and heartfelt experience.  It may be one of the hardest things a person will have to do for a loved one.  If the final wish of the deceased was to be cremated then thoughtful selection of an urn will be necessary.  Here are a few guidelines that you may find helpful.

A very important point is to not rush when making a choice in urns.  Many people assume the urn has to be available immediately after the cremation, but this is not the case.  Crematories typically package the cremains in a temporary container that is suitable for long time storage.  This gives you a window of time to carefully select your urn when you are feeling ready to do so.

There are an ever growing number of options in urns.  Remember, this is an important decision that is best not to make lightly or quickly.  It is not uncommon for people to choose their own urns or for individuals to wait a year or more when choosing an urn for a loved one.

The internet has become a common way to shop for urns, and often offers a wider variety than many funeral homes, this is now becoming a viable way for individuals to choose an urn.  Often the process of choosing is made by several family members and the internet can make that process easier as families explore the myriad of choices available. 

It is very important to know where the urn will be kept after the memorial service.  Urns that would be displayed in one’s home may be quite different of those to be buried or ashes to be scattered.

Take time to pick an urn that represents your loved ones taste and style.  Many materials are available, from wood, pewter, bronze etc… Simple to ornate.  Hand crafted to factory made and at varied price points.   Consider what your loved one would want for a resting place for their ashes.

Remember that many people purchase urns to be used for their beloved pet. There are many styles, sizes and materials of urns that cater to the remains of pets as well.

The most important thing to remember is to take your time, reflect on what is most suited to your needs and the style of your loved one and make it a sacred experience.

Source: old blog