Re-Creating a Classic Coffin Handle Finish (or trying to)!

My dad died earlier this month.

In the last weeks of his life he knew he was dying and this gave us (myself and my brother and sisters) an opportunity to speak with him about his funeral arrangements.

What I haven’t said is that myself and my brother and sisters are all funeral directors, my dad was a funeral director, my mum is still involved in the company. My dad’s parents were funeral directors, and my dad’s dad’s dad was a funeral director, along with my dad’s dad’s dad’s brothers. My son is also a funeral director, and my daughter is involved in the company too… (You get the picture).

So, it won’t come as a shock to you that my dad had some specific requests for his funeral:

  • He didn’t want a service in church.
  • He didn’t want a minister or a celebrant to conduct his funeral. (Instead, I would fill that role).
  • He wanted to be buried.
  • He only wanted his children and staff from work at the graveside.
  • There was also something specific with a daffodil, that I won’t go into.

…and here is the thing that threw me… he specified his coffin handles and asked for “Some of those Oxi Rings, I like those. We only have a box of five under the workbench, so four will be fine.”

Newman brother's ring handle

I remembered those handles from my childhood which was spent poking around the “workshop” at my family’s funeral directors, part working-funeral-directors and part-informal-museum with all the old tools and milk ration tins full of coffin pins. I loved them, the handles were quirky, and in a cardboard box that was falling apart, but each handle was wrapped in a wax-coated paper to protect them still.

However, those handles were “allegedly” thrown out in the “Great Clear Out of 2016” by my mum and one of my sisters. People still speak of that day in hushed tones (and never in earshot of my mum or sister). That is something that I couldn’t bring myself to tell him because those handles were from a 1920s design and are no longer in production.

I called places that I thought might possibly have some still in the back of a cupboard somewhere, and even managed to find the company who used to make them; Newman Brothers.

Newman Brothers were very helpful, they are now a museum offering tours of the factory, and a place that I will definitely visit soon.

Their website went through the process of how the handles were finished, it was a unique coating that looked like a tarnish… and I think that it was that finish that I liked all those years ago, it was so different from bright brass or nickel that is the norm. I think it was the finish that my dad liked too.

After drawing a blank at finding some original handles, I did consider trying sandcasting my own, but didn’t have the time to perfect the technique so I thought I’d have a go at re-creating the finish on a modern handle that looked a similar shape…

Ring handle

I ordered a box of “Cast 5017 Rings” (which are a burial handle) with a nickel-plated finish and tried removing the lacquer using a variety of household acids and alkalies. Vinegar and Sodium Hydroxide didn’t make a dent in the lacquer but Sulphuric Acid drain-cleaner did!

So, I acid bathed four handles overnight…


Ring handle in acid bath bowlThen I rinsed them and acid bathed them again. Each time they got darker.

ring handle matte metal finish

2 ring handles dark colour

I rinsed the handles and then tried buffing them with a power tool to remove the tarnish where it wasn’t needed. It was okay, not great, so I re-dipped them in acid.

2 ring handles next to electric tool

The best way I found to remove the tarnish in places was using a cloth and good old-fashioned Brasso.

Then all that was left to do was seal the handle with a spray lacquer.

3 ring handles face down on a cloth

handle affixed to a coffin

I then used the same process on a set of nickel plated coffin screws.

Three coffin screws

Three coffin screws

We were lucky with dad’s nameplate for his coffin as the Oxi plates had survived the great clear-out of 2016! I’ve blurred his surname for the sake of privacy.

Coffin closeup

My dad’s funeral was a very private and intimate affair, I hope it is as he wanted it to be.

Also… I am in the process of making myself a set of six “Oxi” handles and coffin screws and I will put them in a safe place and hope that the next generation doesn’t throw them out!

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