Ashes to Ashes: The Cremation Process Explained
Cremation, as an option for the final
disposition of a deceased person, has been around for thousands of
years. While the beginnings of cremation involved somewhat primitive
methods for achieving the end result, modern times and technology have
given rise to a more standardized version of the process. Companies
throughout the world manufacture human size cremators that reduce the
amount of time necessary to complete the cremation to less than 2
hours. Here is how the cremation process works.
Preparation of the Body
Before a deceased person is cremated, a
funeral director must first obtain authorization to cremate the
decedent from the closest surviving family members(s). This is usually
in the form of a document provided by the funeral home and signed by
Next, the funeral director must remove
any items not wished to be cremated along with the body such as
jewelry. If the deceased had a pacemaker or other type of medical
device, it too will need to be removed to prevent an
from occurring during the cremation process. It is not necessary to
embalm a body before the cremation unless the family wishes to have a
public viewing of the body during a memorial service.
The body is then placed in a cremation
casket, usually made of wood, or more often a cremation container which
is basically a large cardboard box with a plywood bottom for
sturdiness. These types of containers will burn fairly well during the
The funeral director or crematory
operator will place an identification tag in the cremation container
with the body to properly identify the cremated remains once returned
to the funeral home. This is a very important step as it insures the
family does not end up with the wrong set of cremated ashes.
The cremation container/casket containing
the body is then placed in the cremation chamber from the end. The
cremation chamber, sometimes referred to as the retort, is lined with
fire resistant bricks on the walls and ceiling. The floor is made from a
special masonry compound formulated specifically to withstand
extremely high temperatures. Once the body is in, the chamber door,
which is about a half a foot thick, is closed either by hand or in some
cases a switch as many of the newer models have automated doors.
The crematory operator then starts the
machine which normally goes through a warm up cycle before the main
burning begins. After the machine is warmed up, the main burner ignites
starting the process of incinerating the body. Temperatures within the
chamber often reach the 1800°F - 2000°F range. The burners within a
crematory are fueled by either natural gas or propane.
It generally takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours
for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by
cremation. Some cremation furnaces, especially the older ones, may
require a little more time.
Processing the Ashes
After the entire incinerating process is
complete, a cool down period of 30 minutes to an hour is required
before the bone fragments can be handled for further processing. When
the time finally arrives, the cremated remains or bone fragments are
removed from the cremation chamber and placed on a table work area. It
is here that the crematory operator removes all metal debris such as
screws, nails, surgical pins or titanium limbs/joints with a magnet and
The remaining bone fragments are then
placed in a special processor which consists of a cylindrical container
with motorized blades at the bottom of the unit. This processor
pulverizes the bone fragments to a fine powder called cremains or more
commonly referred to as the ashes.
The ashes are then placed in a plastic bag within a temporary
cremation container or an
provided one is furnished to the crematory. The ashes are then returned to the family.