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Dignified memorials

Luke Thornton, founder of Custom Wood Urns, makes handmade wooden urns for people or their pets. He relies on his website to bring in clients, as experience has taught him that people have to be in the market for such an item or they’re not interested.

Luke Thornton's dog carving urn.

“It’s a tough market to get into. There are many people that sell urns and many of them use ceramic products where the prices are really low, whereas I make wooden urns featuring high-end custom carvings,” says Thornton.

Before he started making custom urns in 2009, Thornton sold sculptures and carvings of animals and abstract designs. But as the economy worsened in recent years, it became more difficult to sell those items and he began looking for a more viable product.

A visit to his pets’ veterinarian prompted a discussion about cremated animal remains, which ultimately let to him making and selling a couple of urns to the establishment. Thornton thought he was onto something in the pet urn business, but soon learned it’s difficult to break into such a business.

“Here in Oregon, I went to about 75 veterinarian clinics and gave them brochures and information on my urns. All of them had an interest, but they also wanted to promote life and not death, so my information was always kept in a back drawer.”

"Eternal Flame," made with bubinga and purpleheart.

He also noted that after time spent carving and the materials used, prices were around $200 and up, and that was scaring away potential customers. He couldn’t compete with the mass-produced laser-engraved wooden urns that dominate the market.

But a visit to a funeral home showed him there were more options. His urns were welcome there and that was the start of his wholesale urn business, “Urns from the Forest,” which sells directly to funeral homes. Sales were strong, so he started the online retail store last fall. Clients are mainly from the U.S., but Thornton says his website has received hits from all over the world.

“I recently had three orders from California, N.Y., and Canada, so the geographic location of my clients fluctuates. The website is starting to catch on. It’s approaching that point where it’s helping me earn enough money to actually survive on, and at the same time gives me time to do my wood sculpture work on the side.”

Naturally, Thornton is accustomed to dealing with his clients’ strong emotional feelings over the loss of a loved one. He has observed that most clients seem more comfortable buying an urn for their pets than for a human.

Thornton's urns often feature carvings like this depiction of a blacktail buck.

“With pets, the parties are typically a husband and wife with a dog or cat, and they know exactly what they want. When someone passes away, it creates a state of confusion for the family members. It’s a traumatizing time, and the survivors of the deceased have a difficult time making decisions.”

Urn prices range greatly, depending on the intricacy of the work done and the materials used. He primarily uses myrtle and Pacific maple, which offer exquisite color, texture and grain patterns.

Contact:, P.O. Box 7582, Brookings, OR 97415. Tel: 888-813-1394.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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