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 crematoriums 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 legal authorization to cremate the decedent from the closest surviving family members(s) as well as the medical examiner or coroner official. This is usually in the form of a document provided by the funeral home and signed by the family.
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 explosion 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 during the cremation cycle. 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 identity of the cremates remains or "ashes".
The cremation container/casket containing the body is then placed in the cremation chamber. 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 placed, the chamber door, which is about a 6 inches in thickness, is closed either by hand or in some cases by a mechanical switch. The crematory operator then starts the crematory which normally goes through a warm up cycle before the main burning stage begins. After the crematory attains the proper temperature, the main burner ignites and in turn begins the process of incinerating the body. Temperatures within the chamber often reach the 1800°F - 2000°F range. The burners within a cremator 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 simple bone fragments.
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. At this time, 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 by hand. The remaining bone fragments are then placed in a special processor that pulverizes the bone fragments to a fine powder called cremains or more commonly referred to as the ashes.