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How to Assemble and Install Swing Bar Casket Handles

The most common casket handle on both wood and metal caskets is a swing bar style. The reason for a swing bar vs. a stationary style is to allow for the casket to be as wide as possible while still fitting in a standard burial vault at 30 inches.  The swing bar at rest allows the inside of a casket to be almost 2 inches wider than a stationary handle. The photo below illustrates a swing bar casket handle made from bolt-through casket handle brackets attached to the casket with a walnut dowel and end caps.  The bolted connections are concealed with a walnut casket lug.

quarter sawn white oak casket with hand forged black swing bar casket hardware

Manufacturing swing bar style casket hardware

There are two ways swing bar hardware is manufactured: pressed and cast. Pressed steel parts are made by shaping steel sheets between dies in a mechanical or hydraulic press.  Cast, on the other hand, is a process where melted steel--or some other alloy--is poured as liquid metal into a form. Cast parts are more expensive, and therefore, less common than pressed steel parts.

Attaching swing bar casket handles to a casket

casket handle arm

Swing bar casket handle hardware is available in two different styles of attaching to the casket: bolt-through and adapter. The adapter style is made with two pressed steel parts assembled together with a 3-hole pattern. The first part, the arm, has a shape with two small metal tabs that insert into the second part, the adapter. The arm has a strap shape that wraps around a wooden or metal dowel that serves as the casket handle.

adapter

The adapter has a 3-hole pattern for receiving the arm. The adapter also has holes for attaching to a casket--generally 2 or 3 holes for attaching to a wooden casket with screws.

bolt through swing bar casket handle bracket

The arm & adapter style is inexpensive and common, but not as durable as the bolt-through style.  The bolt-through style is an arm assembled with a small bolt welded to a hinge with one or two rivets securing the bolt to the arm.  The bolt attaches to the casket through the casket wall and is secured from the inside of the casket with a nut and washer.

Both styles of swing bar casket arms attach to a wooden or metal dowel the same way. The arms come in oval or round sizes ranging from 7/8 inch diameter to 1-1/2 inch diameter. Perhaps the more common dowel style is an oval that is 1 inch wide by 1-1/4 inches tall.

arm and adapter casket handle with dowel

Picture here is an arm and adapter style with an oval wooden dowel handle positioned and ready to assemble. It is important to notice that the shape of the back strap has a bend in it. This bend serves as a spring that will help keep the strap tightly secured around the dowel. DO NOT MESS WITH IT by bending back and forth. Ideally, wrap once around the dowel and secure.

Securing a dowel to the swing bar casket handle bracket

Securing the dowel to the bracket requires a hammer and punch, or a brick chisel. If you plan to assemble a lot of these, a brick chisel ground out with two gentle curves and a center tab will prove to be very useful.  With a hammer and punch or chisel, wrap the strap around the dowel and give two to three solid hammer swings and notice how the back bend in the strap will stretch around the dowel. Next, while holding the strap in place, fold the two small tabs with a hammer and punch (or the fancy ground out brick chisel) to secure the strap in place.  Finally, add a very small screw--a #4 by 3/8 will do--with a low head profile in any one of the holes in the strap.  This screw will prevent the dowel from turning inside the bracket while in use.  Be careful to use a low head profile and position in the strap so the screw does not scratch your casket side wall.  Use a small rubber "bump on" sticker to keep the handle slightly away from the casket wall if necessary.