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Coffins are used for the burial of dwarves or their cherished pets. While it is possible for the less caring fortress supervisor to simply designate a graveyard and have surviving dwarves sling their comrades into those, some prefer to construct coffins. They can be built from stone at a Mason's workshop (coffin), wood at a Carpenter (casket), metal at a Forge (sarcophagus) or, for the truly decadent, glass at a glass furnace (coffin). They are listed in the build menu as Burial Receptacle n.
Providing a casket for your deceased dwarves is not simply an aesthetic decision. Relatives (or, in the case of pets, owners) of the dead will have unhappy thoughts generated if their loved has just been slung in a graveyard to rot. Also, rotting dwarves, like anything else, produce miasma, however placing a corpse in a coffin or casket prevents the smell from escaping.
While tombs can be designated from coffins, only some nobles specifically demand them. The more self-important the noble, the more ornate the tomb must be, naturally.
Note that a coffin that's assigned as a tomb with an owner of "nobody" will not be used for general burial. To designate a coffin as being suitable for general use, place the coffin with the build menu as normal, select it with q, then press b to designate it as suitable for burial. You may wish to designate whether it's to be used for pets, citizens, or both (if you want to have segregated pet and dwarf cemeteries, or simply don't want to bother providing coffins for pets). If a dwarf dies without a designated tomb, he will be interred in one of these designated coffins.
Once a coffin is occupied by a deceased dwarf it can no longer be redesignated. The coffin can still be removed and placed elsewhere as normal, however, should you need to relocate it. The contents will be deposited on the floor before moving it and be reinterred in the next available coffin, emitting miasma the whole time.
Barracks • Bedroom • Dining room • Jail • Meeting hall • Office • Sculpture garden • Tomb • Zoo
Lever • Pressure plate • Trap • Support
Archery target • Kennel • Shop • Siege engine • Trade depot • Wagon • Well