Saturday, July 30, 2005

Traditional Incense - How to Burn Part Two

This three part series focuses on Traditional Incense (resins, woods, grasses, leaves, etc). The history, what is needed and directions for burning, and how to choose traditional incense and the different types.

What is needed

The items needed to burn traditional incenses are:

1. “Charcoal-safe” incense burner/censer:

Whether choosing a metal or ceramic burner, the most important tings to look for are air flow, insulation, and safety. Charcoal needs a good supply of air to burn successfully. Air should be allowed to circulate around the tablet. A lidded censer should have air holes in the top and bottom. A dish shaped burner should have a large mouth. A easy to use burner is a screen burner.

2. Insulated material:

Always insulate the inside of your burner with stones, ceramic pieces, or sand. Form a cone shape with the insulation and place the charcoal tablet at the peak. This allows for adequate air flow around the charcoal.

All burners should also be insulated from the outside. Always place your censer on a burn-proof surface, such as a stone or ceramic tile, since it may get very hot. Use any safety precautions that are normally considered when fire and heat are involved. Use metal or wooden forceps or tongs to move the censer and avoid placing the censer under something flammable, since heat rises. Never leave a censer unattended and keep it away from children and pets.

3. Charcoal Tablets (designed for incense use):

The most common and recommended charcoal for incense use is self igniting such as the Swift Lite products. Igniter is mixed into the tablet before it is formed. The tablets are easily lit by holding the edge with a forceps over a match or lighter until the tablet sparks over. Immediately place it in your burner, using the forceps, since the charcoal tablet gets hot very quickly. We suggest that you do this outside since the igniter may have a unpleasant aroma. This only lasts as it smokes for the first 30 – 60 seconds. The tablet will then light across the surface. When the charcoal tablet is glowing red and covered with a fine white ash, it will be ready for use (between 3 to 5 minutes). The charcoal will stay hot enough to burn incense for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Again, use safety precautions that are normally used around fire or heat. Since the charcoal contains igniter, it will sputter or spark once lit. If the igniter is unevenly distributed in the tablet, it could pop, breaking off small pieces. Some igniters will release smoke for a few moments, so be sure to use it in a well ventilated area (such as outside in the open). Always store the charcoal tablets away from excessive heat, moisture and humidity. Do not use lighter fluid and only use charcoal tablets made for incense use.
Keep away from children and pets.

4. Aluminum Foil:

Traditionally, incense is put directly on the hot charcoal. Before it scorches, but after it is burned, it is scraped off the charcoal with a forceps. Consequently, the melted resin spills into the censer and melts onto the forceps. Each time the censer or forceps get hot, the releases it’s fragrance again. This works well if only one type of incense is burned, but does not allow for changing incense frequently.

There are advantages to using aluminum foil between the charcoal and the material to be incensed. Form a cup approximately the same diameter as the charcoal (a bottle cap is useful but don’t leave the bottle cap in the foil), leaving a quarter inch lip. The cup can be manipulated easily with you forceps, and can be placed on the charcoal after the charcoal is hot. Incense can be added and left on the heat until it reaches its maximum incense effect. It can be removed again with your forceps before it scorches. At that point, either more or different incense can be added to the charcoal in a new cup. As a precautionary note, be aware that the incense in the aluminum foil cup becomes very hot, can be in a liquid state and burn the skin if it comes in contact with it.


1. Prepare the incense burner
2. Light the charcoal tablet (if you can, do this outside)
3. Place the aluminum foil cup directly onto the hot tablet
4. Add incense into the cup (be conservative at first)
5. Cover (or not) depending on choice
6. Remove the foil cup and incense before it scorches
7. Allow the tablet to burn out and cool in the censor. To extinguish a tablet before it has fully cooked, quench in a container of cold water.

In part three, we'll discuss the different types of Traditional Incense


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on using foil, it makes it alot easier to change scents or add more of the same.

6:51 AM  

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