Stick incenses are made with a bamboo stick, a paste (generally composed of charcoal powder and wood powder and joss/jiggit/gum/tabu powder – an adhesive derived from the bark of Litsea glutinosa) and perfume ingredients. The stick is either rolled while still moist in the base paste or dipped into the fragrance solution.
1. Mix the Ingredients
Many ingredients that are not used in stick incense, such as woods, spices and herbs, can be combined with labdanum or another pliable resin to form incense pellets. Some recipes for this include neriko (Japanese incense) and moxa tablets, which are disks of powdered mugwort used for the practice of traditional Chinese medicine called moxibustion.
This method of incense making requires a wooden press, called a koh press, and flat white ash, usually rice ash. In the depression of the koh press is placed a small amount of makko powder. The ratio of makko required for each recipe varies, and trial and error is the only way to determine the proper proportions.
Be aware that the smoke of burning incense contains aldehydes which can irritate skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract. This is due to the vaporization of aromatic hydrocarbons from the ingredients during combustion.
2. Add Water
A little bit at a time, add distilled water to your powder mix until it has a dough-like consistency. You can add more or less depending on the desired consistency of your incense.
The ingredients are now mixed and ready to be shaped into sticks or cones. You can use bamboo sticks, broom straws or thin twigs.
Wood binders, such as makko powder (Machilus bark) are more forgiving than gum binders. They also don’t have the same odor as herbs when they burn. They are easy to work with and a great option for first-time incense makers. You can find makko at most Asian grocery stores or online. Alternatively, you can substitute with a cedarwood or sandalwood powder.
3. Mix Well
Incense is made by grinding aromatic herbs, woods, and resins into a powder. There are two basic kinds: combustible incense and non-combustible incense.
Those that are not burned directly on coal embers are known as “indirect-burning incense”. They are generally whole and pressed into a form such as an incense stick or the Japanese kneaded incense (neriko or awaseko).
These types of incense are used for spiritual purposes. Some of the most familiar examples are frankincense, myrrh, and opoponax sticks or a disk of moxa used for moxibustion (traditional Chinese medicine).
4. Let Dry
The ingredients are mixed together, with a small amount of water added. This helps the mixture form into incense cones when it is shaped. It is important to mix and knead the material thoroughly, almost like bread dough, so that the herbs are well blended with the binding powders.
Gum binder can be used if the recipe calls for it, but it is important to use only a little. Too much can make the incense gummy and unburnable.
Alternatively, a pliable resin can be used to bind the incense into pellets. Labdanum, for example, is a common choice for Japanese recipes that make pellet incense (neriko). Other good choices are slippery elm or wild cherry, which are great for yin energies. They also help the incense burn long and slow.
Before burning your incense powder, make sure you’re using it in a safe manner. Ensure that it’s being burned in a well-ventilated room, and away from children, pets, and people with lung conditions or respiratory issues.
Stick incense is typically made using a bamboo stick that is coated with a paste that contains adhesive materials and binding agents. These are then perfumed with mixtures of herbal, wood, and fragrance powders. This process is usually done by hand, though it may be completed with the use of a stick machine.
To burn your incense, lay a piece of charcoal on sand in a heatproof bowl or censer. Sprinkle the desired amount of powder incense over it. Then, light it and let it smolder. It should start to smoke within seconds, releasing the beautiful aroma.