How To Burn Incense On Charcoal

If you have never burned charcoal incense, you may be a little intimidated by the idea but it’s really quite simple.

To burn a piece of stick incense, you need only a holder/burner to place the incense in and a match or a lighter. For charcoal incense, you’ll need a few things, but nothing complicated. The first thing you will need is a censer. That’s the name for the incense holder.

There is a dizzying array of them available but they are all basically just containers that you can put the incense in, while it burns. Here are a few of the censers we currently carry at Conjure Work:

Censer #1
Censer #2

Any bowl will do, so long as you are certain it can stand, intense, prolonged heat. You don’t have to have a snazzy burner, unless you want to be in the cool kids’ club. Most wooden or metal bowls will do nicely. They will get quite hot, so have an oven mitt handy to handle it with.

Next, you will fill your new censer with sand. Any sand will do, except craft sand. Do not buy sand from an arts and crafts store. That stuff has chemicals in it. The charcoal heats it and it release a toxic odor. This is not good for you to breathe and it mucks up the smell of your incense.

You can raid the local playground for a cupful of sand, or you can get a nice, clean bag of pretty, white sand right here:

White Sand

Now, you have a censer and it’s full of sand. You will now put some charcoal in it. It is the same kind of charcoal people use in a hookah for smoking tobacco.

The best brand around, bar none, is Three Kings. It has a high concentration of potassium nitrate, also known as Saltpeter. This is the incendiary stuff that makes it “self-lighting”. Other brands will sometimes not light easily… or at all. Don’t settle for the cheap stuff. Get this:

Three Kings Charcoal

While you are at it, get yourself a pair of tongs. You won’t want to try and hold the charcoal while you light it. It gets glowing, red hot, so you’ll need these:


That’s all the tools you will need, censer, sand, tongs, charcoal. Now, once you have put that together, you are all set and the only thing you will need to do for maintenance is very occasionally change out the sand and restock your charcoal.

To burn any loose charcoal, you will take your censer full of sand outside. Take up a charcoal (using the tongs) and light it with a lighter. The longer lighters are best, if you have the type used to light fireplaces. If not, any disposable lighter will do fine.

You want to do the lighting outside, because the charcoal will smoke when it’s first lit. Once it stops smoking, you can bring it back inside. It should be glowing red. If you are standing in direct sunlight, you may not be able to tell. But in normal lighting, or if you switch the light off for just a second, you should be able to see the red glow.

Now you have carefully carried your censer back inside and it has a freshly lit charcoal sitting on top of the sand. At this point you can place your loose incense on top of the charcoal to let it smoulder.

There are primarily 2 types you will use, resins and plant material. You can burn oils, but it’s recommended that you use an oil diffuser lamp for that. A diffuser is a small (usually soapstone) lamp with a bowl at the top and inside of it, a tea light is placed. It heats the oil in the bowl and it circulates the scent throughout the room. Here is an example of such an oil burner:

Oil Diffuser Lamp

An example of a resin is Copal, used for blessings and purification. The typical, go-to incenses are Frankincense and Myrrh, or a combination of them… Frankincense & Myrrh. These are the resins that have been burned in the church for centuries.

Most religions have some sort of resin incense that is burned (at least during their Holy Festivals) from Mosques, to Judaic Temples, to Buddhist Temples and the list goes on. The Shinto of Japan take their incense very seriously and they are known for making some of the finest (and often most expensive) in the world.

If you are using granulated resin like this, you can light the charcoal and drop a very small piece of the resin on top of the charcoal. It will begin to melt and smoke and fill the room with a pleasant aroma. Be aware that with resins, a little bit goes a long way!

Resins produce more smoke than stick or oil incense, and for much longer periods of time! So, use the smallest piece you can break off. To break it, use a

Mortar & Pestle
You can make this even easier by placing both the resin incense and the mortar & pestle in your freezer for 5-10 minutes. This will make the resin break up more easily. If you don’t have a mortar & pestle, you can just hit the resin very lightly with a hammer and little pieces will break off. Don’t hit it hard, or it will go flying in every direction.

You can put it in a plastic bag and then double or even triple bag it, then whack it with a hammer. However, a mortar & pestle is far preferable. It makes the job far easier. Also, the act of grinding the resin helps you get in touch with the spirit of the operation at hand, whereas smashing with a hammer is… well, just smashing with a hammer. It just doesn’t feel quite as magickal as grinding.

If you are burning plant material, be aware that some, like Rose and Lavender, smell great when burned. Others make a foul stench when burned. For instance, Jasmine does not have the nice fragrance you are looking for, when you burn the flowers by themselves. If you want to add Jasmine flowers to your incense blend, then use it in small quantity. An example incense recipe, for say… drawing in romantic love… would be

* 4 parts Rose
* 4 parts Lavender
* 1 part Patchouli Powder

Incidentally, for the Roses, you would use Red Roses for more of a sexual flair, Pink Roses for romance, or use 2 parts of each color, to balance it out.

Here are a few great books that will teach you the ropes of incense making in general:

Incense Crafting
Incense Magick
Wylundt’s Book of Incense

I offer a wide variety of both resin and herb incenses. The recipes for my Conjure Work brand incense blends are combinations of herbs and resins known to be traditionally correct, as well as information gained from the Spirits and plain old experience.

The Conjure Work line of spiritual products is ever expanding, so you would do well to be on our mailing list, so you can be notified when something new pops up.
Most of our herbs are either organic or wildharvested.

Store your incense in a ziplock bag or a glass jar to preserve its freshness. The very best thing is to use brown glass, as it filters sunlight, which can sometimes damage plant materials over time. You don’t have to worry as much about pure resins, like Benzoin, because they don’t lose their potency and will keep for many years.

Have a good time making magick 🙂