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Step by Step Guides to Natural Incense Making   

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Making Incense Start

Making incense is really quite simple, and outside of sheer enjoyment and motivation it requires just a few basic things:

1) Incense Recipe (or a pinch of this and that)

2) Fresh Natural Aromatic Ingredients

3) Mortar & Pestle / Grinder

4) Measuring Devices

5) Jars for storage

Once you've gathered these together, you're ready to begin making incense.

All incense making begins with the creation of a "loose," "non-combustible" mixture. This is simply the combination of two or more ground, granular, powdered, and/or chipped natural aromatic ingredients (herbs, flowers, seeds, spices, woods, bark, gums, resins, etc.)

Loose incense mixtures will rarely burn on their own, hence the term "non-combustible," and so they'll need a heat source to release their fragrance; more on this later. First lets create some incense, then we'll decide how we want to heat it.

This section will take you through the step-by-step process of making your own loose incense and once its completed, you can either heat it as is, or continue on to make incense sticks, cones, molds, pellets, or trails. So gather your enthusiasm, tools, and ingredients and lets get started making incense...

Making Incense: Step-by-Step

(photos coming soon)

Step 1 - Measure, Grind, and Measure Again

Measure each ingredient in your recipe either by weight using a scale (the preferred and more consistently reliable method), or by volume using measuring spoons and cups.

If using a weight scale, to make small recipe batches it's best to use a scale that measures by the gram (preferably by the tenth of a gram: 0.1 gram).

If measuring by volume, use spoons that measure 1/4 TSP, 1/2 TSP, 1 TSP, and 1 TBSP. Measuring cups can also be used for making larger batches of incense.

TSP=teaspoon
TBSP = tablespoon

In both cases, roughly measure the ingredients in their whole form first, then grind each and make your final measurement once the ingredients are ground. ***This is an especially crucial step if you're measuring by volume.***

Grinding Tips

Grind each ingredient separately using a mortar and pestle (absolutely required for all gums and resins) and/or a hand-crank grinder or mill.
If you're making loose incense, incense trails, or pellets, then grind all ingredients to a small granular form, about the consistency of sea salt or coarse sand. You may powder it all if you like, but it's not required.

If you're making incense sticks, cones, or molds, then all ingredients must be ground to a very fine powder. This allows the sticks, cones or molds to burn more reliably and evenly. Sift the ground powders though a small metal sifter/strainer to make sure all larger grains have been removed.

Gums & Resins:
Freeze slightly gummy resins for 15 to 30 minutes prior to grinding for faster, easier, and more efficient grinding. Very soft gum resins like labdanum and elemi are best frozen overnight.

Resins must be ground or powdered in a mortar and pestle. They will clog, destroy and ruin any grinder, mill, blender, processor, etc. you put in their path. The old fashioned way is still the only way. There are expensive commercial-grade grinders that could do the job but this web site is about making incense for personal use.

We prefer using a large solid granite mortar and pestle for the heavy work of grinding resins. Some soft gum resins may stick to the granite so freezing the mortar and pestle as well as the gum resins prior to grinding can help prevent this.

For gum resins that soften very quickly even when frozen, like labdanum, galbanum, and elemi, we prefer using a "seasoned" Molcajete mortar and pestle. A Molcajete is a traditional mortar and pestle from Mexico made from porous volcanic rock which you "season" by grinding in pre-soaked white rice to coat the pores. This helps prevent soft gum resins from sticking to the walls.

Tip: Adding the powdered woods or spices portion of a recipe, if any, to the soft resins as you're grinding them can help keep the resin mixture dry and separated.

Thai Granite Mortar & Pestle
Molcajete

Woods:
Woods can be very difficult to powder and doing so can be a path of great patience and attention.

If you're making incense sticks, cones or molds, it's often easier to purchase woods already in powder form.

If you're making loose incense, it's okay to use small wood chips about the size of grains of rice. Powders work well too but aren't necessary to make and heat a loose incense mixture.

To grind woods use a small hammer and wood chisel to chip the wood into smaller and smaller pieces. Once into very small, rice-size chips or shavings, woods can then be ground into powders using coffee grinders or grain mills, either manual or electric.

Herbs, Spices and Flowers:
These are usually easily ground in coffee grinders or mills, either electric or manual. Though sometimes hard, whole pieces of ingredients like cloves, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, musk seeds, etc. are often best ground in a mortar and pestle first and then run through a grinder or mill. Experiment with what works best for the ingredients you're using.

Fruit:
Orange, lemon, lime and other citrus peels can be ground from the fruit by rubbing a cheese grater across the peel of the fruit. Scatter cut peels on a screen, wax paper, cutting board, or cardboard and let dry, turning occasionally. These dried peels can then be used as is for making loose incense, or can be ground into powders in a coffee mill for making incense sticks, cones or molds.

Dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, plums, quince, etc. can be used alone or soaked in wines and drizzled with honey then added to incense mixtures to create incredibly delicious soft kneaded incense pellets

Step 2 - Mix

Combine the final ground and measured ingredients together as one mixture and grind it around a bit in the mortar and pestle to help "merge" the aromas.
Step 3 - Heat & Test

Congratulations, you've now made your very own "loose," "non-combustible" incense! You're ready to heat it and enjoy the fruits of your labor (and the labor of the many who harvest, grow, and bring these ingredients to us all).

Even if you plan to continue on and make kneaded incense pellets, trails, sticks, cones or molds with this incense it's best to stop right now, heat it and see if you enjoy the aroma and/or energy of the incense. If it's not to your approval, make adjustments now before moving on.

There are three basic methods you can use to heat your loose incense mixture; you can use incense charcoal, incense trails, or an incense stove. Click on each title to learn more.

Step 4 - Make Adjustments

Once you've heated your loose incense you can make adjustments to the recipe to suit your own tastes and desires. This is a completely subjective step in the process of making incense and so only your own nose, instincts, and experience can guide you.

Continue testing and adjusting the recipe until you're completely happy with the results.

Step 5 - Finished or Moving on?

If you want only a loose incense blend for your uses then congratulations you're done! You've made your very own all natural incense... enjoy! Click here for information on how to heat your loose incense.

Scoop the entire mixture into a glass jar, seal it closed, label it and let it stand at least overnight in a dark, cool space (a drawer or closet usually works well).  The aging process allows the entire mixture to "synergize," or merge together as one complex aroma. Aging for several days or weeks will create a more matured, blended, and complex aroma.

An unglazed ceramic pot and lid is the ideal storage container. Since ancient days such pots have been buried near streams to age incense for months and even years.

If you want to make incense pellets, trails, sticks, cones or molds, there's a little more work to do... and now you're prepared to move on to the steps necessary for making those types of incense.

Click below for step-by-step guides for making each type of incense:

Making incense sticks, cones, or molds
Making incense pellets
Making incense trails

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