MATCH MAKING 101:
A GUIDE TO
INCENSE AND INCENSE BURNERS
When faced with so many types of incense burners it can be tricky choosing the best one for the job. But with a quick look through our handy guide you'll be on your way to creating a perfect match!
Abalone ShellA natural abalone shell makes a fantastic vessel for holding smoldering smudge sticks and sweet grass braids. Some people like to burn loose herbs, resins, or other types of non-combustible incense in their abalone shell. If you do this, it's a good idea to insulate the bottom of the shell with at least 2" of natural ash or sand. This will help protect the shell against high temperatures. Charcoal tablets can burn at up to 1500 F.
Ash Catchers or Boat BurnersThe ash catcher is the most common type of wooden holder for stick incense with a bamboo reed. It's basically a flat piece of wood that curves up at one end. There is a small hole in the curved end that the bamboo reed is inserted in. These holders are also available in aluminum, ceramic, glass, stone and bone. Many of these ash catchers are ornately painted or inlaid with brass.
Bowl Shaped Incense BurnerA bowl burner can be anything from a simple yet elegant ceramic bowl, a brass bowl with a screen top or an ornate hanging censer complete with lid. Just add some natural ash and you've got yourself one very versatile incense burner. Read more (link to bowl burner page)
Box BurnersA box burner is a versatile ash catcher or boat that often includes an enclosed storage box underneath it. Box burners are typically made of hand-carved wood and come in a variety of colors and finishes. Most are imported from India and include brass hardware and/or decorative elements.
Brass Screen Charcoal Burner - 4'A brass bowl burner with a screen top makes an ideal combination burner. The screen can be inverted and used to burn cones, rope incense, and small smudge sticks.
It's also ideal for burning incense on charcoal tablets, especially if you want to burn a variety of incense one after another. Just scrape the ashes from the top of the charcoal tablet onto the sand/ash below and you're all ready to add a new incense.
If you don't have a burner with a screen top, you can improvise by using a piece of metal screen. Bend it so it forms a level platform about an inch or so off the bed of sand/ash.
Burners for Loose, Powdered or Granulated IncenseA bowl shaped incense burner (brass, stone or ceramic) with about 2" of sand or natural ash in the bottom is the best. This type of burner can handle any type of non-combustible incense. Also see Brass Burner with Screen above.
Coil BurnersCoils will not stay lit if burned laying flat on a hard surface. They are designed to have a continuous air flow of all around the coil as it's burning. One common design supports the coil on a bed of prongs. Some coil incense is sold with a burner. Coils will also burn nicely on a bed of natural ash.
Combination BurnersAny number of incense burners that can handle more than one type of incense. They're available in many different materials (i.e. soapstone, brass, ceramic, wood, aluminum). Some are cone burners with perforated lids, others are flat discs in various shapes that have multiple holes drilled in the bottom. These are good if you want to burn more than one incense at a time. Some can hold both solid sticks (no bamboo reeds) and spaghetti sticks or cylinders. The most versatile combination burner is a bowl shaped incense burner.
Cone Incense BurnersCones are designed to burn completely so they should never be burned on unprotected wood. Some wood burners have a metal insert that protects the wood. A wide mouth bowl shaped burner with or without a lid will work great. You'll want it wide enough (about 2-3") to place a lit cone into it without burning your fingers. It should also be deep enough so you can add some sand or ash (about an inch or so) and still have the cone safely nested inside the burner. This will protect it from intense heat and improve the air flow under the cone (helping it to burn all the way through)
If you want a lid, buy a larger burner that is well ventilated and your cones should burn properly with the lid on. Clean the lid frequently to keep oils and resins from building up. If they become "seasoned" to the lid, that particular scent will be released every time the lid is heated. This seasoning will become part of any incense you burn. This isn't necessarily a bad thing!
Hanging Spiral BurnersSpiral incense is designed to hang suspended in air so that it spirals downward under its own weight. Burner can be hard to find and they're often sold separately. So if you're not sure, ask when you purchase your spirals. These incense burners typically consist of a rod with a hook on the end that extends up over a plate that catches the falling ash.
Japanese Incense BurnerA Koro is a traditional Japanese incense burner (i.e. a cup style burner).
Stone & Clay Incense BurnersStone and clay incense burners come in many very attractive shapes, colors and sizes. Some have two size holes so they can accommodate two types of stick incense. Those with a bamboo reed, and the thin spaghetti type (solid incense, without a bamboo reed). The holes in most of these burners are too narrow to use with the thicker stick incense (i.e. Indian or Tibetan dhoop sticks).
Some of these burners can be used with cones. When burning cones, always place the burner on a ceramic tile or other heat resistant surface.
When using these burners with solid stick incense, it's a good idea to keep a straight pin near by to use as a cleaning tool. These types of sticks burn all the way into the opening of the holder. As resin builds up you may need this little tool to gently remove the remaining unburned portion of the incense. For major cleaning, soak overnight in bancha tea (i.e. green tea) or mild detergent. Wipe with a clean cloth and rinse.
Smudge Bowls & PotsSome smudge bowls are designed to cradle smoldering smudge bundles. Others are perfect for burning loosing herbs and resins on charcoal. But no matyter what you are burning be sure that that the smudge bowl you use is fireproof. If you're using charcoal tablets it's best to put an inch or so of sand or ash on the bottom to insulate the bowl from the intense heat. Remember: charcoal tablets can burn at up to 1500 F.
Burning Incense Sticks, Cones, Flat Coils, Hanging Spirals, Dhoop (Dry & Moist)
Burning Non-Combustible Incense: Loose, Powdered & Granulated
The Bowl Shaped Incense Burner: Versatility, Function, & Beauty
Burning Incense Safety Tips