How to Make Incense
Sticks, Cones, Molds, & Trails
To make incense sticks, cones, molds, or trails, you first must begin with a finely powdered incense mixture called “loose incense or non-combustible incense.”
If you already have your powdered loose incense mix then you’re ready to continue on with these step-by-step instructions and create your own incense trails, sticks, cones, or molds.
If you’re making incense trails, you need only go to step 6 on this page, do not go on to moisten your incense. When you arrive at step 7 stop and proceed to how to burn incense trails (this is noted along the way for you).
Making Incense Sticks, Cones, Molds, and Trails
Grind your prepared incense mixture into a very fine powder.
Sift your powder through a flour sifter – using only the fine powder for your mix.
Combine all ingredients into a bowl.
4. Add Makko
Add a percentage of makko powder to incense powder.
Note: high resin content in your recipe means it will need more makko to make it burn (add 40-90% makko for high resin mixtures).
Incense made with mostly woods, spices and herbs will need only 5-30% makko.
Weight of mixture x percent of makko = weight of makko needed.
If your mixture is all resins and weighs 20 grams test it with 70% makko:
20 gram incense mixture x 70% makko (20 x .70) = 14 grams of makko is needed to add to 20 grams of incense.
The percentage of makko needed changes with every recipe as each ingredient has its own burning qualities, etc.
Trial and error is the only way to find the perfect amount of makko to add. Keep records if you plan to repeat a recipe.
Combine makko and powdered incense and mix thoroughly.
6. Test as an Incense Trail
It’s best to test the mixture now by burning it as an incense trail.
If it burns slow and steady as a trail then it will also burn just fine once its moistened, made into a dough, and formed into sticks, cones, or molds and then dried.
If the incense trail doesn’t burn well or goes out – add more makko.
If the incense trail burns too fast with a mostly makko aroma, add more incense mixture.
Fine-tune the aroma to your tastes by adjusting the amount of each ingredient.
Test recipe again by burning trails.
Keep adjusting and testing until you have that final recipe and it’s time to move on.
*If keeping records, remember to record all your recipe changes.
Store the final mixture in colored glass jar, in a cool, dark, dry space for 48 hours or more – this helps all the ingredients merge their aromas together as one – to synergize.
*If you’re making incense trails, STOP now and enjoy! (see: How to Burn Trails).
8. Ready to Make a Dough & Shape
Set aside 10% of this combined dry incense/makko mixture in a separate bowl, leave this as emergency backup mix in case you add too much water in the next step.
In a small bowl, very slowly drizzle in warm distilled water into the remaining 90% of your final prepared dry incense/makko mix.
10. Add Essential Oils, Hydrosols, etc.
You can use hydrosols, essential oils, wines, liqueurs, etc. as a replacement for, or in addition to, the water content in step 9.
Knead the warm water into the mixture until you create a dough about the consistency of soft sculptor’s clay… like Play-doh.
You should be able to make a fist and have the moist but not slimy wet dough squeeze through your fingers but be firm enough to maintain its new shape without revealing any dry cracks inside.
Slowly add more water if the dough is too dry but do so very carefully because too much water quickly makes the mix too soupy and unworkable.
If you do add too much water, pour what liquid you can out of the bowl, then add some of your emergency backup dry mix reserved from step 8.
12. Knead More
Knead, knead, knead… knead is all you need.
13. Pinch & Form
Pinch off a small piece of dough, roll it in your hands into a ball and get ready to form your sticks, cones, or molds.
Ready a large flat surface that can be cleaned afterwards – i.e. cutting board, table, tile, etc.
13a. Form Incense sticks:
Pinch off a small piece of dough, roll it in your hands into a ball, place it down on a large flat surface that can be cleaned afterwards.
With the palm of your hand roll the ball top to bottom, first away from you and then back towards you, and begin forming a stick.
Next switch from using your hands to using the flat bottom part of a small box that fits in your hand.
You want the straight flat bottom of a small box to replace your squiggly shaped hand for rolling the sticks – it makes for straighter sticks.
Of course you may enjoy the squiggles, in which case by all means feel free to use your hands or other inventive devices.
Roll the box bottom back and forth over stick and form the stick to the size and thickness you desire.
Roll your sticks until the thickness is anywhere from slightly thinner than a pencil at the thickest, to very thin like spaghetti.
Keep in mind the thinner they are, the more difficult they are to keep straight during drying. And the thicker they are the longer they will take to dry.
Nest, use a butter knife to cut the ends – we usually keep cutting them until our sticks are about 4” long – shorter sticks help prevent curling in the drying stage, we call ’em “incense logs.”
Tip: using extruders can be lots of fun and make more uniformed shaped sticks. We’ve found that sugar, jerky, and clay extruders can work well.
13b. Drying Incense Sticks (bag method)
Carefully lay the rolled sticks on a small cutting board covered with wax-paper.
Keep the sticks as straight as possible (use your fingers and the dull edge of a butter knife to help.
Place the whole board in a large paper bag and scrunch it closed (or use clips).
Alternative: you could use various sized “U-shaped” wood-chisels to carve “stick grooves” into a flat wooden board – this can help prevent thin or long sticks from curling during the drying stage.
At least once daily, preferably two or three times, open the bag and spin the incense a 1/4 turn like you would a hot dog on a BBQ grill (this helps them dry evenly) – then return everything into the paper bag and close the end of the bag.
Allow the drying to continue – repeat turning often until dry.
Sticks usually take 1 to 5 days to dry, depending on your local climate – slower is better so if you like tinkering then building a better drying environment is a great experiment; controlling heat, humidity, and air flow are the key elements.
14a. Form Incense Cones
For cones, pinch off some dough and simply mold it in your hands making whatever shape you like.
Be aware that anything much thicker than a pencil at the base may not burn very well.
You can also make wooden or metal cone molds and mass produce cones – ask a carpenter or metal-smith friend.
14b. Dry Incense Cones
Dry the cones by standing them up on a wax-paper covered board and place the board in a paper bag and scrunch closed.
Check the cones a few times per day.
Once the outside of the cones are dried you can turn them on their sides to better dry the bottom and inside, check and turn several times daily.
15. Form Incense Molds
You can form small flat incense disks about the size of a nickel and then press imprints into them.
An old friend tauight us this and she used fancy buttons that had designs on them, which left that design imprint into the incense mold.
Your imagination is the only limit here.
Dry them using the same method as for cones.
As you can see we don’t use wooden “blank” sticks. Many such commercially available sticks are all too often dipped in arsenic and/or formaldehyde or other preservatives and chemicals.
Pre-made incense blanks are often rolled in glue and sawdust from some unknown tree. We prefer our incense infused only with the pure powers and aromas of nature and the freedom to shape it as we please.
As far as what ingredients to start with, we really recommend starting with ingredients you already enjoy; heat them one at a time and notice the many different kinds of aromas that are within that one, single ingredient… do you smell any citrus? rose? jasmine or other flowers, woods, green grassy herbs, etc.? If so, try adding ingredients that are similar to what you smell; if you smell grass try adding some vetiver, if you smell flowers try rose petals or dried lavender, etc.