How to use charcoal tablets for incense

Interested in burning resin incenses like Frankincense and Myrrh?  The first thing you'll need is a roll of charcoal tablets.

Most stick and cone incense is charcoal-based, meaning the fragrance ingredients are pre-mixed with charcoal to allow them to burn evenly.  Using charcoal separately allows you to burn incense that wouldn't ignite well on their own, like pure tree resins and herbs.  With charcoal, you can avoid unwanted additives and make custom blends to suit your ritual needs and preferences.

Charcoal comes in rolls or boxes of tablets, and is available for a few dollars any place that sells resin incense.  If you don't have a metaphysical store nearby, you can sometimes find it at smoke shops and Asian markets. 

There are two main types of charcoal: self-lighting and regular.  Self-lighting is the most popular, and the easiest for beginners to use.  Self-lighting charcoal is mixed with a combustible agent (usually saltpeter) that ignites with a flick of a lighter.  Regular charcoal is compressed vegetable charcoal with nothing added.  It requires sustained heat to light, but some people prefer it because it doesn't have any chemical odor that interferes with the fragrance of the incense.  Charcoal tablets come in different shapes and sizes--get the small ones, unless you need to fill a room or outdoor space with your incense.

Next, you'll need a safe heatproof container for your charcoal.  (Lit charcoal can reach 1200 degrees Fahrenheit!)  You want something that is both thick enough to prevent heat transfer to surface, and wide enough to catch any stray sparks. A stone bowl filled with sand is your best bet.  If you're using a metal incense burner, place a wood coaster or cloth underneath it to avoid scorching your table or altar.

To light the charcoal, hold it by one edge while applying flame to the other. (The safest way to do this is to use incense tongs.)  Self-lighting charcoal will begin to crackle and pop as the surface ignites.  (You can blow on it gently as if you were lighting a campfire.)  When the whole surface is glowing, it's ready for you to add your incense.  Add incense a pinch at a time, and enjoy!

Different brands have different burning times, but most tablets will burn for around 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before cleaning up the ashes.

One final note: Charcoal tablets are susceptible to moisture, especially in humid climates.  Seal the package after opening.  A zipper-seal bag or other airtight container help make sure the charcoal is easy to light next time.

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