The most common type of stick incense burner is the simple wooden incense “boat”. Stick incense is the most popular form of incense because it is convenient, burns consistently all the way through, lasts a long time, and produces a clean, high quality smoke. Though it is not exactly rocket science to burn an incense stick, this article will aim to cover some general tips and safety precautions.
The most obvious first step to burning an incense stick is to get it lit. To light the incense stick, hold a flame to the coated end until the stick lights on fire. If the flame does not go out naturally after several seconds, blow it out. You do not want the stick to be on fire. You simply want it to smolder. The tip should glow red and release a steady stream of smoke. It may take up to 30 seconds of smoldering before the true scent of the incense stick is released.
Once the incense stick is smoldering, you should place it securely into an appropriate incense stick burner. The most common type of incense stick burner is the “boat”. To burn an incense stick in a boat simply place the bamboo end of the stick securely into the little hole in the raised part of the boat. This hole is very tiny and on the more ornate incense boats it can sometimes be well hidden into the design so you may have to look very closely to find it. An incense dish or tray may also have one or more holes for burning incense sticks and, since these usually hold the incense stick vertically or near vertically, it is especially important with these to make sure the stick is snug into the hole so that it does not fall out and potentially cause a burn or fire.
If you want to burn more than one incense stick at a time, you can either use a dish or tray with more than one hole or use an incense “tree”. An incense “tree” is a column with holes drilled into it that hold incense sticks near vertically so that when filled with incense sticks it resembles a pine tree. Some dishes and trays may have up to five or even more holes for incense sticks, though most will only have one or two. Also, it should be noted that some incense boats have two holes for incense sticks but most only hold one. If using an incense tree, make sure it is sturdy and in a place where it cannot be easily knocked over.
If you have kids or pets and are worried about your incense burner getting knocked over, the safest way to burn incense sticks is to use an incense bottle. An incense bottle is just a decorative glass bottle with a split ring or clip in the bottle opening that is used to hold the incense stick while it burns. The stick hangs down into the bottle and the ash drops into the bottom of the bottle so that there is no cleanup necessary. Simply insert the uncoated part of the incense stick in between the two rings or into the clip, light it, and then slip it down into the bottle.
Similar to an incense bottle, an incense tower holds the stick vertically and completely encloses the stick. Unlike an incense bottle, an incense tower holds the stick up rather than letting it hang down. An incense tower has two parts; a base and a tube or column that fits down onto the base. To burn an incense stick in an incense tower, put the incense stick into the hole in the base and light it. Then slide the column or tube over the burning incense stick and fit it down snugly into the base.
The ideal way to burn incense sticks is in a large censer filled with sand or ash, such as a ceramic or stone pot or bowl. With this type of censer, you can burn many sticks at once and there is little to no cleanup. Sand must be replaced after every four or five uses but ash can be used indefinitely and the ashes form the burning incense stick can just be mixed in with the ash without having to be cleaned or emptied.
The cheapest way to burn incense sticks is to just stick them in the ground. Push the uncoated end of the bamboo into dry ground and clear away any combustible materials from underneath the sticks. If you’re going to burn them in the ground, however, it is especially important to not leave them unattended as a strong wind might blow sparks off the end that could start a fire. You should also keep burning incense sticks away from paths where anyone might walk next to them.
Finally, though “spaghetti stick” incense and incense cylinders make look similar to incense sticks, they do not have any uncoated stick and will burn all the way through so these can never be used in a wooden incense boat. The cylinders would typically be too thick to fit into the hole in a wooden boat anyway but the spaghetti sticks can fit so it is important to remember to never burn this type in a wooden incense boat. They can, however, be burned in a soapstone or metal boat.