Burning incense question

Not open for further replies.


On burning incense in the home: how exactly does one prepare the charcoal? I bought a set of cylindrical pieces of charcoal. I lit a candle and held the piece of charcoal over the fire for about a minute. Suddenly, the charcoal piece started sparking like a firecracker and making sizzling sounds. I put it in the small censer I have, and about thirty seconds later put a few small chunks of incense on top of it, but the incense didn’t really burn too well. It melted and let some aroma out, but the charcoal piece stopped burning fairly quickly.

I tried again. This time I held another charcoal piece over the flame for several minutes, even after the sparking had stopped. The charcoal piece had turned a gray when I put it in the censer. The incense I placed on this burned and let smoke out, but it was very brief and even this charcoal piece never got hot enough to burn all the incense.

Someone told me that I should get the charcoal hot enough that it actually becomes red on both sides. Is this true? Also, what’s the deal with my charcoal piece suddenly taking hold and sparking? Does this mean that my charcoal piece is sufficiently heated? Or, do I need to hold it over the fire longer?

The censer itself became very hot when the charcoal was hot. The cross on the top of the censer was hot to the touch, as was the handle.
It sounds as though it has more to do with the incense you’re using than with the charcoal.

Yes, the charcoal we use sparks when we light it. I’ve never found that you had to keep the flame on it very long to accomplish what was necessary. If your censor gets that hot obviously the charcoal is lit.
Ok, thanks. I never got the reddish glow that I’ve been told you’re supposed to get.
Ok, thanks. I never got the reddish glow that I’ve been told you’re supposed to get.
When I prepare it for church I usually light it and let it sit for about 10 minutes before we put incense on it. I know that when I prepared it for Evening Prayer I’d light it around 6:50, the incense would be added around 7:10 and it was still burning at 7:30.
The piece of charcoal i use is about the size of a quarter. I hope it lasts that long.
Make sure that your censer has sufficient ventilation. I find that with time the openings on mine plug with residue from the smoke and the charcoal will not longer burn completely. [They aren’t completely plugged but just narrowed down, but that is sufficient to stop the burning.] I then have to break off the residue with a letter opener.

I find that different charcoals behave differently. Of late I have been getting it from Monastery Greetings. It costs more but sparks less on lighting and ignites more uniformly. I have switched from the quarter size to the dime size which is much cheaper. It only burns a pinch of incense, but that is all I really want.
If you use the church-sized charcoal disks, you might consider burning only a half or even quarter or a piece.
Watch the incense at home. You may find that some of your friends or family have respiratory problems which may be agrivated by it. You really don’t want to send someone into an asthma attack. I recall a model who died recently in her sleep because of her asthma. It really is a serious consideration.

I served as thurifer at a chapel when I was in London.

The charcoal is supposed to sizzle like that. No need to be alarmed there. In fact I would suggest keeping it in the flame a little longer then you have been. Once it’s lit, leave it in in the thurible for several minutes before imposing the incense with the cover off- you might try blowing on it a little, but be careful of sparks.

If you want the incense to burn longer you might try using a high grade. It will be more expensive, but its worth it. In my experience, the most common used in churches is the Cathedral Brand Incense. It’s not as strong as I would prefer for the liturgy, but it will do quite well in a home setting.
I put a layer of sand in the censer and set the charcoal on the sand. Usually I light the charcoal with a butane lighter, and after it does the sparking thing I let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes. By then it has turned gray and will burn the incense.
Also, what’s the deal with my charcoal piece suddenly taking hold and sparking? Does this mean that my charcoal piece is sufficiently heated? Or, do I need to hold it over the fire longer?
In my days as an altar boy, I was told that most charcoal is treated to make it light more easily. This treatment produces the sparking, which is supposed to help the charcoal start burning. It is kind of like the lighter fluid you would use for starting an outdoor chracoal grill fire.
I’ve found that blowing on the piece of charcoal makes it red hot. When I place some incense on it, it burn very quickly, sending out smoke. When I try to apply a pinch more a few minutes later, the charcoal piece is not hot enough to melt it.
Is your charcoal enclosed in the censer. It sounds like it is not getting enough air to keep burning.
Quick-Lite charcoal is the best.
You must allow it to at least get some “glow.”
Those sparks that ignite the charcoal can catch things on fire, be very careful. Try lighting it over the sink.
Don’t light it with a candle, the wax could drip onto the charcoal.
I’m not sure if beeswax would.
Those candle/grille lighters are good, they are long and keep your fingers away from the charcoal.

What type of incense do you have. Only buy good and all-natural made incense. Even in church we only put one or two little pieces on the charcoal and that’s enough for when we need it.

If the charcoal and incense is blessed don’t throw it in the garbage.
I also use incense on a regular basis. Our homes are domestic churches and should be treated as such.

For some of the good stuff, I recommend

Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Mount Sinai Monastery

Mount Sinai has Shoyeido charcoal which doesn’t spark like the self-lighting charcoal does. It also uses less charcoal to burn longer. You can place a ceramic tile under the censor if you are concerned about sparks. Some people also like to light them outside. Wait until the charcoal has turned white on top, then place a few grains of incense on top of the charcoal.

You can also pick up a wooden handled censor to avoid the burnt fingers.
Not open for further replies.