How to Burn Resins
Now that we have an idea of what sort of company to look for to purchase the resins, we need to look at how we are going to burn those resins. Through effortless searching of online forums as well as personal trial and error, I have decided that the Shoyeido brand, from Japan, is the most reliably available option for the charcoal burning method. These briquettes are already quite small, which I consider to be a good thing. But, as I live in an apartment and a little smoke goes a long way, I usually break them in half. Just be careful not to shatter instead of split them if you do this, because that does happen to me occasionally.
Another option, if you prefer not to hold the charcoal over a flame for 5-15 minutes, is to find a safe quick-lite saltpeter brand. Dan has 3 sizes available through his Etsy page, which he’s been using for years and feels confident enough in their quality to sell them himself. If you follow the link to that particular item on his Etsy page, he has given his own instructions there on how best to ignite and use the saltpeter briquettes. Since I’m not as familiar with this method, I will leave the instructions on this part to him!
Link to saltpeter charcoal pucks on Apothecary’s Garden Etsy.
BE CAREFUL BURNING INCENSE ANYWHERE!
You can very easily burn yourself, your desk, carpet, curtains, lamp, forest, gerbil, etc. so always use the utmost care and respect when burning incense, especially in this next way!
Once I’ve chosen an appropriately sized briquette for my incense-burning session, I will hold it above a candle flame, using appropriately-crafted metal tongs until I have it lit well enough for my intentions. Keep in mind, the charcoals that I have recommended will take several moments of being held above the flame in order to properly light. It’s not a quick process like sticks, cones, and the quick-lite charcoals, but I promise it’s worth the extra time and effort!
1. You can light one corner for a very slow burn, which may possibly extinguish at some early point. Good for meditation or small rooms/apartments.
2. You can light the boundary of one whole side, which will then burn, more or less, evenly across the briquette at a relatively slow but reliable pace. Good for a steady smoke production for at least 20-40 minutes.
3. You can light the entire briquette, which will burn much more quickly and hotter, making for a more intense burn, best for shorter and/or outdoor sessions. Burn time at least 20 minutes. Note: if using this third option, the briquette will become more fragile as it begins to be fully ignited. So, it is preferable to light it outdoors, and place it safely into your metal bowl, before bringing it back inside. You DO NOT want the charcoal to break in the middle of your carpeted room! That is a recipe for utter disaster!
Place the lit charcoal on a bed of white ash. (literally ashes, not the white ash tree!)
I’ve found that the best/safest way to burn this charcoal is on a bed of white ash. I’ve read about people using rice, salt, or placing the briquettes directly on a metal surface, but none of these seemed sensible to me. Personally, I purchase my white ash from the Shoyeido brand, same as the charcoal, so you could/should get both at the same time, if you are following this recommendation.
Once the charcoal is properly lit, CAREFULLY place it on the bed of white ash. You will want to use a metal incense burner to hold this ash. You want to make sure that it’s big enough to hold enough ash that it won’t overheat, but not so big that you need to buy a ton of ash just to fill the bottom few inches. I consider mine (the one in these images) to be the absolute smallest that is acceptable. Mine is 2.5″ diameter and 1.5″ deep, for reference. Mine has a metal built-in pedestal, which sits atop a wooden coaster, for fire-safety.
Place the incense resin on/near the charcoal.
This part has a few different possibilities:
With any of these options, I recommend flipping/turning/rotating the resin as one side becomes darker, it isn’t necessary, but it will help extract as much of the essential oil as possible before the scent of burning resin begins to take the forefront.
1. Place a layer of ash on top of the hot charcoal. Just enough to slightly bury it. Then place the incense resin on the white ash, directly above the hot charcoal.
2. Place the resin on the white ash, beside the burning charcoal. Depending on how close you place it, it will be more or less intense smoke/burn.
3. Place the resin directly on the hottest part of the charcoal. this will make an instant plume of smoke, which will continue to burn through the resin at a very quick rate. The resin will quickly burn off its essential oils and the remaining resins will blacken and have a much more caramelized and then burnt smell. It’s not totally unpleasant, but most people will rather not do it this way.
4. My favorite option is to only light a smaller section of the charcoal. Place the resin directly on top of the half of the charcoal which is not currently burning. As the charcoal slowly heats, from one side to the other, it will burn the resin at that slow pace as well. This works great with a larger chunk of resin that you want to burn a bit more slowly for a bit longer, but still producing a significant amount of smoke. However, with this option, there is the possibility of the resin soaking into the charcoal and snuffing it out.
Allow the charcoal to fully burn itself out.
Never leave it unattended once lit!
Once the charcoal is burning, it really needs time to burn itself out. For this reason, you will want to be sure you have at least an hour before you need to leave the area. Once the charcoal burns itself out, you can usually just stir the remaining charcoal and resin ash into the white ash, unless you are going to be trying different resins and want to keep the scents individually pure.
Michael’s Discovery of Incense
Finding Better Methods/Products
35+ Minute Interview with Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden
How to Burn Resins
Alternatives to Burning Resins
Some Popular Varieties of Incense Resins