RESIN INCENSE - What is it, and How Does it Work?
We're often asked about resin incense as most people who are familiar with incense sticks are a little bamboozled about what it really is - and more importantly, how they can use it themselves. At first glance it can appear somewhat intimidating, but once you know how it works it's not that complicated at all, and can be a wonderful way to enjoy pure and natural incense, in a similar way to how it has been used for thousands of years.
So What is Resin Incense?
Resin incense has been used since Biblical days - pure and natural gums & resins straight from the plant and presented in solid, dried pellet form to be heated as incense. The term 'resin incense' also often refers to botanicals, herbs and plant matter that are burned in a similar way; the phrase 'charcoal incense' is also occasionally used as most types are burned over a charcoal bead or tablet.
The best known and most commonly used resin for incense would have to be Frankincense, which comes from a small shrub that originates from the Middle East and yields a natural gum collected by making incisions into the bark. It's often paired with Myrrh as the two scents blend so beautifully. Copal is South America's alternative to Frankincense - with some similarities but a stunning scent of its own. Other resins include red-coloured Dragons Blood, Benzoin, Dammar and Palo Santo.
Most pure resins are separated into grades of purity, or as they come from a specific plant can have different versions depending on the plant type & genus, or even based on their country of origin - this is why you'll often see a country name on a resin such as Frankincense or Benzoin, where different regions specialise in different qualities; or a colour might distinguish between different types of Copal. Being natural products straight from the plant, it's important to remember that like essential oils, not all resins are created equally. For example, there is no single 'Frankincense scent' as there are so many variables involved. Resin from one vendor might be similar or quite different from another.
As well as resin gums, aromatic botanicals used as incense include sandalwood or palo santo wood flakes or chips, styrax bark, or even dried herbs such as lavender flowers or sage leaves. Many resin incense blends include a selection of the different types, chosen to complement each other for their scent, or perhaps a purpose such as meditation or protection, or an Ayurvedic blend.
NOTE RE ASTHMA: Like many other irritants, smoke from incense can irritate and cause asthma. If you are a known asthmatic please consider this before purchasing incense products.
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HOW DO YOU BURN RESIN INCENSE?
The typical way to burn your resins is over a charcoal tablet, which is much like a bbq heat bead: once lit it stays alight for a period and provides the heat to warm your resins and allow them to give off their aromatic smoke. Resins can also be warmed using purpose made incense warmers, or even over coals or embers by a fire - but if you're new to resins, the simplest method is with self-igniting charcoal tablets, which are inexpensive and easy to use. Charcoal tablets or disks come in various sizes - typically around 3cm in diameter, which can each burn for around 30mins to an hour, depending on the conditions (wind and breezes accelerate burning time). 'Self igniting' charcoal (the type we stock) is the easiest to use - it doesn't mean that they'll light themselves, but they include an accelerant that allows the charcoal to be lit more easily. Keep any charcoal tablets in a sealed bag between uses to make sure they don't become damp or stale.
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Censers and Burners:
Charcoal may be burned in a specialised censer (burner), usually made of a heat-proof material such as metal or brass, stone or even terracotta. Charcoal can also be burned in any heat-proof bowl filled with sand or earth, which will help dissipate the heat. We also strongly recommend that you place a layer of sand or earth in the base of any censer (metal ones in particular), which will help save your censer from heating up and damaging the surface below, or anyone who touches it! Whichever type of burner you use, you MUST ensure that you take all care to ensure children or pets cannot access or bump it while burning as the charcoal burns red hot, and both the charcoal and the burner may be hot enough to burn the skin if touched.
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Lighting a Charcoal Tablet:
Place a 'self igniting' charcoal disk in your censer or bowl (see above). If you wish to hold the charcoal while lighting it, never use your fingers: use tongs to tightly hold the tablet. A long-handled refillable BBQ lighter is the perfect tool to light your charcoal as it may take a minute or two for the sparks to take hold.
Light one side/edge of the tablet first by holding your flame against it - after a while it will start to glow and then begin to spark. Once you're sure it's got a good start, move the flame to the opposite side and do the same. Once it's on its way, the sparks will continue to dance over the surface of the tablet, heating and igniting it - this could take a couple of minutes. In damp conditions or if the tablet isn't very fresh you may need to repeat a couple of times before you're sure it's managing on its own. Once it continues to ignite and spark, leave for a few minutes until the sparking stops and the entire disk glows red - it's now ready to use.
NOTE: Any quick-lite charcoal may give off a faint scent during the lighting process, which will dissipate once the charcoal is completely alight. If you're not a fan of this scent, just light your charcoal outside and carefully bring it indoors once it's alight.
Burning your Resin:
Once your charcoal tablet is red hot, carefully add your resin incense to the indentation on the top of the tablet, a few pellets at a time - the resin will heat up or melt, releasing the aromatic smoke. Top up as necessary - but don't forget that resin incense is very strong and it doesn't take much to scent a room: using too much may create a LOT of smoke.
Try creating your own blends by adding a couple of different types of resin at once: Frankincense and Myrrh are an obvious way to start, but try adding Benzoin for a deep, balsamic scent or Dragons Blood for a touch of sweetness.
Each charcoal tablet can last for anything from 20 mins to an hour and will naturally go out once spent. NEVER put your charcoal out by dousing your burner in water as it will damage the burner and spit with heat. If you need to extinguish it in a hurry, use tongs to carefully place the charcoal in a large heat-proof container full of water until completely cool. Extinguished charcoal cannot be used a second time.
Allow the ash to cool before disposing - we cannot stress enough just how hot charcoal tablets get during use, as well as the metal of the censer - DO NOT use them around children or pets, always ensure they are on a very stable surface that cannot be bumped, and take all care to avoid contact with the censer as well as the charcoal, to avoid the possibility of burns. NEVER leave burning charcoal unattended. Using tongs or tweezers whenever handling charcoal or adding resin pellets is the safest way to avoid contact with the hot surfaces.
TIP: If you can get your hands on a small piece of natural mica, use that as a plate between the surface of the charcoal and the resin - it will give you a stable surface for the resins and help stop them from 'burning' with too much direct heat.
TIP: If you're new to resin incense, or would like to try it for the first time, take a look at our RESIN KITS section where we list a selection of packs from simple to elaborate - each with a selection of resins, charcoal and instruction card (some also include a censer, tongs & storage). Everything is also available separately if you'd like to create your own package.
ALTERNATIVES TO CHARCOAL BURNING
Burning your resin incense using charcoal can be a relaxing and enjoyable ritual, but it can take a little time to set up and perform. To enjoy resin incense without the effort, try pure RESIN INCENSE STICKS which are made by pressing various ground resins around a bamboo inner stick, similar to standard Indian incense but without the additives. Quality MASALA INCENSE also often features ground resins in their recipes, mixed in blends with other natural aromatic ingredients - 'Masala' sticks are made by mixing the ingredients into a paste and then rolling it around a bamboo inner stick.
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