I adore incense. It smells good, usually, but it’s also a potent magickal tool of its own. Thing is, the ways we burn it tend to distort the scent, add undesireable elements to the mix, or both.
Using sticks is convenient, but when the wooden sticks in the center of the incense burns we can smell that too. That distorts the scent of the incense. Sticks are also usually doused in unknown chemicals.
Loose incense is great, and if we make it ourselves we know exactly what’s in it. However, the charcoal used to burn it almost always has saltpeter and other chemicals in it to make it burn. (Unsure if your incense has saltpeter in it? Light a block. If it crackles it contains saltpeter.)
Either way, the very act of burning adds an acrid, smoky undertone to the scent of our incenses. Burning also creates smoke that can aggravate sensitive lungs. (And, while smoke is sometimes necessary, it isn’t always.)
But what alternative do we have? An incense stove!
What’s an incense stove?
Have you seen the oil burners so common these days? They consist of a small dish on top with space for a tealight underneath. Put a bit of oil in the dish, put a lit tealight underneath, and voila.
The controlled indirect heat releases the scent without burning the oil. What a great idea, huh?
An incense stove does the same thing with incense.
Why not just use an oil burner for incense then?
Since oil burners and incense stoves function the same you might think you can use an oil burner for incense too. And technically you can. That technique comes with a pretty significant limitation, though.
The fragrance oils made for these burners all release their scents at about the same temperature. It’s done that way on purpose. However, loose incenses include everything from hard woods to delicate florals to wine and honey. Each of those require a different heat level to release their scents without burning, and combos have their own requirements.
To work with the wide variety of blends available we really require some way to adjust the temperature. I’m sure the fancy electric models out there are wonderful, but my budget doesn’t exactly run to fancy.
Time to DIY!
Make Your Own Incense Stove
As many of you know, DIY altar supplies are kinda my thing. My favorite projects all tend to be thrifty, simple, and effective. This one is now on the list. It cost me a whopping ZERO DOLLARS, because I already had everything necessary. Even if you don’t have ANY of it, though, you should be able to make it for less than $5.
Bonus? It only takes about 10 minutes.
* One empty and rinsed-out soda can. Obviously use whatever brand you have on hand. For those living overseas, US soda cans hold 12 ounces.
* A utility knife
* A pair of scissors (I used kitchen shears)
* A random bowl at least as big around as the can. Make sure it won’t melt! This one’s from my kitchen.
* Sand, salt, kitty litter, etc. Anything to put in the bowl to disperse the heat.
* An unscented tealight
* Loose incense of your choice. Don’t have any? Check online for recipes you can make from your spice cabinet, or hit your local magick shop for a variety of yummy blends.
* A lighter
(Note: I did not wear gloves, or eye protection, or anything else safety-wise in the creation of this stove. And hey, there’s fire involved. Please take whatever precautions you feel necessary when attempting this craft. Not for children.)
We’re going to use the bottom of the can. It’s already concave and everything! The top part with the tab has to go, though. So first, use your utility knife to puncture a few holes along the edge where the body of the can starts constricting towards the top. Like so:
Now take your scissors, slide one blade into one of your holes, and cut all the way around. You could just use the knife, but scissors are safer. Your call. *shrug*
You’ll likely have some bits come flying off, and your cutline will be a little jagged, but that’s ok. When you’re done you’ll have something that looks like this.
Take your scissors and do your best to even out that jagged edge. Scissors will cut through pretty easily, so have at. I ended up sitting the can upright, holding the scissors in one place, and turning the can to get a straight line. When you’re done you’ll have something like this.
Now for some “precision work”. Heh. Pick up your tealight and look at the cut edge of your can. You need to cut a hole big enough to slip the candle into. It both makes a nice glow and provides some ventilation for your tealight. I found that the nutrition label and the ingredients list together was the right size, so I cut a bit up each side until I had a little flap. Then I simply folded the flap up inside the can and pressed it along the side. Like so:
Set the can aside. It’s done! Not too traumatic, was it? Give your handyman self a pat on the back and bask in your accomplishment!
Now take your sand/salt/whatever and pour it into your bowl. Make sure it’s at least 2″ deep. Nestle your tealight in the center of it, all cozy-like.
Light the candle. Pick up your incense stove, curved side up, and position it over the candle. Settle it into the bowl so it doesn’t tip over. Move fast – aluminum transfers heat REALLY well, and it’ll get too hot to touch in like 15 seconds.
Sprinkle some loose incense into the curved cup on the top of your new stove and wait a few minutes.
Can you smell the incense yet? If not, push the can lower into the sand/salt/etc (with a utensil – it’ll be hot like burning!). That will have the effect of raising the candle and upping the temperature. Smell burned? It’s too hot. Use a utensil to raise the can. If you can’t raise the can anymore without it tipping, push the candle into a divot in the sand/salt/whatever to move the candle further away from the top and lower the temp. It’s that easy!
It is absolutely, positively functional at this stage. If, however, you want to cover the soda label and make it pretty you have tons of options. Metal paints work, of course. A sleeve out of some spare scrapbooking paper to cover the soda label could look nice, too, and add a little insulation to boot. Or maybe try wrapping it with silver foil from the kitchen for a shiny finish!
You can also carefully cut some small shapes into the sides of the can. They’ll look pretty all aglow and add ventilation points, which is handy if you have to sink the can so low into the salt that it cuts off air through the flap. They’ll also reduce heat, though, so take that into account with the sizing.
Congrats! You’re the proud owner of a brand new functional incense stove!