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Stick Incense

Stick incense is by far the most common form of burning incense in America today. Although most people are aware of multiple types of incense, if you ask a person at random on the street what their most prominent visual image of incense is, it will almost certainly be of a stick protruding diagonally from a long wooden ash catcher. After exploding in popularity during the 1960s and 70s, stick incense has come to be a very common sight in homes, dorm rooms, offices, and sacred spaces.

Stick incense is a form of direct burning, or combustible incense. True to the name, direct burning incenses are lit directly by a flame and then fanned out, thereby allowing a glowing ember to smolder away slowly. This low level of heat burns away the rest of the incense without the need for continued application of flame. In addition, combustible incense usually requires very little preparation prior to use. It is ready to burn, as they say, "out of the box." Direct burning incenses include coils, cones, cored sticks, solid sticks, and dipped or hand-dipped sticks.

There are two main types of incense sticks. The first is a cored stick. This type of stick has a supportive core of bamboo that gives the stick its shape. Some higher quality versions of cored sticks have sandalwood at their cores, which releases a beautiful scent all its own when it burns. This wooden core is covered by a thick layer of incense material that burns away directly, along with the core itself.

Cored incense sticks generally produce a great deal of ash, so it is important to have an ash catcher when burning this type of incense.  Cored incense sticks were historically used in India and China.  In China, the cored sticks used for religious ceremonies were often referred to as Joss sticks.  In India, both masala and charcoal styles of incense usually contain a bamboo or sandalwood core.

Cored stick incense can be made in a variety of different ways.  Sometimes, a wet paste of incense mixture is rolled using a paddle into a long, thin coil which is then rolled together with the core stick.  Sometimes, the core material is soaked in water, and then the sticks are dipped in a tray of fragrance materials and plant based binders.  The sticks are then rolled and more incense powder is packed on to them.  This incense is then allowed to dry in the open air.  More incense powder can be applied after every drying period.  This method of cored incense making is used regularly in China.  Finally, in the modern era, cored incense is sometimes made by pressing damp powder around the base stick mechanically.  This method is becoming more popular due to the high labor costs of producing powder coated or paste rolled incense.

The second form of stick incense is solid stick. This type has no supporting core running through it, and is made entirely of incense material. Historically, solid stick incense has been used extensively in Japan and Tibet.  This incense is wonderful because it is easily broken up, allowing you to decide how much or little you want to burn at one time.  They also tend to produce more manageable amounts of ash due to the lack of a core wooden base stick.  Indian Dhoop sticks are also fairly thick versions of solid stick incense.

Another type of incense which has no supporting core to it is cone incense.  Cone incense is incense material that is shaped into fairly short, fat cones which burn and release a great deal of wonderful fragrance.  Cone incense burns relatively fast and releases its scent very quickly, filling a room with fragrance in minutes.  Incense cones were invented in Japan in the 19th century.

Coil incense is fragrance material that is shaped into a coil without a core.  Due to the spiral shape of this type of incense, coil incense can burn continuously for a very long period of time - from hours to days, and is often used in China for temple and altar offerings.

So, as you can see, even within the category of stick incense, there is a vast range of styles to explore!  Some burn more slowly, some more quickly, some produce more ash and some less, but in the end, all are perfectly wonderful, time tested methods of releasing fragrance into the air, of making a spiritual offering, and of bringing your own personal, elegant touch in to every environment.  Why not enjoy exploring all of the different types of stick incense we have to offer and see which ones work best for your own personal needs!
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