To be blunt, this aspect of incense composition isn't easy. Some of the ingredients are difficult to obtain, the procedure tends to be messy and frustrating, and some even question whether combustible incense is as magically effective as its noncombustible counterpart. For years I hesitated making or using sticks, cones or blocks because they contain potassium nitrate. This substance is magically related to Mars, and I felt this might add unneeded aggressive energies to the incense.
But when considered the charcoal blocks I use to burn the noncombustible incense also contain saltpeter, I relented and experimented. However, to this day I prefer the raw form. To each their own.
At first, making combustible incense may seem impossible to accomplish. But persevere and you'll be rewarded with the satisfaction of lighting incense cones you've made yourself.
Gum tragacanth glue or mucilage is the basic ingredient of all molded incenses. Gum tragacanth is available at some herb stores; at one time in the past every drugstore carried it. It is rather expensive ($3.00 an ounce as of this writing), but a little will last for months.
To make tragacanth glue, place a teaspoon of the ground herb in a glass of warm water. Mix thoroughly until all particles are dispersed. To facilitate this, place in a bowl and whisk or beat with an egg beater. This will cause foam to rise, but it can be easily skimmed off or allowed to disperse. The gum tragacanth has enormous absorption qualities; an ounce will absorb up to one gallon of water in a week.
Let the tragacanth absorb the water until it becomes a thick bitter-smelling paste. The consistency of the mixture depends on the form of incense desired. For sticks (the most difficult kind to make) the mixture should be relatively thin. For blocks and cones a thicker mucilage should be made. This is where practice comes in handy after a session or two you will automatically know when the mucilage is at the correct consistency.
If you can't find tragacanth, try using gum arabic in its place. This, too, absorbs water. I haven't tried using it for incense yet, but all reports say it works as well as tragacanth.
When you have made the trag glue, cover with a wet cloth and set aside. It will continue to thicken as it sits, so if it becomes to thick add a bit of water and stir thoroughly.
Next, make up the incense base. Not all formulas in this book can be used for combustible incense; in fact, most of them were designed to be used as noncombustible incenses. Fortunately, by adding the incense to a base it should work well. Here's one standard formula for an incense base:
CONE INCENSE BASE
6 parts ground Charcoal (not self-igniting) 1 part ground Benzoin 2 parts ground Sandalwood 1 part ground Orris root (this "fixes" the scent) 6 drops essential oil (use the oil form of one of the ingredients in the incense) 2 to 4 parts mixed, empowered incense Mix the first four ingredients until all are well blended. Add the drops of essential oil and mix again with your hands. The goal is to create a powdered mixture with a fine texture. If you wish, run the mixture thru a grinder or the mortar again until it is satisfactory.
Add two to four parts of the completed and empowered incense mixture (created according to the instructions for Noncombustible Incense above). Combine this well with your hands.
Then using a small kitchen scale, weigh the completed incense and add ten percent potassium nitrate. If you've made ten ounces of incense, add one ounce potassium nitrate. Mix this until the white powder is thoroughly blended.
Saltpeter should constitute no more than ten percent of the completed bulk of the incense. If any more is added, it will burn too fast; less and it might not burn at all.
Potassium nitrate isn't difficult to obtain. I buy mine at drug stores, so check these (it isn't usually on the shelf; ask for it at the pharmacy). If you have no luck, try chemical supply stores.
Next, add the tragacanth glue. Do this a teaspoon at a time, mixing with your hands in a large bowl until all ingredients are wetted. For cone incense you'll need a very stiff, dough-like texture. If it is too thick it won't properly form into cones and will take forever to dry. The mixture should mold easily and hold its shape.
On a piece of waxed paper, shape the mixture into basic cone shapes exactly like the ones you've probably bought. If this form isn't used, the incense might not properly burn.
When you've made up your cone incense, let it dry for two to seven days in a warm place. Your incense is finished.
BLOCK INCENSE For block incense make a 1/3 inch-thick square of the stiff dough on waxed paper. Cut with a knife into one-inch cubes as if you were cutting small brownies. Separately slightly and let dry. Stick incense can be attempted as well. Add more tragacanth glue to the mixed incense and base until the mixture is wet but still rather thick. The trick here is in determining the proper thickness of the incense tragacanth mixture and in finding appropriate materials to use. Professional incense manufacturers use thin bamboo splints, which aren't available. So try homemade wooden or bamboo splints, broom straws, very thin twigs, or those long wooden cocktail skewers that are available at some grocery and oriental food stores.
Dip the sticks into the mixture, let them sit upright and then dip again. Several dippings are usually necessary, this is a most difficult process.
When the sticks have accumulated a sufficient amount of the incense, poke them into a slab of clay or some other substance so that they stand upright. Allow them to dry.
One variation on stick incense making uses a stiffer incense dough. Pat down the dough on waxed paper until it is very thin. Place the stick on the dough. Roll a thin coating of dough around the stick. The incense shouldn't be more than twice the thickness of the stick. Squeeze or press it onto the stick so that it will stay put, let dry.
Personally, I find the inclusion of charcoal in this recipe to be distasteful and unnecessary. It makes it imperative that you wash your hands numerous times throughout this process. Although traditional, charcoal also lends a peculiar odor to the incense. So here's another recipe I've used with good results:
CONE INCENSE BASE #2
6 parts powdered Sandalwood (or Cedar, Pine, Juniper) 2 parts powdered Benzoin (or Frankincense, Myrrh, etc.) l part ground Orris root 6 drops essential oil (use the oil form of one of the incense ingredients) 3 to 5 parts empowered incense mixture In this recipe, powdered wood is used in place of the charcoal. Use sandalwood if it's included in the incense recipe. If not, use cedar, pine or juniper, depending on the type of incense to be made. Try to match the wood base of this incense to the incense's recipe. If you can't, simply use sandalwood.
Mix the first three ingredients until combined. Add the oil and mix again. Then add three to five parts of the completed incense to this. Again, this should be a powder. Weigh and add ten percent potassium nitrate.
Mix, add the gum tragacanth glue, combine again and mold in the methods described above.