How to Make Incense Sticks

Three Methods:Making Quick Incense Sticks (Essential Oils)Hand Rolling Incense SticksTesting Proven Incense Recipes

Incense is used in many cultures for purposes such as accents in religious ceremonies or aromatherapy. The process to make incense sticks is fairly simple and can be very rewarding to those interested in creating their own scent.

Method 1
Making Quick Incense Sticks (Essential Oils)

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    Purchase a pack of blank, or unscented, incense sticks. You can purchase these online, or at some specialty shops. They may be marketed as either blank or unscented, and are usually exceptionally cheap -- under $3-4 for an entire pack.
    • The thick, gummy-like coating on the outside is essential to absorb the scent. Don't just try to use a regular old bamboo stick![1]
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    Find your favorite essential oils, mixing and matching if desired. Essential oils, often sold in the health section of many large supermarkets, are strongly concentrated liquid scents that can soak into the incense sticks. You can use just one for a stronger flavor, or buy a few to mix and match. Some common scents for incense include:
    • Wood Scents: Sandalwood, pine, cedar, juniper, pinion pine
    • Herbal Scents: Sage, thyme, lemongrass, rosemary, star anise
    • Floral Scents: Lavender, iris, rose, saffron, hibiscus
    • Other: Orange flower, cinnamon, calamus root, frankincense, vanilla, myrrh[2]
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    In a small, shallow dish, mix 20 drops of your essential oils for each stick you're making. If you only want one at a time, 20 drops will do, otherwise, you should generally stick to batches of no more than 4-5 at a time. If you want to do 5 sticks at once, you would need 100 drops of essential oil, our roughly 4ml.[3]
    • If you're mixing scents, start with only a few drops at a time until you get a combination you enjoy. There are very few combinations that will smell "bad," but you should still experiment to find what you like best.
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    Place your sticks in the shallow dish and turn to coat. If the sticks don't fit, transfer your essential oils to a sheet of aluminum foil, partially folded into a V to ensure none leaks out. Make sure all the sides of the stick soak up the essential oils.[4]
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    Turn and gently press the sticks in the oil until it is all absorbed. This shouldn't take long, but you may need to move things around a bit to be sure it is all coated. When the oil has disappeared from the pan, you can move on.
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    Place the sticks incense end up in a mug to dry overnight. The sticks need roughly 12-15 hours to dry out before they can be burned. However, as they dry the sticks will emit a wonderful smell as well, meaning they will "work" for a day even if you can't burn them yet!
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    Alternatively, mix your scents with Di-propylene Glycol (DPG) and soak overnight in test-tubes for an extra-strength stick. This chemical sounds crazy, but it is easily purchased online in the same stores where blank sticks are sold. Still using 20 drops per stick, mix it with DPG in a long, thin tube, enough that at least 3/4's of the stick is "underwater."[5] Dunk the stick in the mixture and let it sit for 24 hours, then dry for 24 hours before using.[6]
    • A "Refresher Oil Base" can be used in place of DPG, as they both thin out and spread your fragrance.

Method 2
Hand Rolling Incense Sticks

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    Determine which scents you want to mix into your incense, taking 1-2 tablespoons of each. To start, try using only 2-3 different scents, then adding more as you get more comfortable. While making incense is not hard, there is some trial and error with the mixing, as different scents require more or less water and makko (your combustible binding agent) later on. You can buy the following scents whole or powdered, but know that pre-powdered scents are far easier to work with:
    • Herbs and Spices: Cassia, juniper leaves, lemongrass, lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, orange powder, patchouli
    • Resins and Tree Gums: Balsam, acacia, amber, copal, hibiscus, myrrh, burgundy pitch,
    • Dried Woods: Juniper, pine, pinyon, cedar, sandalwood, agarwood[7]
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    Keep track of how much of each scent you use, writing notes if you plan to make incense often. The amount of water and the binding agent you use depends on the amount of powdered ingredients you use, so make sure you keep track of everything now. In general, 1-2 tablespoons for each ingredient is fine, but you can always scale up if need be.[8]
    • Incense recipes are usually described in "parts," like a mixed drink. So, if the recipe calls for "2 parts sandalwood, 1 part rosemary," you could do 2 tablespoons sandalwood, 1 tb rosemary, 2 cups sandalwood, 1 cup rosemary, etc.
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    Using a mortar and pestle, mix and grind all of your chosen scents together. If you're using fresh ingredients, instead of pre-powdered, you want to get everything into as into as fine a powder as you can. Herb grinders can help, but avoid electric coffee grinders -- the heat they produce can release some of the scent compounds from your ingredients. When grinding up, remember to:[9]
    • Grind up the wood first, as it is hardest and most difficult to get fine. If you're really struggling, break the "no electric grinder rule," as the wood is robust enough it won't loose much scent.
    • Freeze and gums or resins for 30 minutes before grinding. When frozen, resins get hard and much easier to smash into pieces.[10]
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    Let the powder sit for a few hours to help the scents blend. Once the individual ingredients are combined, mix together and everything together one last time. Then let it all sit. While this isn't strictly necessary, it will lead to a more cohesive, even smell to your incense.
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    Determine how much makko you need to add by taking a percentage of your dry ingredients. Makko, a combustible, gummy substance, needs to be a certain percentage of the total mixture in order to burn well. Unfortunately, this is where some trial and error comes in, as different scents require different amounts of makko to burn well:
    • If you only use herbs and spices, you will only need 10-25% makko.
    • If you use resins, you will need significantly more makko -- anywhere from 40-80% depending on how many parts resin were added. All resin mixes need 80%.
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    Multiply the amount of spices by your desired makko percentage to know of much to add. So, if you have 10 tablespoons of powder, with a little resin in it, you would add 4 tablespoons of makko (). You can make this simple calculation with any amount of powder and makko.
    • You can always add more makko, but it is hard to take it out. Start on the lower end of the estimated if you are unsure.[11]
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    Set aside a small portion of your mixture. Take out roughly 10% of your mixture and set it aside. This will be to re-thicken the incense if you accidentally add too much water in the next step, helping you prevent a ruined batch.
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    Using a pipette or other dropper, slowly add warm distilled water to your incense and mix to a paste. You want a Play-doh sort of texture, as the makko absorbs the water and forms a clay. It should hold its shape, but still be malleable. Add 3-5 drops of water, mix it in, and then add more until to forms a wet, but not slimy, ball. When you have the perfect texture, the mixture will be squeezed and still hold its form, without dry-looking cracks.
    • If you add too much water, pour what you can out of the bowl and use your remaining powder to dry things out a bit.[12]
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    Knead the dough under your hand for several minutes. Kneading just requires constant pressure. Use the heel of your hand to press the "dough" into the counter, flattening the disc lightly. Then fold the disk over, forming another thicker ball of dough, and press it again. Keep doing this, rotating the dough every now and then to mix up the area you are kneading, for several minutes.[13]
    • For professional incense, let the dough sit under a damp towel overnight after you're done kneading. The next morning, spritz a bit more water on, knead again, then proceed.[14]
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    Pinch off a 1-2 inch chunk of dough and roll it out into a long, skinny rectangle. Use your palms to roll the chunk into a long rope, like you were making a clay snake, about the size of 3/4 of your incense sticks. Then use your fingers to flatten the dough "snake" down. It should be thin, only a few millimeters thick, when done.
    • If you aren't using incense sticks, you can leave the rolled up incense as the "snakes." Use a knife to cut the edges and let them dry as they are, without a stick to hold them together.
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    Place an uncoated incense stick on the dough, then roll the whole thing up so the dough coats the last 3/4s of the stick. You'll need completely blank bamboo sticks, which can be bought for cheap online. Then you simply use your fingers to roll the incense dough around the stick, letting it completely coat the outside bamboo stick.[15]
    • It should be a little less thick than a standard pencil.
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    Place the sticks on a small board lined with wax paper to dry, rotating them once or twice a day. To speed things up even more, place the whole board in a paper bag and tie it shut. Make sure you rotate the incense to ensure it all dries out evenly.
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    After 4-5 days, when the dough holds its shape and is dry to the touch, you're ready to burn. Once the incense doesn't droop and is no longer malleable, you're ready to use it! If you live in a more humid environment, it will take closer to five days. However, it might take only 1-2 days in a drier climate.
    • The more makko and water you needed to use, the longer they will likely take to dry.[16]

Method 3
Testing Proven Incense Recipes

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    Keep track of your experiments, noting how each one burns. When making your own incense, the ration of makko and water to scent takes some time to get right. To make sure you always learn your lessons, write down the ratios you use as you test out the following recipes, or your own:
    • If you have a hard time lighting the incense, you likely need more makko next time.
    • If all you smell is the makko, or the sticks burn very quickly, add less makko next time.[17]
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    Try a few sandalwood-heavy recipes for a "classic" incense smell. Sandalwood is one of the most common and beloved incense scents. The following ratios should help you get these classic smells burning quickly:
    • 2 parts sandalwood, 1 part frankincense, 1 part mastic, 1 part lemongrass
    • 2 part sandalwood, 1 part cassia, 1 part clove
    • 2 part sandalwood, 1 part galangal, 1 part myrrh, 1/2 part cinnamon, 1/2 part borneol
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    Try out a vanilla-based incense. The following recipe can be easily adapted as well. Try it with some clove or cinnamon for a spiced taste, or mix it in with wood scents like cedar for a rustic incense:
    • 1 part palo santo wood, 1 part tolu balsam, 1 part storax bark, 1/4 part vanilla bean (powdered)[18]
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    Try a few woody concoctions as well. This recipe goes will with pine in place of cedar as well, and a bit of myrrh can be added too to increase the old-world incense feel of the mixture:
    • 2 parts cedar, 1 part vetiver, 1 part lavender flowers, 1/2 part benzoin, handful of dried rose petals
  5. Image titled Make Incense Sticks Step 25
    Try a "Christmas Incense" recipe. This recipe can be adapted wonderfully with some cinnamon chips or cloves as well, and mixes nicely with vanilla as well. While it calls for fresh pine needs and leaves, powders and dried leaves work as well, though they might not be as strong:
    • 1 part pine needles, 1/2 part hemlock needles, 1/2 part sassafras powder, 1/2 part cedar leaf (Thuja occidentalis), 1/4 part whole cloves
  6. Image titled Make Incense Sticks Step 26
    Get a little romantic with this passionate incense recipe. The herbal, floral, and strong notes of lavender combine to make an in-the-mood scent that few can resist. 60% of the time, it works every time.
    • 1 part ground lavender flowers, 1 part ground rosemary leaves, 1/2 part ground rose petals, 4 parts red sandalwood powder[19]


  • Experiment with different herb, wood and resin combinations until you obtain a mixture that is most pleasing to you. Also, try other methods of incense making to become familiar with the mixing process and learn how to use the ingredients.
  • Keep incense sticks out of direct sunlight and heat while they are drying.
  • Depending upon which scent you choose, sandalwood versus frankincense for instance, you may need only 10% of makko added to the mixture.
  • Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands while you mix ingredients and form them onto incense sticks.
  • Break up incense sticks that didn't produce the expected end result and try the process again.


  • Don't allow incense to burn unattended. Always burn incense in a well-ventilated area away from pets and children.
  • Never attempt to dry incense by baking or microwaving, as this creates a fire hazard.

Things You'll Need

  • Herbs, woods and resins
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Makko
  • Bamboo sticks
  • Gloves

Article Info

Categories: Candles Lamps and Fireplaces