Intro: How to Make Joss-Style Incense
To make this simple, we'll start out with sandalwood incense.
ground sandalwood -- 4 tbsp
guar gum -- 1 tsp or so
water (you'll add it a little at a time)
a mixing bowl
a gum-paste decorating syringe with a #5 tip
a caulk gun
a popsicle stick
a piece of coated card stock, like a bookmark or postcard
a kitchen knife or icing spatula
some waxed paper
some cardboard or thin wood
Step 1: Put Your Ingredients Into a Mixing Bowl.
It's best to use glass, metal, or a disposable bowl. Plastic and wood bowls will absorb odors, and in the case of wood, absorb the water!
Here, I am making a complex patchouli recipe. Your sandalwood incense, if you are using this recipe, will just have the sandalwood and guar gum.
Start with just a teaspoon of guar. You can add more if you need it, but you probably won't need it.
It would be a prudent idea to sift the powders to make sure there are no lumps. I use a juice strainer. This probably won't matter in this recipe, but when you move up to herbs, sometimes there are bits of stem or leaf that need removing.
Step 2: Mix Ingredients With Water and Make Into a Ball.
Add, just a TEENY bit at a time, plain tap water. It can be hot, cold, whatever. You'll want to mix it with your fingers. It's a lot like making a pie crust -- it will create little crumbs, and then, all of a sudden, make a ball.
The ball should have no cracks. This part is very important. Add just a couple drops at a time until the cracks disappear.
The guar gum should feel a little slimy. If the sandalwood is not holding together well, add more guar 1/4 tsp at a time until the ball sticks together.
Once you have enough water, try rolling a test cone with your fingers by just pinching a little off and forming it into a cone, standard incense size. If it holds the shape well without slumping, you are ready. If it cracks when forming, add a teensy bit more water and try again.
When the test cone holds together, you are ready to start extruding sticks. (You can also make the dough into cones if you'd rather.)
Step 3: Get Ready to Extrude!
Put the dough into the gum paste tube and assemble it. Then put it into your caulk gun. This will let you use the force of your grip rather than having to push down on the plunger with your hand.
With my set up, I have to put it into the caulk gun and then screw on the tip. Your mileage may vary depending on what you find.
Place waxed paper over the cardboard or thin wood that you are using as your rolling board.
Squirt out a few lines of dough. (Note: you may find that you need a little more water here; if so, take out the dough, add a few more drops, and try again.) The lines won't be beautiful, and it will take some practice before you become proficient. Don't worry about that; we'll make it beautiful in a minute.
Step 4: Straighten Out the Sticks and Rack 'em Up.
Gently use your finger to roll the sticks smooth. Then take the coated card, and use it to direct the sticks to the end of the board where they are *just* touching. You don't want to press them together, but if they are just barely touching, it will help keep them from warping as they dry.
Step 5: Trim to a Length That You Like.
After you've gotten about 6" of sticks lined up, you will probably notice that your waxed paper has had enough and is getting mooky from the dough. That means it's time to trim the edges and start over on another board.
I use a popsicle stick marked at 4" so I can keep the length consistent.
Use a metal spatula or a table knife to trim the ends. The trimmings can be put into the extruder, rolled into sticks, or made into cones.
Step 6: Let the Sticks Dry!
When you've got to this stage, you're basically done. Leave them on the waxed paper and the cardboard or wood for at least 24 hours. I put mine in wood trays (shown in the foreground) and then stack the trays.
If the sticks are warping, they will still burn. You can try turning them over after 24 hours to prevent, or minimize, warping. After a day or so, CAREFULLY take the wood or cardboard out from under. I put a second piece of waxed paper on top and flip the whole thing over like you do when you take a cake out of a cake pan. Then I carefully peel off the top sheet.
When the sticks are completely dry gently break them apart at the seams. It's a little like breaking a graham cracker apart, a gentle yet firm pressure.
If there are broken sticks, there may have been too much water in the dough, or the sticks dried too quickly. You can use them as they are, get them wet and make them into cones, or grind them up in a coffee grinder and repeat the process. (You will need more guar gum.)
Recommended reading: Incense: Crafting and Use of Magickal Scents by Carl Neal