Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

How To Make An Incense Stove

I’m in a “How To” mood tonight. You may have noticed copal comes up a lot on this blog, and been interested in experiencing it yourself, but don’t have a place you can burn it with charcoal due to smoke or fire hazard.  What to do?  Well, I had the same issue myself, and came up with a quick and dirty incense stove design that charcoal-free and smokeless when used. For those who want to give it a try, I thought I’d finally upload photos and some crappy MS Paint blueprints.

Sure, you can buy premade stoves and that guarantees the product doesn’t suck, but they’re not always cheap, and I’ve never seen one that I liked. Building your own can be done for like $5, even less if you are good at scavenging stuff, and you can make it look like you want. Mine is made with a heavy black marble jar that’s quite pretty, and completely hides the jury-rigged wire holder and foil cup hanging inside. When it’s in use, you just see the glow of the hidden candleflame gleaming on the lip, and the incense vapor rising out of the top.

Obligatory Disclaimer/Warning:

Incense stoves get hot and involve fire. This makes them DANGEROUS. Be VERY careful when building and using your stove, as you can burn yourself, your stuff, your pets, etc. if something goes wrong. These blueprints are only a very rough outline of how I built my own stove and are not intended to be professional instructions on how to build incense stoves. There is no associated guarantee of workmanlike quality, fitness for a particular purpose, or safety in either the blueprints or in the end product if you choose to build a stove after looking at these images. It can’t be guaranteed 100% safe, it involves an open flame. Basically, if you start a fire and hurt yourself/others/property, I am not responsible. You’ve been warned.

Materials Needed:

  • 1 Container — This can be a jar, a soup can, basically anything with an open top that won’t burn. Theoretically, you could even just have an open frame made of wire or something that would support the incense cup, though that would be pretty ugly. It needs to be wide enough to hold the candle, and shallow enough to allow enough air to sustain the flame. Remember, copal vapor is heavy and will sink, and it can smother a small flame if it gets trapped densely enough around it.
  • 1 Piece of Wire — A length of thin wire, about 6 inches long. I used copper as it tolerates heat well and was what I had available, though brass would also be an excellent choice. Whatever wire you use, it needs to be flexible enough to easily twist and bend, but strong enough to support its own weight and the weight of a nugget of copal in the foil cup.
  • 1 Sheet of Aluminum Foil — This will be folded into the cup where the resin nugget will go. You’ll want a roughly a 3 inch by 3 inch square if you want to make the cup single-layered, which will maximize the heat transferred to the incense, increasing the strength of the scent.
  • 1 Candle — A small candle, preferably a tealight or votive candle. Must be unscented, or you’ll have its smell dueling with the scent of copal. Disgusting. Need unscented tealights? Check Bed Bath & Beyond, I’ve seen huge bags of 100 for about $5. I’ve seen them in CVS convenience stores here in Boston in the bulk bags too, weirdly enough.
  • Insulating/Supporting Material — Sand, rocks, the shell of a spent tealight candle, anything that won’t burn and can support the weight of a candle on top. You need to put this under the candle both to protect the surface below it from the heat and to adjust the candle’s height.


Here are the rough diagrams for building an incense stove like mine, with my notes on the process included in the graphic. +1 for crappy MS Paint drawings…

Blueprints -- Click to Expand

Blueprints -- Click to Expand


Finally, since making the cup and the wire holder for the cup are the hard part, I’ve included some photos below of my cup and holder in their assembled state. The foil is basically just pushed down through the wire hoop and the edges squished into gripping the wire. Be very careful to hold it up to the light to check for pinholes or cracks, the foil is delicate and tears easily.

Angled Shot of the Cup

Angled Shot of the Cup

Back Shot of the Cup

Back Shot of the Cup

Side Shot of the Cup

Side Shot of the Cup

10 responses

  1. Xuchilpaba

    Thank you! I have since copy/pasted this to a word document so i can reference even with out net access.

    October 31, 2008 at 10:59 PM

  2. cehualli

    You’re welcome! 🙂 Someday I will PDF my how to articles and centralize them so they can be downloaded, as soon as I find a method that meets all my requirements.

    November 3, 2008 at 4:14 AM

  3. Xuchilpaba

    I discovered charcoal tablets and began to burn them with my resin copal, and other herb incenses…. I didn’t know it was so effective, or I would have used it sooner.

    Also, when I burned it with the copal… It smelled exactly like my copal sticks that Yehecatl suggested to buy on his site because it smelled like regular “real” copal. I think Tezcatlipoca was pleased.

    November 12, 2008 at 6:46 PM

  4. atolli

    this is amazing. i have spent soo much money on self igniting charcoal tablets. this is so much more cost effective. thank you.

    June 11, 2009 at 12:45 AM

  5. Thanks for this! Love it. Charcoal tablets are really annoying because of all the smoke it lets off and how it smells like cigarette smoke afterward.

    Question about burning herbs though, would you recommend using.. let’s say.. olive oil on top of it to help it burn? I want to be able to smell the herbal fragrance.

    July 19, 2009 at 12:14 AM

  6. cehualli

    Hi Atolli and Andy,

    Thank you both, glad you’re enjoying my smokeless burner scheme. 🙂

    Andy — Hmm, as far as burning raw herbs goes, I don’t think I’d recommend using this design for that purpose. Dried herbs need to smolder to smell, and I’m not sure if this will get them hot enough to do that. I wouldn’t try mixing an oil with them, as that would inhibit the smoldering even more, plus you might end up smoking the oil if you try to push the temperature too high. That *stinks* in a vile way, as I’ve discovered during cooking mishaps. Plus the resulting smoke can set off fire alarms and is generally unpleasant.

    September 22, 2009 at 4:44 AM

  7. Faye

    I think the wax tart burners would get hot enough to melt copal. Maybe you could find a candle heated one made of terra cotta? I know there’s a lot of various themed tart burners out there, maybe you could find a mayan/aztec design you like.

    May 14, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    • Andy

      Thanks! The incense stove actually has been working with burning the herbs. The charcoal discs release too much smoke and it ends up smelling like cigarettes in my room as well as on my clothes.

      May 14, 2010 at 10:43 PM

  8. Yaotl

    This was very helpful, thank you . . . tlasojkamati

    August 7, 2010 at 7:14 PM

  9. Tlasojkamati . . . Cehualli

    September 10, 2010 at 3:19 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s