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Incense Trails

Incense trails are an ancient Chinese style of burning incense and have been used for thousands of years all over Asia. Powdered incense is laid out in a trail and lit, somewhat like a gunpowder trail would burn.

This incense trail method of burning incense was the principle means of measuring time in ancient Asia. The sun-dial clock evolved into the incense clock... exacting recipes burned evenly in trails while markers tracked time. At a time when much of the world was using water clocks, China had perfected the incense clock, and most incense clocks used trails.

These trails were created using three-piece "Incense Seals." One piece was your base burner and held a bed of ash, the second was the female template with the trail pattern cut out of the template, and the last piece was the male template with a protruding pattern which was pressed through the female template and into the ash then and removed. This would produce a depressed pattern in the ash.

The female template remained and depressed pattern in the ash was then filled with the incense mix and very lightly pressed again with the template. Both templates are removed and the result was an incense trail beautifully laid out in a bed of ash. These Incense Seals and the incense patterns they created were, and still are, quite beautiful and elaborately detailed (see left column of this page - "The Trail of Time" written by Silvio Bedini - a wonderful text on the subject).

Trails and their burners need not be so elaborate though, this style can be easily enjoyed with any simple incense bowl or cup filled with ash.  Ash lets the trail breathe from all sides, sand and other mediums will not work.

The key ingredient to using trails is Makko, which is the name for the powdered bark of the tabu-no-ki tree in China. Makko has excellent natural combustible properties making it ideal for burning incense. It burns steady but with less heat than wood charcoals and so more layers of fragrance of an ingredient are revealed to the user. Makko is also a natural binder when wet, making it invaluable for forming your own incense sticks, cones, molds, etc.

Sandalwood, Red Cedarwood, Pine, Juniper, and other powdered woods by themselves or combined will also burn well as a trail.

The use of Incense Trails is virtually required when making incense sticks and cones because it's much wiser to test and adjust these mixes as dry trails before employing the labor to wet the mix, knead a dough, form sticks or cones, and dry them.

To make incense trails you only need to go to Step 7 of "How to Make Incense Sticks, Cones, and Molds " instructions. When you arrive at step 7 stop and proceed to how to burn incense trails (this is noted at each spot). Have fun!

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