How to light incense like a pro?
First of all, a word on safety. Most thurifers light the charcoal in or near the sacristy. I can not stress the point enough about having a fire extinguisher mounted somewhere in close proximity of where one lights the charcoal. Fires happen and I have seen the results. One parish close to where I live lost it’s entire sacristy (vestments and all). To burn incense like a pro, the first step is to be careful at all times, know your surroundings and act like a pro. Safety first.
The thurible should always be handled with care, whether or not it contains live coals. Treating the thurible with care on a consistent basis will form solid habits that will prevent injury.
When using the thurible, the following practices should be observed:
A fire extinguisher and water must be at hand when lighting coals
Lit coals and matches must always be extinguished in a bucket of water
Tongs must always be used to handle hot coals
When the thurible has contained hot coals, never touch the cover with your hands
To light charcoals like a true professional a few things can be taken into consideration from my own experience. Although married, I still serve Masses when I attend Masses on week days or when special circumstances require it. (I am the only server at a monastery of contemplative nuns.)
First of all, not all charcoals are equal. The older they are, the harder they are to light. Broken ones are also harder to light.
Generally speaking one should not wait to the last minute to light the briquette. If incense (especially if when employing incense in “powder” form) is put onto the charcoal too soon there is a fair risk that it may smother the fire so to speak. For this reason, I prefer using incense in large grain form. Here is my favourite: Damascus Rose.
The biggest problem is exactly what K-HB wrote down in his comment:
In my experience the biggest problem is oxygen. The censer may or may not be well constructed to serve this issue. Try it with open cover and blow a bit at the briquette. The thuribles in church are normally better constructed and the swinging helps too.
However, it does helps to keep the thurible open when not in use to help keep the briquette hot and blow air over if necessary to keep hot, especially when first lite. Moreover, one should know when it is necessary to add another charcoal to the fire pot, especially during long liturgical functions such as ordinations. Normally fire pot will accommodate 2 - 3 coals.
Here is an example of what a liturgical thurible as used in the western liturgies. In Eastern liturgies, thuribles have bells attached to them.
Parishes and Religious Institutions that are more traditional use thuribles that silver toned at Masses like funerals and High Masses on ordinary Sundays. Brass toned thuribles are used on major feast Days and on special occasions.