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Theory of the Backflow Incense Burner

We're all familiar with incense, you know, the things your hippie grandma would always have burning in the house when you visited for the holidays. Typically, they come in the form of a stick coated with some tacky, aromatic substance but marginally lesser known, incense also may also come in the form of small cones made of the very same tacky, aromatic substance. The only difference is presentation and burn time. I always preferred the cones because they keep their ashes all nice and tidy where-as the sticks will drop their excrements anywhere they want. Not so pleasant anymore. Moving on, one day as I was perusing the .com wonderland known as eBay for affordable(cheap) incense holders, I stumbled upon a bunch of strange waterfalls and dragon heads with smoke pouring out of them. At first, I thought it was just some photoshop trickery until I did a little more research and discovered they were called "Backflow Incense Burners" and upon queueing Youtube, it was confirmed that they are infact real! But what bothered me was that we all know that heat and subsequently, smoke rises and here are these little passive contraptions breaking the laws of Physics! I had to figure out what was going on here so I picked out a backflow that I liked(aka. was the cheapest) and then had to find the right cones for it. What made these cones "right" was the simple fact that there is a hole drilled into the base of the cone to allow the smoke to flow down into the arteries of the burner. That's it, a hole and the venders had the stones to ask for over twice the quaadludes for the same amount of goods. Offended, I found the largest quantity for the lowest price and bought it; 180 cones for $13, yielding $0.07 per cone; savage. Now all I needed was something to make the hole. Luckly, back in my attempted entrepreneurial days(now referred to as the salad days), I purchased 30 kits of Chinese drill bits off of eBay with the intention of reselling them on the very same website with the very same picture as the vender but for a mark-up in hopes to make a profit(sound familiar?). Needless to say, I still have about 20 kits left, despite giving some out as gifts for Christmas one year. The point is(if there even is one), I have all the tools I need.

Gather the Supplies

As you can see, the necessary equipment is quite minimal, only four ingredients. From left to right:
  • Properly priced incense cones: Has 18 flavors and 10 cones per flavor.
  • Chinese black-oxide drill bits: I still have 19 more kits, HMU if you want one (Fun fact: like Chinese books, the case opens backwards; to us of course).
  • Lilypad backflow incense burner: Somehow breaks the laws of Physics.
  • Store-brand matches: 50 books for $1.95; makes you wonder if they're made from real wood.

Call me crazy, but it seems that since the "official" backflow cones have a hole in the bottom of them, all I need to do is drill a hole in the bottom of a normal incense cone to achieve the same effect. Spoiler alert: It works.

Going out on a Limb


Lacking a proper drill, I simply twisted the 9/64" drill bit between my fingers while applying light pressure to prevent the cone from fracturing. You know that old mantra "five minutes now saves you ten minutes later", now's a good time to apply that to prevent being left with a pile of incense shards. Upon successful compeletion, you will be left with a backflow incense cone. No need for thanks.

Here comes the magical part. As you probably just realized, the hole in the bottom of the incense cone aligns with the hole on the top of the incense burner, thus allowing the downward flow of smoke out of the spout.

You don't think...

Locked and Loaded

Ready when you are.

Adequately convinced, it now became time to sit down, get serious and figure out why this configuration seems to defy the laws of Physics.

It works!!!

To help us understand the way the backflow incense operates, we're going to employ an analogy. However, in order to do so, I'm going to need a creative license and some imagination from you.

Setting the Stage

Here we have a drawing showing the cross-section of an imaginary incense cone with the hole bored out through the middle. Next to the cone, I have drawn the device we'll use for analogy, a syringe.

Next, we will light the imaginary incense cone with our imaginary match and allow it to establish an imaginary ember. This ember steadily consumes the increasing fuel presented to it because of the tapered side of the cone.

Let there be Light