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Penang’s Living Heritage - Joss Stick Maker

Joss sticks are commonly burn by the Chinese during religious festival. There are many different types of joss stick and each type is used for different occasions. Those slender and colored yellow ones are use for regular prayers. During special festivals like the grand celebration of the Jade Emperor (Sky God) and Festival of the Hungry Ghost, large pillar size joss stick affixed with colorful carved dragons and phoenix motifs are used instead. 


In Penang, there is a very skilful joss stick maker by the name of Mr Lee Beng Chuan. I met up with him in his rented pre war shop house nearby the Kuan Yin Temple (Temple of the Goddess of Mercy). He is 81 years old and has been making joss stick since he left school.

Penang’s Living Heritage - Joss Stick Maker

Mr Lee only makes joss sticks that are used for more special Chinese prayers by using sandalwood powder which are imported from Western Australia and India as the quality is healthier and burns longer. This type of joss sticks produces a fragrant and aromatic smell.
I got to see Mr Lee making the joss sticks…
1. Mixing the sandalwood and sticky powder made from terja tree and knelling it into a paste.


2. Moulding the paste onto long bamboo sticks, covering only three quarter of the stick.
Penang Joss Stick Maker - Mr Lee
Mr Lee runs the business with the help from his wife

3. The joss sticks left to harden on a rack for a few hours.

4. Once harden, he uses a roller board to remove the uneven part of the joss stick.
Penang’s Living Heritage - Joss Stick Maker

5. The joss sticks are then left to dry completely in the sun for a few days.
Cone shaped joss burner

Besides making the normal joss stick, Mr Lee also made other incense burners, small cone joss burner and decorative souvenirs.

There are only a few living heritage craftsmen like Mr Lee left around clinging to their craftsmanship in Penang. You can catch Mr Lee making the joss stick in the morning at the following address :

No. 1 Lorong Muda
(Off Steward Lane)
Operations hours: 8.00am - 11.00am (weekdays)
Zac Teo

Zac Teo


  1. Good to see that you also include living heritage in your blog about Penang's heritage. Unfortunately such craftsmen often have no one to whom they can pass on their unique skills.

  2. How facinating, in a world where all most every thing are made by machines, it is pleasing to see that some skills are still held by a few "masters".

    Unfortunately, modern kids want instant rewards instead of mastering a skill. I can see the art of joss stick dying like a lot of the old crafts.

    Love the pictures.

    Best wishes

  3. Blacksmith in the Muar city totally disappear after old generation gone. That is a sad ending.

  4. Hi CK,

    Is the place located behind temple, where there is a lane goes in housing area? Thanks from a reader of yours


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