Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fuel Your Fire (Starter)

My half-joking mantra about preparedness is "I cheat at it." by looking for the most efficient and effective tool to accomplish a given task. Primitive bushcraft tools and methods are a wonderful proof of concept, and a neat way to show off skills, but modern technology exists for a reason -- the tools and techniques of today grew from a need for more reliability and efficiency than previous iterations. So while a flint or firesteel or matches are a fine way to light a fire, in many situations the best method is the modern cigarette lighter.

I am a dearly devoted fan of the refillable Zippo-type cigarette lighter. While gas station disposable lighters are far cheaper and function capably, refillable units have a build quality and an accompanying sense of permanence that no other lighter approaches. I have a small collection of these lighters, most of them inherited from my grandfather; the man stopped smoking somewhere around 1987 and most were quite old when he quit. I was able to get all of them up and running again with minimal work (replacing flints and a wick or two). Much like other quality tools, basic maintenance will keep them running in tip-top shape for generations.

Even though they will run forever with simple upkeep, refillable lighters like this have one major weakness: they leak fuel horribly. I end up having to refuel mine every 2-3 days. In addition, leaking fuel can cause an irritating and mildly painful skin reaction if the lighter is carried in a pants pocket. If I were a smoker, I would probably find it far easier to keep up with this fueling cycle, but since I don't smoke, I end up wasting far more fuel than I burn and run into having an empty lighter when I need a full one.

I recently found two solutions to this failing. The first is a small refillable lighter called the Warhead. At about $5, it is quite affordable. Size-wise, it is not much larger than a US quarter.


The top cap screws off to expose the wick and striker wheel. There is an o-ring seal at the bottom of the threads, making the lighter waterproof, as well as stopping fuel leaks. The fuel reservoir is smaller than a Zippo, but the leak prevention makes the most of that fuel. I received mine around Thanksgiving and promptly filled it; I am still striking it and getting flame off that same initial fill.


The second fix for a leaky lighter is a butane insert. This also replaces the flint and wheel with a piezoelectric spark igniter and requires no wick, rendering the lighter maintenance-free. This insert produces a hot, focused flame with absolutely the easiest and most reliable ignition available. Butane fuel is just as available as liquid lighter fuel, and lacks the strong chemical smell of liquid fuel.


I haven't had my butane insert for very long, which mean I haven't played with it near as much I haven't tested it as thoroughly as I'd like. You can expect a more in-depth review to follow once that happens.

The Warhead lighter with a Zippo for size comparison. 

Even good tools can be improved, and these lighters are a shining example of this.


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