How do I fuel a Zippo?
October 24, 2004 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I got a Zippo lighter as a promo thing at a bar last night, but it came empty. I bought a butane refill thing at a store and tried to fill the lighter, but apparently I just emptied the gas into the air. When I sparked the lighter I got a huge burst of flame for a instant, then nothing, which I assumed was the gas igniting.

I'm trying to search on the internet, but haven't found a straight answer: do Zippos use a special fuel? Was my problem that I didn't use the right brand, or that I was using compressed liquid that dispensed in aerosol form?
posted by XQUZYPHYR to Technology (18 answers total)
dude zippos use an alchohol-based fuel, not butane. it comes in a rectangular metal can with a flip-top. you soak the cotton in it. you'll also need flints, which, with the fuel, you can buy at a grocery or convenience store near you.
posted by jbrjake at 3:52 PM on October 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Look for Rosinal. It comes in a yellow bottle with a blue top. It's one of the two things you'll need to buy to keep your zippo working well (especially if you're risking your finger/hand vs. someone's car). The other is flints.
posted by drezdn at 3:55 PM on October 24, 2004

To clarify: Zippos don't use gas (butane), they use lighter fluid. You soak the cotton inside the lighter with the fluid, and the flint ignites the fumes.

Man, I miss my Zippo...

(I believe drezdn is referring to Ronsinol, which is the brand of lighter fluid you're likely to find most places. I would personally recommend getting the Zippo brand fluid, however -- it burns much more cleanly and therefore doesn't smell nearly as much as the other brands.)
posted by neckro23 at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Okay, so that's the problem. Got it, I'll try to find some liquid fuel tomorrow. Yay to me not accidentally blowing myself up!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:29 PM on October 24, 2004

Then you have to master all the cheesy Zippo tricks, like striking it one-handed off your jeans...

(OK, yes, I learned them, but only because I was a bartender, and I lived off tips from impressionable, drunk people. Still, they're fun.)
posted by LairBob at 5:39 PM on October 24, 2004

Ronsinol (and Zippo fluid) make excellent general-purpose petro-based cleaners, too. Handy for getting labels off bottles, paint off things, etc.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 PM on October 24, 2004

can you not use petrol (gasoline)?
posted by andrew cooke at 7:13 PM on October 24, 2004

To clarify yet more, there are chiefly two kinds of refillable lighter commonly available. One sort uses butane gas -- you've had a run-in with the refueling system for those -- and emits a small stream of it when a switch is depressed.

The other sort are wicked lighters, and the most common fuel for them is naptha. Ronsonol and Zippo brand fuel are the easiest to find, although there are some generic brands as well. Don't worry about which you pick -- they are all chemically identical, probably poured from the same spout at the factory. This is typically a white or yellow plastic bottle with a small flip lid.

Now that you own a Zippo, there are three kinds of consumable you'll need to know about: Naptha fuel, wicks, and flints. Flints and wicks are occasionally harder to come by -- they aren't always sold in drug stores like fuel is -- but should not be difficult to find.

You'll know when you need a new flint: the roller no longer causes a spark, or it jams. To replace the flint, open the lighter, remove it from the casing, and unscrew the small thumbscrew on the bottom. Carefully remove the screw. Attached to it is a spring and a small metal stub. Drop a new flint inside, put the stub/screw/spring assembly back where you found it, tighten it down a bit, and you're done.

The wick you have should last years. When it gets too crispy on the end, tug on it a bit to lengthen it and cut the tip off. Be forewarned, there's a small copper wire in there, so it's slightly harder to cut than it looks.

Refuelling is easy: Remove the lighter from the casing, flip up the felt padding to reveal the cotton wad beneath. Squirt three healthy doses of fuel into the cotton, replace the padding, and reassemble the lighter. You'll want to give it a minute or two for the wick to pick up the fuel and then it's ready to go. If you keep the lighter in a pocket where your body will warm it, you'll have to do this every week or two.

Zippo lighters are guaranteed forever, but they do occasionally break. The most common failure is the hinge of the lid, followed by the failure of the adhesive backing on any logo emblems or decorations on the case. If you're willing to part with it for a couple of weeks, mail or ship your lighter back to Zippo with a short cover letter for any repair service (including cosmetic stuff like logos falling off) to:

Zippo Manufacturing Company
Attention: Repair Clinic
1932 Zippo Drive
Bradford, PA 16701

Also, the fishes are right: Ronsonol is a great cleaner, especially for removing labels, stickers, or the stickum left behind by them.
posted by majick at 7:31 PM on October 24, 2004 [3 favorites]

(Also, no, don't EVER use gasoline in a Zippo. Use a naptha fuel or leave it dry. Do not under any circumstances try to improvise fuel.)
posted by majick at 7:33 PM on October 24, 2004

You spoony bard! You just about blew yourself up!

I wonder how many people have made this mistake? Probably too many.

AskMe: Wicked lighters!

Also, naphtha is generally the fuel, but I don't know if they use the naphtha formula for the Rosinol type fuel anymore. Don't use gasoline.

A Zippo is basically a pocket-sized lamp, torch or what have you, with a flint and a sparkwheel attached. It's got wicking that soaks up the fuel for storage, braided wicking for the actual burning part, etc. As such, be careful not to overfill. I've seen plenty of drunken roommates doing Zippo maintainence that has gone awry, namely lighting themselves or furniture on fire.
posted by loquacious at 7:58 PM on October 24, 2004

I overfilled one once and then let it get upside down in my pocket -- gave myself a kind of chemical burn. I wonder how many zippos I purchased and then set free? Probably something like 20.
posted by coelecanth at 11:50 PM on October 24, 2004

DON'T EVER USE GASOLINE. I've lost many a zippo to life, and parties. Owning your own zippo puts you in a club, a club with no presidents. Every man and woman for themselves. Welcome.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:26 AM on October 25, 2004

I had a zippo forever. Still have it somewhere I guess. But anyway, had no idea naptha was the fuel. I buy naptha for other reasons these days, in huge gallon cans. Wonder if it's a lot cheaper that way (not that any smoker, no matter how fervent, would go through a frikkin gallon of this stuff).
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:52 AM on October 25, 2004

If you're stuck for a flint, you can take apart a used-up disposable lighter (the ones with a flint wheel, like a Bic) and get it out. When they're out of butane, there's still a lot of flint left.
posted by zsazsa at 6:07 AM on October 25, 2004

This might have been the hardest part about quitting smoking for me. It's so sad when I run into my zippo while rummaging through old boxes. I wish I had a reason to still keep it in my pocket.
posted by soplerfo at 6:22 AM on October 25, 2004

i have a magic zippo. it's been stolen at parties, "borrowed" in bars, disappeared in drawers. the longest it stayed missing was 3 years, and a move from texas, to chicago to DC. one night, i was walking through dupont circle in a leather trench coat my father bought in turkey in the 60's, i shrugged my shoulders and felt something drop out of the lining. . .lo! and behold. . .my magic zippo was there on the sidewalk, waiting to be filled, struck and used for many more years.

most tobacco stores will sell zippo fluid, flints and wicks. if it seems like it needs refilling constantly (and you're not carrying it your pocket as mentioned above), try trimming the wick.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:05 AM on October 25, 2004

Don't make the mistake of overfilling it with fluid and then crammin it in your jeans or it'll leak and give you a nice irritating burn on your leg.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:14 PM on October 25, 2004

The stuff is indeed naphtha, a high-crack petroleum distillate and not an alcohol. I would strongly disagree with the comment about all naphthas being equal. I used generic fluid a while ago and it fouled my wick so badly that I had to replace it.

Stick to Ronsonol - it'll do you fine. Butane is for the other kind of lighters - the ones with piezoelectric filaments that burn out after about 1000 ignitions.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:35 PM on October 26, 2004

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