Care and Feeding of Butane Lighters
June 20, 2006 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I've bought several butane "torch-style" lighters, but they all seem to fail after a month or two -- is it the lighters, or is it my method?

I've tried the $15 - $20 lighters, and the $40 - $60 lighters (thinking that maybe the cheaper ones were junk), but invariably I get to the state that despite refilling, they'll just sputter and fail to light for more than a second or two, despite releasing an audible amount of fuel, and having a visible spark.

I've tried "emptying the air" out of them by holding them upside down and depressing the fill nozzle with a small screwdriver until they're emtpy and then refilling them. This sometimes helps for a few days, but seldom makes them work as they did for the first few weeks.

On a similar note, I'm not sure if my filling technique is bad or not; it seems like there is always quite a bit of (cold and uncomfortable) gas leakage when I fill them. Typically I wiggle the nozzle around until I've gotten a noticable "cold" feeling in the storage tank area of the lighter.

Lately, I've bought a couple of "big" 6 oz cans of butane which come with a small collection of adapters for (apparently) a tighter fit on the lighter when filling, but none of them ever seem to properly fit any of my lighters.

I don't really do anything extreme with the lighters, such as trying to use them as culinary torches; I'm just often outside in the wind, and I've found that the torch lighters make a much more convenient cigarette lighter when there's a breeze.

(Avid non-smokers; thanks for sparing me a smoking lecture -- this question is on lighters, not whether I should be smoking)
posted by nonliteral to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Look for an electronic lighter vs a flint lighter. Don't spend an absurd amount, but I paid $60 for mine and have never had trouble.
posted by geoff. at 8:54 AM on June 20, 2006

Oh looks like you did spring for the better ones, make sure they are flintless. Local cigar shops are where you need to go with this problem. Bring your butane and your lighter and see if they know what you're doing wrong -- and if they can recommend you a good one if yours doesn't work.
posted by geoff. at 8:55 AM on June 20, 2006

I wanted to own a nice lighter for camping, light other people's cigarettes, etc. I tried a lighter like yours with similar results.

My conclusion is that the most reliable lighters are, ironically, the cheap disposable ones.
posted by justkevin at 9:00 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

The best lighter I've owned was a refillable plastic butane, non-torch. It had a standard flame, just like a disposable, but it was angled at 45 degrees. This really helped to prevent accidently finger burns while lighting a pipe.

Butane torch lighters are awful for pipes. I either ended up burning myself or annihilating the contents of the pipe.

If you are lighting cigarettes, I'd recommend a trusty Zippo style lighter, or just a disposable Bic.
posted by utsutsu at 9:15 AM on June 20, 2006

The single biggest issue with torch-style lighters (after manufacturing quality) I've seen is bad butane. It's generally recognized that Colibri makes the best butane you can get in most cigar stores, use that religiously and make sure your torch is a good quality one and you should be fine for much longer than a few months.
posted by wolftrouble at 9:35 AM on June 20, 2006

Wolftrouble has it right - butane quality makes a difference. Buy a can of compressed gas and clean out the nozzle on your lighter(s). That should bring them back to life. I have a torch lighter, and I ocassionally run into a situation where the lighter has more than enough fuel, but won't light up. All it takes is a quick blow into the lighter opening and it's good as new again. Give it a try. I've been using mine like this for quite a while.
posted by aeighty at 10:08 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone -- here is just a quick follow-up to the responses so far...

All of these lighters are piezo-crystal types (no flints).

To date I've gone through three Colibris and a Blazer Evo (which I loved), as well as about five "Z-Plus" zippo torch inserts (also by Blazer, I believe).

The Z-Pluses are very cool, as I have several Zippo cases I like but hate the lighter fluid taste, but all of the Z-Pluses I've tried literally fell apart after a few weeks.

I used Colibri fuel exclusively until I tried the larger 6oz King fuel; the results were the same with all. I do know that several fuels (particularly Ronson) are supposed to ruin lighters at an alarming rate.

I've asked about this in several cigar stores (which is where I purchased the lighters), with responses that ranged from "the Colibris have a 1 year warranty, just send them in (I don't want to get into a cycle of mailing lighters back and forth, I just want one that works) to "you really need this Blazer Evo -- it won't do that" (it did).
posted by nonliteral at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2006

Covering all the bases... you do point the butane bottle down when you fill them, right? Because you should be able to hear fluid inside when you shake your refilled lighter.
posted by 517 at 11:22 AM on June 20, 2006

I was surprised to discover that piezo-crystal lighters are considered by most smoking folks as disposable. They always stop working. My experience has also been that they always stop working.

Get a Zippo. They never die.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:59 AM on June 20, 2006

So, you say that Z-plus all fall apart?

Thats dissapointing I always wanted to try one of those.
posted by Megafly at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2006

Seconding the using compressed air to clean the nozzle. Occasionally mine get to a point where they just click. i can see the spark, i can hear the gas but it never ignites the flame.

i've found three tricks that work pretty well. First i just turn the lighter over and give the nozzle a whack on the table (not really hard, just enough to clear any grit that may be in there), Next i blow hard into the nozzle, (or use compressed air if i have it handy). Finally, and this is the one that usually works, i push the ignitor down to get the gas flowing and i light it with another lighter. Let it burn for about 10 to 15 seconds and try it again.

Works like a charm for my lighters.
posted by quin at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've not had this problem, but I have found that butane lighters wear out at the filling valve. I once paid $20 (in the 70s!) for a lighter I fancies, and the damn thing also wore out.
posted by Goofyy at 3:54 AM on June 21, 2006

If you're ever in Tokyo, go to Don Quixote in Roppongi and check out the blowtorch style lighters there. Mine hasn't died in the last 3 years and after the umpteenth refill. Make sure you get one with at least two nozzles. Preferably more. (Closest thing to the one I have is this one.)
posted by Arthur Dent at 7:08 AM on June 21, 2006


Yep, sorry to say I've had poor luck with the Z-Pluses; the ones I've bought seem to be poorly made -- worse, the failure mode on a couple of them has been "lose flame control, suddenly turn into blowtorch", which has made me a bit leary of them.

It's a great concept otherwise -- find the coolest Zippo shell that appeals to you, and use it as a butane torch lighter.
posted by nonliteral at 7:46 AM on June 21, 2006

The compressed air trick seems to have worked well on one of my old dead lighters -- thanks!

Still working on a couple of the others...

I think Goofyy may have a great clue -- on at least one of these, the problem seems to be that no matter how I hold the can, I can't seem to fill it; I wonder if the filler valve itself has failed?
posted by nonliteral at 7:48 AM on June 21, 2006

Just a follow-up -- in addition to the great advice here, I also found this helpful advice in an alt.smokiers.cigars thread:
Refilling hints/tips

1. press in the valve stem with a nail or tip of a ballpoint pen to release excess butane.

2. Use a small screwdriver to turn the flame adjustment ring all the way OFF (clockwise). If you forget to do this the lighter "remembers" the present flame setting as the lowest and will usually not light after refilling.

3. Use a high quality triple-refined fuel such as Vector, Blazer, or Colibiri. Refill lighter but do not attempt to "top off".

4. Let lighter sit undisturbed for three to four minutes to allow gas to stabilize.

5. Use the screwdriver to turn the flame adjustment ring back to desired position.


Lighter will not light: flame adustment is too low.

Lighter lights but after a short period of time the flame goes out and butane continues to escape: flame adjustment is too high.

Lighter lights but flame continues to burn momentarily after switch is released: try bleeding off some butane by depressing the valve tip. This condition usually cures itself as the butane level goes down with use.
Last, but not least, on my Blazer Evo, it appears that the ring around the filler orifice turns, and apparently needs to be opened to refuel adequately..
posted by nonliteral at 3:21 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

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