I am a huge proponent of petrol lighters. I have devoted a large chunk of my time and livelihood to these fantastic little fire making machines. I am also a Zippo fan and appreciate the historical significance and elementary nature of their petrol heritage but does using a Zippo Butane Insert make me an impostor or Zippo apostate? In this article, I will make my case for the legitimacy of taking advantage of advances in butane technology(or any other tech for that matter) while still appreciating and honoring Zippo’s petrol legacy.
Making My Case
All the way back in the 1930s, Zippo made the “fan test” famous by demonstrating that the windscreen design of their lighters made them difficult for the wind to extinguish. I have performed this test myself and found that the petrol flame of a Zippo is indeed somewhat impervious to actually being extinguished regardless of the strength or power of the wind experienced.
The fact that a flame is resilient to the wind, however, does not necessarily mean that it also retains its usefulness when trying to ignite certain smoking expendables in even mildly windy conditions. In other words, though the flame may not blow out that doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to light what you intend to smoke off of it.
Depending on what you smoke, different types of flames may be more or less useful and the presence of wind can definitely complicate the matter. Take, for instance, a commercially produced tobacco cigarette which doesn’t require much effort to light in any kind of condition as the product has been developed in such a way to light and burn easily, requiring only a hint of inhalation as the flame simply touches the end of the cigarette and you are off and running.
Not so easy though with cigars, pipes and medical marijuana products which may require more and consistent time at the flame in order for proper combustion of the product to occur. Pipes often ignite more easily with a sideways oriented flame just as cigars, joints and blunts may benefit from the use of a stiff jet torch.
What’s A Fella’ To Do?
Understanding the limitations of a Zippo(and just about any other petrol lighter design) in the wind makes coming up with an alternative necessary if you find yourself needing to light up in the wind, which I do often where I live in Oklahoma. There’s plenty of other windy environments though, not only in the United States but around the world, meaning that there are vast numbers of people who find themselves in the same boat as me regarding the practical usefulness if their Zippo petrol flame.
For this reason, when Zippo came out with the Single and Double Butane Torch and Electric Arc inserts a few yrs back, I was keen to try them. There were previously third party butane insert alternatives made to fit a Zippo case that I wasn’t so quick to check out but figured if Zippo was going to market an alternative themselves then why not give it a shot?
The initial Single Torch Butane insert that I purchased worked well enough and did the job of lighting what I needed it to though I did have some questions about its quality of design after a drop led to sporadic ignition via the piezoelectric spark that it employed. I really wished it had been designed using the tried and true flint and file wheel type ignition.
The Electric Arc insert performed flawlessly in the wind or any other environment, once I became familiar with the nuances under which it operates. The Electric Arc does not produce a flame and therefore will only light exposed product that is placed directly on the arc element and is not very good for burning through thicker blunt wraps or even rolling papers or cones. Though I’d never used an arc lighter before, I had expected this “close contact” limitation of the Arc insert.
After using those first two Zippo alternatives to varying effects and satisfaction, I was stoked when I saw the promotions for the Yellow Flame Butane insert as it provides a similarly presented flame as a Zippo petrol insert while also employing the traditional flint and file wheel ignition that Zippo’s previous alternative inserts had lacked. I couldn’t get one fast enough and haven’t stopped using it yet!
The regular Yellow Flame Butane insert provides a much stronger flame than the petrol variety, which proves extremely helpful in the Oklahoma wind as I can easily twist a joint around in the flame as I inhale for several seconds in order to develop an even cherry ember which makes for a better smoke and much less canoeing of the joint. The flame of a normal petrol insert will tend to dance around like a Tube Man waving you into a car dealership parking lot!
Zippo has since released a Yellow Flame Butane Pipe insert which is on my list of inserts to acquire. The Pipe version also employs the flint/wheel ignition and has the same look as Zippo’s traditional Petrol Pipe insert.
Blaze Your Own Path
There are always going to be naysayers anytime you choose to modernize a product that has remained basically unchanged for such a long period of time. Zippo is synonymous with petrol in most enthusiast’s minds, thus leading to the charges that I have seen expressed both in threads in Facebook Lighters Groups like Zippo Addicts and also in the comments below our YouTube videos that Zippos should be left unchanged as they have been for all these yrs.
Zippo has made changes in the past anyway, most changes may have been way in the past but they still have made changes. There were several varieties of hinges before settling on the ones used today, as well as different file wheels, windscreens, etc. Even the shape and size of the lighter has changed in the past.
I love petrol! I work on them, repair and collect them, use them and show others how to fix them as my mission. I love everything about petrol lighters! But they are not suitable for every application for which I need a lighter and this has led me to use alternatives in order to be able to light up without losing my mind in frustration.
I use butane lighters. I don’t love them nor do I repair them but that doesn’t mean that they are not valuable tools that at least at times, can make my life much easier. Using a butane lighter in windy conditions does not impugn petrol lighters as useless, it only recognizes their limitations which exist no matter what I choose to use.
Using a butane insert in a Zippo does not defile or degrade the brand or its historical significance. It doesn’t mean that butane is better than petrol, it only recognizes that different type flames can be more or less useful in different lighter applications.
I still carry more petrol Zippos than I do those equipped with these modern upgrades but you can bet that I have a butane lighter on me at all times to use in unison with whatever petrol lighters I also have. There are circumstances that everyone experiences where each of these fuel system’s limitations may surface so it’s always good to have a backup!
I would love to hear your experiences and feelings regarding any aspect of using butane or petrol inserts in your Zippo lighters. Please use the comments section below or if you would like to post a video or photo to illustrate your point then consider posting your insights, suggestions, questions or comments on the DependableFlame.com Facebook Group where others can see and interact with them as the website does not support the posting of media in the comments.
Please also check out our YouTube channel where we regularly publish vintage lighter show & tell and instructional repair demonstration videos and conduct the weekly live stream Vintage Coffee & Lighters Live! where we gather with you all over a cup of coffee to talk about old lighters and any other subject that may come up.
Until next time…✌️