How To Repair Vintage Cigarette Lighters That Won’t Spark

Whether you have inherited a family heirloom, hit the jackpot at the flea market or perhaps landed that lighter of a lifetime on Ebay, if it won’t spark you may have your work cut out for you before you are able to light your bowl with it. In this article, I will cover the main issues associated with vintage petrol lighters that fail to ignite and a few common techniques that will help to get most lighters functioning again.Drill and makeshift ramrod used to clear degraded flint from curved tube.

(Full Disclosure: clearing old, degraded, sometimes petrified flint from old lighters is without question my least favorite part of the job. Some of these techniques I learned elsewhere and some I developed on my own. None of them are foolproof and I have encountered more obstructed flint tubes than I care to recall that forced me to admit defeat.)

What We Have Here Is…

If the lighter in question will not spark, first on your to-do list is determining the source from which the lighter should produce a spark and whether it was designed to be renewed when failure occurs.Vintage Long Zippo Flint Dispenser.

For most vintage cigarette lighters that people collect, flint(or auermetal) ground against a file wheel produces the spark needed to ignite the flame. For the purposes of this article, I am going to break flint ignited lighters down into two categories: straight flint tube and curved flint tube. This is a bit of an oversimplification and I will provide some clarification later in the article but the categories should suffice here.

So, how do you know the difference? It’s really just basic logic. Look at the top of the lighter and determine where the flint meets the file wheel. Next find the screw on the bottom of the lighter that retains the flint and flint spring. Are these two points on a straight line from top to bottom of the lighter or are they offset from each other to one side or another?Drill and hex bit used to clear degraded flint from straight tube.

If it is straight up and down, then your flint tube should be straight. If it is offset then you are likely dealing with a curved flint tube.

If you can not seem to find a flint or file wheel and the action of activating the lighter is more of a “click” of a button than the striking of a wheel, then it is probably a piezoelectric ignition. If it is a piezoelectric lighter you are trying to repair then please skip down to that section, otherwise keep reading to learn how to repair vintage cigarette lighters that won’t spark.

Straight Flint Tube, Zippo, Insert Type

As with most things in life, the more straightforward a problem appears the simpler the solution required. With straight flint tube lighters, you are more likely to be able to get by with a cheaper drill that accepts hex-shanked drill bits rather than a drill with an actual chuck like you will need for the curved tube method of clearing flint tubes.

So, I typically have the two drill bits ready, a 3/32 and a 5/64. Hit it with the 3/32 first and a good portion of the time that will be the only work required to clear that tube, lickety-split. Canned air or a compressor will come in handy to blow the old flint dust from the lighter.

If the obstruction is neither immediately cleared nor good progress observed, then hit it with the smaller 5/64 drill bit. This smaller bit may have a tendency to break up the bigger mass of the flint better than the bigger bit. If the 5/64 bit breaks through, then the bigger 3/32 bit will likely chew through the rest without much effort.

Other times, you might as well forget about it, there are some tubes that you’re just not going to clear. The worst to me, seem to be the old Park Industries aluminum insert lighters. Something about the way the flint gets stuck in those aluminum inserts, I swear it feels like the hardest thing on the planet.

I have had many lighters that I beat my head against the wall that was that particular obstructed flint tube for so long and literally gave up so many times that I didn’t think I’d ever clear it and then out of thin air one day, I just broke through.

The Dunhill Rollalite Petrol Lighter and similar type lighters that house the flint in a small compartment up top will be cleared much as these other straight tube lighters are cleared. The length of the drill bit should not be an issue in the case of these lighters and while you should have plenty of room to access the flint housing, you may have trouble holding the lighter steady enough to work on it as your employ the drill.

Curved(Ronson, Flat Ad., etc.) Flint Tube

Alright, you know when the city or one of the utility companies is getting ready to dig in your yard and they mark where the different lines are buried by sticking little flags in the ground? That’s what we’re going to use as sort of a ramrod in this operation.

I peel those little vinyl flags off and then clean the metal rods with Everclear, removing all traces of adhesive. You want to cut a piece short enough that it does not bend easily when jammed repeatedly against the obstruction you desire to clear. You should be able to measure by and mark on the rod itself, the distance needed to break through and clear the obstruction while being careful not to allow too much play in the bending of the rod.Marking Flags used as stock for ramrods to clear curved flint tubes.

I cut the wire at a slight angle in hopes of creating the widest surface possible to disrupt and disengage the flint while at the same time I figure the severity of the cut itself should increase friction and hopefully foster the freeing of the flint from whence it has attached itself.

A drill with a working chuck will be necessary to grasp the cut wire that you have formed into a ramrod. Seat the wire all the way back in the chuck. Use the momentum and speed of the drill to your advantage as you work the wire back and forth, in and out of the flint tube causing as much friction as you are able until the tube is clear of all debris.

Piezoelectric And Other Outlier Spark Sources

I have read many times in many places that piezoelectric ignition lighters are unable to be repaired. That if they failed to spark, you might as well toss them in the garbage. In my experience, piezoelectric lighters just seemed cheaper, less quality than flint lighters so I never messed with them.

I have seen some discussions recently where some collectors claim to have used sandpaper to somehow clean or renew a piezoelectric ignition lighter. I haven’t personally done this, I’ve only seen and heard others discuss it, so I can’t vouch that it will work. I will say, it might be worth the effort if you’re simply going to throw them away anyhow.

There are many other ignition sources for vintage lighters but they are rare today: caps, rasps, chemicals, etc. If you have questions about any of these other type lighters, ask below and I’ll be glad to get you the info you need.

Please Share Your Thoughts With Us

Do you have any tips or tricks for clearing flint tubes, rewicking lighters or otherwise working on or repairing old cigarette lighters? You can email or leave a comment at the bottom of the page. We are always looking for new ideas for future articles including cartridges, 510 batteries and other vaporizer supplies.

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Author: Joseph

After 25 yrs working for the government, I couldn't be more happy than I am working on old lighters. Be cautious when anyone tells you what you need or have to do...

20 thoughts on “How To Repair Vintage Cigarette Lighters That Won’t Spark”

  1. hi Joseph
    I sent you a few photos. Trying to get an old thorens semi automatic lighter im trying to get working. She seems to have good motion i put in a zippo flint and no spark. The flint seems very lose. So bad that the flint will actually jump out of the lighter.

    1. Thanks for the question, Mark and I appreciate very much you emailing pictures of your lighter. This helps me help you faster. There should be a spring with a long arm that rests on top of the flint, this part appears to be missing(or the arm has broken off of the spring.) There are usually spare Thorens springs available for sale on EBay.
      As far as the flint required, I’ve never had a problem with Zippo flints working in Thorens lighters but I have read folks that claim they do. There are a variety of flints available on Ebay if the Zippo flint doesn’t want to cooperate with your lighter.
      If the file wheel does not turn smoothly, a drop or two of WD-40 or silicone spray should get it spinning.
      Regarding changing the wick, you should try the Tug and Clip procedure first before attempting to replace the wick and if you do have to replace the wick, use the Closed Tank/Blind Method.

    1. Hello, Tracy and thank you for the question. It is possible to remove some obstructions with hand tools of one sort or another. This has usually ended in frustration for me when I attempted it but I’ve read of others who report decent success using only hand tools. If you would be interested in me repairing the lighter for you, simply shoot me an email with details of your particular lighter and we’ll go from there. If I am able and agree to repair your lighter, there is typically no cost to you other than the price of postage to mail the lighter to me. I’ll pick up the return postage back to you.

      1. Hi , are you still repairing lighters?
        I would love to send you a video of a lighter that’s spark button is stuck, it’s an old Ronson , beautiful piece. I’m sure if I sent you a video you would know what’s up with it.
        Would be great to hear from you, many thanks , Oliver

        1. Yes, Oliver, I am still repairing lighters. Actually, just kicking into high gear with my retirement being finished. Email your videos, let’s see if I can help you out. Still somewhat transient, don’t have a shop to work in just yet but am able to handle some projects.✌️

  2. Hello,

    I am trying to repair a Varaflame Queen Anne. The wheel turns as long as the spring/flint/anything at all is NOT touching it from below – otherwise it is immobile. Help!


    1. Thank you, Isabella, for the question. It’s difficult to troubleshoot the problem exactly without seeing the mechanism in action. If possible could you shoot a short video with your cell phone and email it to me? Could be too much spring pressure, unsuitable flint, flint tube cluttered with debris, needs oiling or a number of other problems I’d be glad to help diagnose.

  3. Hi, I’m working on a ronsons mastercase, it’s cleaned out and all, I have the new flint touching the file wheel, but it still wont spark!

    1. Thank you for the question, Jeremy. In my experience, there is not much margin of error when it comes to the lighters in the Mastercase. Odd angles and tight quarters render them rather finicky.✌️

  4. Hello Joseph, I have two onyx Ronson table lighters that don’t even click and only move very slightly when I try to depress the ‘button’.
    Are they seized or do they just need a new flint?

    1. It is very hard to say, Jane but it is at least likely that the flint tube is going to need some kind of attention, drilled or blown out. Is there more freedom in the mechanism when the flint spring screw is removed?

  5. Hey Joseph,

    Thank you for all the info, I really appreciate your commitment to keeping these old lighters functional rather than using disposable plastic ones.

    With your advice I was able to remove the corroded flint stuck in a vintage Royal Star lighter I’m repairing. Nothing like a pandemic to inspire finally getting around to long lost projects…

    This lighter is small and delicate, and still needs a bit of work. The strike wheel does not turn when the lever is depressed, and the strike wheel seems too loose (spins freely under my finger). I’m afraid I’ll have to take the top apart next, but would surely benefit from your experience.

    Could you create another post on repairing strike wheel mechanisms when you get the chance?


    1. Hello, Laurilie and thank you for the comments. I have plans in place and the lighters already selected to make the exact video you are requesting. It is my next major project as soon as I am moved into my shop and able to carry on as I wish. I will have more lighter repair videos soon but until then I hope you enjoy the vintage lighter videos.✌️

  6. Hello ,
    I have an Evans Trig o lite silver lighter …I took it apart to clean out the old flint that had disintegrated..Well I got it all cleaned out. Paid great attention to the way it came apart …I am now struggling to get it back together…I read somewhere that there might be a jig to set the spring …Is there a trick to getting these back together? It is an awesome lighter that is a family heirloom…I am very interested in getting it back together…Does anyone have any knowledge on these Evans Trig o lite, lighters ?

    1. Thank you, Joseph, for the comment. I have some experience with the Evans TRIG-A-LITE but have yet to create any videos dedicated to the repair of the unique mechanism. While it is on my shortlist of projects, I may be able to help you now via email until I’m able to get a video made and posted.✌️

  7. Hi Joseph,

    Thank you for keeping these old lighters going! I have a couple old casino lighters I’m trying to get working again. One is made by Howard and the other by Vulcan. Would you be interested in helping me with them? Thanks and stay safe!

    1. Thank you Patti, for the comment. I am very interested in helping get your lighters up and running again. You can email photos of the base and top(with lid open if it had one) of the lighter along with any info you may have. If you are fairly handy, there’s a good chance I can guide you through the repairs via email. Otherwise, I also do some repairs through the mail(through individual arrangements.)

  8. Hello,
    I mistakenly added lighter fluid in the section where the flint is located. I should have looked up instructions on the internet but thought that all I had to do was unscrew the little screw on the bottom and add fluid. Do you think I ruined the lighter? It is a Ronson Wind II cigarette lighter.

    1. Rest assured, Adela, you have not ruined your lighter. It’s not likely to spark well while the flint and file wheel are soaked with fuel but should dry out in no time.

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