A basic understanding of flint/wick lighters.
This article was prompted by an EBay customer who wanted a refund on the 1930s era brass/glass lighter they purchased because they didn’t believe it was in “working order” when they unwrapped it and it would not light. They hadn’t considered you had to put fuel in it.)
Flip-Top Petrol “Zippo” Type Lighters
I’m writing this article from the standpoint of service on and repair of your basic flip-top Zippo/Ronsonol fuel(naphtha) petrol type lighters. I don’t have any complaint with Zippo, I love them. I am however, currently infatuated with Champ Austria, mainly because of the flip-up wind cage design. The same elementary mechanics are employed in most vintage lighter repair and service projects. If you can manage to work a screwdriver and possibly a drill, then you can perform these basic tasks all by your lonesome.
They all work off the same basic ideas. There are countless iterations from unfathomable numbers of manufacturers that were promoted by salesmen, sort of like vape batteries in the current medical cannabis market. Occasionally, a particular company tweaks an idea, adds an element or otherwise improves and builds upon the designs that came before it.
Pressurized butane fueled lighters can provide challenges that make it hard for me to recommend doing much work on them, especially if you’ve yet to master the simpler naphtha lighters. While piezo electric ignitors are common, butane lighters are sometimes sparked by the same flint systems as naphtha lighters. In that case, you’re not really putting yourself in any danger changing a flint.
Most naphtha lighters have an enclosed case or removable insert that holds the fluid. Any naphtha lighter that I have seen, this same apparatus is fit with a hole through which the wick is inserted. The method used to fuel the wick sometimes varies but you must have a wick in the hole or your fuel will run out.
Click to learn how to replace the wick in any vintage petrol lighter.
Another common element in naphtha lighters(the Scripto Vu-Lighter would be one exception) is the rayon balls or cotton filling that absorb and hold the fuel. I don’t think it makes any difference which you use, I’ve used cut up t-shirt material several times and it works just fine.
The key is to work the wick around the fuel chamber in a zig-zag fashion through the stuffing so you have proper dispersion from side to side and on all levels. It is perfectly fine, as the wick shortens, to pull it through a little at a time rather than completely reposition everything in the fuel compartment. That can hold off unless or until your lighter refuses to light or stay lit properly.
To say that corroded flint tubes are a problem with vintage lighters would be an understatement. It’s difficult to imagine how many collectible or otherwise desirable lighters have been thrown away over the yrs simply because the flint was corroded and obstructing the tube.
Click to learn how to replace the flint in old cigarette lighters.
In most cases, a drill of some sort will be required to clear the obstruction. Flint is relatively soft, so if you have plenty of time the job can be done with a hand tool but you are going to need a cutting bit. That would take a long time though.
To my right, where the whiskey used to be, there’s a 4.8 volt cordless electric drill and 1/4 inch hex shank drill bit set. If you don’t already have these, you can find them used for a few bucks on EBay or your local thrift store or new at Harbour Freight Tools, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, etc. for less than $25.
Just find the bit that fits comfortably in the tube without bouncing around in there and start drilling with light pressure being applied toward the corroded flint. You should feel the flint give as you drill through it and will be able to judge your progress by the shaft of the bit.
Many of the Ronson lighters have curved flint tubes that make this operation a little more tricky. But the good new is many of those same lighters are fueled by butane so you may have already disqualified yourself from working on them anyway.
When fueling a naphtha lighter, use caution not to over fill it. As long as you don’t have any open flames around, over filling should not be that big a deal. Never attempt to ignite a lighter that you have over filled until you know for sure the outside surface has dried and vapors have dispersed.
You could potentially burn your house down by making one careless mistake, so be careful. I have enough pyromaniac in me to make me slightly dangerous. I purposely set fires all day every day. Granted, they tend to be confined to metal boxes no bigger than a couple square inches but a careless mistake could be catastrophic. Before I move on to the next phase of our discussion, I want to say a couple things related to pressurized butane fueled lighters, especially old ones.
Before attempting to strike a vintage butane lighter, test it to see if
it will hold fuel. If you attempt to fuel it and butane squirts all over the place, do not make any further attempt at sparking that lighter! Also before testing any butane lighter, take note of your surroundings. Go outside if you can or test it over the kitchen sink filled with water. Bottom Line: don’t put yourself in a position where you have a hand full of fire and no where to safely throw or extinguish it.
A Question to Ponder: Are You Useful?
There are a ton of old cigarette lighters out there just lying around in basements, attics, junk drawers, etc. that can still be very useful. Maybe not in their current state but with just a little attention from you, they could be given new life. When was the last time you were complimented on the plastic Bic someone bummed off of you? Pull out a Beattie Jet Lighter next time someone needs help lighting a pipe and I promise you, your lighter will be the topic of conversation. Or a Golden Wheel Mini lift-arm lighter, Scripto Vu…well, there are far too many to list here but I would love to discuss your favorite old lighters or hear any tales of nearly burning your house down in the comments below this post.
I would like to invite you to join our email list to the right on any page at DependableFlame.com. We have a lot of ideas in store for the smell list as we move forward.
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