What Is The Ideal Cigarette Lighter And Does It Exist?

This morning I ponder what characteristics would make up the ideal cigarette lighter and consider whether that specific set of desirable components actually exists in a mass-produced lighter.


Viewers of our YouTube channel as well as anyone who’s read much of what I’ve written here on the website will know of my affinity for petrol fueled lighters over their more recent and tedious butane fueled rivals. There’s a saying we use sometimes in the English language that goes, “it’s not rocket science.” Such a simple statement that belies my problem with butane lighters.

Petrol lighters are really quite simple. We’ve talked about it many times elsewhere but it’s worth reiterating here. Petrol fueled lighters may be an exact science but the principles they work off of are still somewhat forgiving. There may be some small parts or mechanisms that are difficult to decipher but at their core you have three elements: spark, fuel and oxygen.

The setup for most petrol lighters will allow some adjustment of wick and spark while the required oxygen is left more to the design of the lighters ignition area(i.e., chimney, windscreen, etc.) There are fuel screw gaskets or lack thereof and other small nuances that may affect in some small way the overall performance of the lighter.

Butane lighters, on the other hand, (especially old, vintage butane models found amongst old junk)are fraught with seals in various locations including but not necessarily limited to the fuel port, flame nozzle, adjustment controls, etc. that are not only prone to fail and leak but that seems to be their default disposition. There are no seals that must be replaced to make any petrol lighter function simply as it was designed whereas the vast majority of old butane lighters I’ve ever handled leaked not only from one disintegrated seal but multiple.

Butane fuel is somewhat more volatile than petrol liquid and carries multiple hazards associated with the compressed nature of the fuel. However, the failure of old o-ring seals to stand up over time and the tedious nature of replacing them is my number one reason for sticking with petrol fueled lighters.


It’s hard to find a lighter on the market today that is not sparked by a piezoelectric mechanism of some kind. There are some, Zippo and Clipper come to mind among refillable options as well as Bic, Scripto and others when considering the disposable variety of lighters.

Piezo sparked lighters can be very reliable and the sparking unit in such lighters certainly lasts longer than a flint. The problem is when they finally do fail, there is not an easy or simple way to repair them. I have read anecdotal info in Facebook lighter groups and other places how this person or that claims to be able to fix them but these claims are never accompanied by rock solid demonstrations of exactly how to achieve such repairs and remind me often of the same kind of clamor coming from those who act like butane lighters are no more tedious or difficult to repair than petrol lighters.

Having both petrol fuel and flint spark though has become increasingly rare in the current market of lighters available to consumers. But we are not constrained simply by what’s available today when pondering what makes up the ideal lighter and whether or not it actually exists.

Must Ignite Unwaveringly

I would posit that the single most important factor among those who actually use their lighters for the purpose they were originally designed is that the lighter ignites every time it is struck. There’s nothing worse or that makes a smoker feel like an idiot more than trying to light their smoke with a lighter that refuses to strike.

It is a common problem and one that even plagues the beloved Zippo from time to time, though Zippo is far from the worst offender in this category. I have handled and reconditioned many Ronson automatic lighters and would certainly place them at the top of the heap of those that can be difficult and prone to the operator literally spinning their wheel to no avail as the inner workings of the mechanism are somewhat finicky and rounding one into perfect shape would be a rare occurrence for most shade tree lighter mechanics.

File wheels can become dull or the cutting edges obscured by deposits of old flint. Clutch springs wear out or become misshapen. Mechanisms are dirtied up or worn out to where cleaning does not always help and wholesale replacement of most parts may be necessary.

The Penguin Cygnus is a much more user-friendly setup though as I’ve stated many times in the past they are impervious to vapor lock and when tuned and adjusted properly, light the first time every time just as Ronson used to advertise. We will see later though the Cygnus has at least one other shortcoming that keeps it from being considered ideal.

Is It Windproof?

Everything I have said thus far may lead you to believe that I’m going to name Zippo the ideal cigarette lighter. That could not be further from the truth.

I’ve been very critical of the Zippo “windproof” claim, especially informed by my experience with using one(not really just one, but multitudes) in the brutal Oklahoma wind. Once again, there’s a big difference between a lighter igniting and staying lit in the wind and a person being able to chase that little flame around with combustible in their mouth and actually light it off said flame.

It’s why I carry a butane lighter, the Oklahoma wind, but for reasons enumerated earlier I could never consider a butane fueled lighter the ideal. That puts me in a bit of a pickle I may not be able to reason my way out of!

Are There Any Not Found Lacking?

There are other variables of course, which for one reason or another disqualify a given lighter from consideration of being the ideal cigarette lighter.

The Cygnus is undoubtedly my favorite, yet its pedestrian fuel economy is a concern and it’s a struggle at times to get a fully fueled Cygnus to last more than a couple days. So close and yet so far!

A perfectly tuned Ronson like the Debonair or De-Light Junior Sport that I’ve owned may fit the bill. But it’s hard to argue that when so many work imperfectly and thwart their owner’s attempts to round them into real working shape without the aid of the superior spark quality of a Dunhill Blue flint. I’ve even had experienced Ronson tinkerers tell me that the Redskin flints made for the old Ronsons have oxidized and changed structure over time, becoming harder to the point of damaging the mechanism they were made for.

So, I have many candidates in mind for the ideal cigarette lighter but can’t quite pull the trigger on naming any of them once and for all! I would be eager to hear your thoughts on the matter and the comments section below this article or any other at DependableFlame.com are the perfect place to make your opinion known. The comments section of this website is also the exclusive option if you would like me to answer your vintage lighter repair questions, so ask away!

We publish show & tell and vintage lighter repair demonstration videos regularly to the DependableFlame.com YouTube channel and would appreciate your subscribing and telling all your friends to come along and enjoy the camaraderie.

Until next time…✌️

Author: Joseph

Be cautious when anyone tells you what you need or have to do...

16 thoughts on “What Is The Ideal Cigarette Lighter And Does It Exist?”

  1. Even though I am now a non smoker I still love collecting “ boys toys” (as I call them) like lighters and pocket knives. When I was a smoker the major bug bear I used to have was the consistency of lighting. 3 or 4 times it would work straight away, then for the next 1 or 2 strikes you would get nothing 

    My parents once gave me a slimline Ronson model that was the most consistent of any and all of the models I had. I loved that lighter. The other model I love are “Zippo” and that is only because I can get the old antique ones in Vietnam where I live. Some of the ones I’ve seen are amazing. A lot of the American troops in Vietnam put their own touch to their lighters.

    And the model I hate the most are “bics”, those colourful little pieces of blandness. What can you expect from a pen manufacturer. 
    Anyway, the reason I’m writing is, “ is their a market for Zippos from the Vietnam war era and what sort of prices can they command. It’s probably best to contact me direct on my email (as provided).

    Thanks in advance


    1. Hello Steve, I appreciate the questions very much and am thrilled that you decided to drop by. I hope your well become a regular reader of these articles! There is definitely a market for Vietnam era and theater used examples of Zippo Windproof Lighters but there is a major problem with counterfeit and fraudulently engraved Zippos that really had nothing at all to do with the war except greedy folks from the same country.  For this reason, many collectors steer clear of lighters that purport to have anything to do with Vietnam. Thanks for your interest!✌️

  2. Hey, great article you’ve got there!  I don’t have much need for lighters, but I have to admit that your article piqued my interest. You provided a lot of insightful information about what makes an ideal lighter, and whether or not it truly exists.

    I appreciate how you broke down the different types of lighters, from Zippo lighters to butane lighters, and highlighted their pros and cons. It’s clear that you have a lot of knowledge and experience when it comes to lighters. It was also interesting to read about the history of lighters and how they’ve evolved over time.

    However, I do have to say that I’m a bit disappointed that there isn’t a definitive answer to the question of whether or not the ideal lighter exists. But I suppose that’s part of the fun of collecting lighters and trying out different models to see which one works best for you. In any case, I’ll definitely be keeping your article in mind the next time I’m looking to buy a lighter for a friend (or even for myself, who knows?).

    1. Thank you Jennyse, I am glad you read and see value in the article. It’s interesting that probably no more than half of all lighter collectors actually use them at all. Most just display and admire them. There are folks too who use lighters but no necessarily for smoking purposes, so you never know. There are many great vintage petrol lighters or there but finding the ideal model may be a challenge as most have at least one limitation in regards to function and dependability.✌️

  3. Thank you for writing this informative article on cigarette lighters., I understand how important it is to have a reliable and functional lighter. As a cigar smoker. While there are various options available in the market, choosing the right one can be a bit confusing.

    In your article, you mentioned a few factors that could affect the quality of a cigarette lighter, such as flame type, fuel source, and durability. I found these factors quite interesting and was wondering if you could elaborate more on each of them. For instance, what are the different types of flames available in lighters, and which one is considered the most ideal for cigar smoking?

    All the best,


    1. Thank you for the comment and question Fred, I really appreciate you stopping by! Petrol lighters typically only produce different kinds of flame depending on how the wick is kept or manicured. That may be one of the reason that many folks use a butane torch lighter to set their cigars ablaze. I have written an article here that reviews some of the common butane torch lighters available on the web. I hope you have time to check it out and thanks again for all the kind words.✌️

  4. Hello Joseph and thank you for the article!

    I have to confess that even if I used to be a smoker, my ignorance on the subject was profound, but due to the detailed information found in the article, not anymore. Your passion is clear and comes out within all the details, and even more being supported by the YouTube videos. It was a joy reading and watching it.

    Thank you again!


    1. I appreciate that Gab, really thankful for you reading and leaving such a nice comment! I hope you will check back as I publish a new article here every Monday and Thursday and see no end in sight for the work we are doing to document these cool little machines and help as many folks as I can to get their petrol lighters back up and running even if they are not going to be used to smoke. I don’t smoke tobacco and I think most people would be surprised how many lighter enthusiasts don’t smoke anything at all!

  5. I recently stumbled upon your website and found it to be a great resource for all things related to cigarette lighters. As a smoker myself, I never realized how much thought and design goes into creating the perfect lighter until I read through some of your informative articles on Dependable Flame. Your site does offer a wealth of information on different types of lighters, their features, and how to properly maintain and care for them. Thank you for taking the time to share with us such useful information.

    1. You bet Dave, I am glad that you found such useful information on the site and enjoyed reading through the articles! I hope you will continue to frequently check out the content we publish both here at DependableFlame.com and our YouTube channel. There are so many different actuating mechanisms, tank designs, file wheel styles and even methods of ignition that it really is a vast hobby, the far reaches of which an enthusiast would be hard pressed to fully investigate in a lifetime.

  6. I stumbled upon this post while searching for a cool, unique cigarette lighter as a gift for my dad. Your post surely drew my interest as it provides some interesting insights into the pros and cons of different types of lighters. I’m just curious, in your opinion, is there a specific brand or model that comes closest to meeting all of those criteria?

    1. Hello Miadinh, I appreciate you stopping by and reading the article. There are many old petrol lighter brands that should deservedly be mentioned for consideration including Zippo but my favorite hands-down and the lighter that I think comes closest to being the ideal lighter is the Penguin Cygnus Roller Lighter. The Cygnus is impervious to vapor lock and has the best flint tension system I have ever encountered. The only drawback is the short fuel life.

  7. As someone who appreciates and loves when a lighter is reliable and functional at all times I can understand your preference for gasoline lighters over butane lighters. Your observation is correct, only three basic elements like spark, fuel and oxygen are needed for a lighter to work effectively. While butane lighters can leak and malfunction. I like to use gasoline lighters because they are more reliable in the long run. I also have to point out that the lighter must have that ignition speed when you hit it, it’s very frustrating for me when I need it as a light in a room and it won’t light up from the first time. We are getting to the point where I have to agree with the statement that the lighter must have at least some wind resistance, because we come across various cases where even in small breezes the flame of the lighter goes out, which I’m sure annoys smokers the most. Overall I really liked your analysis on the characteristics of ideal lighters and it is very informative. You seem to be someone who loves and appreciates the reliability and uniqueness of lighters.

    1. Thank you Andrej and Luka, I really appreciate you guys stopping by again and you make several good points in this excellent comment that you left. The need for any given lighter to ignite at once can not be overstated and you are correct that it really annoys smokers as they just want to be able to light up their smoke, not sit there flicking the lighter all day. I have had the same experiences as you when it comes to a flame being blown out in the wind.

  8. Super interesting article on what is the ideal cigarette lighter and if it exists! Like many things in life, it’s definitely a game of trade-offs. It sounds like a petrol lighter and piezo-sparked lighters would make the most sense for me, though. Reliability and how long the lighters last are the biggest things I look for in an ideal cigarette lighter. Are there any particular lighters you would recommend for their durability and reliability?

    1. Hey Kevin, thanks for the comment and for sharing you insights here in the comment section. I would recommend any petrol lighter over a plastic, disposable butane lighter every day of the week but yes there are a few that I like especially. Zippo are great as long as you don’t have to use them often in the wind. I also recommend both the Penguin Cygnus Roller lighters and Ronson automatic lighters as both are excellent choices that work great and the Cygnus is even impervious to vapor lock.

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