Lighter Vs. Pipe Lighter: What's the Difference ?

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In the pipe world we talk a lot about pipe lighters, whether they be IM Coronas, Kiribis, or the trusty old Zippo. But what exactly is a pipe lighter? Or, maybe more to the point, what makes a pipe lighter distinct from any other lighter?

A Soft, Angled Flame

Some lighters come with additional bells and whistles for the pipe smoker on the go, and these are great, but at its core a pipe lighter is a pipe lighter because of its flame — it has to be soft, and it has to be at an angle that lends itself to ease of lighting a pipe. A "torch" lighter is most certainly going to char your rim, while a standard upright flame, found on say, a Bic, is likely to burn your fingers, or even char your rim, depending on how much trouble you have centering it.

Lighter Fuels

In pipe lighters there are two main types of fuel: butane and liquid fuel, both of which have their advantages (and, as with all things, disadvantages).

  • Butane
    The standard liquefied gas fuel found in most lighters. Most pipe smokers prefer candle-flame butane lighters as they impart very little, if any, taste into the tobacco — the downside being that they also offers no wind resistance. So, lighting a pipe in even the slightest of breezes can be a frustrating experience, and these are often treated as indoors (or even formal dress) lighters. Nonetheless, butane is the most popular choice, and most pipe lighters use this fuel, including: Kiribi, IM Corona, Dunhill, and Peterson.

  • Liquid Fuel
    Liquid lighter fuel, or naphtha, makes for a more wind-resistant fuel source, but is also known to impart a noticeable taste. Some devotees to the Zippo insist that this can be minimized by allowing the flame to "burn off" a bit before applying it to tobacco. Currently the Zippo is the main brand using liquid fuel, though in the past both Nimrod and Beattie used this fuel, amongst others.

Lighting Mechanisms

Lighting mechanisms, as with lighter fuels, come in two distinct flavours.

  • Flint-wheel
    Flint-wheel mechanisms use a textured spark wheel to scrape against a piece of flint, creating a spark that ignites the fuel source. Excepting more extreme factors such as high wind or getting the wheel itself soaked, flint-wheels are incredibly reliable, and as such are the most popular choice. Even an old lighter found with a patina of rust on the wheel will often start sparking again after just a few tries. Coronas (except the PipeMaster), Kiribis, Dunhills, Petersons, and yes, Zippos, of course, all use the flint-wheel mechanism.

  • Piezoelectric
    An electronic, or more properly piezoelectric lighting mechanism consists of a spring loaded hammer which strikes a piezoelectric crystal, generally quartz, creating a sufficiently high voltage current that then flows across a spark gap, igniting the fuel source. This ignition type is used in lighters such as the Xikar Pipeline, Corona Pipemaster or pretty much any of the Lotus lighters, though the Lotus are generally torch lighters made for use with cigars.

Tobacco Pipe Lighters at Smokingpipes.comThe Bells and Whistles

A number of pipe lighters, such as the Kiribi Ohgi and Corona Laurel, will come with pipe tools built in. Some slide out from a compartment in the base while others swing out from the side, rather like a Swiss Army knife.

Hybrids and Oddities From the Past

That's pretty much the long and short of it. What lighter you eventually go with is up to your specific tastes and circumstances, but at least now you'll be forearmed before making what can be a considerable (but ultimately worthwhile) investment. On that final note, let me leave you with some oddities from past and present — lighters that cross one bridge or another or are just kind of cool.

  • Vector Thunderbird

    The Thunderbird is an insert for the Zippo, much like Zippo's own pipe insert, but one that uses butane instead of naphtha. It slides into any standard Zippo case and is designed for those that want the look of a Zippo without the taste that Naphtha can impart.

  • Lotus 25 Dual Flame
    Sports both a soft butane flame and torch lighter — perfect for the smoker of both cigars and pipes.

  • Nimrod Pipeliter
    This liquid fuel lighter resembled a nut and bolt, featured a chimney (much like the Zippo pipe lighter), and was lit by holding a thumb on the spark wheel whilst pulling the lighter apart.

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    • hierophant on January 28, 2015
    • I've been looking at the Corona Old Boy, but it doesn't not seem to me to have the angled flame, am I right in that? And if it doesn't have that, is it any more effective/less prone to burn my thumb than a plain old Bic?

    • Sykes on January 28, 2015
    • Both the Corona Old Boy and the Kiribi lighters have angled flames for a pipe. And yes, they are accordingly much less likely to burn your thumb than a bic.

    • Adam O on January 28, 2015
    • @Hierophant - The jet on the Old Boy's is at the top but is angled.

    • hierophant on January 28, 2015
    • Perfect. That's the info I needed to pull the trigger, thanks guys.

    • Mr. Motoyoshi on January 29, 2015
    • Between my Zippo (for outdoors) and Old Boy (for indoors), I don't think I'll ever have to worry about another lighter again. Occasionally a match is nice as well. Great write up Adam!

    • Rodrigo on February 13, 2015
    • Adam, thanks to your article I bought a Tunderbird for Zippo (I didn't knew that butane insert). Now, with my Corona Old Boy and my upgraded Zippo I can light my pipes anywhere I go. Thanks again

    • KevinM on August 27, 2015
    • I like wooden matches for their application of a nice, even burn. Zippos, both regular and pipe configs work fine for me, and I've never noticed a lighter fluid taste, even when I am looking for it. I've long admired the Old Boys, but I guess I'm too cheap, given the alternatives already on hand. Maybe . . .

    • Luis Carroza on September 7, 2015
    • thanks for your information, i have a zippo but i like matches. I feel more control on you fire, is more slow to burn tabacco.
      regards from Chile

    • Tom Stoup on December 7, 2015
    • I currently own four Il Corona pipe masters. They need occasional service, but I think they are the best.

    • Sheldon Schwartz on July 26, 2016

    • Adam O'Neill on July 27, 2016
    • @Sheldon Schwartz Coronas are a great lighter, but they're by no means the only game in town. I've listed a few budget minded alternatives above, and since then we've also stocked IMCO lighters, which are even more affordable.

    • JOHN C. WILLIAMS on August 11, 2018
    • A wood match [let the sulfur burn off first]

    • Anthony Magarello on March 16, 2020
    • I'll match my elighter from the internet against any other pipe lighter for flame, repeatability, and cost. And I'm just a user, not an employee, etc.

    • Gjuro on March 12, 2021
    • I just ordered my first Kiribi Kabuki... and I will write my experiences...

    • Jack on August 4, 2021
    • I learned a lot from this articleThank you

    • Pastor Rick Hodgeson on October 14, 2022
    • I just started back up smoking my pipes again and I needed a new pipe lighter. I bought a pipe torch lighter and my wife always says my pipe tobacco ( Aromatic ) smells like an ash tray ? Is it my Torch Lighter doing this to my Tobacco ?? Help please !! Pastor Rick

    • JHP on January 30, 2023
    • While I admire pipe lighters, I don't understand the scorn for torch lighters pipers have. A torch is easily controlled and aimed, I use a single torch on low for my pipes and the only rim charring I have is from the few times I've had to use a bic

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