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?
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.
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).
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, as with lighter fuels, come in two distinct flavours.
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.
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.
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.
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.