My opinion, for a long time, is that wooden matches are the best way to light a pipe. The flame is cooler, which can help get the best flavor out of the tobacco, and you have better control of the flame (as long as there’s little air movement). But for most of us, carrying around and using matches is inconvenient and messy, so we tend to use lighters. Larry Loerzel, for whom the Hearth & Home Larry’s Blend is named), used disposable lighters almost exclusively until he recently found a lighter he liked.
Pipe lighters are pipe lighters for two reasons- they use a soft flame (orange in color) which is better for the flavor and is much less likely to damage a pipe. The other reason is that they have an angled flame so you don’t wind up burning your hand while lighting up.
There are two different types of pipe lighter in terms of fuel- butane and liquid fuel. The butane lighters are far more common and there are a wide variety of types and styles. The biggest drawback to butane is that it doesn’t take a very strong wind to blow out the flame. Liquid fuel pipe lighters (mainly Zippo, with a hole in the side of the chimney to protect the hand) are much more wind resistant but do have a faint aroma and flavor which can be imparted to the tobacco that many people find off-putting.
The butane lighters come in so many different types that it’s hard to keep track, but here are some of the categories and descriptions:
Piezo electronic- These lighters use a quartz crystal and a striking mechanism to produce a spark and never need a flint. They’re not quite a reliable as a flint-based lighter, in terms of lighting almost every time, but it you have a problem working with tiny objects like flints and the retaining screw/spring used to hold them in place, you may very well prefer the piezo electronic type. Some great examples are the Lotus 11 Gaucho, the Lotus 22 Tom Tom (a fairly soft, wind-resistant model), the Lotus 25 Double Down (a soft flame pipe lighter with a built-in torch flame for use on cigars), the Colibri Connaught II and Edison, Xikar Resource, IM Corona Pipemaster and Tiger Eternity.
Flint/spark wheel ignition- These lighters use a spark wheel which has to be spun to scrape a flint to create a spark to light the gas or wick. Even though this is old-school technology, it is very reliable, and is used by most of the lighters that generally recognized as the best quality. The aforementioned Zippo pipe lighters also use a flint. Some examples of this type of lighter are the well-known and regarded IM Corona Old Boy, the Vertigo Briar, the Xikar Pipeline and the Pearl Eddie lighters by Tsubota. Peterson
will be releasing a similarly styled lighter very soon. They have arrived! You can check them out here.
Many of these lighters have added features such as built-in tampers, picks and scrapers. Some can be removed from the lighter to be used, while on others, the tools are permanently affixed. Warranties vary widely, with some being relatively short and others being covered for years.
One lighter that is rather unique is the Vector Thunderbird pipe lighter insert for Zippos. Many people have a favorite old Zippo that they won’t part with, even though they don’t like the taste of the liquid fuel. Vector developed a lighter that fits perfectly into a Zippo case and has a side-firing flame (with a chimney that looks kind of like a Zippo), but uses a soft-flame butane technology. Just swap out the guts of your Zippo and you’re good to go.
The best part? There are so many choices, you’re almost certain to find the ideal lighter for your needs.