Matches are still the best way to light a pipe or cigar, because the lower combustion temperature helps the flavor, but matches are damned impractical. Forget about matches during the summer. By the time you’ve spent five minutes in the heat, your matchbox is too damp to be useful. And there’s usually just enough of a breeze to blow out your match, unless you go through exaggerated contortions to shield it. So, although I may use a match when I’m at home, I always have lighters on me. Yes, I said lighters (plural), because I carry one for pipes and one for cigars.
Pipe lighters should have two features that I consider vital. First, it has to have a soft (yellow) flame. Torch lighters, which are commonly used for cigars, have powerful blue flames that are much too hot for a pipe, and can cause the pipe to burn out. Also, because the flames in a torch are pressurized, it will cause ash to get blown everywhere. Secondly, the flame needs to be angled so the user doesn’t get burned. Pipe lighters might use butane or liquid fuel, but butane lighters are far more popular. Butane is pretty much odorless and tasteless, while liquid fuel (Zippo) pipe lighters do impart a bit of flavor. I also find that liquid fuel lighters flare up much more than butane, especially during the initial light.
There are two ignition methods commonly used – sparkwheel and piezo-electric. Sparkwheel ignition uses a flint, and is very reliable, but flints wear out, and the fine powder that is thrown around can foul the lighter, so more maintenance is required. Piezo-electric uses a hammer and a piece of quartz to create a spark. The electricity travels along a tiny wire and then arcs across the jet to light the butane. Although they’re fairly reliable, you will get more misfires with one of these lighters than you will with a sparkwheel.
A lot of the newer lighters include pipe tools. Many, like the IM Corona Old Boy and the myriad lighters designed to look like one, have a pull down tamper, which can be removed from the lighter and used as a pick. A lot of the newer designs have a tamper, scraper and pick that swing out of the side. They’re convenient, but they’re too short to use on larger pipes.
Up until about twenty years ago, there was no difference between a cigarette and cigar lighter. They were soft-flame lighters that were relatively ineffective in any kind of wind. Around that time, a company made a micro-torch for the dental industry. When a metal partial plate needed to be heated up, they used a small butane torch to do the job. Someone realized that the torch would be a great lighter for cigars; especially when lighting up outdoors. Torch lighters quickly became the go-to lighter for cigar smokers everywhere. While there’s a certain charm and flavor advantages to using a match or cedar spills, it’s hard to beat a torch to get your cigar toasted and lit quickly, and it’ll do the job in anything short of a gale-force wind.
At PipesandCigars.com, we have a simple philosophy – Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. And, apparently, the lighter industry is on board. As soon as the torch became popular, twin-flame torches came out to get your stogie cranking quicker. Then came triple-torches, and now there are a bunch of quad-flames. Some of them have so many flames under such high pressure that I swear that if you hold one just right, you could use it as a jet pack. The variety of cigar lighters today seems limitless, and more come out every month.
Now that I’ve finished this little missive, I think I’ll have a cigar. Oh, forget it, my lighter just ran out of fuel.