Lighters are a smoking accessory that you can't go without. It's basically the most important part of the smoking process, because without it, you can't get lit!
A lighter is any portable device that creates a flame, usually by igniting the fuel held within its case. Lighters can be divided in to 6 different types based on these key features:
What fuel is used
How long the fuel lasts
Strength and directionality of the flame
Number of flames
Features, such as case design or waterproofness
Plastic Sparkwheel Lighter:
Sparkwheel lighters have a wheel made out of serrated steel with a flint located below the wheel. When you spin the wheel with enough speed, it rubs on the flint and creates a spark. Pressing down on the “fork” (the plastic lever below the sparkwheel) opens a valve and fuel is released igniting a spark which produces a flame.
Note that a lot of plastic sparkwheel lighters are actually refillable, and you'll usually get about 3,000 lights from one. However, because they are so cheap, most people treat them as disposable.
Piezo Spark Ignition Lighter:
Piezo Spark Ignition Lighter's use a button instead of a sparkwheel, when you press the button, it hits a quart element. Quartz ispiezoelectric, meaning it creates electric voltage when hit. The electric voltage is what ignites the fuel inside the lighter producing a flame. You can usually get about 1,800 lights out of a piezo spark ignition lighter.
Zippo Style Lighters:
Zippo lighters have been around for nearly 100 years and work by spinning a sparkwheel against a flint inside the Zippo which creates a spark that ignites fluid in a wick.
Unlike with disposable sparkwheel lighters, a Zippo wick will stay lit until you cut off the oxygen supply by closing the lid. The downside, however, is that the eyelet which exposes the fuel-filled wick is always exposed. This can result in fuel leakage (and a nasty rash on your skin).
Air exposure means Zippo fuel will evaporate quickly meaning that, at best, a Zippo can last about 10 days before refueling. An odd thing about Zippo lighters is that the fuel lasts longer if you use it frequently, infrequent use of your zippo mean the fuel might evaporate in just 3-4 days. Because of how quickly Zippo fuel evaporates, they are more recommended for regular smokers who want a cool, personalized lighter.
While Zippo lighters themselves do last virtually forever, the flint and wick will need to be replaced eventually. On the plus side though, Zippo fluid is made of a petroleum distillate which ignites easily and burns cleanly.
Zippos also works better in very cold temperatures than butane lighters.
In a pinch, you can also use other fuels in a Zippo lighter, including butane, naptha (also called white gas or Coleman fuel), or gasoline.
Note: There are also some cool “peanut lighters” which work the same way as Zippo-type lighter do. The benefit is that these are tiny and the lid sometimes screws on tightly, which means there isn’t as much fuel evaporation.
Butane Torch Lighters:
Also known as jet lighters, turbo lighters, or cigar lighters, butane torch lighters contain butane which is stored in a pressurized chamber. The fuel is forced through a nozzle with air, so it creates a very intense, strong, and hot flame.
The benefit of torch lighters is that you can aim the flame in any direction, even upside down. Because of this, they are ideal for lighting pipes. They are also highly favored as cigar lighters because of how hot they get.
As you’d expect from a lighter which makes such an intense flame, jet torch lighters blow through fuel very quickly. How long a torch lighter will last varies drastically depending on the number of flames, size of the fuel chamber, and pressure level.
Electric Coil Lighter:
Also known as flameless lighters, these are battery-operated lighters. Electricity from the battery heats up a coil inside the lighter which can then be used to light cigarettes or other things when pressed against the coils.
These lighters are very easy to use, are reusable, don’t require any fuel, and are usually charged via USB. However, the coils make it difficult to light anything other than a cigarette or maybe candles.
Electric Arc Lighters (Plasma Lighters)
Also called flameless lighters, Electric Arc Lighters are very different than the electric coil lighters mentioned above. With an arc lighter, high-voltage electricity is used to make an arc of charged plasma between two electrodes. The plasma arc is hotter than a traditional flame and won’t blow out by wind. Some electric arc lighters have four electrodes to produce two arcs.
These lighters have become very popular because they work in windy conditions, require no fuel, are rechargeable, and are simply cool. Price varies drastically. Pay attention to brand reputation and battery life when choosing an arc lighter.
This type of lighter is a cross between matches and a lighter, and is known as the forever match. It consists of a metal chamber which holds fuel. There’s a spark stick with a wick inside is screwed into the chamber that absorbs fuel from within the chamber. To use the permanent match, you remove the spark stick and strike it against an abrasive striking surface located on the chamber.
Yes, they are cool and you get many more lights out of them than with standard matches. The flame is also more resistant to wind than a standard match. However, a lot of the info about permanent matches is a bit misleading. For starters, most permanent matches advertise that they will last 15,000 lights, however, you will need to refuel the lighter long before this along with the wick inside the permanent match, which will also need to be replaced. It varies depending on the brand, but don’t expect more than 100 lights before refilling or replacing the wick. On the plus side, permanent matches have a gasket which prevents fuel evaporation.
Note: You must blow out the “match” before putting it back in the fuel canister!
Also known as utility lighters, this type of lighter has a very long neck which makes it easier to reach candle wicks without burning your fingers on the flame.
Some candle lighters have curved or flexible necks. Cheap candle lighters are usually ignited by a Piezo spark but there are some electric arc candle lighters too.
They share the same pros/cons as their parent type of lighter.
Pipes can be difficult to light with traditional lighters; the flame can burn your fingers when you turn it upside down towards the pipe but pipe lighters solve this by changing the design of the lighter. Instead of having the flame come out of the top, the flame comes out of the side of the lighter. In other designs, the flame is encased in metal so it can be pointed down into a pipe.
Most pipe lighters are butane sparkweel lighters. Sometimes butane torch lighters are also called pipe lighters because the intense flame can be easily directed into a pipe.
They share the same features and pros/cons as Piezo lighters.