Some recent conversation in a Facebook pipe group spurred me to write something about my own experiences with different lighters over the last 30 years. Above you can see the four that I have at the moment, though only three of them are in active use because lighter-fluid Zippos are Things of Evil. So, from left to right…
First up is the lighter-fluid Zippo, adapted for pipes. I say “adapted” in the way that humans are adapted to bicycles, which is to say, not at all unless you are a 6′ Preying Mantis. It does produce a sideways flame, sort of, as long as you hold it sideways. Chief advantages are near-indestructibility and a soft flame that’s harder to hurt your pipe with. That’s about it, though, as the fluid runs dry so often you basically have to refill the thing every day and the fact that it’s fluid means you, your lighter, your clothes, and every tobacco you smoke will taste like lighter fluid and this makes others unhappy when they bite you. Moving on.
Next up is a Zippo case adapted to a butane-burning pipe lighter interior. It has the same fun clicky sound when you flip it open, but works 10X better in practice with a soft, easily aimable flame that’s well away from your fingers and easy to focus right where you want it. If not for its downsides, it would be my favorite lighter easily, but it does bring with it two demerits – The same constant “Refill me!” woes as the fluid Zippo, and a Piezo ignition that delivers lights like Popeye’s delivers your fast food order. Maybe you’ll get what you asked for, maybe you won’t, and IT will decide what it thinks you deserve at the moment.
Third up is a 4th Generation, sort of a less pricey Old Boy clone that fits its market perfectly. It’s like an Old Boy, just not quite as good. I do like it a lot and it’s worth the money, it just has a slightly rattlier feel than the Old Boy and not as much butane storage so it needs more frequent refills. It’s biggest flaw may be a flint striker that’s just exactly the size of the metal plate screwing it in place, so you drag your finger on a little sharp metal edge every time you light it.
Finally, the Old Boy, the lighter that lets you look down your nose at everyone with a lesser lighter, except for those with a Rollagas, and everyone hates those snobs anyway. I’m a big fan of the Old Boy and have four or five of the things in various states of working order. As the years go by, they’re a bit like the MGBs of pipe lighters – Wonderful to have but it takes owning several to be sure that one is working at any given moment. The big weakness is the springs in the flip top. The rear L springs lose tension over time and the lid stops closing properly and all your fluid leaks out, so expect some dismantling and home repair work as the years roll by, just like the aforementioned MGB. I won’t even get into how the flints wear into a U shape and get jammed and cause you to think it will never strike again. But, like an old Saab, you love it all the more, because it needs you.