I used to smoke a pack a day, and even though I quit a long time back, I still remember my old Zippo with fondness. When I wanted a cigarette up in the mountains, I could always count on the Zippo to light in the fiercest wind. If I ran out of lighter fluid, I could use the 95% ethanol in my lab to fill it up. And I can’t tell you how many times I dropped it. When I quit smoking, I put the lighter into a box somewhere.
Upon beginning my teaching career, however, I found that carrying my lighter was extremely handy. What do you do if your Bunsen burners won’t light? What happens if you want to gently heat something or make sure a rope doesn’t fray? My Zippo was there for me.
The folks at Zippo have sent me a new Zippo to test so I can see if their product is really as good as I remember. For the record, they are not paying me any promotional fees, nor have they indicated that I should give them preferential treatment – this review is 100% honest.
The short version of this review: (9.2 out of 10 stars, most highly recommended)
- The Zippo is sturdy enough to last forever, even given the many abuses it will suffer in a high school classroom.
- This lighter is very easy to use (literally so easy that a small child can do it).
- Fuel for this lighter is essentially free, given that any chemistry lab has near-infinite supplies of potential fuels.
- This lighter is stylish enough that you can use it both in the lab and when hanging out with rich people.
- After reviewing the Zippo, I’ve found it so handy that I now carry it around, along with my keys and wallet. And I don’t smoke!
The basic stats:
- Size: 5.55 cm x 3.83 cm x 1.18 cm
- Weight (filled): 36.85 grams (about 1/3 the weight of a 9V battery)
- Build: Steel, with “street chrome” finish (it’s like a brushed finish, but less patterned)
- Cost: $12.36 (Amazon.com)
- Made in the United States
What comes in the box:
- The lighter
- The usual warnings and warranty information
- Very complete instructions
How it works:
The Zippo Regular Street Chrome Lighter (Zippo from here on out) operates by opening the top, which exposes the wick and a sparking wheel. The wheel is turned, creating sparks from a flint that create the flame. The lighter is put out by closing the top.
The flame that’s given off by a Zippo lighter is definitely not the same as you’d see from a torch or Bunsen burner. Instead, the flame is yellow and relatively cool – about the same flame you get when lighting a match. The difference: The lighter doesn’t go out unless you blow on it a whole lot.
This image, taken from the Zippo website, gives an idea of what both the flame and finish actually look like.
I found this cooler flame to be extremely useful in my testing. Though it lacks the precision and sheer power of a butane or propane torch, it gets the job done for just about everything. I’ve found that, contrary to my desire for a huge screaming flame, I haven’t needed a torch to get anything done.
Appearance: (10 out of 10 stars)
I love the classic look of a Zippo lighter. Even though the basic design of this lighter hasn’t changed in 80 years, it still looks great. It also tends to draw attention from those around you, but in a good way.
Quality of construction: (10 out of 10 stars)
The pieces of this lighter fit together extremely well, with excellent tolerances and no noticeable play in any of the pieces. The sparking wheel turns easily, the insert has the same quality look as the outside (despite the fact it can’t be seen during operation), and after opening and closing the lid about a million times, it has yet to give me anything but flawless performance.
The lighter is extremely solid and after dropping it on the floor many, many times, I’ve found that it still works just fine. The finish has slightly scratched after all of this abuse, but there are no dents in the body and it looks basically new. My son, upon examining it, commented that “it feels sturdy.”
Design: (8 out of 10 stars)
- It’s easy to fill. Open the lighter, pull out the insert, and pull up the edge of the felt. Squirt in lighter fluid and you’re done! The filling process takes basically no time at all, and unlike a butane lighter, it’s obvious when it has finished filling.
- Many of the parts are user-replaceable. The inside of the insert contains cotton which can be replaced, as can the felt, the flint, and the spring that holds the flint in place.
- Extra flints can be stored in the fuel compartment, under the felt. If that sounds like a dangerous thing to do, please rest assured that there’s absolutely no chance that this can cause an accidental fire.
- The lid is designed such that it can’t easily open by accident, and once opened, it can’t easily close by accident. A very nice feature.
- This lighter runs on any flammable liquid. While I know the folks over at Zippo would say to only use lighter fluid, I have it on good authority (mine) that it will work just fine using isopropanol or ethanol (note: The flame when using these fuels is blue rather than yellow, and less hot).
- The flame level on this lighter doesn’t need adjustment – once the wick is set properly, there’s no need to mess with it. However, if you did want to mess with it for whatever reason, it’s possible to adjust it anyway.
- After filling this lighter, my hand smells strongly of lighter fluid. Though it’s not a big deal to wash your hands after filling, it’s a little annoying.
- It’s a little poky in the pocket. Though the corners are rounded, the lighter feels bigger and heavier than it is because the edges can poke into your leg. Not a huge deal, but noticeable.
- The flame is more sooty than you might be used to. It’s not a big deal, but if you’re working in a laser lab you might not want this hanging around.
Sparks from the wheel ignite the wick in a really awesome way.
Ease of use: (10 out of 10)
This is the simplest lighter in the world to operate. I have no trouble at all getting it to strike and filling it, while stinky, is a piece of cake. Because my 6-year-old son was present when I opened the package from Zippo, I gave him the lighter to see if he could figure out how it works. Despite having no experience with lighters and having never been around smokers, it took him all of five seconds to make it strike. (For the record, I did this before I filled it with fluid – I’m not crazy, after all!)
Reliability: (9 out of 10)
After 500 strikes, it lit 493 times (98.6%). Not perfect, but as perfect as a $12 lighter can be.
Comments about using it in the lab: (8 out of 10)
- It’s very easy to use. Even students who flinch mercilessly at using a flint striker will have no trouble getting it to work.
- It’s quiet. The song of the flint striker will be gone from your room, making your life much happier.
- It gives off a cool flame. Though hot enough to do what you’ll need (it’s a flame after all!), it’s not so hot that a careless student will burn him/herself after a momentary lapse of judgement. This cool flame equals safety in the lab. The one exception I can think of: Burning magnesium.
A couple of difficulties:
- This lighter will be difficult to secure in the lab. It’s small enough to walk off with, and there are no handy places that you can use to secure it to a larger object. If you’re going to give this out for student use, you might want to use Epoxy to secure it. Another option: Drill two small holes in the side to secure it with a wire.
Overall rating: 9.2 out of 10 stars – most highly recommended
A note: How about El Cheapo Zippo clones?
I was in the drugstore the other week and noticed that they sold a variety of lighters. Among the usual Zippo and Bic lighters was a lighter that looked very much like the Zippo but cost about half as much. I was curious about it and decided to see if it was just as good.
In a word: No. You get what you pay for. The lighter’s wick needed some serious adjustment and it was difficult to maintain a flame in any breeze at all (so no fume hood use!) The lighter was huge and much sharper than the Zippo, and the flint wore down in almost no time. The insert was noticeably cheaper and very poorly-made, and there was a huge deal of play in the moving parts.
The bottom line – if you want a Zippo (and you should), buy a Zippo. The money you’ll save by getting a cheap knockoff just isn’t worth it.
The small print:
Though this is a very positive review, please know that the folks over at Zippo have paid me nothing for writing it, nor did they do anything to request special treatment or a good review. This review was not seen by Zippo prior to posting, and will not be changed based on their reaction to the review. Simply put: Zippo has done nothing to influence me to give them a good review and has not even provided me with a press sheet of “talking points” like many companies tend to do.
- Lighter with flame: zippo.com
- Sparks and Zippo: By Ricardo Liberato (originally posted to Flickr as Zippo) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
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