Keep That Flame Alive: Proper Butane Lighter Maintenance
Although wooden matches are preferable for lighting cigars, many use butane lighters, which come in a variety of styles. However, in efforts to maintain the life of your lighter and optimize its performance, a little extra attention and care are required. Proper filling of the lighter with butane and keeping the burner clean are the most important aspects of adequate butane lighter maintenance.
Before we dig into the proper maintenance of butane lighters, it would be worthwhile to briefly review some basic information. Butane, which is maintained in a pressurized environment within the lighter, is a natural gas product manufactured from petroleum. The best butane that should be used is one that is filtered several times for optimal purity, as inferior butane will clog a good quality lighter. Therefore, using a quintuple-refined butane product is optimal because it is free from the impurities that will clog the nozzle of the lighter. A clogged nozzle restricts the flow of butane and the lighter will not produce a flame, despite the hissing sound you may encounter indicating that there is some flow of gas.
There are three basic types of butane lighters:
Traditional flame - These lighters produces a "soft" flame, like a match.
Burner - These wind-proof lighters use a super-heated coil or metal "burner" made of delicate metal wires.
Torch - Torches are the most popular wind-proof lighters that are quick to light, powerful, and precisioned, emitting a super-hot pointed flame. These lighters utilize an electronic Piezo wire that emits a spark directly over the discharged butane gas, thus igniting a flame.
To keep your butane lighter flaming right, below are some tips to keeping a well-maintained lighter.
Keep your butane lighter properly filled
The most important step to keeping your lighter filled properly is to REFILL it properly - by bleeding or purging the lighter to get rid of the excess oxygen from the gas tank. Sometimes air is inadvertently introduced into the gas tank when filling lighters with butane, which will cause misfiring and flameouts. First, adjust the flame dial to the lowest setting possible. Usually, you'll find the refill valve in the center of the dial, which looks and acts much like a tire valve; and usually the valve is on the bottom side of the lighter. Using the end of a wooden matchstick (or a small screwdriver as an alternative), depress the valve to purge the excess gas and oxygen from the lighter - you'll hear a hissing sound as the gas and oxygen are evacuated. Keep depressing the valve repeatedly until the hissing ceases. Holding the lighter upside down, also hold the butane canister upside down with its nozzle pointing directly above the valve (not at an angle), then mate them by quickly depressing the canister and holding it down for about 15 seconds. The lighter generally refills pretty quickly, and you will know once the tank has reached capacity, as the valve will sputter and excess liquid butane will expel from the valve - this is fine and completely harmless if it splatters onto your fingers or onto the lighter. If your lighter has a window indicator or a clear butane reservoir, you will be able to gauge if the tank has been filled to capacity. Once filled, let the lighter sit for about 10 minutes of so to allow the butane to settle and the lighter to warm to room temperature (you'll notice that the liquid butane is cold and will ultimately cool the bottom of the lighter as you refill it).
Keep the lighter nozzle clean
The nozzle and burner of your lighter must be kept clean. It is very easy for ash and cigar wrapper debris to accumulate and clog flame holes. One way to completely avoid this is to not put the tip of the cigar into the burning flame when lighting or re-lighting cigars. You should light the cigar using the top tip of the flame - it should be lit using the heat from the flame, NOT the flame itself. The fire should be kept close enough so that your draw will bring the heat to the foot of the cigar. Regular cleaning of the nozzle using a compressed air duster should remove any debris and clear any clogged flame holes. It is extraordinarily important to NOT ignite the lighter when using the compressed air as the contents from the "canned air" may be flammable.
Check the alignment of the lighter's electronic Piezo wire
Sometimes the electronic Piezo wire becomes misaligned, as a result of repeated use over an extended period of time or after dropping the lighter to the ground many times. When this occurs, the electronic spark will not be shot directly to the center flame hole from where the butane gas arises and the flame will not ignite. Check by clicking the lighter's ignition and observe which direction the electronic spark is going. If the spark is not going straight to the center flame hole, use a ballpoint pen or a small screwdriver to gently and carefully nudge the wire so that the spark is being generated to the right direction.
Protect your lighter from the elements
For the best performance, it's imperative that you NOT leave your lighter outside overnight, leave it in a hot or cold car for an extended period of time, or expose to direct sunlight. Butane works best at room temperature, so exposure of the lighter to heat or cold may result in poor performance. In addition, you should keep your lighter out of moist environments, as condensation that builds up in the nozzle will cause misfiring - the nozzle must be kept dry.
Adjust the flame once, then leave it alone
The flame level adjustment knob or wheel of a lighter is delicate and can wear out rather quickly. Yes, as stated before, it's recommended that you adjust the flame to its lowest setting when refilling the lighter with butane, but continuous re-adjustments outside of that is ill-advised.
Keeping your flame alive requires just a little time, care, and attention. From the $5 convenience store torch to the $79,000 S.T. Dupont Ligne 2 Champagne lighter, following these tips will extend the life of your favorite butane cigar lighter.