Everyday items you wouldn’t think twice about can often hold some crazy secrets, or just have a couple new uses you haven’t seen. Almost everything in your house has a fact or two you don’t know about. One of those things you probably have is a lighter.
Whether it’s for smoking, survival, or something else, these little guys carry some big facts, hazards, and information you probably don’t know about, not to mention their partner, fuel. And since it’s never a good idea to mess with fire, you’ll want to learn all you can about lighters and lighter fuel, just to be safe or even just learn something new.
Right here, we have a bunch of facts, tips, and info about your good friend, the zippo, and its pal, lighter fuel. Read these, and you’ll pick up a few things, and might even be able to call yourself a lighter expert (although that isn’t the most impressive title, it sure is a great conversation starter).
Here are a bunch of facts and tips about zippo lighters and lighter fuel, thanks to the people at Backdoor Survival.
Lighter Fluid: Bad Information
The Internet question “Can I use charcoal lighter fluid in my Zippo?” received an Internet answer (but not from me):
“If you fill a Zippo with charcoal lighter fluid, you can kiss your eyebrows and nose hairs goodbye. And any other part of your anatomy that’s close to the explosion when it occurs.”
That answer is 100% wrong. It was followed immediately by a second 100% wrong answer: “Charcoal lighter fluid in a Zippo? No way. You must use butane.”
And a response: “Well, I finally got my Zippo apart but I still can’t figure out how to put in the butane.”
My take? As Albert Einstein said, “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”
Zippo Lighters and Butane
Let’s deal first with the Zippo/butane thing.
Zippo (brand) lighters were patented in 1936 and saw their heyday with the GI’s of World War II. Zippos used liquid fuel (white gas). The tiny fuel tank was stuffed with cotton fluff so that the liquid didn’t spill into your pocket. A wick brought the fuel to the flame by capillary action.
Zippo’s reign as king of the lighters ended in 1973 when Bic introduced disposable butane lighters that could provide 3,000 lights before wearing out. How do you spell, “Goodbye Zippo”? Answer. “Flick my Bic.”
Today, a new Zippo costs $13 and a small can of fuel, $2.75. Or, you can buy a package of five butane lighters (Bic knock-offs, pre-filled with fuel) for one buck at the Dollar Store. One Zippo and a can of fuel equals 78 butane lighters.
Judging by the Internet, people born after 1970 may have never seen a Zippo-style lighter. They sincerely believe that butane is the one and only fuel ever used in cigarette lighters.
So we need to understand butane a little better . . .
Water boils and turns from a liquid to a gas at 212 degrees F. Butane boils and turns from a liquid to a gas at 31 degrees F. Just about the time ice is melting, butane is boiling. That’s why it’s a gas at room temperature. In a refill canister, butane is a liquid only by merit of the fact that it’s been put under pressure, not unlike an aerosol spray can.
You can get the butane out of its canister by:
(1) turning it upside down
(2) holding it at a slight angle, and
(3) pressing the injecting needle onto a hard surface
The butane comes out as a liquid but you can actually see it bubbling as it boils away. It will volatilize into the atmosphere far too quickly to be of any use in your Zippo. And you won’t like the way it smells either.
And Then There Is Charcoal Lighter Fluid
Okay. We’re finally ready to talk about charcoal lighter fluid which is also known as mineral spirits. If you remember, that was the original question. Can you substitute charcoal lighter fluid for Zippo/Ronsonol lighter fluid? And the answer came back, “No! It will explode.”
WRONG! But where does the idea come from that charcoal lighter fluid is explosive?
IT STARTS HERE: In an effort to hurry things along, charcoal lighter fluid is sometimes sprayed on a charcoal grill that is already burning.
Note: Let us be clear here. We’re talking about a CHARCOAL grill, not a GAS grill!
The lighter fluid doesn’t break into open flame because the burning charcoal itself only glows; no FLAME exists to ignite the fluid. (And ignition does require a flame or a spark. Don’t you remember dowsing your cigarette in a cup of gasoline to impress the girls?)
But, although no ignition takes place, the fluid gets hot. It begins to vaporize and smoke. It goes above its “flash point” but there’s still no flame to set it off. When it reaches its “auto-ignition temperature” (i.e. 473 degrees F where a flame is no longer required) – POOF!
The flameless preheating vaporizes a large quantity of liquid before ignition occurs. And that’s the problem. Half a teaspoon is not a threat to your eyebrows. Half a cup is a threat to your house. Flameless preheating does not get proper credit for the results.
No “explosion” can occur as long as mineral spirits remains at room temperature. At room temperature, mineral spirits is a liquid. And a liquid must vaporize and turn to gas before it can OXIDIZE . . . that is, combine with oxygen . . . that is, BURN.
For all practical purposes, charcoal lighter fluid does not evaporate at room temperature and is termed combustible. Vapors are too few and far between to catch fire. Like candle wax, it must be preheated to the point of forming a vapor before ignition can take place. A match performs the preheating function as well as the ignition-of-vapors function.
As fuel in a Zippo, charcoal lighter fluid, like motor oil, will not work. Spinning the striker wheel will create a shower of sparks but the sparks won’t produce enough heat to vaporize the fuel. The lighter will not light, much less explode. Your nose hairs are safe.
Zippo Lighter Fuel Substitutes
But this brings up an interesting possibility. Although we can’t use combustible liquids (diesel fuel, kerosene, mineral spirits) in a Zippo, can we substitute other flammable liquids (gasoline, Coleman fuel, acetone)? Will they work?
But first, let’s address flash point, flammability, and combustibility.
“Flash point” is the lowest temperature at which a liquid can form an ignitable mixture in air. OSHA defines a combustible liquid as “any liquid having a flash point at or above 100° F.” Kerosene and diesel fuel are both “combustible.”
A flammable liquid has a flash point below 100° F. Coleman fuel (a.k.a. white gas) and gasoline are both “flammable.”
· Let’s start at ground zero. Zippo and/or Ronsonol lighter fluid. Do they work in a Zippo-style cigarette lighter?
· Coleman fuel. Does it work in a Zippo lighter?
Yes. White gas with a dash of perfume equals cigarette lighter fluid.
Note that Coleman fuel sells for $10 per gallon whereas Zippo lighter fluid sells for $88 per gallon when purchased in 4 oz. cans.
· Other flammable liquids. Gasoline (petrol), lacquer thinner, acetone – do they work?
No. At least not the way I’d hoped.
Now you have more knowledge about lighters and fuel, and if you really feel the need, then you have earned the right to call yourself “lighter expert.”.
For more cool survival tips and info, check out Backdoor Survival.
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