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Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10-year review

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by Mark Greenman, Jan 30, 2012.

  1. Mark Greenman
    • Sponsor - Manufacturer

    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    [​IMG]

    I’ve been playing with lighters since I was 5 years old, after my mom showed me how to use a BIC because “it’s safer than playing with matches.”

    At first my lighters were used for lighting fireworks, and then, as I became older, they were also used for smoking.

    Smoking and lighting fireworks are the two most demanding environments a lighter can be put through. Smokers will be using their lighter 1-40 times a day, every day, depending on their habit. Meanwhile, the visco cannon fuse found on most commercial fireworks ejects large quantities of ash and carbon fouling directly into the lighting mechanism, which will kill most lighters over time.

    There have been three lighters in my life that have been able to withstand the combined abuse of smoking and pyrotechnics, and they are the BIC, the IMCO, and the Zippo.

    [​IMG]


    They are all fine lighters, and any one of them will serve its user well. For most of the population, the BIC is perfectly adequate — which is why they sell 5 million every single day of the year.

    However, for my uses, I require something more. While the BIC is a very rugged and reliable lighter, it is not windproof. Whether I’m lighting up on the freeway, or trying to light a bottle rocket before a car comes up the road, having a lighter that won’t blow out when I need it most is an essential requirement for me.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2RHEjneBRak

    The standard recommendation for wind resistance is the “jet” style lighter. However, due to their Piezio electric ignition system, and the delicate fuel-air mixture required for proper ignition, jet lighters cannot survive repeated exposure to the harsh carbon fouling produced by fireworks fuse — I’ve killed off a half dozen over the years. The only jet Lighter that may be able to survive this is the Blazer PB207 torch lighter, but I have not used mine extensively enough to say with certainty.

    The two windproof lighters that I can recommend with 100% certainty are the IMCO and Zippo liquid fuel lighters. They have been my every day carry (EDC) lighters for the last 10 years, and they have both survived my demanding use.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    The reason these lighters are so tough is that the Zippo and IMCO are both old-school designs, built in the era when everyone smoked, and lighters were serious, daily use tools, and not the flashy novelty they are today.

    They feature 100% metal construction, refillable flint ignition, and use liquid naphtha for fuel. This combination results in a lighter that is inherently reliable- so long as an IMCO or Zippo has fuel and a flint, it will work. And because the lighters use a burning, naphtha-covered wick, they are both far more wind resistant than the butane powered BIC.

    [​IMG]


    This windproof reliability comes at a price. Liquid fuel lighters work by the evaporation of naphtha lighter fluid from the wick, instead of a valve releasing pressurized butane as found on modern designs. So while liquid fuel provides superior reliability, it also results in increased maintenance, as the lighters need to be refueled once every two weeks due to naphtha evaporation.

    So if you were looking for a lighter that you carry every day, but only use once in a while, I would recommend sticking with a BIC, Ronson Jetlite, or Blazer PB207. The Zippo and IMCO are for serious, dedicated users only- smokers, fireworks nerds, and those who demand high performance — and are willing to put in the effort for it.

    If that sounds like you, then the Zippo and IMCO are both excellent tools. The rest of this review will compare and contrast the two, so you can get a sense of which lighter better suits your needs.

    Wind Resistance: Both the IMCO and the Zippo are far more wind resistant than the BIC. They can both be lit on a windy waterfront or breezy boulevard without having to shelter the flame with your hand, making them ideal for smoothly lighting a girl’s cigarette, or tossing a firecracker at an unsuspecting friend.

    However, the longer wick and taller flame guard of the Zippo makes for a significant advantage over the IMCO. The IMCO can be blown out like a birthday candle, while the Zippo is very hard to blow out — you can toss a Zippo under hand like a softball and it will still be lit when it hits the ground. So, in a Die Hard situation, where you need to throw your lighter into a pool of AVGAS, the Zippo has superior wind resistance to the IMCO.

    Here’s a video I made comparing the wind resistance of the BIC, Blazer PB 207, IMCO, and Zippo.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H67xFYousF8


    Flame Functionality: While the Zippo is more windproof, the IMCO has a more ‘useable’ flame. The flame of a Zippo is 2”-3” tall, and tends to “dance” all over the place in buffeting winds such as an open car window. This “dancing flame effect” has made it very difficult for me to light a cigarette or fireworks fuse on a number of occasions.

    [​IMG]

    Conversely, the IMCO’s flame is about ¾”-1” tall, and it more or less stays over the top of the lighter, so all that is required is to insert the cigarette or fuse into the open top of the IMCO, and it’s lit. Because of this, I find the IMCO to have a more usable flame.

    Operation: Another thing that makes the IMCO smoother is its double action mechanism, which opens the lid and lights the lighter at the same time. This is a fast and fumble-free method of lighting, and allows for a very smooth transition from pocket to cigarette, as the lighter can be lit and brought forward in one fluid motion.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NcXkoxB1I9E

    By comparison the Zippo features the iconic, single action opening mechanism, where the lid is popped open with a satisfying clink! and then the lighter is lit by turning the thumb wheel. This feature is what made the Zippo so famous, and it’s a lot of fun to play with.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOHwjDzUDnE

    However, because opening the lid cuts the effective length of the lighter in half, and requires manipulation of multiple fingers and the palm, I will occasionally fumble while using my Zippo — sometimes with comic effect, like when I accidently dropped mine on a friend’s carpet and set it aflame.

    So when it comes to playing around, I prefer the single action of the Zippo. But when it comes to serious, fumble-free lighting, the double action mechanism of the IMCO is superior.

    Coolness Factor: Here we have a tie. The Zippo is an American Icon, and the very definition of cool in countless films and television series. This reputation is international, to the point that the Zippo is considered a status symbol in some of the European countries I have visited.

    However, the IMCO has a much higher gadget factor, because unlike a Zippo, which is commonplace, very few people have ever seen an IMCO before. The IMCO produces a very bright flash of spark due to its powerful double action opening mechanism, and every single person I have shown it to has been impressed.

    So, the Zippo is iconic, while the IMCO is unique, but both are equally cool in my book.

    “The Finger Chop Test” of reliability: There’s a classic Roald Dahl short story called “The Man from the South,” where an old man bets his Cadillac that a young boy’s lighter won’t light 10 times in a row. If the lighter is 100% reliable, then the boy wins the Cadillac. If it doesn’t work, even once, the old man chops off the boy’s pinky with a meat cleaver.

    http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/south.html

    “Now just let me check up on this bet of yours,” he said at last. “You say we go up to your room and if I make this lighter light ten times running I win a Cadillac. If it misses just once then I forfeit the little finger of my left hand. Is that right?”

    “Certainly. Dat is de bet. But I tink you are afraid.”


    Now, ever since I read that story, I evaluate lighter reliability based on the “finger chop test” — namely: Will the lighter light 10 times in a row, every time, without fail?

    Many lighters will work 9/10 times, usually failing on the first light because the lighter is cold, or was operated incorrectly. This includes the Zippo, which will frequently require a second strike due to a weak spark from a poorly turned flint wheel.

    The only lighter of mine that consistently passes the rigorous “finger chop test” is the IMCO. The double action mechanism of the IMCO precludes the possibility of operator error, and produces a massive shower of sparks directly onto the wick. The result is that the IMCO lights cold, first time, 99.5% of the time. In several thousand lights, I’ve only had about 5 failures. So, I won’t bet my finger on it, but so far the IMCO has proven to be the most reliable lighter I have ever used when it comes to the “finger chop test.”

    Long-term ruggedness: In terms of long-term durability and overall ruggedness, there is really no contest. The Zippo is Made in the USA out of solid brass, and comes with a “It works, or we fix it free” lifetime warranty. It’s also “caveman simple,” with very few moving parts, all of which are as durable as possible. Zippos have survived every US conflict from WWII to Afghanistan, and virtually every old Zippo in an antiques store will still work provided it has flint and fuel.

    [​IMG]

    Here’s a video of Zippos being manufactured, to give a sense of what goes into each one.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wQJ8RwJ9K4U

    Although the IMCO is a beautiful design, and made in Austria, it’s manufactured from very thin sheet metal, which has a propensity to dent and rust. My IMCO Streamline has numerous small dents, and the lever that controls the tension of the double action mechanism has begun to rust, despite that fact that I frequently coat the lighter’s internals with oil. I have also broken an IMCO by installing too large a flint, which bent the spring and prevented the lighter from ever functioning normally again.

    [​IMG]

    So while my IMCO has worked fine the last few years, it’s not an heirloom or **** grade lighter the way a Zippo is. The IMCO has a 10-year warranty, but the Zippo is built to last a lifetime.

    Here’s a picture from Smu of Zombiesquad, using his Zippo to prop open a steel firedoor. I would not trust the IMCO for something this demanding.

    [​IMG]


    Versatility: The IMCO series of lighters have a removable fuel tank that can be used like a match for lighting candles and campfires, which makes them more versatile than virtually any other pocket lighter. The Zippo works wonderfully for smoking and fireworks, but for angled lighting tasks such as candles, the IMCO is clearly superior.

    [​IMG]

    Extended Use: Most lightings will only require a few seconds of flame. However, there are times when a lighter may be needed for an extended period — using it as a lighting source Die Hard style comes to mind. In this scenario, the Zippo is far superior.

    [​IMG]

    The IMCO’s thin sheet metal sides get hot enough to burn the skin after more than 15 seconds of use, while a Zippo takes about a minute to reach the same level of heat.

    Fuel Consumption: The IMCO has a smaller gas tank, but it still last longer between refuelings than the Zippo. In my experience, the Zippo needs to be refilled every two weeks, while the IMCO can go for three. However, this evaporation rate will depend on the temperature of the air, and the fit of each unique lighter.

    In general, I like to top off my fuel tanks every Sunday, as this ensures that my lighter is always ready for the week ahead.

    Options: The IMCO only comes in a few flavors — the Streamline (way preferred) or the Triplex (more windproof but rusts terribly), in either a textured or engraveable finish. Always in chrome.

    By comparison, Zippos have come in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of variations.

    [​IMG]

    While Zippo’s different case colors and designs will suit every taste imaginable, I find most of them to be in poor taste, and personally suggest sticking to plain metal finishes or solid colors. These finishes are more elegant and universal, which enhance their value if you decide to give one as a gift while traveling, or need to use it as barter in a pinch. Most people will appreciate a brushed chrome finish — something that cannot be said about a Zippo with the Hollywood sign engraved on the side.

    The exception to this rule are Zippos that commemorate the specific military unit of the user -– that’s always in style.

    [​IMG]

    IMCO vs. Zippo: If you can’t tell, I’m deeply ambivalent about this question and cannot pick a favorite, which is why I rotate between an IMCO and Zippo every few years. Considering you can buy both lighters for less than $30, I would buy both and see which you prefer.

    Tips and Tricks: Regardless of which lighter you choose, I have two suggestions for ensuring maximum reliability.

    First, I suggest topping off the fuel of your lighter every Sunday. Although both lighters can go two weeks without filling, I like knowing that I have at least a week’s worth of fuel in my lighters at all time.

    Liquid fuel lighters should be fueled upside down, suspended within their own case as shown

    [​IMG]

    Contrary to the advise of the Zippo company, I prefer to fill my lighter directly through the felt. It works better in my experience.

    There is no set amount of fuel to use, so I recommend fueling the lighter until the cotton appears damp – when in doubt, stop filling. Then allow the lighter to sit for a few minutes, so that any extra fuel will drip into the lighter casing. Extra fuel should be poured in the sink.

    [​IMG]

    In this photo I have overfilled my Zippo, which sucks.

    [​IMG]

    Naphtha lighter fluid is a skin irritant, and will create a burning rash on your leg if you put an overfilled lighter in your pants. So, once again, when in doubt, add less fuel.

    My second suggestion is that you tuck a few spare flints under the cotton of your lighter. Flint runs out, often at the least expected time, so this is a simple way to make sure your lighter will always be operable. Also, spare flint will allow you to fix your buddy’s lighter when his runs out – a fact I can personally attest to.

    The best source of flints are empty BIC lighters found on the ground.

    [​IMG]

    BIC lighters contain an extra large flint that is both wider and longer than Zippo flints, and works even better than the factory flint. To use in an IMCO, the long flint will have to be cut in half with a Leatherman, while a Zippo can usually use the BIC flint without needing to cut it to size.

    If you fuel your lighter every Sunday, and keep some spare flints in your cotton, you will thoroughly enjoy your windproof lighter, whichever one you choose.

    [​IMG]

    Where to purchase:

    The Keychain Kydex BIC is $8.50 shipped from Matt Studabaker:

    studeyknives@yahoo.com

    The IMCO Streamline is $9.99 shipped from Thunderhawk Collectibles:

    http://www.thunderhawkcollectables.com/imco-traditional-lighters.html

    The Zippo Armor is $14.03 shipped from Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/Zippo-Brushed-Chrome-Pocket-Lighter/dp/B000W2YO1C/ref=sr_1_1?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1327488513&sr=1-1
     
    vltor17 and ANJARI like this.
  2. gstojinovic

    gstojinovic Loaded Pockets

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    Great review... I have IMCO TRIPLEX and Zippo brass 41 replica.

    The zippo see more use while I like brass and 41 replica shape, but IMCO is awesom also. I gave one I used to a friend and he carries it since. Another new IMCO sit in my drawer, but now I'll get out.

    I like your tips. I refill my Zippo every sunday also, and have spare flint in cotton. But I haven't know about bic flint... Nice tip, thanks!!

    Sent from my GT-S5570 using Tapatalk
     
  3. nuphoria

    nuphoria Loaded Pockets

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    Superb review which I agree with entirely! ;D

    I have some old IMCOs which show no sign of quitting and a fair few Zippos too. They are both excellent kit and worth the bother.
     
  4. RonReagan

    RonReagan Loaded Pockets

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    A nice write up on the differences and advantages of each. I hear you on the jet lighters with fireworks. I have a few that I managed to salvage to the point where they light after a few tries.

    Right now I have the pipe insert in my zippo which I got for free by sending my lighter in with the request written on a note. They install the new insert and send the lighter back with the old insert too. I had a wiggly hinge on my 68' one which they fixed right up. I usually carry a Mini BIC, but this review got me to break it out again for carry! Oh yeah nice tip on using the BIC flints.
     
  5. Garland

    Garland Loaded Pockets

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    Great write-up, thanks for taking the time! I am not a fireworks afficionado, but good to hear what works. I am definitely getting one of those little kydex sheaths for the BIC.
     
  6. Blackheart

    Blackheart Loaded Pockets

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    Absolutely the only negative thing I can say about a Zippo, the hinge is the weak point and it will eventually (after many years of daily use) lose it's distinctive open->click, close->snap sound (which just about everyone on the planet recognizes) ...but as Ron says, send it in and Zippo will fix or replace it (how many companies do that anymore).

    Terrific write-up, MG. Thanks...
     
  7. jsmitty1967
    • In Omnia Paratus

    jsmitty1967 Go Big Blue

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    Fantastic write up. I recently purchased an IMCO Triplex and I am very happy with it. It is obviously not as heavy duty as a Zippo but it is wonderfully reliable and extremely light weight. It also holds fuel signifigantly longer than my Bil-lit. Still though I prefer the red hot cherry of a cigar for fireworks lighting!
     
  8. eggzoomin

    eggzoomin Loaded Pockets

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    +1 on the value of a Zippo - I've used them for fifteen years or so now, with the only replacements coming due to losing a couple over the years while intoxicated. My friends and I used to consider them the sign of a "proper" smoker. Mine gets filled once a week, before work on a Monday morning and never runs dry. I also have a Zippo fuel capsule on my keychain setup, just in case I do run out of fuel - plus it has a handy little rubber flint sleeve with it, as well as a disc-type driver thing for undoing the flint screw.

    One extremely minor nitpick that I feel honour-bound to mention on account of my profession (I work for a water and sewage company and examine pollutions from sites for a living). A few drops of lighter fuel from overfill won't do any harm, but please, never, ever put any more than that down a sink or a drain. Petroleum products are VERY bad news at waste treatment works when they get into drains, as they can badly damage equipment - then sometimes when that site has to be temporarily taken offline for repair, the sewage can overflow and flood homes or the environment. Putting stuff like that straight down surface water drains often means it goes directly into a watercourse and can be very damaging to the environment indeed. If I ever overfill my lighter, I pour it onto some toilet tissue and then stick the tissue into an empty chocolate wrapper or something before throwing it in the bin.
     
  9. CatherineM
    • In Omnia Paratus

    CatherineM Loaded Pockets

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    I use a pipe insert in my zippo. It is perfect for lighting candles.
     
  10. Mark Greenman
    • Sponsor - Manufacturer

    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    Glad you guys liked the review :)

    For those using the pipe lighter insert, how does that effect the wind resistance?

    Good to know man, I will redact that advice from my review, and will not do that in the future.
     
  11. CatherineM
    • In Omnia Paratus

    CatherineM Loaded Pockets

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    I've never had a problem with wind blowing it out, but then I mostly use it inside.
     
  12. bjornkeizers

    bjornkeizers Loaded Pockets

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    Just dropping in to say: very cool post.