Every lighter we sell at Chesapeake Pipe & Cigar is personally selected by us to deliver the proper lighting experience for cigars, pipes and other miscellaneous uses. If we wouldn’t personally use a lighter, we won’t sell it!
There are only two things anyone needs to smoke a cigar — a cigar and a heat source — that’s it. Everything else is optional.
We’ll assume you have chosen a cigar and focus on the heat source. If you work hard enough, there are many ways to produce enough heat to start the combustion process — focus a magnifying glass, build a bonfire and heat up a branding iron to red hot, etc… But, for the purpose of this article, we will leave all these wild options for you to explore on your own and focus on flame sources that are more dedicated to the purpose of lighting a cigar.
ALL FUELS ARE NOT THE SAME
There are two types of fuels with respect to lighting a cigar — Clean and Unclean.
A Clean fuel source is one which does not affect the flavor of your cigar to any great extent. Unclean fuels carry oils, unburnt fuel or other matter which negatively affect the flavor of your cigar. For instance, a candle flame carries wax particles and other impurities that, when used to light a cigar directly, transfer the wax and other impurities to the cigar as you puff. Those flavors permeate the cigar and stay with it throughout the whole experience. Using a clean fuel source such as filtered butane leaves the flavor of your cigar unchanged as you light it (propane is unclean because it is artificially scented with an onion smell so it can be detected if leaking.)
SOFT vs JET FLAMES
So, once you have a clean fuel source, you need to ignite it and deliver it to the foot of your cigar. There are two different types of flames — Soft and Jet.
Soft flames are produced when the fuel is not under pressure. Campfires, candles, matches are all Soft flames. A Jet flame delivers the fuel under pressure — like a mini flamethrower of sorts.
Lighters are available is many different configurations of both Soft flame and Jet flame. But, how do you choose?
PROPER LIGHTING TECHNIQUE
Before choosing a lighter, you should decide how you will be lighting your cigar. There is only one right way to light a cigar, but the majority of people light their cigar the wrong way. You have to decide if you’re committed to doing it right or just wanting to get it lit. You can use any lighter to do it right or wrong.
The ONLY proper lighting technique is to hold the flame slightly in front of the foot of the cigar and draw the flame to the foot by puffing. This technique allows you to toast the foot rather than immediately incinerating the tobacco, Why is this the ONLY right method? Because, by taking a moment or two more to toast the tobacco, you avoid creating a burnt pad of carbon which you have to draw the air through when finishing the lighting. You also avoid burning the sides of the cigar and creating a burnt wrapper leaf as well. If you create that burnt pad, you are essentially creating an unclean flame source as a result.
Most people will take their lighter and direct the flame to the foot of the cigar in a way that incinerates it as fast as possible. The cigar is lit and they go on from there, content that they have gotten the job done.
Some of you will ask, “But, what about when someone lights their cigar without puffing?” The perfect example of this is a Cigar Hostess. No matter how good looking she is, it’s not sanitary for her to put your cigar in her mouth and puff while toasting the foot. The method used in this case is a roasting method with no airflow through the cigar while lighting. In this case, there are still right and wrong ways to do the job.
This roasting method requires that care be taken to light the cigar slowly, getting a thin layer of glowing tobacco. Incinerating the foot with a Jet flame creates a carbonized pad deeper into the foot of the cigar where the cooler burning area deepest into the cigar carries too many carbon impurities with it on the first few puffs. The mission of roasting the cigar is to create a high temperature layer that feeds the tobacco beneath it without burning too coolly.
SO, WHAT LIGHTER SHOULD I USE?
Like I said, you can light a cigar the right way or wrong way with any lighter. The Soft flame lighter, to some degree, forces you to light your cigar the right way. Unlike its high pressure brother, the Soft flame always seeks to burn perpendicular to the floor, so it’s easier to hold in front of your cigar when lighting.
Jet flames, on the other hand, can be directed in any direction because of the pressure of the gas flow. It’s easier to point that flame directly into the heart of the foot of your cigar and burn the tobacco much more deeply than any soft flame could ever reach. However, most people casually pick-up a Jet flame lighter and proceed to light their cigar as fast as they can because, well, it doesn’t really matter to them.
Pipe smokers should always use a soft flame lighter so as not to burn the rim of their pipe. Even with soft flames, I see many pipes that have been damaged through careless lighting technique.
I prefer Soft flame lighters myself. I feel like I’m more civilized and enjoy the ritual of treating the cigar with dignity as I toast the foot and twirl the cigar while puffing. I can do the same thing with a Jet flame, but I just like the soft flicker more.
The goal of using a lighter is to produce a clean flame. There are alternative methods of doing this which do not include an actual lighter. For instance, many people use a sliver of cedar from a cigar box. This is called a Cedar Spill. You can ignite the spill using ANY flame source because you can wait a moment and any impurities have been burned away. Much like letting the sulfur finish burning away before using a match. You can take the worst unclean flame (I consider the Citronella Tiki Torch to be the worst of the worst of the most common flame sources most of us come into contact with) and make it totally clean with a simple sliver of cigar box cedar.
For centuries, before butane and lighter fluid, our ancestors used spills to light their pipes and cigars. Using candles, whale oil lamps or the fireplace was difficult and dangerous. Lighting some sort of spill allowed them to get the job done while sitting at the table in a tavern without spilling wax, lifting hot glass off the oil lamp or bending over into the fireplace.
I mentioned matches — they are an alternative lighter too. Use wood matches, not paper. Paper matches produce an unclean flame which wooden matches do not.
MY WORD ON ZIPPO
There a number of beautiful Zippo lighters that people count as one of their most prized possessions. They are functional works of art. But, the lighter fluid used in a standard Zippo lighter produces an unclean flame. The odor you get from the fluid can ruin the flavor of your cigar. There are butane inserts you can buy here at Chesapeake Pipe & Cigar and use in your trusty old Zippo, but otherwise, save them for lighting the newspaper in your charcoal chimney of fireplace.