Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

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Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by spyderco monkey » Wed Feb 01, 2012 11:30 pm

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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.

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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=pl ... RHEjneBRak

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.

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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.

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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=pl ... 67xFYousF8


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.

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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=pl ... cXkoxB1I9E

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.

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=pl ... QJ8RwJ9K4U

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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/ ... hters.html

The Zippo Armor is $14.03 shipped from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Zippo-Brushed-Chr ... 513&sr=1-1
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by majorhavoc » Wed Feb 01, 2012 11:38 pm

Outstanding review. Thorough, insightful and chock full of useful information. Thank you.

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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Woods Walker » Thu Feb 02, 2012 12:13 am

I agree Bic flints are the best. Stopped smoking over a year ago and all my Zippos are bone dry. Fueled one the other day and almost picked up a pack of smokes but didn't. :) Good thread.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by nyarlotep » Thu Feb 02, 2012 4:16 pm

Thank you for the excellent review! I've been a fan of Zippo for years, and have been wanting to try an Imco but haven't done any research into them. I now know that I want to get a couple.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by connecticut_yankee » Fri Feb 03, 2012 4:50 pm

Awesome review.

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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by sar5 » Sun Feb 05, 2012 8:59 am

Well done review, thanks

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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Ten Eight » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:26 am

Thanks for the review. I've been looking for a Kydex sheath for my Bic for awhile. Good call there as well.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by yossarian » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:50 am

I've had my Zippo for damn near twenty years. When I was in college my car caught fire on the interstate. Destroyed the engine compartment, burned through the firewall, burst the front tires and melted the dash and front seat. When the fire dept. was finished I retrieved the Zippo from the driver's side armrest. Sitting in a puddle of soot and water, the finish permanently scarred from the fire...it lit on the first strike. If the damn things didn't need filled once a week or I still smoked :twisted:

Speaking of filled once a week. One time it ran dry on me and I was absolutely jonesing for a smoke. No one around to bum a light and no back up lighter. I raided the FAK in my car and stuffed an alcohol swab in the chimney. Worked great.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by painiac » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:07 am

Great review.
Just wanted to add that if you're looking for something that uses liquid fuel that can be stored long-term, the County Comm "peanut lighter" has a screw-on cap with a rubber o-ring that keeps the fuel from evaporationg. It's small, and uses standard zippo flints and fluid, but lacks the zippo's windscreen.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by sgttk » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:24 am

I used both Zippos and Imcos in the service and can attest to the irritant properties of lighter fluid. Have had the shape of my zippo burned onto my thigh before. That was always the downside of these lighters for me. One recommendation for the brushed chrome finish is the experience a buddy had. He bought a camo finished zippo, then lost it three days into a field problem. He set it down, walked away to piss, and when he came back it had vanished. He never saw it again.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Viper shtf » Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:37 pm

Op, great review. I do know one thing that a Zippo won't run on though... Citronella tiki torch fuel. A friend of mine filled his Zippo with it, and kaput, nothing. Wouldn't light at all, until he refilled it with something, not sure what flammeble liquid he used.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by E » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:34 am

yossarian wrote:I've had my Zippo for damn near twenty years. When I was in college my car caught fire on the interstate. Destroyed the engine compartment, burned through the firewall, burst the front tires and melted the dash and front seat. When the fire dept. was finished I retrieved the Zippo from the driver's side armrest. Sitting in a puddle of soot and water, the finish permanently scarred from the fire...it lit on the first strike. If the damn things didn't need filled once a week or I still smoked :twisted:

Speaking of filled once a week. One time it ran dry on me and I was absolutely jonesing for a smoke. No one around to bum a light and no back up lighter. I raided the FAK in my car and stuffed an alcohol swab in the chimney. Worked great.
ok that's ghetto but if it works... :lol:

Good review OP.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Lionheart » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:47 pm

Great review man. I loved my Zippo and it's been anywhere and everywhere I've set foot in for the past 5 years until I left it at an ex girlfriend's place while we were still together than we broke up. I'm still kicking myself over that, I'm gonna get another but I was attached to that one. :(
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Viper shtf » Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:43 pm

Ok, just got a high polish brass armor Zippo, fueled it up, and it works great.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by wolf_from_wv » Mon Feb 27, 2012 10:37 pm

You can also buy an aluminum fuel canister to hold fuel for Zippos...
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by BigBossMan » Mon Feb 27, 2012 10:48 pm

You can't let a Zippos set for long periods of time. The fuel evaporates. At least the ones in mine do. Don't have that problem with Bics.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by buck85 » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:33 am

I was so impressed by the review that i when to ebay and found 3 imco super triplexfor $20 and ordered them.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by colinz » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:33 am

I'm pretty sure my Grandfather used to light his Pipe with an IMCO lighter. Great lighters.

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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by buck85 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 9:05 pm

Imco lighters arrived last week,now doing side by side test.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by 11C1P » Thu Nov 01, 2012 2:09 pm

I just had a bic lighter done in cerakote. Here is the preliminary review with pictures I posted.

http://zombiehunters.org/forum/viewtopi ... 4&t=101543
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by LittleQuick » Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:12 pm

This was awesome, made me really think about lighter usage. I loved the part about obtaining spare flint.
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by Grant » Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:47 pm

Get the IMCO's while you can, the factory has gone out of business, according to Thunderhawk Collectibles (the American company I got mine from who's a legal distributor for them). They're running out quick, only the chinese knockoffs will be available pretty soon...
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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by northernxposure » Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:36 pm

Great review. I've got a Zippo I bought years and years ago but hasn't seen fuel for the better part of 15 years now. My daily carry for 8 years was a Ronson Jetlite, which finally crapped out after dummy me put the wrong fuel in it (not all butane is good butane).

I'm not a smoker, but there's nothing wrong with having a good lighter. The Zippo's still on the shelf, I got a new Ronson after the first one died. Bic's work great in the bags, I'm just not a fan for disposable carry when we get butane free at work.

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Re: Zippo vs. IMCO windproof lighters: 10 year review

Post by 11C1P » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:54 pm

I'd like to see the ZS put out a zippo lighter with their logo's on it, or mabye a zombie themed one with the bright zombie green in the cerakote finish so it holds up. Maybe do one side with ZS logo and the other side zombie theme.Image
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The more he saw,the less he spoke.
The less he spoke,the more he heard.
Why can't we be like that wise old bird?

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