Sciences - Other
Yen Lighter

How a Lighter Works

Yen Lighter
Brenton Fernandez's image for:
"How a Lighter Works"
Caption: Yen Lighter
Image by: Haragayato
© Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Every time you go outside to smoke, have a bonfire, or simply light up a nasty note that mean old lady in church wrote to you, chances are you are using one of the greatest inventions ever made. Yes, the lighter. A device that has been re-invented in many different ways and has at least a dozen different ways of operation, but let's get into the simple basics of a standard lighter. 

The idea of the lighter came from 16th century gunpowder flintlock pistols. Several pistols were converted into lighters, although they weren't very reliable. Several German chemists drew up ideas for the modern lighter. Johann Wolfgang Doberiner came up with a system that utilized hydrogen to platinum, but gave off large amounts of heat and became too dangerous for operation. It wasn't until Carl Auer von Welsbach came up with a design that resembles the modern lighter. In 1932, the Zippo company  created the famous zippo lighter, which had a lifetime warranty and was said to be wind-resistant. 

In its basic form, a lighter is a portable device that creates a flame. It contains a flammable pressurized gas in either a plastic or metal container, a way to ignite the flame, and a method to extinguish it. The most common form (and least expensive) of the lighter has a plastic body, a flint wheel with a gas release valve directly below, and a metal housing surrounding the flint wheel (to contain the sparks). It is operated by grasping it with one hand, using the thumb to roll the flint wheel in a swift motion, and having the thumb fall onto the release valve. Once you are finished using the lighter, lifting your thumb cuts off the gas and ceases the flame. 

As with anything that produces a flame near compressed gas, safety is required. International standards on lighters state that a lighter should generate flame with two or more independent actions by the person using it. European standards keep lighters child proof to children younger than 51 months old. In 2004, ISO standards (ISO9994:2005) put specifications on safety symbols. 

There are many other types of lighters out there such as flameless, permanent match, and the electric "automobile lighter", but the original lighter is still the most preferred and widely used design out of them all. It's a very simple device and is one of the most used tools in the world today. Whether you use it to light your fire, light a cigar, or use it to light your grill for lunch, don't forget the history of this great invention. 

More about this author: Brenton Fernandez

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