Clink-snap. It’s a sound everybody knows – the distinctive ring of a Zippo lighter being open and shut. In a world of cheap, Bic-style disposables, there’s something alluring about the solid, metallic feeling of these tiny, timeless marvels. And with their endless array of case colors and designs, there’s a Zippo to suit every interest and lifestyle.
Realistically, we’d wager that most Zippos are used for smoking. And, while we at Journeywind Junk aren’t proponents of the cigarette habit, there is one form of tobacco we do occasionally enjoy – cigars.
But here’s the problem – standard lighter fluid stinks. It also evaporates, leaving its signature scent in your clothes, on your hands, and eventually rendering the lighter useless unless it’s regularly refilled. But worst of all, its flavor will worm its way into the tobacco, leaving you puffing away on an oily-tasting mess.
Instead, cigar lovers usually favor butane jets or torches. They’re tasteless, odorless, and more resistant to fluctuating air currents. But good torch lighters are generally expensive, and often lack the iconic styling found in a simple Zippo.
Enter the Vector Thunderbird Butane Torch Insert 1T, a drop-in mechanism that turns your favorite Zippo into a cigar-friendly flamer. Rather than shelling out $40 for a purpose-designed stogie lighter, we were able to acquire a matte-black Zippo and Thunderbird 1T for less than $30. Here’s how it stacked up in our weeks of testing.
The Vector Thunderbird fits snuggly, though not quite perfectly, in the standard Zippo shell. If anything, it rides just a millimeter or so higher than the standard oil-burning insert. This is a truly minor quibble, however as, even with the added height, the lighter retains its iconic feel and metallic clink upon opening. The igniter button fits perfectly against the thumb, with medium action and a satisfying mechanical press.
Down below, the tank portion of the Thunderbird 1T is made of a translucent plastic. It’s difficult to see through, which makes it hard to gauge the fuel level. The refill valve and the flame adjuster are also found on the bottom of the unit.
The upper portion of the insert is shiny and metallic, featuring a faux porthole pattern reminiscent of the classic windproof lighter. The finish provides a nice contrast to the matte black of our tester.
4.5 stars out of 5
As mentioned in the intro, we purchased the Thunderbird 1T for use as a cigar lighter (though we did chance to light a charcoal grill with it, using a dry twig as a flame carrier). Several cigars were smoked, ranging from thick Churchills to a small petite corona. A quick session with the adjuster allowed us to find a level which resisted the tossing of the wind without burning through too much of the tiny tank’s butane reserve. Regardless of weather conditions, the flame consistently sprung to life on the igniter’s first or second press.
In researching others’ experiences with the Thunderbird 1T, one of the most frequently-cited complaints comes from the aforementioned small tank. Because of the relatively close dimensions afforded by the Zippo case, users will find themselves refilling the lighter more often than they may expect. In our experience, we were able to get through four smoking sessions before breaking out the butane. Personally, we feel that this is a small price to pay for the style and feel of lighting up with a cultural classic.
In our research, the other most frequently cited complaint came from customers whose units simply stopped working. This puts us in something of a quandary. On the one hand, we love the form and function of this little lighter. On the other, we can’t vouch for the long-term build quality and dependability of its components. It’s a tough situation for a product that we very much want to love.
Here’s what we can say. Many folks with positive feelings on the Thunderbird 1T recommended using premium butane to prevent ignition issues. We used Colibri butane in our tests, and experienced zero problems. The igniter feels solid under our thumbs, and the construction looks to be sound. Vector also offers a “No Proof Warranty,” which allows their customers to return their lighter for service with a $5 shipping and handling charge.
So long as it works (and we have no reason to doubt our particular unit), the Thunderbird 1T will be our go-to lighter.
3.5 stars out of 5
Here’s the other thing – The Vector Thunderbird 1T is cheap. As mentioned in the intro, we paid significantly less for the Zippo and the insert than we would have for a purpose-built cigar lighter. Sure, you can find other butane torches for less than $20. But they lack the style and audible snap that Zippos are famous for. And, with the option to choose your own case, the potential for customization is excellent. Properly paired, you can create a lighter perfect for casual or classy carry.
5 stars out of 5
Designed for standard Zippos. Will not fit slim case designs.
Piezoelectric Ignition system.
Available in single or double flame configurations.
Where to Buy
232 Customer Reviews averaging 4.2 out of 5 Stars as of 9/23/16