When a friend or family member asks you for a light, it’s no big deal. The entire process is automatic; you pull out your lighter and they light up, with no break in the conversation.
If you pull out an arc lighter, however, conversation is likely to screech to a halt because of the distinctive blue arcs of electricity revealed when you flip the lighter’s top or push its ignition button. There may even be a little more of a delay, as your friend tries to figure out exactly where to put her cigarette in order to light it.
Flameless lighters have a lot more going for them than just their unusual way of igniting flammable material. They’re also the most reliable and convenient type of lighter you can buy.
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How Do Arc Lighters Work, Anyway?
Traditional lighters have been around since the early 1800s, and it’s not hard to understand how they work. The principle is the same that’s been used to create flame since the days when fire was first invented: something (in a lighter, it’s flint) strikes something else (steel) to create a spark. In traditional lighters, the spark ignites butane or lighter fluid to create a flame. From the very earliest lighters fashioned from converted guns and gunpowder, to the ubiquitous disposable lighters of today, it’s always worked the same basic way.
Arc lighters are a recent invention, but the science behind them was invented in the 1800s as well. The Tesla coil was revolutionary in its day as a method of generating alternating current (AC) electricity, and was also the technology that led to the development of radio transmissions and wireless communications. At one time, a Tesla coil was enormous and extremely expensive to produce. Today, they can be powered by tiny batteries like the ones in watches and garage door openers, and they’re very inexpensive to manufacture.
In an arc lighter, the small Tesla coil takes power from the battery and turns it into a high-voltage, low-current electrical beam that jumps from one contact point to a second, in the form of a plasma arc (giving the arc lighter its name). That electricity has enough power to light a cigarette, a candle wick or small kindling for a campfire (although the gap between the contacts is too small to accommodate cigars or branches).
No fire? No problem – in fact, even fewer problems than with a traditional lighter. Since there’s no fire, there’s no flame that can be blown out by a stiff wind or doused by rain. That makes an arc lighter the most reliable type you can find. In fact, it’s the primary advantage of buying one of these newfangled products.
The Upsides and Downsides
Everyone who still smokes understands the problems that arise when you’re herded into small, outdoor areas where there’s no shelter from the elements. If the weather isn’t nice, you’ll often be uncomfortable, cold and wet when you go outside for a cigarette. And even worse, you may not even be able to get your smoke lit, since wind and rain are the natural enemies of cigarette lighters.
The number-one benefit of an electric lighter is that it works, no matter what’s going on around you. The elements can’t extinguish plasma beams, so even though you may be shivering and dripping wet your lighter still works perfectly. A dual arc lighter with two crossing beams that form the shape of an “X,” is even more reliable despite gale-force winds or drenching downpours. The pleasure of having an arc lighter may not be enough compensation for being forced outside to a dingy smoking area – but it certainly helps.
No flame means no fuel is required, and that brings us to more upsides of having an arc lighter: you don’t have to keep buying butane or lighter fluid and you don’t have to keep refilling it (or cleaning up afterward). That saves money, eliminates a massive inconvenience, and has the added benefit of not creating that “lighter fluid taste” you get when lighting up with a conventional lighter. Disposables also provide that convenience, of course, but you have to keep buying them. With an arc- or dual-arc lighter there’s no further expense once you’ve purchased it; you just have to recharge it through a USB cable overnight and it will last as long as the battery does.
Did we say expense? We did mention the word, but not as a downside to an arc lighter. Many models may look expensive but they’re far cheaper than a fine butane lighter or a high-end Zippo, only costing you about the price of a few multi-packs of disposable lighters. They’re quite light as well at just a few ounces, since they don’t have the flint/metal mechanism or fluid inside.
The downsides of Tesla coil lighters are minimal. Most make a slight whining noise when activated, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. The recharging cables that come in the package are usually extremely short, but any USB cable will work. The only true drawback is that the size of the arc isn’t large enough to properly light a cigar.
The big question you’ll face when purchasing a plasma lighter is whether you want a single- or dual-arc lighter. In most cases you won’t need the extra power of a double-arc model, but there’s no doubt that the criss-crossing purple beams elevate the cool factor of your lighter considerably. You’ll also want to check how many lights you’ll get per charge, although even the cheapest models can light five packs of cigarettes or more before needing a boost. Speaking of price, it shouldn’t be a major concern since even the most expensive dual-arc lighter is extremely affordable.
The final consideration is appearance. Some plasma beam lighters look elegant, some look cool, and some aren’t much to look at – but they all work exceptionally well.
Kivors Rechargeable Arc Lighter
There are six designs/colors of this dual-arc lighter available, and you should choose wisely. Three of the lighters are sophisticated in appearance; there are black and gold models that are contoured and sleek, while another is black with gold accents on the top, sides and face (and unfortunately, a huge logo that says “Tiger” for some reason). The others are funkier, with designs like checkerboards and shattered tile. The right design for one person will be ugly to another.
As for function, the Kivors is well-built and priced moderately. The delicate-looking top flips up to reveal recessed dual arcs, triggered by a large button in the middle of the lighter’s face. There are about 200 lights per charge, and a recharge by USB takes only two hours or so with a “recharging” LED that goes out when you’re ready to remove the arc lighter from the cable. And the dual arcs aren’t going to go out, no matter how windy or rainy it is outside.
This Kivors arc lighter does produce the whine that we talked about earlier, but that’s only a byproduct of the technology that gives you a reliable light every time. It’s a cool way to light up and turn heads at the same time.
4BOSS Premium Double Arc Lighter
This shiny silver dual-arc lighter is the most expensive of the five we’ve reviewed, but it’s also the most sophisticated in its simplicity. No logos, no fancy designs – just a beautiful silver lighter that will surprise people when you open it to light up with the dual purple plasma beams. The top flips back as would the top of a Zippo, but the look and slim length of the 4BOSS immediately says this is something very different.
The zinc alloy used to manufacture this plasma beam lighter is durable and feels great in the hand, but this is the lightest of all the products we’ve listed at just 2.6 ounces. It also produces a full 300 lights before it needs to be recharged, a process that two hours or less after you’ve connected the lighter to a USB port. The LED indicator will tell you when charging is finished.
There aren’t many elegant occasions left where you can smoke, so an elegant lighter isn’t as useful as it once was. But even if you’re forced to stand outside of a fancy restaurant with other well-dressed guests, your 4BOSS will make a big impression.
Novelty Wares Dual Arc Rechargeable Cigarette Lighter
The Novelty Wares arc lighter won’t make quite the same impression as the 4BOSS, but there are several versions which wouldn’t look out of place in exclusive company. The gold and silver models are simple and pretty (except for the prominent, stylized logo which could be seen as either a pro or a con). The neon rainbow and simulated wood-grain lighters, on the other hand, look cool and interesting, while the blue and rose gold colors may appeal to some.
Oh, right – the lighter itself. It’s a good dual-arc model with a Zippo-style flip top and a standard double beam mechanism underneath. The activation button is on the side, which we actually find easier to manipulate than the middle-of-the-face button seen on most of these lighters. The Novelty Wares arc lighters are made with a corrosion-resistant metal plating, which means the rain won’t interrupt your light-up or damage your lighter.
You’ll get up to 300 flicks before this dual-arc lighter needs to be recharged with the included USB cable, and it’s one of the lower-priced plasma models you’ll find. As long as can you find a design that appeals to you, this is a great buy.
UOPASD Dual Arc Electronic Lighter
This model has the same large Tiger logo on it as the Kivors lighter, so we’re guessing that’s the name of the company that makes both products and that they’re simply being resold. That doesn’t really matter, because UOPASD (or Tiger) has produced a very good arc lighter. The space between the two sets of terminals is larger than on many competitors, and you don’t have to keep the activation button depressed for the arc to stay active; it remains on for seven seconds and then shuts off (it will shut off more quickly if you close the flip top). Those two features are unusual to find on Tesla lighters in the moderate price range.
Three designs are available. The subtly-patterned gold lighter looks sophisticated (and the logo is less visible), while the black and blue models have patterns which are either attractive or garish, depending on your viewpoint. Charging the UOPASD takes about three hours via USB connection, but each charge should last as long as 300 lights.
With several very nice features and the reliability you should expect from an arc lighter, this one is worth checking out.
Eternity Premium Lighter With Dual Arc
With many arc lighters looking almost the same and performing similarly, it’s great when one stands out – even if it’s for a small feature. The Eternity comes with a USB cable that’s a full nine inches long, three times the length of the cords that come with many competitors. Yes, it’s a small thing, but worth noting.
In all other respects, this dual arc lighter is pretty standard, and pretty great. It’s a solid unit that’s available in solid black, gold or silver matte finishes (the big logo is most obvious on the black lighter), with a Zippo-style top that’s as strong as the rest of the body. You’ll get 200-300 lights from the Eternity Premium, recharging will take two hours with that very welcome long cable, and it performs exactly as it’s supposed to in windy or rainy weather.
We wouldn’t suggest buying a product simply for the length of its charging cable, but the rest of this arc lighter is just as good.