When it comes to a new cigar smoker learning the lessons of the pastime, one of the first ones is how to properly light a cigar. And one of the first directives is not to use a standard Zippo lighter because it uses a petroleum-based distillate for its fuel, which can have an adverse affect on the flavor of the cigar being lit.
But Zippos are one of the most iconic lighters out there and one that presumably many people have either laying around or in some form of regular use. Not to mention that they are offered in a seemingly endless number of designs, further deepening the connection a person might have to their Zippo. So if you love your Zippo but know you’re not supposed to light a cigar with it, what is a person to do?
Simple: swap out the petroleum-burning module for a butane-burning insert.
These options have existed on the market for years, if not decades, and while they might often be overlooked as they sit in their plastic clamshell packaging behind the counter of a cigar or tobacco store, they do offer a very simple and straightforward solution. More impressively, not only does Zippo make these inserts, but a number of companies making lighters geared towards cigar smokers offer them as well, including Vector-KGM, which offers a line of several inserts under the Thunderbird brand.
In March 2021, the company released its newest offering, the Thunderbird FT Flat Flame Insert, which brings the growing trend of flat flame lighters to the Zippo insert segment of the market.
WHAT IS IT?
It is the latest addition to Thunderbird’s collection of user-replaceable inserts for Zippo lighters, which can also be used for the brand’s own lighters. It’s the first flat flame to be offered, and much like other flat flames on the market, it offers a single flame that is spread out thin and wide to create a paint brush-like effect with which to light your cigar.
It becomes the eighth insert that Vector makes for its Thunderbird brand:
- FT — Flat Flame ($20)
- 1T — Single jet torch ($15)
- 2T — Dual jet torch ($17)
- 1DT — Dual soft flame/jet torch ($18)
- QG — Regular Piezo Soft Flame ($15)
- QP — 45-degree Angle Piezo Soft Flame ($15)
- G — Regular Flint Soft Flame ($15)
- P — 45-degree Angle Flint Soft Flame ($15)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The Thunderbird FT Flat Flame Insert has an MSRP of $20, making it the most expensive of the Thunderbird inserts.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The first step is to remove the existing insert from your Zippo lighter, then simply replace it with the Thunderbird FT, making sure that the lid spring lever is pressed down. You can customize how firmly the lid opens and closes by bending the little piece of metal inside the lid, should you wish.
From there, simply depress the ignition button and as long as there is butane in the tank you will get a flat flame with which to light your cigar. The only trick is to keep the ignition button fully depressed while using the lighter. There isn’t much range in the ignition, and letting the button up just a bit will have the flame sputtering a bit. Then simply light your cigar, release the ignition button, and close the lid.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
The Thunderbird FT Flat Flame Insert gives you the option to bring a flat flame lighter to your Zippo lighter, the latest in a long line of inserts that can repurpose your petroleum-burning stock Zippo into a butane-burning cigar lighter. It’s a fairly affordable mod for a brand that already has a number of them, including a near countless number of case designs.
- For a Single Flame, It Handles Big Cigars Very Well — One of the things I really appreciate about flat flame lighters is how they can handle thicker cigars, and the Thunderbird FT is no exception. I smoked a 70 ring gauge using this lighter and it handled it very well, easily on par if not a bit better than a triple flame torch.
- You Get Versatility If You Want It — If you have a Zippo body that you really like, you can customize the internals with a number of options. As noted above, there are eight Thunderbird inserts, so you can go back and forth between a soft flame and torch, as well as a single or dual torch, among other options.
- The No Proof Warranty — Vector’s no proof warranty is one of the best in the business and one I’ve experienced before as being pretty solid.
- The Customization Options Are Endless — Given the massive number of Zippo lighters on the market, having this insert gives you access to a seemingly limitless number of options for what you want the body of the lighter to look like.
- You Can Also Get Thunderbird Cases — The company also offers a number of its own body designs in case you can’t find a Zippo you like or simply want one from Vector-KGM.
- The Tank is Fairly Small — The Thunderbird FT Flat Flame Insert’s feels a bit smaller than average, which means you’ll need to fill it up fairly regularly. It’s not tiny, and it has enough to get through several cigars, but don’t expect to light a ton of cigars before needing a refill.
- The Flame Adjuster is Tiny — So small that I generally need to use a tiny screwdriver to adjust it, one that I don’t carry with me. My XIKAR MTX Scissors will work in a pinch, but the two screwdrivers that it offers are both a bit too big. Thankfully I didn’t find myself needing to adjust the flame height all but once or twice. On the plus side, there is a triangle-shaped plastic piece attached to the screw that shows you where you are on the scale of closed to open.
- While It’s Removable, I Don’t Know If It’s Something I’d Do — I’ve long wanted a lighter that could offer me my choice of flames; a single flame with which to light a lancero, for instance, and then a triple flame for my buddy who is smoking a 60 ring gauge. But I don’t think I’d carry around multiple inserts to be able to do this. That said, carrying a few with me makes sure you have butane for a night out.
- A Zippo Feels Just a Bit Small in My Hand — I’ve never been a huge fan of Zippos, mainly because I’ve never smoked anything but cigars and have thus gravitated towards cigar lighters. That said, the Zippo body feels a bit small in my hand, and the ignition mechanism works but I feel like I have to crane my thumb around a bit to use it while holding the lighter securely.
- $20 Buys You a Pretty Good Cigar Lighter — There’s also the reality that a $20 bill will buy you a number of good cigar lighters from single to triple flame and from any number of brands. If you love your Zippo and that’s the primary driver, this is a great option. But for $20, I’d pick any number of base models from Vertigo, JetLine or Palió, among others.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no other flat flame inserts for Zippo lighters on the market, which means that you’ll be looking at a different flame style. That opens up the rest of the Thunderbird portfolio noted above, as well as some options from other manufacturers, all of which I tried during the review process.
- Zippo Single/Double Torch ($16.95/$19.95) — In terms of offering a single or double torch flame, the Zippos do a solid job. While the flame adjustment screw is bigger than the Thunderbird, the ignition button is a bit smaller and the tank is metal, meaning you can’t see how much butane you have left. Certainly a usable option but if you have bigger hands you may find the ignition button a bit small.
- JetLine Z-Torch ($12.99) — A double flame torch that has a good ignition feel, and while the tank is plastic, it isn’t as translucent as the Thunderbird’s, though it is better than the Zippo’s. The flame adjustment screw is on the smaller side, so you’ll need a smaller implement with which to turn it, but it does have a plastic arrow attached to it for easier calibration.
- ZPlus ZINS/ZINS2 ($15) — The ZPlus line comes from The Lotus Group, an established cigar lighter and accessory company. I ended up testing the ZINS and the ZPIPE inserts, the latter of which produces a soft flame at a 90-degree angle, and interestingly the ZPIPE offered a clear plastic tank while the ZINS’s was white plastic like the JetLine’s. The flame adjustment screw is on the small side and a bit recessed, but it has the plastic arrow like the JetLine. The ignition button is a bit different as well, angling downward more and offering an additional ridge for more texture.
- Thunderbird 1T/2T ($17/18) — The single and double flame options from the Thunderbird brand are equally as solid as the flat flame version, and offer the clear plastic fuel tank, which makes it easy to see how much fuel is left. The ignition is solid and reliable, though the flame adjuster is on the small side. If you’re not a fan of the flat flame, either is a viable alternative, though the single flame had a tendency to flame up when releasing the ignition, something I didn’t notice with the double flame.
IF YOU SHOULD PURCHASE THIS
The packaging for this showed it as a single torch flame, though the SKU sticker indicated it as the FT model, which is the flat flame version. I’m hoping this will be resolved, but if you purchase this in person, I’d confirm you’re getting the model you want.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
Yes, assuming you have a Zippo lighter body that you really like and want to keep using. The flat flame does a great job lighting cigars of all sizes quickly, while rarely if ever scorching the sides of a cigar. It might not have the precision of a single flame torch, but as a versatile option, it’s one that I’ve become a fan of over the years.
That said, if you don’t have a Zippo lighter that you love and use, it’s hard to recommend getting one and then getting this insert. Zippo lighters start around $20 and only go up from there, meaning you’re then at $40 for a body and insert, at least. And for that, you can get some pretty solid lighters from any of a number of companies. With the small tank of the Thunderbird insert, that alone makes it hard to recommend when compared to other options on the market.
The lighter used for this review was purchased by halfwheel.