Wooden Matches to Triple Refined Butane Fuel: Lighting a Cigar

Get familiar with cigar smoking, or spend enough time around cigar smokers and you will quickly learn that some are so adamant about how to light a cigar and what methods or fuels to use, that it borders on religious. Opinions on how to light a cigar and what lighters are the best and worse are so contentious that you’d almost think some cigar enthusiasts are more divided by preference in lighter fuel than they are in the cigars themselves.

We’re not sure just how much vehemence is warranted, but we can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that the fuel you use, the lighter you use, and the manner in which you light a cigar will all profoundly impact the quality of the smoke.

So, let’s break it down. From triple refined butane fuel all the way down to strike anywhere matches, we’ll look at what you can use to light your cigar and what the benefits and drawbacks are of each.

Butane Fuel: What Is It?

Butane is probably the most widely used lighter fuel out there, and the likelihood is that most cigar smokers probably use some form of butane to light their cigars, whether they are aware of it or not.

Butane is a complex chemical compound, given by the formula C4H10. At normal atmospheric conditions, butane is a colorless, odorless, clear gas, though in lighters it is often condensed into a liquid in order to economize for space.

In perfect conditions and with an abundance of oxygen, butane will burn to form carbon dioxide and water. It only partially oxidizes and leaves soot and other contaminants behind when oxygen is limited. Unlike other forms of lighter fuel or other methods for lighting a cigar, butane is pristine and clean.

What this means for those that use butane lighter fuel is that you can achieve an effective light that does not impart any flavors or odors whatsoever. It is this purity of butane that has made butane such a popular choice for lighter fuels for lighting cigars.

Butane, however, does not simply produce a clean, efficient light - it is also readily available, easy to produce, and cheap. You can burn through gallons of butane (figuratively) and it will neither adversely impact your wallet or the air.

Because it is cheap, readily available, easy to transport, and mostly because of the fact that it burns cleanly, butane is one of the most popular forms of lighter fuel available. Not all butanes are created equal, however, and you may be tempted by a product bearing the mark of “triple refined butane.” But what does this mean, and is it worth whatever claims it makes?

Triple Refined Butane Fuel: Does It Make a Difference

Butane, like all synthesized products, can never be truly, completely pure, because there are contaminants in nature, in the atmosphere, and in production facilities around which staff need to work to refine and produce final products. As stated, butane’s formula is C4H10, and a pure butane source would include nothing but that - but there’s always some trace of other unintentional compounds left behind, even in the purest blends.

Therefore, in order to produce the finest lighting and smoking experiences, producers of butane go through refinement processes. When butane is mined and refined instead of being reduced, it requires several stages to refine and purify it. This is because butane is often found in conjunction with natural gas deposits and so it contains a variety of impurities.

Bottled butane is often purified by passing it through molecular sieves that remove undesired compounds from the mix, leaving only butane behind. Well, in theory, that is how it works, but realistically, each pass of refinement doesn’t leave pure butane, but a purer grade of butane.

To keep things simple, then, triple refined butane fuel goes through three stages of refinement and some of the best grades are up to 99.9999% pure butane.  That means that the burn will be clean - but these types of triple refined butane are not just better because they provide a purer light for your cigar. They’re actually better for your lighter as well.

Lighters that use butane lighter fuel, particularly finely tuned torch lighters that are very sensitive, require highly refined fuel to perform at their finest. These lighters, when not properly cared for, are prone to a host of problems. Over time, the piezo igniters will fail, and when a poor grade of lighter fuel is used, it can actually clog up the jets. If this happens, there is not much you can do to fix the lighter.

While you probably can’t taste the difference between single and triple refined butane in your cigars, your lighters definitely can. Triple refined butane fuel is ideal for extending the life of your butane lighters by keeping the jets and ports clear.

Torch Vs. Soft Flame Lighters

Butane itself, whether triple refined or what you might call “generic” butane, has a couple of advantages that cigar smokers key in on, including some of the following:

  • Butane burns cleanly, so it does not impart flavor or odor into the cigar.
  • Butane is affordable and readily available so it is easy to find.

The most basic type of butane lighter available is a soft flame butane lighter that produces a yellow, non-directional flame, which means that it will only burn up. While these can be used to produce a quality light with a cigar, they are not windproof. However, a practiced hand can get a good, even light with a soft flame butane lighter with only a few draws

Many cigar smokers prefer the user-friendliness and convenience of torch lighters, which burn with a bright blue, directional flame that can be angled to toast the cigar or to touch up areas that are not burning evenly.

These types of lighters can often be found in configurations that use one, two, or three jets, and are highly effective at getting an even light at the foot of a cigar. However, they burn through a lot of fuel very quickly, and in inexperienced hands can result in a scorched wrapper, which will adversely alter the flavor and experience of the smoke.

However, whether you’re using a soft flame butane lighter or a torch lighter, butane is not always the perfect solution. One of butane’s biggest drawbacks is that it is not particularly effective in the cold, so people that smoke outside will often opt for a different solution for lighting their cigars, like matches or cedar.

In addition, the fact that butane does not impart a detectable flavor is not always seen as a bonus. Some smokers prefer the nuanced flavors of natural wood like cedar, and so opt for matches or cedar strips to light their cigars.

Matches and Cedar: Classics That Never Die

While butane lighters more or less dominate the scene as far as options for lighting your cigar are concerned, traditionalists and fans of the old school will still use either matches or a strip of cedar (or both) to light their cigars.

One of the most basic ways to light a cigar is with a wooden match. An important note here is to avoid books of matches, which are made with paper or cardboard that is infused with wax. These will impart an unpleasant taste to the cigar; on top of that, the matches will not burn long enough to develop an adequate light.

Wooden matches come in two configurations - strike anywhere and strike on box matches. Strike anywhere matches are recognizable by the white tips of their match heads. This is a little bit of white phosphorus, which combusts at a fairly low temperature. Striking the white portion of the head on most abrasive surfaces generates enough heat from friction to start the reaction.

Strike on box matches, also known as safety matches, have red phosphorus on their heads. A chemical on the strike strip converts the red phosphorus to white phosphorus, which allows the head to ignite.

Both of these types of matches can be used to apply a satisfactory light to a cigar, provided that you allow the chemicals in the match head to burn off entirely before applying the light to the foot of the cigar. If not, they will impart an acrid, bitter taste to the tobacco. Achieving a quality light requires a touch of skill, a steady hand, and attention to detail, but it's not something that can’t be cultivated.

In addition to using matches directly to light a cigar, some serious cigar enthusiasts will use a strip of cedar to light the cigar. Cedar, which is often packed into boxes of cigars in thin sheets, is excellent at resisting fungal and microbial growth, regulating moisture within the box, and imparting a pleasant taste to the cigars.

You can also break off a thin strip of cedar and use that to light the cigar. Some benefits of using a strip of cedar include:

  • Using cedar will impart a delicate, woodsy flavor to the cigar that some smokers appreciate.
  • Cedar will burn longer than a single wooden match, making it easier to get a full, even light.
  • Cedar can produce a bright, powerful flame that some may find easier to apply.

Cedar strips, also known as spills, don’t burn as cleanly as butane, but then again, some people enjoy the pleasant taste they deliver to the tobacco.

There is one more method for lighting a cigar that some people use that must be addressed, but with a caveat - it is inadvisable.

A Short Note on Liquid Fuel

In addition to butane lighters of diverse sorts, matches, and cedar strips, some cigar smokers utilize the classic lighters that use a wick and a liquid lighter fluid to light their cigars. These lighter fluids are usually made from naphtha that promises to be odorless and flavorless.

Back in the day, these lighter fluids were powerful both in flavor and in scent. They had a strong but nondescript “petroleum” sort of scent that was difficult to place but impossible to miss. While these liquid fuels have improved by leaps and bounds, they still have a detectable flavor that can be transferred to a cigar if it is lit carelessly.

If you’re going to use one of these lighters to light a cigar, strike the lighter and give the flame a few seconds to develop and burn off any of the volatile vapors that have built off. This should help to diminish any flavors present.

Also, if you’re going to light a cigar with one, don’t stuff the entire foot of the cigar in the middle of the flame. Use the tip of the flame to light the cigar, drawing evenly. Using the tip instead of the body of the flame will help to prevent any unnecessarily powerful flavors.

Following these general guidelines, you should be able to get good light from a lighter that uses liquid fuel. You might detect some flavor but it should be minimal - but if you’re not sure of where your tastes lie, avoid these lighters.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that lighters that take liquid fuel tend to be windproof and produce a strong flame, which is something that many butane lighters can’t claim equally.

Get Your Essentials Here

Whatever you’re looking for in a lighter or in fuel for lighting your cigars, we have it right here at Rocky’s Cigars. In our collection of cigar essentials, we have not only butane and lighters, but also cutters, punches, cigar knives, cases, ashtrays, and humidification supplies, among other necessities.

Give us a call if you’re having a hard time deciding what you need or you’d like a recommendation. We have plenty of lighters and fuels in our collection, so making a decision can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be.

We’ve served as a helpful resource to our clients for over 20 years, and that’s not changing even though many of our customers now shop online. You might be getting the best deals in our online shop, but you can still lean on us for the expertise we’ve been famous for many years. Give us a call anytime you need help - you can reach us at 888-216-5834.

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