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Jay Nugent 128/11/2020 11:24:46
14 forum posts
2 photos

Hi folks.

I’m looking to make some trench lighters as a starter project. Can anyone recommend any reading material on how different metals react with substances, fuels in this case?
The majority I’ve seen made in brass, but any considerations as to what sort/grade is best?

Any quick and easy go-to resources much appreciated. I’m desperately trying to avoid breaking out the materials-science textbook from college days if I can possibly avoid it...


Henry Artist28/11/2020 16:53:55
120 forum posts
46 photos

Many have looked at this thread but none have bitten so I'll have a go...

The liquid fuel most commonly used in lighters with a wick and flint ignition is called, unsurprisingly, "lighter fluid" (a.k.a. Zippo fuel, Coleman fuel, light naphtha, etc.) and does not react adversely with any metal or solder you could conceivably build such a lighter from.

Any type of brass can be used though a free-machining one like CZ121 might be preferable.

Steviegtr28/11/2020 16:56:58
1777 forum posts
235 photos

Ah now i understand the question. Thought trench lighters were something other than a cigarette lighter. Doh.

I even thought it must have something to do with a steam engine.


Howard Lewis28/11/2020 17:14:55
4136 forum posts
3 photos

As I understand it, Trench Lighters were often made from discarded 0.303 bullet cases.

My turning Instructor made his rectangular lighter, during wartime night shifts, on a capstan lathe. Asked how he made something rectangular on a lathe he said "Hold it in the toolpost and use an End Mill in the chuck"


SillyOldDuffer28/11/2020 17:35:08
6678 forum posts
1500 photos

I've never come across a simple reference. My books all assume enough Chemistry is understood to join the dots. My Materials Books (two!), are mostly about physical properties and don't help.

Roughly though:

  • At ordinary temperatures metals react with water, acids and oxidisers like Oxygen and Chlorine. I agree with Henry: they don't react with hydrocarbons like lighter fuels.
  • Although plastics generally resist substances that attack metal, they can be dissolved by hydrocarbons.

So making a trench lighter, the metals aren't a concern. Any brass will do, with soldered joints to make it leak-proof. But watch out for everything else. Lighter fuel is fairly likely to have a go at rubber, plastics, wood, and glue etc. As its also likely to escape through anything porous, brass is a good choice - any brass, though I'd go for one that's easy to work. I guess most original Trench Lighters were made from Cartridge Brass, which is very ductile after annealing and easy to work.


Jay Nugent 128/11/2020 18:06:58
14 forum posts
2 photos

Well thats nice and simple then.

Thanks gents.

Oily Rag30/11/2020 14:15:23
264 forum posts
118 photos

Reminds me of the joke my father used to tell about a visit from Lord Beaverbrook (Min. of Aircraft Production - MAP) around sometime in 1940 to the Armstrong Siddley works at Bagington.

He approached a bench fitter and asked him " many fighters have you produced tonight?" "38, sir" came the reply. "That's amazing" said Beaverbrook "keep up the good work" - then the fitter said " you did say lighters, didn't you?"

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