Introduction: DIY Rebuild of a Zippo Lighter

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the zippo lighter, often imitated but never duplicated.

few products have stood the test of time like the zippo lighter. if there was any one bit of classic americana most people can identify, it's a zippo. it's a simple, well engineered design that always works if properly cared for. a zippo will stay lit in a strong wind when most other lighters just give up. in production since 1932, millions of zippos are out there. this instructable will show you how to rebuild your lighter.

this instructable takes for granted that you have the ability to use basic hand tools and work with small parts. you are dealing with a fire starting device that contains flammable fluid. please exercise caution. it may be a good idea to keep an extinguisher nearby as lighter fluid is extremely flammable.

zippo offers a lifetime warranty on all their traditional lighters. you don't have to do some of these repairs yourself but i personally try to fix all the ones in my collection before resorting to sending them in. the folks at zippo are gracious enough to honor their lifetime warranty so i only use it when needed. by doing some of this yourself, you don't run the risk of your lighter getting lost in the mail.

Step 1: ID Your Lighter

is your lighter a real zippo? the zippo design was not only copied, but even counterfeited complete with zippo markings and all! an experienced zippo collector can spot copies easily without looking at the bottom and can even spot the counterfeits.

here's what to look for on the 2 most common zippo lighter styles.
1) the only steel zippos where made during ww2 and for a short while around 1953.
2) the zippo "click". go to your local place that sells new zippo branded lighters and ask to see one. hold it in your hand and flip the lid open with your thumb. note the distinct metallic "click" it makes. that sound is unique to all real zippos.
3) all zippos are stamped on the bottom. this stamp not only identifies the lighter, but also serves as a way to get an estimate of how old your zippo is.

counterfeits?!? yep. i have one that was trying to pawn itself off as a john deere zippo. when i received it, i noticed it didn't look right and didn't feel right in my hand. edges were sharp and it just had a cheap look to it. it was chrome plated steel which no new zippo is. they even went as far as stamping it on the bottom with zippo markings but those didn't look right either. fakes are out there.

why does this matter?
this instructable is geared towards zippos but applies to most similar windproof lighters. as a zippo collector, i want the real thing but the instructions given here can be used to rebuild any windproof style lighter. the only exception is the drill bit lengths given to remove stuck flints. those are zippo specific.

Step 2: Tools You'll Need

nothing fancy needed for the basics..
1) needle nose pliers
2) small flathead screw driver in case somebody overtightened flint spring cap
3) brass bristle brush

for the two more complicated repairs..
to fix a wobbly hinge, you'll need a vise and two large blade flat head screwdrivers. if you need to remove a stuck flint, you'll need a drill bit set and a drill.

Step 3: Let's Dig In!

the 2 most common zippos are the traditional and the slim. both are essentially the same in operation and construction, just a different size. both are serviced the same ways.

flip your lighter's lid open and grab a hold of the chimney. obviously only do this on a cold lighter! one hand on the body of the lighter, one hand on the chimney, pull! the insert should come out with a little resistance. the insert contains the striking mechanism, the cam that keeps the lid shut, the wick, and the cotton that retains the fuel.

zippos use lighter fluid. lighter fluid may smell offensive to some folks, it may irritate skin, and it may damage plastics and paints. it is obviously highly flammable. be careful when you pull out the insert on a recently filled lighter, the fluid may drip out.

what needs to be serviced?
1) your wick may be worn or used up
2) the strike wheel may be loaded up with flint debris and dirt
3) the hinge may be broken or sloppy. a broken hinge must go back to zippo for welding of a new hinge.
4) the cotton that holds the fuel may be contaminated
5) the flip cam may be worn or have a weak spring. this is beyond the scope of this instructable. if sent to zippo they send you a new insert instead of repairing your old one. there's apparently no simple fix for this.

what if i cant get my insert out?
problem! pull the wick out entirely, this should leave a hole where the wick goes. take a can of wd40 with the straw on it and shoot the lighter full of wd40 via that hole. you want to fill the lighter full of it. let it soak for a few hours and try tugging on it again. if it still wont budge, you may need to accept the fact that you may have to use needle nose pliers to grip the chimney. this will surely mark up the chimney on your lighter so its a last resort. pliers with protective covers on the tips might be a good idea if you care about your lighters appearance. the wd40 soaked cotton and wick will have to be replaced.

Step 4: Gut It

we're going to gut the lighter.

unscrew the flint spring cap. this cap will have a spring similar to that used in a ballpoint click pen attached to it. once that's out, turn lighter upside down and tap out the flint if it has one. the flint will look like a tiny tictac with flat ends. if no flint comes out, either the flint wore out or is jammed. we'll cover that a little later.

take your needle nose pliers and pull out the bottom felt rectangle if present. pull out all the cotton except that which is jammed up against the side of the metal flint spring tube. if your cotton is contaminated from somebody using a fuel other than lighter fluid, then pull out all the cotton. you'll be amazed how much is packed in there. you need that much for good fuel retention. while pulling the cotton out, the wick may come out. that's fine as it needs to be removed anyways.

Step 5: Good Wick, Bad Wick

first pic shows a good wick. some burning is expected on a used wick but note how its not all raggedy and unraveled. second pic shows what a bad wick looks like. it looks like an unraveled rope. if there's enough left over, you can trim the unraveled end and reuse. third pic shows what's left of a very old wick. it contains asbestos. asbestos was commonplace in consumer goods 50+ years ago so if you start collecting old lighters, you may run across an asbestos wick. remove the asbestos wick and dispose of it according to local ordinances.

how long should a good wick be? a new wick is about 2"-2.5" long. 1.5" is about as short is i would reuse. any shorter and the lighter becomes frustrating to use as it wont hold a good flame very long. new wicks are available from for a minimal fee.

Step 6: New Wick Install

ready for the new wick or to reinstall the old?

trim off burnt end on old wick if reusing one. take the wick and twist end in your fingertips to try to make a pointy end. the new wicks have metal strands that aid in it keeping its shape. once you have a pointy end, carefully insert it from the bottom of the insert up into the wick hole. when you see it pop through, take your needle nose pliers and pull the wick up and out to be flush with top of the chimney on the lighter.

take needlenose and bend wick over inside the lighter insert and pack a layer of cotton in. bend remaining wick over layer of cotton you just packed and pack rest of cotton in. make sure to spread it out so its evenly packed. this is what retains your fuel. the more cotton, the longer time between re-fuels.

once all the cotton is packed in, insert rectangular felt pad if your lighter had one. if you packed it right, the felt pad should be about flush with bottom of insert. trim wick to be flush with top of chimney edge. if your wick came up short but you know you have enough in there, take the needle nose and pull up what you need to come up flush with chimney.

in the last pic you see a spare flint that's been laid in between the felt pad and the bottom of the cotton. spare flints are supposed to go in the tiny hole in the felt pad but that hole is just too convenient for refilling the lighter.

Step 7: Clean Your Striker Wheel and Re-flint

the striker wheel is what you spin to create the sparks that ignite your lighter. the wheel grinds against a piece of flint that's pressed against it by a spring. this wheel not only clogs up with flint debris but also dirt from grungy hands. the striker wheel can be cleaned with a brass bristle brush. brush across the face of the wheel at a slight angle, spinning the wheel as you go. after 15 or so passes, you will eventually clean the entire wheel in under a minute.

a brass bristle brush can also be used to clean the outside of the chimney and the flip cam that holds the lid open or shut. crud on the flip cam can cause the lid to want to jam on you.

ready for the re-flint? take a new flint and insert it in the flint tube at the bottom of the insert. insert the flint spring and screw it down. FINGER TIGHT ONLY!

if all is well you should be able to spin the strike wheel and get a shower of sparks. problem?
1) wheel free spins and flint spring was hard to screw in - you have an old flint stuck in the tube
2) can't turn the wheel - there are two flints in the flint tube or you have a really good spring. take lighter and roll the wheel backwards from its normal rotation a few times. this will break the bite on the flint. a new flint may do this if you have a really good spring.

Step 8: How to Remove an Old Flint Stuck in the Tube

an old flint can get stuck in the tube due to age. they seem to expand slowly over time and can jam in a lighter that has gone unused for many years. this repair is a little more involved.

remove flint spring cap and tap out any debris that will come out. find a drill bit that fits snug but not tight in the flint tube. take a ruler and measure from tip of bit 1 1/2" if working on a zippo slim, or 1 3/8" if working on a fullsize zippo. put a mark on the bit that you can easily see. put bit in drill and proceed to drilling out the old flint. a drill press is ideal for this task. you don't need much pressure. hold the lighter in a way that you wont get hurt if it catches on the bit and starts spinning. the mark on the bit is to keep you from going too far and damaging the striker wheel.

yes, you will be holding the lighter by hand and using a power tool. if you're fortunate enough to have one of those very nice but very pricey palmgren mini vises for your drill press, you can use that to hold the zippo insert for you.

watch the mark on your drill bit and do not exceed that depth. if you do, you will mark up the striker wheel with the drill bit. will lighter still work? yes but you have damaged the insert as far as a collector goes. when you're doing this drilling procedure you may feel a slight "pop" at some point. if that happens, pull the insert out and tap it out then finish procedure by hand. the old flint will sometimes just crumble and that's the pop you felt as it gave way. all you have now is dust to clear out of the flint tube.

clear the tube of dust and debris by blowing it out and re-install your new flint and flint spring cap. all should be good and sparkly now!

Step 9: Got a Floppy Hinge?

the last common zippo ailment we'll touch on is a floppy hinge. note, we are not talking about a busted hinge, that must go back to zippo where they will install a new hinge for you. it has to be welded in.

a floppy hinge is the result of years of use and abuse. those cool tricks you see on the zippotricks videos? they are a sure way to wreck your hinge. here is a method i devised to bring some help to floppy zippo hinges. this is an option to tighten them up a little instead of risking loss in the mail by sending your lighter in.

another reason for doing this is i have not figured out how zippo decides when they will fix your hinge or when they will replace it. sometimes on really old lighters they will try to fix it by inserting a tiny roll pin. this is by far the best method. other times they weld a new hinge in. you get your lighter back with a new hinge but its collector value just went pffft! before risking my lighter to hinge lotto, i try this method.

take a large blade flat head screwdriver and mount it blade up in a vise. rest the hinge of the lighter on the edge of the blade. take another large blade flat head screwdriver and line it up so the hinge and the two screwdrivers are perfectly centered. give the top screwdriver a few light taps with a SMALL hammer.

the idea is to center everything and pinch the hinge shut a bit. it takes some practice to line everything up right but be patient and don't whack on it. you want light taps and everything must be lined up right. the end result will be a much less floppy hinge. don't expect the hinge to be perfectly tight. it never is even on new lighters. the insert and the flip cam are what keeps things snug on a complete lighter.

Step 10: Fuel and Enjoy

new flint, clean striker, new wick, tight hinge, and all good to go. slide your insert back into your zippo, fuel your american classic and enjoy it. what fuel to use? ronson lighter fluid in the plastic yellow bottle is available at most drug stores. if you find the smell of conventional lighter fluid a bit too strong, zippo makes a low odor version that can be found at most smoke shops. use only lighter fluid and nothing else in your lighter.

"umm.. my lid wont close"
open lighter all the way, flip cam down using your fingernail, now everything is ok.

in this age of disposable everything, it's nice to see an american company like zippo still making a quality product and standing behind the ones they made over 70 years ago. with the info presented here, you can do much of the maintenance yourself.

into old tech? follow me on instagram as vintagetechguy to see random pics of interesting old tech.