Rope Lighter (Windproof)




About: I've always liked pulling things apart - it's the putting back together again that I have some issues with.

Rope lighters (also known as Sheppard's lighter) were billed as windproof lighters. Sailors often made them so they could light their pipe or cigarette when the wind blew strong on the deck of the ship. You can still buy them as well but why buy when you can make!

What makes it unique is that conventional fuel is not needed, and there is no flame. The method of operation is to strike the attached sparkwheel to create sparks, which are caught on a charred cotton rope, that has been partially withdrawn from a metal tube housing. Once an ember is generated, it is windproof, and is extinguished by retracting the cord back inside the tube and an attached lid snuffs it out. It's also an easy way to create a live ember and when combined with tinder, can be coaxed into a flame for starting campfires.

I've made a couple different lighters recently which can be found here and here.

This is a really fun project and if you have some basic soldering skills you'll be able to make one.

Check out the video to see it in action.

Lets get making

Step 1: Parts and Tools


1. Old lighter . Try and make it the larger kind as the sparkwheel is larger and so is the flint.

2. 1 x 15mm copper cap. Hardware store or eBay. Cheaper from the hardware store

3. 12.7mm (1/2") copper tube. You can find this in the plumbing section at your hardware store. This tube will fit inside the 15mm caps

4. 4mm brass or copper tube. Hobby or RC shop. If you are using a small Bic lighter sparkwheel and spring, you can probably use 3mm tube

5. Brass strip. Hobby or RC shop. Don't get it too thick or you will never be able to bend it. Same goes with too thin! This is used as a bracket for the sparkwheel

6. Brass rectangular tube. Again a hobby or RC will have this

7. 1 x small screw. The screw needs to be slightly smaller than the small brass tube (4mm). These are used to hold the spring into place

8. Robe - I used 100% cotton rope - also known as sash rope

9. Small piece of chain (I recycled some from an old necklace)


1. Pliers. Needle nose, small and large ones. Just use whatever you have

2. Blow torch. I used a mini one and a larger one to solder the larger copper piping together.

3. Solder

4. Dremel (always comes in handy)

5. Grinder

6. Files

7. Drill

8. Metal Polish

Step 2: Pull Apart You Lighter


1. First remove the metal guard.

2. Next, carefully remove the sparkwheel making sure that the spring doesn't fly off.

3. Put aside the sparkwheel, flint and spring

4. Discard the empty lighter.

Step 3: Tube and Screw for Sparkwheel


Tube for Spring

1. Put the spring next to the tube. You will want to cut the tube the same length as the spring.

2. Cut the tube. I used a dremel with a cutting wheel

3. File the end and make it smooth. Also, de-burr the inside. You can see in the last image that once the flint is in the tube there is about 10-15mm of the spring sticking out. The more pressure you have the spring under, the more spark you'll get. However, it will mean that putting the screw in place to hold the spring will mean it is under pressure and could make the job hard.

Adding the screw

It's best adding the screw first before you cut the copper tube. Reason being, you need to lock the tube in a vice to be able to force the screw into the end of the tube

1. Secure the copper tube in a vice. You will probably squash the tube but don't worry, you won't need this bit

2. With a small, round file, de-burr the inside.

3. Push the screw into the top and then with a phillips head, start to turn the screw into the copper. You you have a tap then you can just use this to make the thread. As I didn't, I just screwed the screw in with force to make the thread.

Step 4: Making the Bracket

his can be a little tricky. You want to make the bracket so the spark wheel fits correctly.


1. Make a 90 degree bend in the copper strip.

2. Next, grab the spark wheel and use this to work out where to make the next bend. You want to have it so when bent into a "U" shape, the 2 pins on the spark wheel rest on the copper strip.

3. Cut and trim the bracket and lastly, round off the edges. I used a sanding drum on my dremel but you could also use a file.

Step 5: ​Adding the Sparkwheel to the Bracket

In the images below I added the sparkwheel first to the bracket. It's actually easier to solder on the tube first.


1. Use the spark wheel to determine where you need to add the first hole. Once the first hole is drilled you can use this to determine where the second needs to go. If the holes aren't lined-up correctly, you can adjust the arms on the bracket with a pair of pliers to get the holes even

2. Carefully drill the first hole. The drill piece you use should be the same size as the pins on the spark wheel. The hole can be off-centre so if it isn't in the middle don't fret.

3. Drill the other hole and remove any burrs.

4. Here's what you need to do to get the wheel into the bracket: - Put the wheel on top of the arms of the bracket. - Push down on the wheel and try and push it into the bracket. If you can't, bend one of the bracket arms slightly and push the sparkwheel into place. - Once in the bracket, line-up the pins on the wheel to the holes in the bracket. If you had to bend one of the bracket arms, then use some pliers or a vice to straighten and secure the wheel into place. - Test to make sure that it spins freely

Step 6: Soldering the Bracket to the Tube


1. Drill a hole into the bottom of the bracket. Mark the centre and make a hole. The hole should be the same size as the tube for the spring. You want this fit to be as tight as possible so start with a drill bit slightly smaller than the tube and work your way up.

2. Push the bracket onto the tube for the spring. Only have a small section of the tube sticking through the bracket

3. Next, secure in a vice and add some flux to where the two parts meet

4. With a mini blow torch, heat up the section and add some solder to the joint.

4. Lastly, you need to place a screw into the bottom of the tube to hold the spring and flint into place. As brass is soft, all you need to do is to screw it into the tube with some force. Un-screw and screw it into the tube until it's flush with the tube.

Step 7: Fitting the Flint, Spring and Screw


1. Put the flint into the tube first. I used 2 pieces of flint as the tube is quite long.

2. Next, stretch the spring a little and put into the tube

3. Lastly, put the screw into the bottom of the tube and with a screwdriver, force it into the tube. Keep on un-screwing and screwing it in until it is flush. If you can’t get it flush, leave it where it is and try again once you have attached the sparkwheel to the chamber

Step 8: Adding the Sparkwheel to the Copper Tube

The next thing that you need to do is to add the sparkwheel to the ¼ inch copper tube. To attach the sparkwheel to the body of the chamber, you need to modify come brass channel.


1. Cut a 70mm length of the ¼” tube and file any burrs off the end.

2. Clean the tube as well as it’s better to have a clean surface when soldering

3. Grab a length of the brass channel and place it into a vice.

4. Next start grinding the top section to turn it into "C" channel. This will become the bracket that will be between the sparkwheel and the chamber.

5. File down to make it even and remove the burrs. Cut to size

6. Add some flux to the flat section of the bracket and place it on top of the chamber. Do the same to the sparkwheel tube and place this onto the "C" section of the bracket.

7. Secure the lighter in a vice and with a mini blow torch, heat-up the area. Add some solder to the joins. This is quite a tricky process as it's hard to line-up the sparkwheel, bracket and chamber just right. Take your time and ensure that everything is straight before you solder.

8. Lastly, give everything a good polish

Step 9: Maing the Cap

To help secure the ropeinto the copper tube, I decided to add a screw to act as a stopper. I also added a chain to the cap so I wouldn’t lose it


1. First create a couple of small brass rings out of some brass (or copper) wire. Just twist the wire around the end of some pliers, cut and solder the 2 ends

2. Next solder one of the rings to the top of the cap and add a small piece of chain to the loop. I used a piece of chain from some old jewellery.

3. Find a screw that you want to use. I used a Knurled, hand turn screw (M3, 12mm long). Drill a hole into the copper tube and with a die, make a thread

4. Put the other brass ring onto the end of the chain and push the screw through the ring.

5. Secure the screw into the copper tube

Step 10: Adding Rope and Igniting


1. Cut a length of the cotton rope. 300mm should do it

2. Next, push the rope through the copper tube.

3. With a lighter, char the end of the rope. This will allow the flit to ignite the rope easy the same way as char cloth.

4. Secure the rope in place with the screw and have the top (charred bit) sticking out.

5. Strick the sparkwheel and you should instantly see the rope smoulder. Blow on the rope to get it really glowing

Step 11: Done

That’s it! Congrats – you have made your very own rope lighter.

Do you have other ideas on how to improve the lighter? Let me know in the comments

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    37 Discussions


    Question 4 months ago

    Would this work with Hemp rope? I'm interested in using this for smoking but cotton tastes awful and is incredibly harsh.

    1 answer

    Reply 5 months ago

    I think it was 8mm Sash cord. If you can, try and get sash cord that is a tight fit inside the cooper tube. You might be able to eliminate the screw on the side altoghter


    Question 12 months ago

    How do you tie that knot at the end of the rope?


    1 year ago

    For everyone looking for the proper wick for these lighters, I got mine (from Spain) on eBay from the link below. The only place I could find it. Almost $1 a foot, but $15 gets you 5 meters. Takes a short time to get to the U.S. but it's the real deal.

    And great job on the instructable lonesoulsurfer!!! I'm in the process of making a few of these myself, but I'm cheating a lot more than you did. I have an excess of Zippo lighters ( darned eBay bulk lots!) so I'm cannibalizing the striker assembly tube, striker, and all plus most of the lighter insert. So I'm basically cutting a Zippo in half and soldering a tube in front of the striker. Yours is a much more Made project and has been of great help to me. Thank you!

    3 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    Gotta love the global market! If you get a chance - post some pics of the build once you're completed, I'd love to see the finished product.


    Reply 1 year ago

    re: I'd love to see the finished product.

    No, you probably wouldn't. Yours is pretty. mine will not be.

    Yours shows craftsmanship and detail. I don't have a single artistic gene in my body. My hand drawn smiley faces have brought threats of restraining orders ( they do look creepy).

    I am SO jealousy of your striker assembly. That is just beautiful work.

    I've got High Order Problem Solving Skills, my strange projects and fixes almost always work, but never with elegance. An expert at Field Expedience. Think baling wire and duct tape. Both of which I actually have and keep handy. That and an unusual amount of cordage.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Now I have to see one of your smiley faces! You know you can buy the striker already made? Check out the eBay link below. Makes it a whole lot easier to build (only found these recently and used one on another project)

    Is there anything that wire and duct tape can't fix?


    2 years ago

    In my char tube, I use this stuff:

    If you buy it in the store, you can buy it by the foot. I think the one I have is 1/2" and it works fine.

    I believe the old trench lighters used slow match, which is treated with potassium nitrate to make it burn more consistently.


    2 years ago

    This is very well made. I collect vintage lighters and this is one of my favorite types. I have a number of different ones made by various manufacturers. It was called a Blackout, Hurricane, Foxhole, Tornado, Wind King, you-name-it lighter. It is based on the ancient tinder tube with a flint striker added. I really like its simplicity and how, instead of fighting against the wind by making it 'wind-proof', it embraces it and uses its force to fan its flaming ember.

    I have gathered materials to make one but haven't made it yet. I bought a ready-made striker made of brass. One thing I found it almost impossible to find is true 100% cotton rope. Either it wasn't actually 100% cotton and contained plastic fibers that made the flame go out, had fire retardant, or I had to buy 100 ft of it from overseas. I did find rope made for these lighters but it still does not light well like the rope that comes with the old lighters. So I am still searching. Where did you get your rope?

    4 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Can you use different things instead of cotton rope, like some kind of all natural, un-dyed twine or yarn? Or hemp rope? If anyone knows...


    Reply 2 years ago

    I tried all kinds of cord and rope, including 100% hemp rope. They all either don't ignite at all with a spark, or require many attempted lights and do not retain the ember.

    The photo shows all the different cord and rope I tried, including special expensive cord made just for these lighters—the left bag. The only thing that works consistently is the rope that comes with the original lighters—the one in the foreground. That rope ignites first time and glows until it is snuffed out. The video in my previous comment shows what I mean.

    IMG_0934 1.JPG

    Reply 2 years ago

    That link seems to go nowhere but I have looked into so-called 'cotton sash cord' and found it had synthetic fibers and/or fire retardants that prevented it from smoldering. The only 100% cotton braided rope I could find was expensive—$26 for 50 ft online.


    Reply 2 years ago

    I re-posted the comment and the photos. I had posted them before but this site's editing interface is really buggy. They probably didn't save them.


    2 years ago

    Great job on the repair. I was also going to add a similar lid and use a small fishing hook with the barb removed. The tube that I used however has quite a large diameter and the rope is quite lose in the tube. Using a screw helps to secure the rope.


    2 years ago

    I promise that this is my last comment. Could you add a small female threaded part tot the bottom of the tube, make a spline for it on the opposite side so that it can freely rotate, and make the threads grip the rope to help move it along?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Yep that would work a treat. I did think about adding some type of mechanism like you have in a glue stick that you twist at the bottom and the rope rises out the top. You couldn't have a lot of rope but it would be pretty neat