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Making Lektrolite Lighters Work

by Frank Dutton

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Making Lektrolite Lighters WorkWill your old Lektrolite lighter still work?

The short answer - fair chance it will!

Making Lektrolite Lighters WorkAbout Lektrolite

Lektrolite lighters probably hit their peak in the later half of the 1930s and were selling beyond the mid-1940s. Various ads were produced for them featuring endorsements by Hollywood stars. An interesting one appears on this page where the Gold Diggers of 1937 are pictured with their Lektrolites. Lektrolites were produced for our forces in WW2 and shipped overseas - one of the overseas packages is shown here.

Making Lektrolite Lighters WorkHow Lektrolites Work

Making Lektrolite Lighters WorkAll Lektrolite lighters are variations of the simple Glo-Point pictured at the top of this article; same mechanism, different case. There is an absorbent material inside the lighter that holds the Lektrolite fuel. Lektrolite fuel was methanol (alcohol) and may be substituted today using the automotive product Heet, which is primarily methanol. The lighter also uses a little platinum as the "lighter mechanism". Platinum is very resistant to corrosion,which is why many Lektrolites may still be useable today. On contact with methyl alcohol vapor the platinum acts as a catalyst to convert the vapor into formaldehyde and, in the process, gets very hot.

Making Lektrolite Lighters Work
Left: Lighter base - Center: bottom of top part of lighter - Right: the top "valve"

For Lektrolites, the lighter is filled with fuel, allowed to "soak in" briefly, the excess poured back into the fuel container (according to the more frugal directions of the day) or simply pored out. When the lighter is closed the tip of a cigarette is put into the small round opening provided. At the same time a button is pushed which opens valves allowing air to flow through the lighter as you draw on the cigarette. This produces a draft over the methanol soaked fibers of the lighter bringing the alcohol vapors in contact with the platinum catalyst. Heat is produced and causes the cigarette tip to light.

Making Lektrolite Lighters Work
Left: Lighter base - Center: top of top part, where cigarette tip is inserted - Right: the top "valve"

The platinum catalytic process has been used in lighters long before the Lektrolites and in other guises. Pocket hand warmers have also used this technology. Lighters such as the New Method also used a platinum piece to work on the alcohol vapors and, in this case, ignite the alcohol fumes on one portion of the lighter. Other, far older, lighters used a "platinum sponge" - a small ball of fine platinum wires (on the order of steel wool), to the same end.

Why It Won't Light

There are two possible causes for a lektrolite not working - aside from the obvious one of not having any fuel! First: the platinum may be burned out, in which case it simply isn't ever going to work. Second: the lighter has not been used for quite some time or has been used and, in either case, has gotten too much moisture in it. Apparently this was prone to happen because methanol inherently has a high water content.

To Make It Work

Masonlite LighterBasically, just follow the instructions provided with Lektrolites! If it doesn't readily work, it has to be "reconditioned". This is done by using a lighted cigarette. The cigarette ash is flicked off as much as possible leaving only the "fire" at the end and the cigarette is inserted into the Lektrolite as though to light it. Only, instead of drawing on the cigarette, you blow through it to force the heat from the cigarette "fire" to go into the lighter and dry out the moisture. NOTE: Be certain to push the button, as though to light a cigarette, in order to allow the movement of air and heat backwards through the lighter! This isn't as easy as it sounds! And it can take some persistence and repeated tries. But, if the platinum is still viable, this will cause the lighter to start working. Of course, if the platinum is "dead", it simply isn't going to work.

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