USB arc lighters for fireworks
Are they any good at lighting your pyro?
On paper, USB arc lighters seem to offer a lot when it comes to lighting fireworks: They’re cheap, don’t need gas and come in a variety of glove-friendly designs. But is the arc itself suitable for lighting firework fuses? In this test of two different lighters from Amazon, I’ll attempt to find out.
A closer look at the design of USB arc lighters
Unlike gas lighters, USB arc lighters do not ignite a flammable material to create a flame. Instead, they use high voltage to generate a hot spark between two electrodes. Whilst they don’t require refilling with gas, they do still need to be recharged via their USB port.
The spark itself is a few millimetres long and extends only between the two electrodes; it does not extend beyond the body of the lighter.
Watch the video
You can watch my video of this test and see the lighters in action below. Or, if you prefer to read a review, or need further info, scroll down for that too.
The two USB arc lighters on test
I’ve chosen Amazon for these because of the wide availability of cheap USB lighters on their site, meaning that if any should prove good at lighting fireworks they can be easily sourced by readers. There are no Amazon affiliate links to these however, as my testing and reviews are entirely neutral, you’ll need to search for these the old-fashioned way should you wish to purchase one. In this way you know that I am not financially incentivised to recommend any products.
First up we have the VEHHE branded lighter which features a bendable shaft. I thought this might come in handy but it’s so flimsy that it really doesn’t offer any kind of design advantage. At the time of review this cost £10.99. It has a master on/off button, a push to fire button and battery status lights on the handle.
There is a safety time-out with this unit and after a few seconds of inactivity it will switch off. It’s easy to wake up however simply by pressing the fire button, though this does seem to defeat the point of having a safety cut-out in the first place!
The electrodes on this are built into a metal head. This means they do not protrude from the unit and could make accessing the arc a little trickier. A closeup of the head and a view of the arc are shown below:
The second lighter on test is the AYGUN “candle lighter”. This was £8.95 at the time of testing. The name AYGUN is written on the box’s label though Amazon refer to the brand as “WOLEPAZ” in their listing.
Like the other lighter, this is a long design intended to keep what you’re lighting well away from your fingers. This is a better design for firework lighting than traditional lighters.
This comes in box which was nicer than the blister-pack of the VEHHE however the instructions are very badly translated into English, you can have a read of these in the video above. It also has a master on/off button, a push to fire button and battery status lights.
There’s a safety cut-out on this one too and after a few seconds it will turn off if you haven’t used it. Unlike the VEHHE however you need to physically move the master switch to “off” then back to “on” to wake it up. I can see this being a complete pain when lighting multiple fireworks as you’ll almost certainly forget the unit has gone to sleep shortly after lighting each item.
The electrodes on this point out of the end making them easier to access.
A closer look at the arc - lighting some paper
As an initial test of the arcs on these I pressed each unit against some paper. This demonstrated quite a significant difference to how these work compared to a gas flame. Both units, shown below, were able to scorch the paper although the recessed electrodes on the VEHHE struggled more. Note however the paper did not set on fire which is a major difference to using a naked flame.
Also, it is clear already that whatever you are lighting needs to be physically placed between the electrodes. This could be an obvious problem if whatever you are lighting is too big to fit.
Lighting fuse with the arc
The paper test also left me wondering whether the arc on these is so localised that any fuse would need to be directly between the electrodes. This was indeed the case; in the images below you can see a fuse that has gone beyond the arc and is being held in the head but will not ignite. It is only by holding the fuse directly in the arc that it catches fire.
It’s also possible to move the fuse quickly through the arc and it won’t ignite. However once kept within the arc, visco fuse will ignite after a short pause, so the arc is hot enough to burn through the protective outer layer.
With any lighter there is a worry that the soot and other gunk produced by fuses when they light will bung them up and prevent them from working. It’s very easy for example to kill gas lighters by lighting fuse end-on so that the sparks go into the end and ruin the piezo ignition (so get into the habit of lighting fuse at right angles, that is side-on).
I’m pleased to report however that both arc lighters seemed to cope well with being covered in soot. Plus, as the electrodes were exposed they could be easily wiped down with a cloth.
But the real test is lighting fuse at arm’s length. Here, I am sorry to report, the very localised nature of the arc was exacerbated by extending it a long way from the body where it is harder to keep still on a small fuse which you need to get between the electrodes. Not only is this much harder than using a strong gas lighter, it’s much more difficult to see what’s happening at that distance given the arc is partly hidden by the lighter and your gloved hand.
As a result, I found that lighting fuse was fiddly and harder than with a good gas lighter.
Other useful info
In case you’re interested, these do live up to the claims of being windproof. Whilst a strong flame from a fan did deflect the arc, it didn’t blow out.
I also tried lighting sparklers with these as it’s pictured on many of the Amazon listings. I can confirm that sparklers light absolutely fine, you just need to get the end of the sparkler between the electrodes.
Unlike gas lighters which have a large and hot flame (more so the windproof or turbo versions, plus any good quality chef’s torch or blow torch), these USB lighters have a small and very localised electrical arc. This means you need to get whatever you are lighting between the electrodes. Fuse will not light if it is not directly in this arc.
This is fiddly at the best of times, but more so at arm’s length and in the dark. Here the end of the lighter is shaking more and it’s hard to connect the fuse and the arc. That’s putting aside the difficulty seeing what you’re doing at that distance and keep in mind the arc is not a source of light either. And if you’re not quick enough, the arcs on these will switch off after a few seconds anyway, due to their inbuilt safety limit, requiring you to re-press the button.
So whilst the arc is physically hot enough to light firework fuse, I would not recommend USB arc lighters for use with fireworks. Gas lighters offer significantly quicker ignition of fuse without the need to be that accurate – getting the flame roughly in the right place is enough. The fact that good quality gas lighters cost less than USB arc lighters is the last nail in the coffin!
I would also question whether the lack of flammable gas with arc lighters is a safety gain either. I’m thinking here that you’re swapping gas for a battery and a high voltage device. I certainly would never recommend using arc lighters in wet conditions.
So invest in a windproof gas lighter, my gas lighter test video showcases three examples from Amazon which are cheap and significantly more effective than arc lighters.