In preparation for the launch of startswithabang.com, I am attempting to embed a video I had found on youtube, of the slow-motion ignition of a lighter.
How does this work? The video demonstrates that to make something very simple happen (to get a sustained, controlled flame out of a compact piece of equipment), a lot of thought needs to go into how it’s made, and what each step is going to accomplish. A lighter works by the following:
- Flint and steel rub together (that’s turning the wheel) to create very high temperatures along the metal shavings, which fly off in many directions.
- The metal conducts heat well enough to get very hot, but the individual shavings, interacting only with the air, remain quite hot, and can glow for up to about a quarter of a second.
- The hydrocarbon gas (which flows up from the spout when the lever is pressed) enters the volume where the very hot metal shavings are.
- The gas has a low ignition point, and when it approaches close enough to the hot metal shavings, they ignite, so long as there’s enough oxygen around.
- The ignition causes a large release of energy, significant enough to light all of the remaining gas in the neighborhood, which expands, rises, and cools.
- Finally, the excess gas completely burns off, leaving only the gas from the spout continuing to burn, as the air directly over the lighter is hot enough (and oxygenated enough) to cause continued ignition.
Neat! You can see the different colors of fire that result from the different temperatures, and you can see how, if it weren’t for three or four specific metal shards, the lighter wouldn’t have lit! Of course I think everything is better in slow motion…