03/24/15 - 13:52 Filed in: Review | Fire Starter
The Airlighter is a high speed fire starting device for grills and wood stoves that came out about a year ago. It uses a high temperature flame to get the coals or wood ignited quickly and then a high speed fan serves to spread the flames. The Airlighter is portable and does not require a power outlet like electric fire starters. It uses high quality non-clogging butane for the flame and a rechargeable battery for the fan. I already owned a competitor to the Airlighter, the Looftlighter, which is a corded electric fire starter. From my point of view Airlighter is not simply a knock off of the Looftlighter. While it is obviously inspired by the Looftlighter, the Airlighter is more like an attempt to take the strengths and weaknesses of the Looftlighter and improve on them. This blog will also compare the two based on my first uses of the Airlighter. At the end of this blow I will provide some links to previous blog posts about the Looftlighter and links to both manufacturer’s web sites.
BACKGROUND:Paraffin Starters - I had been perfectly happy using paraffin fire starters for the first year and a half I owned my Big Green Eggs. They weren’t the quickest method for lighting the grill, but they were effective and more importantly, they were predictable. During the Winter of 2013 the predictable part went out the window. I ran into several holidays where the weather was very cold and windy and lighting the paraffin starters became problematic and time consuming. The butane lighters I used to light them would not operate in the near 0 (-18C) temps. When I switched to wood matches I had trouble where they kept blowing out before they lit the starters.
BACK TO BASICS 1: Before using one of these fancy lighters, be sure to learn how to light the Egg using one of the traditional ways such as paraffin starters or lump charcoal in a charcoal chimney. The day may come where you must cook without electricity (Looftlighter) or you run out of butane or didn’t recharger the blower battery (Airlighter). Familiarize your self with your fallback lighting method first before using one of these fire starter tools. This way you are prepared for any situation.
Looftlighter - In late January 2013 I purchased a Looftlighter which looks like a giant electric hair dryer. It uses a fan to blow 1265 degree (685 C) air onto the flames, This was said to let you get your fire started in around a minute. It took me around 2 to 3 minutes to light, but the Wicked Good Weekend Warrior charcoal I use is said to be harder to light. I loved the Looftlighter but I did have to make some adjustments. The fire the Looftlighter created was not up at the surface level, like those made with paraffin starters. Instead it went deep into the coals. This deep type fire was slow to show any temperature rise, but all of sudden would start shooting to the stratosphere. Once I got used to controlling this style fire, it was no big deal. It was just different. If you are interested in reading more about the experience lighting fires with the Looftlighter, there are links to blogs about the Looftlighter at the bottom of this page. I was quite happy with the Looftlighter but about 2 1/2 months after I bought it I began having troubles lighting fires. It was taking longer and longer and it turned out the heat output was gradually reducing. Eventually it was only 325-350 degrees (163-177C). The Looftlighter had a decent amount of negative reviews on various online forums, but my dealer told me they only had 1 return. As for the negative views, it often seems the people with problems are more vocal than people who are having a good experience, My dealer gave me a new replacement Looftlighter no questions asked. I had bought some boxes of paraffin starters when the Looftlighter started acting up, and I decided to keep using them.
Paraffin Redux - So even after I had received my replacement Looftlighter I kept using the paraffin starters. I never disliked using the paraffin fire starters, It was just the Looftlighter was “more better”, particularly in the real cold and windy weather. I decided I would save the Looftlighter until the fall. As it turned out, several things changed along the way that affected my plans. I have a GFCI duplex outlet out in my grill gazebo and originally my Looftlighter was the only device needing that outlet. At EGGtoberfest this fall one of the swag bag items was some strings of BGE Christmas Lights. Plus I got a CyberQ WiFi pit controller in December, which needs power. Suddenly outlets were at a premium and a fire starter that didn’t require AC power had some additional appeal. I ended up not using the Looftlighter when the weather got cold. Part of the reason for this is we got huge amounts of snow this winter. I had to walk through tall banks of snow to get to the pole on the grill gazebo with the outlet. But just like last year: when the weather turned cold, the fire starters became difficult to light. As a result a non-AC powered fire starter suddenly had some appeal.
Airlighter - Ironically I ended up buying an Airlighter 1 year to the day of when I bought the Looftlighter in 2013, My BGE dealer had shown me the Airlighter when they started carrying it last Spring. I felt then (as I do now) it had some nice features compared to the Looftlighter, but I felt the Looftlighter had some advantages too. The day I bought it last January, I had no intentions of buying an Airlighter. I was waiting for my BGE dealer to get some charcoal from their stockroom for me and I began looking at the Airlighter again. One of the sales associates came over and we began discussing the Airlighter and I liked what I heard. This time around there was a use case for a non-AC powered fire starter. To my great surprise I left with an Airlighter in hand.
AIRLIGHTER: Description - The Airlighter is a somewhat futuristic looking device that looks like an oversized hairdryer. When I saw it I also thought it might pass for a convincing looking phaser rifle from the original Star Trek TV show. It is a high temperature butane lighter that projects a 2600 degree (1425 C) flame about 4” (10cm) from the mouth of the metal nozzle. This flame is used to get the coals ignited which is said to take 10 seconds, I found 30-45 seconds are required with Wicked Good Weekend Warrior charcoal. After the coals are ignited the flame is turned off and a high speed fan is turned on and within a minute or two more the fire is well underway. Once again my time was also longer for WGWW charcoal. I should also note that the Looftlighter took about twice as long with WGWW charcoal which has a reputation of being a bit more difficult to light. It is a harder charcoal and is more difficult to light than a soft charcoal. So this is a case where the manufacturer’s claims may be true, just for an easier to light charcoal.
Dimensions - 20” x 3” x 3 1/2” (50 x 7.5 x 8.9 cm)
Weight - 1.7 lbs. empty (0.77kg), 1.10 filled.
Features - Here are some of the features of the Airlighter the manufacturer, Bison Industries, highlights plus my take on them:
Cordless - The flame uses pressurized high quality non-clogging butane. According to the manufacturer you get 15 minutes of flame time with a fully recharged tank. With a full charge you get 30-35 minutes of blower time. This translates to 25-40 lightings where you get the coals far enough along to serve as the source to get a full fire going. Where I need to run my Airlighter longer my usage time will be 1/2 to 1/3 that.
Rechargeable via USB - To me this was a great feature. I read comments from other people grousing about using USB to charge the built in rechargeable battery. This means out at the grill you do not have to plug the unit in to AC power to use it. The manufacturer says it takes 6 hours to go from fully discharged to fully charged. The Airlighter comes with a USB charging cable and you can use any USB port on a computer, laptop or any other USB enabled device. Some people complained that it didn’t come with a charger. Personally I think this is not required. Without doing too much thinking I can think of 6 different devices I could use to recharge this device. I don’t need any more little power bricks cluttering my drawers. Also I would rather not pay the extra money for something I (and most other people) do not use.
Easy to Refill with Butane - The pressurized triple filtered butane intended to be used with the Airlighter comes in a pressurized spray container. The metal container has a male nozzle that fits into a female refill valve at the end of the handle. The first generation Airlighter had a see-through slot in the side that allowed you to see the level of the fuel. This was removed in the current second generation models. I heard this was because the clear plastic was fogging from exposure to the butane. To refill the Airlighter you insert the nozzle into the refill valve and press down all the way. When the tank is full the butane will begin to ooze out of the refill valve and you release your downward pressure on the canister to stop it refilling.
Adjustable Handle - This is one of the features I like best about the Airlighter. The handle has three positions that correspond to: 0 degrees which is inline with the body,45 degrees and 90 degrees. I like the 45 degree setting and I find the inline position the least easy to use. The body feels a bit bulky and harder to handle in the inline position than either of the other two positions. I also find the 45 degree position makes it easier to access the switches with both hands to turn the unit on.
The top of the handle contains the three switches used to operate the unit.The larger red slide switch to the lower left is the Main Switch. The smaller red sliding switch to the lower right is the Safety Switch and the black button on the side of the hand and above the red switches here, is the Continuos Operation Lock switch.
Safety Switch - For folks with young kids this will be an important feature. For my use I wish it wasn’t there, but I don’t have kids. It does complicate the starting process because you must slide this Safety Switch over first and keep it in position until the Main Switch is in the ON position. The location is on the top of the handle in front of the Main Switch. I find I need two hands to do this. once the Main Switch is fully activated you can release the Safety Switch. You must use it again when it is time to slide the Main Switch backwards to turn off the butane lighter and turn on the fan.
Continuous Operation Lock - There is another switch on the left side of the main handle which allows you to press it and lock the Main Switch in it’s current position (lighter or blower). Electric drills and other hand held power tools have these and this one works the same. Press and hold the Main Switch and push the Continuous Operation Lock switch in until it engages. At this point the Main Switch is locked ON. While the lighting of the coals takes under minute I find the process easier if I am not trying to hold the Main Switch during this time, so I usually lock it. The Continuous Operation Lock definitely comes in handy for the blower portion of lighting the coals, which will last over a minute or two. It is actually a bit difficult to keep the Main Switch slid into the lighter or blower on position for that length of time. If you are left handed, like I am, you may worry about accidentally depressing this switch while your hand wrapped around the handle. The trigger lock switch is actually positioned far enough forward on the handle that it falls in front of my hand in any gripping position I’ve had to use.
The flashlight is on the front of the main body just below the metal nozzle. In this picture it is seen in the lower left in this picture. The metal foot is the stand for the unit and has a built-in bottle opener. The membrane switch shown above the foot is the switch for the flashlight.
Flashlight - If your grill area is not well lit, you will appreciate this feature. Depressing a membrane covered switch on the side of the middle portion of the device triggers a reasonably bright LED light. The light is well located just under the area where the metal nozzle of the lighter enters the main body of the device. With the light being below the barrel, the barrel does not cast a shadow on your target. The size of the LED light unit is rather small, but it projects a surprisingly large amount of light in the dark. It is certainly enough to see your charcoal pile. Now if your grill area is well lit, as mine is, you may be ready to write off this feature. Actually it still might be nice to have once in a while. Let me mention two possibilities: First: It is a summer night and a thunderstorm rolls through and takes out your lights. Or the same thing with a winter storm. The second use case is an overnight cook where you don’t want to leave your grill area lights on all night. In both cases the flashlight has enough light to help light your way in and out to the grill, and help you light the grill.
Air Cooled Barrel - The Airlighter has a double walled barrel, where the outer barrel stays cooler to the touch to help protect the user and surrounding objects from getting burned after the unit has been in use. The barrel seems to cool down very quick and so far seems to be safe to the touch almost as soon as you are done lighting your fire. But I would say don’t let the barrel touch anything, and in particular your skin, for several minutes after lighting the grill. I could see a case where you weren't paying attention and some hot coals were in contact with the barrel.
Bottle Opener - Like the Looftlighter, the Airlighter has a bottle opener built into the metal foot the unit rests on when not in use. To read peoples reviews and comments you’d think this was the main selling feature. Me, I have a bottle opener permanently attached to one of the corner posts of my grill gazebo. It is the post nearest my outdoor table and chairs where it is easy for anyone to use. I don’t necessarily want people wandering into my grill area and using an $89.00 fire starter as a bottle opener. You accidentally drop a $4.99 bottle opener 3 feet onto the concrete terrace and the odds are it may get scratched, but it will still work. Not so sure you could say that about either the Looftlighter or the Airlighter. Also I wonder how many people that raved about the built in bottle opener actually tried using it, I find it is a bit awkward lifting up a large lighter to open a small bottle of beer. Also in the back of my mind I see red flags when I think about the possibilities of having alcohol within spilling distance of a device that may be very hot. Once again my post mounted bottle opener is about 8’ (2.4 m) away from the nearest open flame.
HANDS ON COMPARISON:In this section I will give my personal opinion about how these two devices stack up against one another. Your mileage may vary. Your needs may be different and this might change the importance of the feature set and performance of each device. Also it might make sense to look at each in person where you can get the feel of them. Here are my thoughts:
Handling: Weight - This is a pretty much a wash. The Airlighter weighs an ounce or two less than the Looftlighter when empty and an ounce or two more when filled. The difference is insignificant in my experience with the two.
Handling: Prep - With the Airlighter you must be sure the unit has lighter fluid inside it and the unit is charged up before you use it. The Looftlighter is ready to be taken outside and used straight out of the box.
Handling: Set Up - The first time you use the Airlighter you must add lighter fluid and makes sure it has been charged via a USB port. If the Airlighter is fueled and charged, it is slightly to quite a bit easier to start using than the Looftlighter. You can simply walk out to the grill, point and shoot. With the Looftlighter you must have power available via an outlet or extension cord. This may be insignificant if you have an outlet within the 10’ (3 m) cord length to the grill. If you need to plug in an extension the Airlighter is definitely quicker and easier.
Handling: Activating the Unit - In terms of activating the unit the Looftlighter wins hands down. You depress the On/Off switch and the unit is on. You light the fire and release the switch and it turns off. Using the Airlighter with the Continuous Operation Lock has made me wish the Looftlighter’s switched didn’t have to be held down to stay on. But it doesn’t get easier than the Looftlighter. With the Airlighter the process is at times a bit clunky in several ways. You are involved with a two step process where the first stage is to ignite the burner flame to light the coals. This is done by sliding the safety lock switch to the right and pushing the main switch forward. When it engages and the flame is lit you can release the Safety Lock Switch. In theory this ignites the flame, more on the “in theory” part in a moment. Once several coals are lit you must slide the Safety Switch to the right and slide the Main Switch to the rear. When it is all the way back you can release the Safety Switch and hold the Main Switch in position. This action turns off the flame and activates the blower. For this phase I always use the Continuous Operation Switch so I don’t have to keep holding the Main Switch in the rear position. Now remember I described the operation to light the blower and I said: “In theory the blower lights…” This part is very non intuitive, but the flame does not always light the first time you try to fire it up. You sometimes hear a “whooshing sound”, which I assume is the propellant mixed with the butane to pressurize it. It often requires several attempt one immediately after the other to get the flame to ignite. This is glossed over in the manual. With the frequency this happens, I think it should get more attention in the manual. When I first tried the Airlighter at home I couldn’t get it to light. I would get “whooshing sound” instead of the flame and I would wait a while before attempting to light it again. I was concerned there might be lingering butane fumes building up. I had zero success with anything I tried. I brought the unit to my BGE dealer and he knew the answer right away. He asked me if I had tried relighting it again immediately after the failed attempt. He told me that for whatever reason it often took 2 or sometimes 3 attempts. The trick was to make the second attempt immediately after a failed first attempt. He was right and my unit lit the first time I made a quick follow up second attempt.When I thought about it more this is no different than the handheld butane lighter I use to light my paraffin starters. I muse often click the trigger on those several times to get ignition. Even with that issue solved, to my way of thinking, the actually process of turning the units on and keeping it on is way easier with the Looftlighter. Perhaps lighting the Airlighter and using the switches will become easier and more second nature as I get more time with it. But right now this is my biggest issue with the Airlighter. Harder to light and harder to keep in use.
Handling: Using the Unit - By this I mean the actual process of lighting the charcoal. You’ve turned the unit on and you are now trying to light the coals. The 3 position pivoting handle makes the Airlighter easier to hold in general, but not necessarily when you are trying to hold fiddle with two switches and keep it pointed at the coals. Also with the Looftlighter I find I am easily able to hold the business end near the coals and rest the end of the metal foot on the edge of my grill to help support it during lighting. What this means is I am not supporting the entire weight of the Looftlighter, I am simply aiming it and the edge of the Egg is supporting it. This is a bit hard to explain, but I find the Airlighter harder to position and hold down by the coals in spite of the ability to adjust the handle position. It is a bit easier to to hold when away from the coals, but a bit harder to hold it near the coals. Since the entire process takes around 2 to 3 minutes total this is relatively insignificant.
LIGHTING THE FIRE: This is the job these devices were made to do. This section describes what is involved when you go to start your charcoal.
Lighting the Fire: Process - Lighting the coals is quite similar with both units. With the Looftlighter you hold the business end of the unit close to the coals, press the membrane switch to fire it up and wait until the coals begin to spark. At this point you pull back a bit and keep the unit on until you have a small mound of lit coals. With the Airlighter you light the flame and hold the flame close to several coals. When these coals are fully ignited you turn off the flame and turn on the blower. This spreads the fire to adjacent coals and once again you have a small mound of lit coals.
Lighting the Fire: Time - As mentioned immediately above, lighting the fire is a 2-step process. You ignite several coals and then spread the fire to adjacent coals. The times are different for the two steps with each unit, but I think that is due to the differences between the process used. Also the total times for starting the fire are about double the times listed in the instructions for each. I think that the difference in lighting time and blower time is due to the differences between the methods used by the two units. The Looftlighter is always using both the blower and very hot air. Once the coals have begun to spark you pull a bit farther away to let the fire spread. The Airlighter uses the flame (no blower) to get the coals well ignited and then you turn off the flame and turn on the blower to spread the fire. The Airlighter seems to get the coals started a bit faster initially than the Looftlighter. I am guessing this is the difference between 1265 degree (685C) air of the Looftlighter vs. the 2600 degree (1425 C) flame put out by the Airlighter. The Airlighter directions imply 10 seconds or so to get things started, but I find 45 to 50 seconds seems to be the norm with Wicked Good Weekend Warrior lump. The Looftlighter takes around a minute. At this point the Looftlighter seems to spread the flames a bit faster. I think this may be because you are still getting both heat and blower output from the Looftlighter and just the blower from the Airlighter. The Looftlighter seems to spread the fire a bit faster. Both units get a decent sized pile of lump ignited within 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. This is quite a bit slower than the times listed in the instructions for both units, but I think this is due to the charcoal I am using rather than over enthusiastic claims.
Back to Basics 2: I mentioned above about learning to start the fire using conventional means before using one of these lighters. This will also give you a chance to learn to control a more conventional fire first. Both of these lighters create a deeper fire. The bed of lit coals is not on the surface, but deep within the pile. The blowers used by both units blow their air deep into the coal beds. This type of fire needs close attention. A deep fire tends to start off very slowly. You will get little initial temperature rise and there is very little visible evidence of burning cols on the surface of the lump. If you look deep down into the lump, you will see that a large area of coals are igniting way down below the surface. You have a large number of lit coals, but they are buried deep within the charcoal bed and starved for oxygen. When a source of oxygen reaches these buried coals the temperatures will shoot up so fast you wont believe your eyes. The trick is to keep your temps below your desired cooking temperature and do not overshoot . These deep fires can be much harder to control than a surface fire. They are slow to react at first and then take off, They are slow to respond to changes in damper settings and are harder to drive down if you overshoot. You need to minimize the time the lid is open with this type of fire. Learn to control a more conventional surface fire first, before attempting to control this deeper type of fire. I am still learning to control this type of fire. It requires more attention and you must react sooner.
Lighting the Fire: Resulting Fire - Both the Looftlighter and the Airlighter create a different type of fire than you get with paraffin starters. With paraffin starters you get a fire in one or more places on the surface of the lump. The fire spreads across the top surface of the lump and gradually works it’s way down into the file. The fire is very visible on the surface and climbs slowly but steadily at first and gradually accelerates. With these two devices you are involved with a deep fire due to the fan driven ignition process. The fire can be much less visible on the surface of the lump, but if you look carefully there are glowing coals deeper in the pile. This type of fire develops slowly to start. The fire spreads below the top of the lump pile at first and the temperature rise seems glacial. All of a sudden the temperatures begin rocketing up to the stratosphere. If you aren’t watching carefully you can overshoot your desired cooking temps by 100, 150 or more degrees (60-84C) or more. On a Big Green Egg it is far easier to raise temps quickly than it is to lower them. On an Egg this type of fire is like a long freight train: it takes a long time to get it up to speed, but once you get it rolling the momentum makes it very hard to stop. After using the Looftlighter for a while I was getting better at managing this type of fire, but I still have some learning to do. One nice thing I have learned is my CyberQ pit controller is able to easily manage this type of fire. It seems to take longer to get the Egg up to temp than a fire lit with paraffin starter, but there was no overshoot. This gave me another reason to like the CyberQ: I don’t have to keep a close eye on this deep fire.
SAFETY ISSUES: Live fire cooking involves a certain element of danger. Both of these units are intended to be used outdoors and generate high heat to accelerate the lighting of the coals. This section will discuss how each unit manages any potential safety concerns and how this affects their usage.
Safety Issues: Looftlighter Fuel Source - The Looftlighter uses electricity to do it’s thing and is a fairly high power draw at 1500 watts at 120V which is essentially more power than a 15amp circuit provide. If you have a 15amp circuit with no other loads on it you should be OK for short term use. If there are other devices on the circuit or you need to use an extension cord you may not get full power to the unit. You really should avoid extension cords and if you do use one keep it very short and very heavy duty, Outdoor circuits are required to be protected by a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) which cuts off the current if there is a short circuit. You should never run any electrical device outdoors that isn’t on a GFCI protected circuit. So don’t run an extension cord from inside the house to feed your Looftlighter. Periodically check the Looftlighter cord and any extension cords for signs of damage and don’t use the device if the cords are damaged. These are all items that are not specific to the Looftlighter, but apply to any high wattage electrical device. So in this regard the Looftlighter is no more or less dangerous than any other outdoor electrical device.
Safety Issues: Looftlighter Other Electricity Related Items - Because the Looftlighter is meant to light an outdoor grill, you will be using it outdoors-duh. This means you may be in situations where you will be trying to grill in wet weather. The Looftlighter is not intended to be used in wet weather. I used it inside my grill gazebo in situations where it was raining or snowing, but it was not a wind driven rain or snow. The Looftlighter remained dry at all times. Yes the device is on a GFCI circuit and yes the Looftlighter has a rubberized handle, but I do not want to be standing there holding a 1500W electrical device in wet weather. A final issue with an electrically powered device is you have a cord around to potentially trip over. A potential trip hazard coupled with hot grills… Just be sure to run the power cord in a safe place.
Safety Issues: Airlighter Fuel Source - The Airlighter uses high quality non-clogging butane fuel. The fuel comes in a pressurized storage container and is in a pressurized state inside the Airlighter fuel tank. This bothered me in principle a little bit. However I think my “fears” are more irrational than reality based, as long as I use the fuel as intended. The idea of storing a pressurized fuel inside the house bothered me at some level too. However if stored in a cool place away from any direct flame sources, so it should be fine. Also it also occurred to me I have a much larger propane tank stored down in my basement ford a welding torch. Realistically it is not like you hear of a rash of house fires and explosions from these butane fuel sources. When I refill the Airlighter it will be away from any flame source and I don’t smoke. I will take great care that I don’t overfill the Airlighter, so it should be more than safe. There is one issue related to pressured butane that may effect some potential users who are members of BBQ teams.The Airlighter unit, with it’s pressurized fuel storage tank can not be taken on a commercial airliner. The manufacturer’s web site says you can contact them to get instructions for making the Airlighter safe to travel on a plane. As for me: Once I got over my initial reaction to buying a fuel based lighter and thought about it rationally, I am comfortable with it.
Safety Issues: Airlighter Flame - The Airlighter produces a high temperature light blue flame. In bright light it can be very difficult to see. You must be very careful not to point the nozzle at any one or anything other than a pile of coals. Yes this is just good common sense, but it bears mentioning.
Safety Issues: Weather - I had touched on some of this earlier, but neither of these devices are all-weather devices. You definitely don’t want to use the Looftlighter in wet or damp weather unless it is under cover and protected from direct exposure to moisture. The Airlighter, which is internally powered, seems like it would be more tolerant of occasional exposure to limited amounts of moisture. The reason I say: “The unit seems to be…” is because there was no mention of weather in the directions. This at least tells you the unit is safe for you to use in or wet weather. Whether it is good for the unit itself is another question. There would probably be some form of warning if it was bad for the unit. The unit seems to have switches and controls which are intended to limit moisture penetration. There is some inner screening on the air vents on the sides of Airlighter which look like they may be there to help keep out rain, but I am guessing here. I would not use the Airlighter in a heavy rain, but I would perhaps use it under cover of an umbrella.
Safety Issues: Cool Down - The Airlighter wins this category hands down. The metal nozzle seems to be cool to the touch as soon as you pull it away from the fire. I think this is because you are only using the blower and not the flame during the second portion of the lighting process. Now this is based on 6 uses and about the same amount of test lightings. It is possible that if the nozzle was held closer to a hot mound of coals, the nozzle would be hotter. But so far it has been safe the moment it is done. Your mileage may vary, be safe. The Looftlighter which blows heated air throughout entire process, is too hot to safely touch when you finish lighting the fire. Within a minute of so it has cooled down enough to be safe to the touch. Be very careful during this time.
Safety Issues: Stand - Both units feature a metal foot on the bottom which also incorporates the bottle opener. The Airlighter’s metal foot is rather small but the unit is well balanced. If you tip it from the nozzle end or the handle end, it will tilt back into a level position. The Looftlighter will sit level on it’s foot but you have the added complication of the power cord. Depending on the positioning of the cord, whether coiled and unplugged or plugged in and draped over the side of the table, the cord can throw off the balance of the Looftlighter. I mentioned that the Looftlighter is too hot to touch for a minute or so after turning it off. During this time you must be careful about what you do with the cord to avoid burning the counter you set it on.
OTHER:Here are some other items worthy of your consideration that don’t fit into any set category,
Other: Looftlighter Reliability - You don’t have to search too hard to find stories of people who’ve owned Looftlighter’s for a year or less and had them fail. I tend to treat some negative reviews with a grain of salt. Often the people are not using the item correctly or for it’s intended use. At the time I bought mine, my BGE dealer told me that they had only one defective Looftlighter come back. So I decided to go for it. I treat my toys well and under the circumstances I would be extra careful with my Looftlighter. Well add me to the club, my Looftlighter lasted 3 months and began putting out less and less heat with each use. It was replaced under warranty by my dealer in April, no questions asked. When the Looftlighter began putting out less heat I had gone back to using paraffin fire starters. Since I had stocked up on fire starters I planned to use them until I was out. I would save the replacement Looftlighter for the really cold weather when I typically had trouble lighting the fire starters. Frankly I was a bit scared about the reliability issue and I had cold feet about putting it into regular use again. Meanwhile as I mentioned earlier, I suddenly had other items that were vying for the power outlets. This meant a cord free solution became even more attractive. So I’d say if you decide to purchase a Looftlighter, buy it from a reliable source that will handle the warrantee exchanges themselves. This way you deal with a local business and avoid having to deal with the company.
Other: Airlighter Reliability - If you look around you also can find folks who have had problems with the Airlighter too. It just seems like the reports of problems are less prevent. I could think of several reasons for this: First of all the Airlighter has only been around for a year., so there are less of them out there. Also the heat produced by the Airlighter is produced by a flame projected in front of the unit and not inside the unit. Therefor the internal parts don’t have to withstand the same kind of temperature extremes as the parts in the nozzle of the Looftlighter.
BOTTOM LINE: Which one do I prefer? You will notice I didn’t say which one should YOU get. You may not like my answer here, but the truth is these two units are very close in many ways. The features that factor in to my decision may not matter as much to you. There may be some feature that is not so important to me and that is your must-have feature. For example for me the ability to be cordless is a bonus feature that weighs my decision in the direction of the Airlighter.
Bottom Line: Toss Up - Both devices produce similar results in the following areas:
- Length of time to start a fire is between 2-3 minutes.
- Both make a deep fire with much of the action initially taking place below the surface of the coals
Bottom Line: Airlighter Plusses - Here are the main areas the Airlighter has advantages for me:
- Cordless Operation, no electrical outlet required. You also don’t have a power cord to manage and avoid tripping over.
- Barrel of the nozzle seems to be instantly cool to the touch as soon as you are done.
- Better balance when setting on a counter or table, The Airlighter is balanced so it sits level on a counter. There is no cord to throw of the balance, With the near instant cooling the Airlighter should not damage the counter if it should accidentally contact it.
- Can be used in more types of weather. While I would NOT use this unit in a heavy rain, I think you could light a fire in light rain situations with no risk to the unit.
- Trigger Lock. You can lock the switch ON so you don’t have to keep the Main Switch pressed the entire time.
- Safety Switch. If you have kids you will find the Safety Switch is a good thing. If you don’t have kids you will find it a Royal P.I.T.A. I will say I am getting a bit more used to it.
- USB Charging for the blower means you don’t have yet another power brick to lose. Using the supplied USB cable you can charge it via any device with a USB 2 port.
Bottom Line: Airlighter “Nice Touches” - These items are not essentials but can be nice to have:
- LED Flashlight. It is powerful and always there if you need it.
- 3 Position Handle. Gives you choices for the best way to hold the device.
Bottom Line: Airlighter Minuses - Here are items that may make the Airlighter less desirable for some people.
- Must be refilled or recharged periodically The trade off for cordless operation is you must refill it with butane and recharge it via USB. The recharging isn’t a big deal in my mind, but you do need to keep a supply of pressured butane around.
- Potential for not being ready to go when you need it. If you don’t have the unit filled with butane or charge up you may find you can’t use the Airlighter when you want.
- USB charging takes 6 hours to achieve a full charge from a fully discharged state. This means you must plan ahead to be ready to go when you want to light your grill.
- You must keep a supply of pressurized butane around to refill the unit.
- Safety switch. This is a blessing and a curse. If you have small children it is a blessing and a curse if you don’t.
- Cannot be taken on a plane. So if you need to travel with your fire starter this could be an issue. The manufacturer says they have some advice on prepping an Airlighter to take on a flight. I wonder though with the tight regulations from TSA these days if it still might prove to be a hassle proving the device has been prepped for safe air travel.
Bottom Line: Looftlighter Plusses - Here are some areas where the Looftlighter has some advantages.
- Simpler Operation 1. Press one switch to turn the unit on, release it to turn it off. No additional Safety Switch required. This makes it easy for you to use, but may be a minus if you have kids.
- Simpler Operation 2: The Looftlighter has one switch where as the Airlighter has the Main Switch, the Safety Switch, the Continuos Operation Switch, buttons for the LED flash light and to release the pivoting handle and a port cover for the USB port. Some of these items look alike and make the Airlighter slightly more complex to use.
- Easier to handle. For me the shape and balance of the body of the Looftlighter make it slightly easier to handle while lighting the grill.
Bottom Line: Looftlighter Minuses - Some areas where the Looftlighter may be a less desirable device.
- Requires an AC outlet to work. It needs to be a GFCI outlet capable of supplying 1,500 watts of power. It has a 10’ (3 m) cord but you may need to start thinking about an extension cord.
- A power cord is a potential trip hazard, Also depending on the placement and positioning of the cord, it can upset the balance of the Looftlighter when resting on a counter. This in turn could burn the work surface or cause the Looftlighter to fall off the counter.
- Should not be used in any kind of damp weather.
- Takes about a minute to cool down to a safe temperature. This is relatively quick but during that 1 minute things can get burned or melted. The Airlighter seems to be cool to the touch the minute you turn it off.
- Reliability issues. There are enough reports out there of Looftlighters having relatively short lives that it is a concern to be noted. My first Looftlighter lasted only 3 months even though I treated it gently. It was replaced under warranty, but make sure the store you buy it from will handle the exchange themselves. This will be less time and less hassle than going through the manufacturer.
- No continuos operation switch. This may be safer, but there have been many times I wished I could lock the Looftlighter in the ON position like you can with the Airlighter.
CONCLUSION: For my needs and at this point in time the Airlighter would be my choice. The two big deciding factors for me are the Airlighter being cordless and potential reliability issues with the Looftlighter. I would suggest checking both out in person because your needs may be different than mine. Honestly, if I lived some place where the outside air temps didn’t go below 20 degrees (-7 C) regularly, I would be perfectly happy using paraffin fire starters.
RELATED LINKS: Here are some links to my previous blog entries on the Looftlighter and links to the two manufacturer’s web sites.
BLOG ENTRIES: FLAME ON - THE LOOFTLIGHTER 2014 Blog Entry where I review my recently purchased Looftlighter.
THE LOOFTLIGHTER - LESSON LEARNEDR 2014 Blog Entry where I discuss some lessons learned about the deep fires created by the Looftlighter.
WEBSITES: AIRLIGHTER Manufacturer’s Website
LOOFTLIGHTER Manufacturer’s Website