Bison Airlighter review: No ordinary lighter, it’s the Swiss Army knife of fire
By Michael Brown
TechHiveMar 5, 2015 3:00 am PST
At a Glance
4-inch oxygen-accelerated flame
Blower, flashlight, and bottle-opener features
Short battery life
USB power adapter not included
The Airlight is an expensive tool, but it’ll get your fireplace and barbecue blazing in a jiffy.
I like fire. I like fire so much that I have two fireplaces in my house, a third on my patio, and a chiminea out in my yard. Between fireplaces, candles, and tiki torches, I go through BIC wand lighters like a nicotine addict goes through unfiltered Camels.
But if you’ve ever used one of those wand lighters, you know what a waste of resources they are. You pay more for the plastic-and-metal housing than the scant amount of butane contained inside. And the flame they emit is so anemic, you consume half of it just to light a candle.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. And you could buy 30 of those big BICs for the $80 price of one Bison Airlighter. But when you need to start a fire, the Airlighter literally performs like a blow torch. It emits a 4-inch jet of flame that Bison says reaches 2600 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t have the test equipment to verify that claim, but it made short work of lighting the kindling in the fires that I built. And its 5.5-inch metal barrel remains remarkably cool to the touch, even after extended use, thanks to an encircling air chamber running its length.
A safety switch necessarily makes the Airlighter somewhat awkward to light. You need to push a release button with one hand while pushing a second button forward with the other to ignite the fuel. The flame goes out when you release the trigger. This is designed to make the tool child resistant, but you can push a third button to hold the trigger forward, and the flame will continue to burn until you push the trigger a second time. If you find the Airlighter awkward to hold, you can pivot its handle down to form a pistol grip that redistributes its weight.
Once you’ve lit your kindling or charcoal, sliding the igniter button in the other direction activates a fan that blows air over the fire. I ruined my wife’s blow dryer back in the day after using it to speed-start my briquettes one time too many. Oxygen is a great accelerant. And that’s not the Airlighter’s only trick. A somewhat dim LED flashlight on the bottom of the fire-starter can help you on midnight quests to find firewood. There’s also a storage hook that doubles as a bottle opener for your favorite frosty beverage. Now if it only had a corkscrew.
Battery charger not included
As you’ve probably guessed, the Airlighter relies on an internal battery to power its igniter, air jet, fan, and flashlight. And that’s one of its few downsides. The Airlighter has a USB Type A socket for recharging, and thankfully, Bison provides the appropriate cable. While USB cables with Type A connectors on both ends are not impossible to find, they’re much less common than the USB cables with Type A connectors at one end and mini- or micro-USB connectors at the other.
As with any battery-powered device that you don’t use every day, it seemed like the Airlighter’s battery was always weak or dead when I wanted to use it. It’s harder to start on a weak battery, and the air jet and blower functions don’t work as well, but you can still light it with a match in a pinch and get plenty of flame from the butane. Bison doesn’t provide a USB power adapter, which makes it awkward to leave plugged in when it’s not in use—doubly so if you don’t have electricity on your patio.
Bison says the Airlighter’s internal battery will last for 30 minutes, which it says is enough to start 40 barbecue sessions. The company says the device holds enough butane to burn continuously for 15 minutes. But unlike a BIC, you can refill the Airlighter when it runs out. A three-pack of butane canisters sells for $20 on Amazon. The fuel Bison sells is clean enough to be used for cooking, so you can also use it in the kitchen for preparing a crème brûlée.
The Airlighter is much more expensive than the type of blow torch you might have in the garage for soldering pipes, but it’s a whole lot safer and more childproof than a tool designed for such purposes, and it produces one heckuva flame. That and its other features have earned it a place next to my hearth.