I found out about the self-starting lighter through a thread over at candlepowerforums.com. There were some pictures and a basic description of how it worked, but I had never seen one in action and didn’t really understand the concept of it. Of course, I had to immediately have one. I picked up several off ebay and all except one were in working condition.
Basically, it has a piece of black platinum attached to four fine wires suspended on a thicker wire frame. There are two cylinders on the lighter. A small one that houses the starter when not in use, and a large one that holds the wick that is soaked in “Columbian Spirits,” more commonly known as methanol. I supposed any alcohol would work with it, but I used the same denatured alcohol that I use for my Pepsi-G stove.
It looks like the black platinum reacts with the methanol fumes, heating the fine wires that suspend it. As you pull the starter out of the wick area, I am guessing more oxygen is available since the starter is out of the way, and the methanol ignites. I am no chemist, so maybe someone else can offer a better idea of how it works.
In case that made no sense to you, here is a video I uploaded to youtube: