Anybody who uses a Ziplight will be aware of the problem in getting batteries to replace expired items.
They are a slightly unusual size and consequently many Ziplights are confined to drawers when the batteries give out. I read recently that Zippo no longer repair or rectify Ziplight problems, Opting instead to offer a standard lighter insert, a writing instrument, a knife or a key-ring in place of the Ziplight.
For those who do use one, this makes the project more viable in one sense, though it does also mean that each one that has this done to it results in one more non original Ziplight insert in existence. Cest la vis.
The idea of converting one to LED isn't new. But it may be seen as a harder task than it actually is.
You don't need to be electronically minded to do this job, the easiest and probably cheapest way to do it is to buy an LED key ring. The simpler the mechanism the better it is to do the job.
The only downside to my way of doing it, was that the LED in the key ring was considerably larger than the bulb it was replacing, this meant I had to modify the collar around the bulb to make it fit. As a result, the LED conversion is not reversible on the Ziplight I used for this demonstration. On the plus side, the LED is amazingly bright when compared to the glimmering efforts of the original item (added to that was the fact I recently bought a number of Ziplight inserts for not much money on eBay, so taking one apart to try this didn't worry me too much).
I found a few key rings for sale in the local pound shop priced at 2 for a pound (GBP). One red and one white in each pack. Looking at the design it was ideal. Being clear plastic, I could see it looked like the led itself had 2 long prongs that went one to each side of the battery, squeezing the two sides of the case pushed the prongs onto the battery, made the connection and the LED lit. Ideal for this job. Although when I split the LED torch open, it actually turned out to have two batteries and not one as I had first thought. The Ziplight itself is not glued together, it can be pulled apart either by using your nails, or by gently slipping a knife along the slot on either side and prising it apart (be careful not to knock the cam mechanism out as you do this. It is easily replaced, but if you are aware it can be displaced it will save you worrying when you notice it missing later.
As the Ziplight has been around for quite a while now, I have found that most seem to show signs of green corrosion around the contacts where the batteries meet the copper. When you remove the batteries, It's a good idea to clean up the contacts a little. you can also remove the bulb and bulb collar now while taking notice of how the bulb fits into the slots. The upper two copper contacts slide into the same slots the bulb pins use. I tell you this because you will find it easier to remove the contacts to clean them, and also to solder the new wiring to them later (or if you don't like such complications, you could always wrap the wire around the contact and then glue it in place, not ideal, but if soldering isn't for you, it will still work with glue, though I would say, be sure it is all working before you do fix everything in place).
The Ziplight is actually a very easy wiring job, the following diagram shows how the standard Ziplight is basically wired. The yellow lines of the diagram are actually bent springy copper items.
Note:- The two dots located vertically in the insert represent a pair of locating lugs that help the rigidity of the insert they also separate and hold the original batteries in place. Due to the type of batteries used in my project, the lower peg and the one it located into on the other side of the insert were removed to allow more room for the button batteries.
The LED itself had two long contact pins, these were trimmed down so that the LED would sit as low as possible in the case, while still occupying the slots in the case like the original bulb did. The LED is 5 mm across, pretty much double the original bulbs size. To this end, the collar was modified using a 5 mm drill bit and a gas cooking stove. I thought the the plastic collar would split if I tried to drill it, so I chose to melt my way through it instead. Heating the bit up on the stove and sliding it through, pretty much removed the original retaining portion of the collar. As a result a small drop of glue has been used on one side of the case to hold the collar in place. Should the LED ever need replacing I can easily break the glue joint to do the job. The LED was initially hard to get in the slots, this I found was because I wasn't being brutal enough with it. I was worried about damaging it, when the fact was it needed a good push to get it to locate correctly.
Next came the wiring. 3 or 4 inches of wire is all you need in reality. The led batteries take the place of one of the original Zippo batteries in the Ziplight compartment using a piece of wire from the plus side going to the upper terminal, and a piece of wire from the negative side to the lower terminal. The space where the other battery once was is bridged by one single unbroken wire from the top connector to the bottom connector directly below. The wires on the diagram are drawn in red, while the battery is shown as a more conventional battery to make the illustration easier to read. Note that the Copper contact marked as 'C' on the diagram springs away from it's usual contact point when the insert has been removed from the lighter. you need to push this in when testing out the light.
One word of caution. The led will not work if it is reversed in the socket. So don't finalise your battery connections until you know things are working right. It is easier to flip the battery over than it is to remove and refit the LED.
The only real problem in doing this project was working out a battery holder for the 2 button batteries. I eventually took the easy option and used a couple of slices of insulating tape to hold the 2 batteries together. I then 'balled' the wires that were going to make contact with the batteries and simply taped them tightly to the battery. One to the positive side and one to the negative. It isn't pretty, but it works. After checking that everything still worked ok I finally ran a couple more strips of insulating tape around the batteries to build them up enough so that the case would clamp them in place.
The finished result is a much brighter Ziplight. Not original by a long chalk, but very effective, and still used daily. I do own a Mint boxed Ziplight, I wouldn't have dreamed of doing this to that one. The fact is, when you have a couple of inserts spare, you can do something like this and still retain the original undamaged insert if maintaining originality matters. Whereas, if functionality is more important, then LED is a viable option, there really is no comparison between the intensity of the LED's brilliant white light, and the feeble yellow of the original bulb output.
More importantly, I can get replacement batteries anywhere now.