My 1955-era Pocket Warmer

My 1955-era Pocket Warmer

Restoration Hardware 1955 Pocket Hand WarmerToo many days have gone by without pictures! Here’s something I picked up a few weeks ago at Restoration Hardware in Peabody: a 1955-style Pocket Warmer. I remember my Dad having one of these, probably from his days as a grad student in Chicago. He kept it in his “drawer of goodies”, which was always locked. I have always lusted after it…I had just forgotten that until I saw it again at the mall. Grabbed it for a mere 6 bucks. Booyah!

pocket hand warmerThe hand warmer about the size of a deck of cards and made of some kind of chromed metal. You fill it with lighter fluid (there is an absorbent material inside to keep it from sloshing around), and after you get it going slide it back into its red felt pouch and into your pocket. it will stay warm for up to 12 hours. I can personally vouch for this; the amount of time seems to depend on how much oxygen you let get to the device.

Some words of warning: This device gets pretty hot. Not hot enough to set paper on fire, but hot enough to give you a nasty burn if sustained contact against your skin occurs. It takes maybe 15 minutes of contact for this to occur, but even then I have ugly splotchy burns on my stomach (I fell asleep clutching it on my stomach, which is a big no-no) and on my left leg (where it worked itself out of the pouch into my pants pocket). The felt bag is supposed to prevent direct contact, but it doesn’t stay closed. I would put the device in a wool sock (I think that’s what felt is made of), or maybe replace the pathetic string with a more robust closing mechanism. If you put it in your coat pocket—not a pocket that’s directly on the inner layer of your skin—you probably will be OK.

hand warmer component viewThe construction of the device is very simple: there’s a rolled wire mesh (very fine) that fits on top of the reservoir body. After you fill the reservoir with lighter fluid, let it sit for a few minutes so the vapor pressure builds up. Then ignite the device by heating the grill with a match or lighter until it glows red. Remember that the hottest part of the flame is just above the yellow part, not in it.

It takes me about 40-60 seconds of applied heat before I see the glow (it’s pretty faint), and it fades quickly. The amount of soot generated by the lighting process also makes it difficult to tell.

There is no open flame, and the mesh is not a wick. I think the device works by starting some kind of lower-temperature oxidation process from the lighter fluid vapor (as opposed to open flame combustion), but I really don’t know. Still, you want to make sure that there’s no excess lighter fluid sloshing around in the container; the sponge inside should keep the fluid contained. It may be that the heat produced by the oxidation process is lower than the ignition point of the lighter fluid.

Once you get the thing going, it’s awesome. It stays warm. I wish I’d gotten two, so when I’m waiting for the car to warm up I can keep both hands warm. On the down side, you can get burned if you’re not careful, and it smells like lighter fluid. That can’t be good for you. Next time I go snowshoeing, I’m planning on bringing a couple of these along. Can’t wait to kit up for that!


  1. Emily 17 years ago

    Maybe you could knit (or get someone else to knit, ha ha) a stylin’ custom cover for it! Yeah, that will be nice to take snowshoeing! :D


  2. Joan 17 years ago

    I’d suggest a button and loop.  I thought about velcro, but that’s somehow anachronistic.
    This 50’s version is much neater than the 30’s version my dad used to have. He would walk to school with a roasted potato in his pocket and eat it for breakfast when he got there.

  3. Dave 17 years ago


    That’s great! I must try the roasted potato pocket heater! It’s like that episodes of The Simpsons when Grandpa Simpson goes on how he used to tie a big yellow onion to his belt! Because it was the style at the time!

  4. morisawa 17 years ago

    40to60 sec is too long, this kind of device
    will work like 3 to 5 sec, if you are not sure,
    try for 5 sec, then bring it closer to you,
    you feel the heat generating.

    if you keep lighting it in your way, you need to
    replace the burner quite regulary.

    This type of warmer is quite common in japan,
    there are English instruction of how to light it.
    please check,
    Me? I love this kind of pocket warmer,
    so I m looking around the web for new one:)

  5. Daniel 17 years ago

    I have a couple hand warmer like that.Love them.  Where can i get new burning elements.

  6. Michael 16 years ago

    A friend gave me one for winter golf here in Ohio.

    Help me figure out how to add the lighter fluid to the device without major spillage : )

  7. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Michael: Just add the liquid very slowly; there’s a sponge inside the warmer that soaks up the liquid. When the sponge is full, you can’t add anymore. Pour out any excess lighter fluid; it shouldn’t slosh around. The device works by slowly oxidizing the lighter fluid vapors, which the sponge releases.

  8. Mark Wilson 16 years ago

    I bought 4 of them from Restoration Hardware and use them for playing golf on cold mornings.
    Once they get going they work great and last a long time.  It takes me a while to get them fired up though and I have one that is really stubborn.
    I wonder what the wick material is under the screen.  Maybe if I stuffed more in there it would light easier and faster.

  9. Jack F Coffin 14 years ago

    Do you know if you can use barbaque lighter fluid in this product
    Thank you
    Jack C : )

  10. cenzo 14 years ago

    I have one of these. I have been trying for several days to get it to light. First with a match, no luck. Lighter, same story. Finally a mini blowtorch and still no heat. I’ve done everything by the book. Filled it correctly. i want to get it working in time for the cold weather. If you know anything about it, email me at cenzo188[at]

  11. Rhi 12 years ago

    Help? I’ve got something very similar to this, but there isn’t a mesh burner its like a coil of metal with some sort of white woolly stuff in it… Tried everything to get it to light- can light it (flames) but when i put it back in the pouch it just goes out straight away. Can someone, anyone, PLEASE tell me where I’m going wrong/ what I can do to get this to work? Eternally grateful for any advice, it’s driving me mad. Thanks,

    Cold hands

  12. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    I’m not that familiar with the inner workings of this device, but the white woolly stuff is what contains the butene. The trick with this hand warmer is that it’s supposed to be flameless combustion. You may initially see a flame when you light it, but it should go out and the coil will quietly catalyze the gas into heat.

    The only way I’ve been able to tell if it’s working is to very thoroughly heat the grate on mine (move the flame around to try to heat the whole thing), and then put the cap on. Then I set it down on a heat-proof surface (like the top of my stove), walk away and check it five minutes later and see if it’s still warm.

  13. bob 10 years ago

    I just cant seem to light mine I just cant do it the stupid thing wont work for me