Too 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!
The 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.
The 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!