Summer might be done for most of us, but if you live in South Florida, like electricalmechanical engineer Anthony Garofalo, a tiki torch should be useful year-round. One that can ignite itself electronically would certainly be even better. He got the idea for his torch igniter after constructing a Jacob’s ladder. After all, if a high voltage spark can be maintained between two wires, why couldn’t it be used to ignite a tiki torch between them?
The answer is, of course, that this certainly can be done, and works in a similar manner to a spark plug. For this project, Garofalo used a current-limited neon sign transformer capable of generating 10,000 volts. This transformer is connected to thick copper wire that is bent so the arcing electricity crosses the torch wick and ignites it. His fuel container is metal, so it was insulated with electrical tape.
According to Garofalo, “This is also how high end restaurants and buildings ignite their ornamental flames.” He also notes in the project that he was able to control this with a WeMo Wi-Fi enabled switch, allowing for control over the internet. He was even able to set up rules for it using If This Then That, commonly abbreviated “IFTTT.”
You can see in the videos below the progression of this invention. First there is the Jacob’s ladder, then his first try at this type of ignition, a candle igniter is shown. Finally, in the third video, is Garofalo’s tiki torch.
As you might suspect, this project can potentially be quite dangerous, and should not be attempted if one doesn’t have the proper experience. If attempted, you should have a fire extinguisher nearby and keep it away from kids or pets.
One final safety note — the arcing device should not be kept on for an extended period of time in an enclosed area, as this produces ozone which can be hazardous. A flame indoors can also be quite hazardous, so perhaps it would best be used on a ventilated porch, where it’s protected from rain.