Last week, in Basic Welding Safety, we discussed the necessary protective gear for welders. This week, we will focus more specifically on choosing the best welding helmet.
The cost of welding helmets ranges from $15 to over $100, depending on the features. However, Welding Design and Fabrication says, “as a general rule, spending more on a welding helmet will increase comfort, improve your welding ability, result in higher quality welds, and ensure your safety.” So let’s consider the options available on welding helmets to help determine the best mask for the situation.
There are two basic lens types for welding helmets: passive and auto-darkening. Let’s examine both types and list their pros and cons.
Passive Welding Helmets
Passive helmets are the cheapest option and come with a fixed-shade lens, usually a shade 10, although it depends on the manufacturer and the helmet model. The lens of a passive helmet is typically made of standard glass and coated with IR (infrared) and UV (ultraviolet) protection to keep the user safe from rays.
Pros for standard welding helmets:
- Provide essential protection at a low price range from about $15-$30.
- Provide sufficient head and face welding protection.
- Have a lens that is a piece of dark, tinted glass, usually with a #10 shade and ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) coating.
Cons for standard welding helmets:
- Must be manually lifted and lowered before and after welding.
- It can present a challenge when the individual must keep the gun/torch properly positioned while simultaneously lowering and raising the helmet. This can be especially difficult for beginners.
- Difficult to use in restricted spaces with little room for moving the helmet face up and down.
- It can lead to neck discomfort from moving the helmet face up and down multiple times daily, day after day.
- Moving the helmet up and down regularly can result in less efficiency.
Best use for standard welding helmets:
- A decent choice for the home welder, handyman, or small shop owner who does the occasional welding job.
Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets
The lens of auto-darkening welding helmets usually has a passive shade of 3 -4. Electronic sensors located in the lens mount of the helmet detect the welding arc. The arc detection triggers the filter to automatically darken (1/30000 of a second) to a preset shade. The shade range is usually variable and ranges from shades 9 to 13. The virtually instantaneous darkening of these helmets provides many quality of life advantages, which makes them extremely popular with professional welders.
Pros of auto-darkening welding helmets:
- Provide excellent head and face welding protection.
- Have an electronic filter lens that instantaneously darkens and lightens automatically.
- Have a liquid crystal display (LCD) with adjustable features allowing you to set the shade level (typically shades 9-13) and sensitivity of the filter.
- Have a passive lens shade #3 or #4, so you can quickly inspect your work without lifting the mask.
Cons of auto-darkening welding helmets:
- The initial cost is more than standard passive welding helmets.
- Requires batteries.
- Replacement parts are more expensive.
Best use for auto-darkening welding helmets:
- Recommended for professional welders and shops that frequently weld.
Welders differ on the importance of wearing auto-darkening helmets. One welder noted that he thinks they are “a luxury, not necessities.” He further recommends spending money on your welding machine and rods, adding that practice makes perfect.
Other welders strongly disagree, stating that auto-darkening helmets are an essential piece of safety equipment. One welder stated: “If you’re not wearing one of these, you might as well be welding with your eyes closed.” Another welder said: “I would never weld without my auto-darkening helmet – it’s just not worth the risk.”
So, what’s the verdict? Are auto-darkening helmets a necessity or a luxury? The answer may depend on your personal welding style and preferences. However, one thing is sure – if you wear an auto-darkening helmet, you’ll be glad you did when that bright welding arc comes into view.
Knowing what’s available and what you prefer is the best approach to deciding the type of welding helmet you should purchase. Use the above tips to make the best-informed decision possible.
It’s important to understand all of your options when it comes to choosing the correct welding helmet. Safety equipment isn’t something to be stingy with. After all, it could be the difference between a minor injury and a life threatening one. Don’t risk it.