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 about $15 for a basic standard helmet to over $100 for auto-darkening helmets depending on the features. Welding Design and Fabrication says that “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.” With that being said, let’s consider the various 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 lenses. 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, which is 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 viewing 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 after lighting the welder and before welding as well as when finished welding or to inspect work before proceeding.
  • It can present a challenge when the individual must keep the gun/torch in proper position while simultaneously lowering and raising the helmet. This can be especially difficult for beginners.
  • Difficult to use in restricted spaces that have limited room for moving the helmet face up and down.
  • It can lead to neck discomfort from having to move the helmet face up and down multiple times a day, day after day.
  • It can result in less efficiency from having to move the helmet up and down regularly.

Best use for standard welding helmets:

  • A decent choice for the home welder, handyman or small shop owner who does the occasional welding job.

Welder Using Auto-Darkening Helmet

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 typically 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 of #3 or #4, so you can easily 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.

With all that being said, some welders believe that an auto-darkening helmet is not a necessity. One welder noted that he thinks they are “a luxury, not a necessity.” He further said he recommends spending “your money on your welding machine and your welding rods”  because “the more you practice welding, the more you will realize your welding rod or welding gun are nothing more than an extension of your hand, and it’s pretty easy to figure out where that is at all times, even if you’re not looking. After all, practice does make perfect.” On the other hand, some say that “many injuries have been eliminated by auto-darkening helmets because they cover a welder’s eyes at all times without risking exposure to irritating fumes and flying debris.”

Knowing what’s available as well as what you prefer is the best approach to deciding on the type of welding helmet you should purchase. Use the above tips to make the best-informed decision possible.