A welding helmet is the one piece of equipment where you don't want to cut corners. A less expensive helmet could lead to serious long term injuries that may jeopardize your work in both the short and long term.
Some of the possible hazards of an inadequate welding helmet include:
- A helmet with too much weight will cause neck strain and fatigue. This could lead to long term injuries.
- A helmet without enough shade options or sensors may not provide enough protection from flashes while you work, potentially damaging your eyesight.
- A helmet that can't compensate for fluorescent lights in a shop will stay quite dim and limit your visibility unnecessarily.
When you're looking for a helmet, you need to consider the range of jobs you plan on doing, how long you'll wear the helmet, and how much you're willing to spend.
The Ideal Weight for a Welding Helmet
The lighter welding helmets will weigh about 20 oz, saving professional welders from neck pain or fatigue after wearing the helmet all day. The less expensive helmets will weigh more, but that may not be a big deal if you're only welding for side projects or hobbies.
Why Choose an Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet
Most of the top welding helmets on the market come with auto darkening, a feature that can come in handy when there are flashes while you weld. A flash can essentially cause a sun burn on your eye, leading to a great deal of discomfort--a sensation that has been compared to having sand thrown in your eyes. By wearing an auto-darkening helmet, you'll protect your eyes while you work and especially whenever a flash flares up.
Auto-darkening helmets also make it very easy to start working without flipping your helmet down. When you strike your arc, the sensors on your helmet will activate the shade and you'll be set. This is especially helpful in ensuring that you weld right along the seam. The distraction of flipping down a helmet sometimes results in welders starting in the wrong location. Auto-darkening removes this potential problem.
The one thing to keep in mind about an auto-darkening helmet is that learning how to weld with an auto-darkening helmet will make it nearly impossible to successfully weld with a helmet that doesn't offer this feature. Though auto-darkening is common, you are locking yourself into this kind of helmet for the foreseeable future. Most welders don't have a problem with that, but it's one factor to keep in mind.
Sensors for a Welding Helmet
The best welding helmets have four sensors that will catch any flashes while you work in a variety of angles. Some less expensive helmets have two sensors that work fine for regular position welds but may not catch every flash while you weld out of position. Four sensors are excellent for out of position welding where a pipe or other obstruction may block your sensors from picking up a flash. Four sensors ensures you're always protected.
Lens Shade Options
The more lens shape options you have in your welding helmet, the more you can do with it. If you want to start by grinding or cutting metal,
A 9-13 shade is standard, but some helmets come with a 6-13 shade that provides grinding modes so that you don't have to switch off your helmet while on the job. The basic 9-13 shade options will be enough to get quite a few jobs done, with the wider range of options simply making it more convenient and providing all of your needs in one helmet.
The role of the lens shade is protecting your eyes from bright flashes while welding. Since you can't predict flashes, auto-darkening helmets with a wide range of shades are extremely handy. The itself on the helmet will protect you from the UV rays while welding, but the shades handle the flashes.
Some helmets also provide a slot or a clip for a magnifying or "cheater" lens that helps you see smaller weld joints.
Helmet Power Source
The power source for a welding helmet can be tricky, as some helmets come with a power supply that you can't replace. Before investing in a helmet or picking up a helmet on the cheap, make sure it offers a replaceable power source.
Welding helmets are either powered by batteries, solar panels, or a combination of the two. Solar power is a great way to extend the life of your batters if you use them together. Solar by itself usually can't be replaced, and therefore a lot of welders prefer a combination power source or batteries alone. The disadvantage of batteries alone is that you need to replace them frequently.
Another helpful feature on a welding helmet is the auto-off setting. This will save your power source and ensure that you never drain your helmet of power, only to find that you can't use it when you need it. whether you're a weekend welder or a full time welder, auto-off is one of the best features you can have for a welding helmet.
Viewing Area Size
One of the most common improvements made on welding helmets is a larger viewing area. The latest Viking helmets from Lincoln have an especially large viewing area. This may come down to personal preference, but if you're working on a large piece of metal, the more you can see, the better. One of the larger viewing areas will be about 3.74 x 3.34 inches.
The fit of a welding helmet is another key factor to consider. Any exposed skin from a helmet that doesn't fit right could burn from spatter or UV rays.
Exposed skin could burn quite badly especially while working on aluminum since it's highly reflective. You can compensate for some of this by wearing a welding bib that attaches to your helmet and provides additional protection, but make sure you have all of the heavy duty protection that you can while welding by picking a helmet that fits you best. It's worth the extra investment.
Depending on your job site, you may also want a heavier duty helmet with hard hat capacity.
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Next in the Buying Guide: How to Choose Welding Gloves