Welding is one of the more dangerous and technical professions on any job site. It involves extreme attention to detail at all times, and the combination of oxygen and acetylene is highly dangerous and explosive. Welding is usually done on the ground, but it can be required in other unique positions. Sparks may be flying, and metal may be reacting badly to the application of heat and pressure. Welding needs to be done in all conditions, from the heat of the desert to the cold of the artic. Across all these conditions, one of the most important things for a welder to protect is their eyes. The flame of a welding torch, regardless of welding type, is extremely hot, and generates between 1,995-6,300 degrees Fahrenheit. This flame is extremely bright and can quickly cause retina damage. There is also the danger of metal splinters being produced during the welding process.
There are several different types of welding, which change depending on the environment, equipment, and materials to be joined together. The oldest type of welding, forge welding, doesn’t really require a helmet for vision protection. It is exactly what you imagine when you think of a forge, where a blacksmith is using a hammer and coal, or wood fired forge to heat and beat metals together. Arc welding is a much more modern and common type of welding and is broken down into several sub categories. It basically uses a power source to run a current between an electrode and the base material to melt the metal at the point of contact. Arc welding is further broken down into shielded metal arc welding (stick welding), metal inert welding (MIG), metal active gas (MAG), flux cored arc welding (FCAW), and submerged arc welding (SAW). The heat and light produced by these processes can be in excess of 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can produce 3,000 watts of light energy. Plasma arc welding is similar to TIG welding but employs much higher temperatures in order to reduce the welding metals to a state of plasma. Plasma welding can be up to 24,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and extremely bright like the other welding types.
Other common uses for welding helmets is for protection during cutting and grinding. Both of these activities produce extreme light and heat, as well as the possibility of burning hot metal sparks. Cutting can be done with a plasma or oxy acetylene torch, both of which produce extreme heat and light. Cutting can also be done with a cutting disc, although this has some limitations. Grinding can be done with a grinding disc and is usually used to prepare a piece for the weld or cleaning up the weld at the end of the job. All these pose risks to the eyes and head.
The most common injury which welding helmets protect a welder from is permanent eye injury from UV/IR radiation. “Welder’s flash” or “arc eye” is the same type of injury you get from staring at the sun for too long. The retina gets burned, leaving the welder with painful, bloodshot eyes that are sensitive to light. While you will recovery, it is usually a couple days to a week of recovery time. This could cost you wages and time, as well as be extremely painful for several days. A good helmet will shield your eyes from the UV radiation of the weld, as well as protect your face and head from flying sparks and metal particulates. The particulates and sparks can burn or damage your skin and clothing. The particulates and sparks can also present a hazard to the eyes, nose, and throat through inhalation. A quality full face mask will provide a physical barrier to flying sparks or small particles created from welding, not just provide a defense against radiation. A helmet should also be large enough to protect the face from injury in case something goes wrong in during the weld. A large piece of metal flying towards your face can be a powerful reminder of the importance of a good welding helmet.
What to Look for in a Welding Helmet
Some welders prefer to just use a welding mask that protects the eyes from retinal damage. However, a full mask provides protection from all the other dangers inherent in welding. There are many options available out there for welders for both masks and helmets, with helmets obviously going for a bit more. It is important to have a lens shade, which allows the welder to see while simultaneously protects the retinas from damage. Many modern lens shades have an auto darkening lens, which automatically adjusts the filter in order to protect the eyes. The helmet also needs to shield the entire head, from the crown to the throat. It also needs to protect the face from ear to ear, as sparks and splinters can come from any direction. It can’t be too heavy, as the neck muscles can fatigue easily if too much weight is placed on the head. This is one purchase than just may save your life, or at least save you from serious bodily harm. With that being said, you don’t need to spend an arm and leg for a good welding helmet.
Top 5 Budget Welding Helmets
The Antra AH6 is a light weight robust helmet that offers solar powered auto darkening lenses. It has an adjustable lens, allowing the darkening setting to be adjusted based on the type of welding being performed. The lens is a high impact plastic, not glass, which helps reduce weight and increase durability. It has a time delay, is hard hat adaptable, and can be upgraded with a magnifying lens. It comes with six replacement exterior lenses and one replacement internal lens. It is extremely versatile, and can be used for grinding, cutting, and welding. It automatically powers on and off, reacting to the light produced by the welding torch. Additionally, this model is usable outdoors, as the sensor detects the difference between sunlight and the light of a weld or cut. It is certified to operate at between 14-131 degrees Fahrenheit, and is made of a high impact polyamide nylon, which helps protect the welder from impacts and debris in all conditions. The helmet does have a backup battery, which is replaceable. It has a time delay knob on the side, which is large enough to be manipulated by a welder wearing gloves.
- Large viewing port with four arc sensors
- Large adjustment knob, easy to manipulate with gloves on
- Usable in all conditions
- Great for TIG, MIG, and plasma welding, grinding, and cutting
- Several reports of issues with the batteries and solar power operating the auto darken function
- Some reports of beeping from the low battery indicator even with fresh batteries
This helmet is another auto darkening option for a welder. It has four arc sensors and a full shade range, making it perfect for cutting, welding, and grinding. It can be upgraded with a magnifying lens, but its normal lenses are more than enough to reduce the light created by a weld to see the items being welded together. This helmet also has a delay timer and toggle switch to allow for manual control. The helmet also offers a DIN 3.0 filter, which reduces the amount of light allowed through the filter, while still allowing the welder to clearly see what they are working on. The filter blocks both UV and IR light, offering great protection from retina damage. The filter offers minimal distortion, which allows for precision and clarity during welding operations.
- Top clarity rating for interior and exterior lenses
- Extra lenses included at no extra cost
- Full shade range
- Helmet covers from top of head to below the neck
- Up to 14% light transference
- Reports of sensors going bad quickly
- Head strap may feel flimsy
- Some users have had the sensor change the darkening mid weld, causing eye pain
The Lincoln Electric 3350 helmet is on the higher end in terms of price but offers a lot of value. With a larger viewing area, four arc sensors, and a TIG rating of 2A, this helmet offers a lot of bang for your buck. It is solar powered, with a sensor reaction time of 1/25,000 seconds, and has a 5 to 13 variable lens shade. The clarity and sensitivity of the auto darkening lenses give this one a competitive edge over the competition. While it is quite a bit more expensive, the superior quality, light weight, and ability to use it for long stretches without fatigue make this an excellent choice.
- Large viewing port
- 4 arc sensors
- Extremely quick auto darkening
- Usable indoors and outside
- Extra lenses included
- Most expensive helmet on the list
- Small adjustment knob makes it hard to manipulate during welding
- Need to tighten extremely tight to prevent it from moving during a weld
- Some people have had issues with it in direct sunlight
The Tanox Pro offers selectable modes, letting the user fine tune their preference for auto darkening settings. It can be set for cut, weld, or grind. It has an angle adjustment knob, an LCD screen, and easy digital control settings. It is suitable for all types of welding or cutting. It has a solar shade lens and is solar powered with a lightweight battery backup. It will also function in extreme conditions, rated for operation between 23-131 degrees Fahrenheit. Like some of the others on this list, the Tanox helmet comes with an extra interior and interior lens cover. It also comes with a set of fire-retardant gloves, which is a nice bonus.
- Free 16-inch fire retardant gloves
- Highly capable for welding, cutting, and grinding
- Comfortable to wear for long periods of time
- Clear viewing area and easy digital display
- One of the more expensive helmets on the list
- Gloves are bulky
- Can move a lot on the head if not properly tightened
The DEKOPRO helmet is the least expensive helmet on the list, but still comes with a lot of quality features. Its auto darkening filter reacts to changes in light in 1/15000 sec to protect the welder’s eyes from damage. It offers the option to manually adjust the light level and color filter, which makes it a good choice for those who operate in a variety of environments. It has a lithium battery with a low power alarm, and easily manipulated buttons for work in gloves. It is extremely light weight, with adjustable head bands offering omni directional comfort control. Based on the reviews, this helmet is more suitable to welding and cutting, but is not as good for grinding as some of the other options on this list.
- Lightest weight of any helmet on the list
- Least expensive helmet on the list
- Rated for use in all welding applications
- Light sensitivity is effective
- Some users report it not working in direct sunlight
- Auto darkening is the slowest on this list, but still rated to change in 1/15000 of a second
- Several reports of the auto darkening function failing after the first month or two
There are many great options out there when it comes to welding helmets. They can cost anywhere from $35 to over $200. A lot of times you get what you pay for, but sometimes you can find a quality product on a budget. This article has presented 5 of the most popular options, and hopefully given you enough information to help you decide on which product is right for you. Remember the importance of protecting the eyes from UV damage, the danger of flying sparks and particulates which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. A good helmet will provide all of this and more. It needs to be comfortable for all day wear in all conditions.