Welding Helmets – the definitive guide

Welding helmet and gloves

The single most distinguishing feature of a welder is the welding helmet.  The rest of the gear…jacket, boots, pants, gloves…can all be grouped into the rough work wear category that can be used by just about any other tradesman.  The welding helmet, however, is unique to welders – no other profession has a trademark item as unique and varied as the welding helmet.  The main purpose of the helmet is, of course, safety and this should be the primary focus when deciding on your purchase.  Secondarily to that, however, is the feature set the helmet offers.  After that comes the customizations.  There are a LOT of options in today’s high end welding helmet and, of course, varying prices ranges that come with it.  Below is a list of what to look for in a welding helmet:

Lens – Auto darkening or standard glass

The lenses of today’s welding helmets are often accompanied with auto-darkening filters.  The alternative here is a helmet with lightly tinted glass and a shield that lowers to protect the eyes while welding and raises to inspect the weld.  The “head nod” is used to raise and lower this shield.  Most welders prefer the auto darkening helmets as the constant head nod to raise and lower the face shield eventually causes a lot of neck pain and it is difficult to use in tight places…and welders are often in tight places.  An additional consideration here, that applies to either type of helmet, is the weight of the helmet itself.  Welding often requires you to contort yourself and get into uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time.  The heavier the helmet is, the more strain your head and neck will be under and the more fatigue you will experience.  Choose the lightest helmet that has the features you want and is in your price range.

Auto darkening welding helmet

  • Lense reaction time:  The amount of time it takes for the lens to change from dark to light and from light to dark is called the lens reaction time and is measured in milliseconds.  The quicker this happens, the better.
  • Lens size: A lens size of 2×4 inches is pretty much standard and works well most of the time. However, if you can opt for a larger lens, you’ll find it easier to work in cramped spaces where awkward angles make the standard 2×4 lens difficult to use.
  • Lens clarity: There are four metrics that make up the industry standard for lens clarity, they are “accuracy of vision”, “diffusion of light”, “consistent shade”, and “angular dependence”.  The rating you want is 1/1/1/1 but this is hard to come by and will cost a bit more.  Just be aware of these ratings when you are shopping for your welding helmet…you want these numbers as close to “1” as you can get.  These ratings are European ratings and every welding helmet sold there must have them.  A very good article on this can be found on the Lincoln Electric website.
  • Fixed Shade vs. Variable Shade:  Depending on the type of welding you are doing, you may want to opt for a helmet that allows variation in the amount of shade the lens provides.  If you are doing the same type of welding all the time…same metal, same thickness…then this is less important.  However, if your welding material varies, you’ll want a helmet that lets you set the amount of shade to better protect your eyes and also to give you a better view of the weld puddle.
  • Shade delay: The amount of shade is important, as discussed above but equally important is the ability to set the delay.  There will be some situations where you want a longer delay and others where a shorter delay is better suited to the job at hand.  Higher end welding helmets provide a dial to granularly adjust this while mid-grade helmets typically come with a switch.
  • Arc Sensors: The arc sensors in your welding helmet detect the amount of external light and control the shading of your lense as you are welding.  Higher end helmets will have at least three of these while lower end helmets will have only one or two.  The extra sensors are important to ensure good lens darkening in all situations.
  • Solar or rechargeable:  If you are working outside in the sun all of the time than a solar helmet is a good option.  Most welders opt for a mixture of solar power and battery power where the solar cells can recharge the batteries and the batteries operate the helmet.  These can use either lithium batteries for extended times or standard off the shelf batteries that won’t last as long but are cheap and easy to replace.
  • Helmet Controls: As you can see above, there are a lot of features that are built into today’s welding helmet that need some kind of adjustment controls.  These can either be on the inside or the outside of the helmet and, of course, there are pros and cons for each.  Controls on the inside mean you must remove the helmet to change them while controls on the outside are more convenient but, keep in mind, you are literally working with electricity, fire, and molten metal so exterior controls can be damaged fairly easily.
  • Hardhat compatible:  It seems odd, but not all welding helmets are hardhat compatible.  Be sure to check this before you purchase as a lot of worksites, of course, require hardhats.
  • Respirators: I’ve saved this for last as this tends to put the price of a welding helmet out of reach of most and are usually found in company inventories for special jobs.  Welding environments are inherently unsafe, hence the focus on all of this safety equipment.  However some are more dangerous than others due to airborne contaminates.  Helmets with respirators and filters built in protect the welder from this but can add literally thousands to the price tag.

A nice video of a welding helmet: