Welding Helmets and eye protection

Welding helmets are one of the most common accessories in welding – let’s face it, you can’t weld without one or at least some type of protective eye shield. But what types of questions should you be asking as you are looking for your next helmet? Below are some of the most common.

Q: What is the correct lens shade to use in my welding helmet to properly protect my eyes?

A: Many people mistakenly think that the lens shade number corresponds to the amount of protection that is provided to the eyes and hence the higher the number, the better the protection. But in reality, all well-constructed quality welding lenses, have a screen that filters out 100 percent of the harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) wavelengths and provides protection to the eyes. The number just denotes the amount of darkness provided by that particular lens and should be used by operators as a guide to select the one that is most comfortable and yet provides good visibility for the particular application.

Of course, there are some suggested lens shade numbers that you can use as a guide if you are unsure what to select for your application. These correspond with the amperage being welded. Always select a shade that allows you to see the weld puddle clearest and that most aids your welding ability.

Q: Auto-darkening helmets don’t darken until the welding arc is struck – will this “split second” damage my eyes?

A: Welding arcs emit both IR and UV wavelengths of light. Unprotected from this light, both eye damage and discomfort can occur. Since high-quality auto-darkening helmets provide UV and IR protection even when the helmet is not activated, you are always protected. However, for maximum comfort, look for a high quality helmet that has a response darkening time of 4/10ths of a millisecond. Less than a millisecond is not perceivable by the human eye and will provide the most comfort.

Q: What type of helmet is better solar-powered or battery-operated?

A: In most cases, it simply is a choice of personal preference and what is most convenient to the operator. But, one thing to watch out for is getting “flashed” with battery-operated helmet. These helmets offer a feature that will automatically turn off the battery after the helmet has been sitting idle. If the welder isn’t careful, he could get arc flash thinking that his helmet is still dark. Solar powered also offers the convenience of not having to worry about changing batteries.

Q: Should I choose a fixed or variable shade?

A: If you are always using the same arc welding process on the same material, a fixed shade is sufficient. But if you, like most welders, are using a variety of materials and welding a number of different applications, your best bet is a variable shade, which will adjust to the correct darkness for your particular process. For instance, when you are GTAW welding at lower amperages, you may need to lighten up the lens to see what you are doing – a variable shade will permit this while a fixed shade will not.

Q: What other features should I look for?

Adjustable Welding Helmet

A: Besides looking for something that is lightweight, you may want to find a helmet that has a sensor bar. With this feature, it will limit the field of response so the helmet won’t be triggered by the person welding next to you. A helmet that has a curved clear spatter shield over the optics will provide the best optical clarity so you can see what you are welding. In addition, a helmet that is fully adjustable is important. Some helmets can only adjust the tilt of the helmet to the chest. A fully adjustable helmet also provides adjustment on how close the helmet is located to the face. This is especially important for those who wear glasses. Lastly, look for a reputable manufacturer that offers a warranty and replacement parts.