Your welding helmet is, perhaps, the most important piece of personal protective equipment you have as a welder. A top-flight helmet protects you from major sparks, not to mention the ultraviolet and infrared rays that can damage the eyes. Plus, a helmet that is light and agile can keep you fresh and aggravation-free as the long workday wears on.
Some welders like to add a bit of personal flair to their helmet, but the no-nonsense professional focuses on what’s important: a helmet built for the job. When it comes down to it, a great helmet does four things:
• Protects your eyes and skin from sparks
• Protects your eyes from harmful light rays
• Is easy to wear and adjust, as conditions change
• Is durable and adaptable to a variety of work conditions
Traditional vs. Advanced
Some welders still prefer traditional welding helmets with standard glass lenses and fixed shades, which remains darkened at all times. These helmets tend to be rugged and inexpensive, but they leave many of today’s welders wanting.
Fixed-shade helmets tend to be both difficult and time-consuming to use. You lift your helmet every time you need to examine a joint, set your position and prepare to weld. Then you flip your helmet down again when it’s time to strike the arc. Doing this over and over can cause neck strain and fatigue after a full day’s work.
On the other hand, for welders who appreciate what newer technologies can offer, auto-darkening helmets are worthy of serious consideration. These newer, more-advanced helmets offer continuously variable controls that adjust the shade from a light state to a dark one and back. These helmets protect from harmful light emissions at all times. Also, depending on the make and model, they can darken to almost any pre-selected shade in milliseconds, thanks to quick-changing LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology in the auto-darkening cartridges.
With auto-darkening helmets, welders can see clearly in any light condition, so setting up to weld in a joint can be done with the hood in down position. These helmets permit more continuous work, reducing unnecessary stop-and-start time, readjustments, and aggravation.
When shopping for an auto-darkening helmet, start with viewing size. After all, the more you can see, the better you can do your job. The amount of out-of-position welding performed can affect the amount of viewing area needed in a helmet. Some of the largest view sizes in auto-darkening models have an inside cover lens of 3.7″ x 2.44″, which aids in delivering a clear natural view in combination with the helmet’s LCD technology.
Next, you want to check the helmet’s light sensitivity settings. Many of today’s better helmets have settings that provide shades ranging from 6 to 9 or 9 to 13. This scale allows welders to optimize the shade for greater comfort on any given application. If you typically move between applications, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of being able to change welding machine voltage, amperage or wire feed speed settings (not to mention changes between welding processes).
Next, you want to gauge the reaction time of the helmet. You want your auto-darkening helmet to darken fast when the spark appears. A good model darkens in less than a second. The best models darken as quickly as 1/25,000 of a second. The difference between these speeds comes down to what you need as a professional.
Another important consideration is the number of arc sensors on the helmet. Basic and less expensive auto-darkening helmets will have one or two arc sensors, while the finest models will provide four arc sensors. The more arc sensors you have, the less chance that the helmet will fail to darken as needed.
Power source is another consideration. Some models feature replaceable lithium batteries. The better models combine solar cells with a lithium battery assist. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference, but the hybrid models demand less of the battery and typically last longer.
Finally, you need to consider weight and flexibility. For professional welders, a heavy helmet can be a serious burden. Newer, lightweight helmets make welding safer, easier and more comfortable. Premium models generally weigh between 18 to 24 ounces, even with a full-coverage shell. Additionally, your helmet’s headgear should adjust up, down, forward and back. Make sure it’s easy to adjust for a comfortable fit.
It may seem like a lot to think about. However, if you take the time to consider the important variables and do your research, you’ll be glad you did. When the workday ends, you’ll feel less strain on your eyes, neck and shoulders. Then you’ll truly appreciate the value of a great helmet.