Welding can be a relaxing but dangerous activity. You’re connecting two pieces of metal by way of introducing a heck of a ton of heat at the joint. During the welding process, a welder is exposed to extreme heat, UV and infrared rays, and flying sparks. Needless to say, you need something to protect your head, face, and neck.
One piece of gear you can wear to protect your head from the dangers of welding adequately is a welding helmet. It’s pretty much the only thing protecting your eyes exposure to bright lights and hot sparks.
Whether you’re thinking of picking up your first welding helmet or need an upgrade, you need to make sure that you’re getting the best helmet possible. This article will explain what exactly you need to look out for if you’re looking for a good welding helmet.
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Fixed- or Variable-Shade Lens
The first thing you need to decide is whether you want a fixed-shade lens or a variable-shade lens.
A fixed-shade lens darkens to a predetermined setting, usually at #10 shading on the ANSI chart. A variable-shade lens can be tinted to several different shading ranges. The shading is dependent on what sort of welding process is being done and what materials are being connected.
The decision between purchasing a fixed or variable lens should depend on what you’re planning to do. For single-process welding, a fixed-shade lens will do just fine. However, if you’re a little bit more flexible in your welding game, a variable-shade lens would definitely be the better option.
Lens Adjustment Time
This feature refers to how long it takes for a variable-shade lens to switch from normal shade (#3 or #4) to a darker, eye-protecting shade. This lens will automatically darken as soon as the sensors (more on this later) detect the presence of weld sparks. The shading should occur immediately in order to protect your eyeballs from radiation exposure sufficiently. Even the slightest delay could cause discomfort in the eyes, a condition known as “arc eye.” Prolonged exposure to the radiation can potentially lead to permanent damage and even blindness.
In order to grasp what we mean by “immediately,” the longest delay you should tolerate is 1/3,600 of a second. There are some fancier lenses that react in less than 1/10,000 of a second.
Number of Arc Sensors
Just in case you don’t know, a variable-shade lens doesn’t darken or brighten of its own accord. Auto-darkening welding helmets come with multiple sensors that are constantly on the lookout for weld sparks. As soon as a sensor picks it up, the lens will jump straight into the darkening process.
Regarding the arc sensors, you’ll need to consider their sensitivity, positioning, and most importantly how many there are. Basic auto-darkening helmets usually sport two sensors at most, whereas the top-tier helmets can have three or four. Obviously, more sensors mean a reduced risk of the lens failing to darken when it’s needed most.
Two sensors may be enough for indoor and/or single-process welding, whereas it’d be much safer to have three or four sensors for outdoor and more complex welding processes.
Auto-darkening helmets are powered by either solar energy or batteries. There are even some helmets that use a combination of both fuel sources.
Solar-powered welding helmets are the costlier option, but you can actually save money in the long run since you don’t need to make purchase replacement batteries. The problem with solar-powered welding helmets is that they take a few hours to charge, so downtime can be extremely long if a) it’s nighttime, or b) it’s cloudy.
Battery-powered welding helmets can be used right away without needing to worry about the weather. However, since you need to replace the batteries every so often, just know that you may end up spending a ton of money over time.
The best option would be to get a hybrid helmet that uses both solar energy and batteries. If it’s daytime and the sun is shining, leave your helmet out to charge. If you can’t wait, just plug in the batteries and get to work.
Material and Weight
Some of the most common materials used to make welding helmets include plastic and carbon fiber. Both of them can withstand high temperatures and drops without warping.
Even though durability is something to pay attention to, the more important factor is the weight of the helmet. Basically, you’re putting on a piece of headgear that wraps around your entire head. You obviously don’t want something bearing down on your head and shoulders as you’re attempting to weld metal.
Your welding helmet should be reasonably lightweight while sturdy enough to withstand punishment. Luckily, you’re not going to have a difficult time finding such a welding helmet since all manufacturers attempt to produce the most comfortable helmet of all time.
The final consideration we want to talk about today is your range of vision when using a welding helmet. Sure, you don’t need to be able to see too far to the sides unless you’re welding in the middle of a coyote-infested forest.
All welding helmets go through an optical test that examines four categories: distortion, clarity, shade uniformity, and consistent viewing angles. A helmet is rated 1 to 3 in each of these categories with 1 being the highest and 3 the lowest. If a helmet has an optical rating of 1/1/1/1, then you’re going to get the greatest vision from inside the helmet.
The main purpose of a welding helmet is to keep your eyes, face, neck, and hair from sparks, heat, and blinding rays. As you can see, a welding helmet is actually much more complicated than you may have originally thought.
A lot of what constitutes a high-quality welding helmet has to do with the lens. It’s all about how to preserve your vision while looking at extremely bright lights for extended periods of time. The best welding helmets let you choose how shaded the lens is. Other considerations include how comfortable and heavy the helmet is.