How to choose the perfect welding helmet for your needs
You can select nearly every aspect of your welding helmet to get a helmet that’s just right for you—whether that’s the size of the lens, to the color and design of the helmet. That wasn’t always the case, however — unless you wanted to drop some serious cash on the helmet.
For a long time, every welder used practically the same hood. They were black and grey, with a few red helmets here and there.
Not only did the helmets look identical, but they typically had only one simple way to protect the welder’s eyes from being blinded by the bright weld arc — a fixed shade glass lens that the welder would drop over their face with a quick nod of the head just before starting the weld.
Those are the welding helmets I grew up around—you know, back before auto-darkening technology was invented in the 1980s. It’s exciting to see how much welding helmets have changed now, and how they let welders use something that feels more comfortable, works more efficiently, and lets them stand out from everyone else.
Like I said, there are many options in welding helmets today, which is great for welders of all experience levels. Let’s look at some of the latest features to come out for welding helmets.
The auto-darkening lens is the most ground breaking technology to come to the welding helmet world. Invented in the 1980s, auto-darkening lenses darken within 1/25,000th of a second of when the welding arc starts. But like most technology, it was ridiculously expensive when it first came out. Only the most experienced, professional welders could consider affording it.
Now that so many auto-darkening lenses block all the UV and IR rays so welders can look at the weld puddle as they work and be protected from welders’ arc flash. They come in all different shade ranges so they can be used in MIG, Stick, and TIG welding down to 2 amps.
For those completely new to welding — don’t ever look at a live weld arc without a fixed shade or auto-darkening lens. But in order to form a good weld, you have to look at what you’re doing. If you can’t see the puddle and control it, you’re not going to be successful. That’s why welders use helmets with lenses that block the UV/IR rays, to protect from arc flash. Helmets also protect your face and neck from the light rays, heat, and spatter produced by the weld arc.
Welders who don’t use an auto-darkening lens have to position themselves in a ready to weld position. Once ready, they quickly nod their head to position their helmet with the lens in front of their eyes and hope they do not jostle their hands or anything else they have set up for the weld. Seasoned professionals do this with ease, but it can be a challenge for beginners. The lens is a fixed shade glass, meaning it will always block the same amount of light.
You can get the shade level you need for your job
However, not every weld requires the same level of shade. With a variable shade helmet, welders have the option to choose multiple shades in one helmet to be sure their eyes are protected in every situation. The correct shade is determined by the welding amperage being used in the welding process.
Auto-darkening lenses allow the welder to set up the metal to weld with the helmet and lens already comfortably in place. The lens darkens as soon as the weld arc starts and can vary in the level of shade, they provide the welder. The helmet can go from a lighter shade (2.5-4) to a darker shade (5-13), that the welder selects.
You can adjust how quickly the shade reacts
Quality auto-darkening helmets include sensitivity controls that allow you to adjust how much light is needed to darken the lens. It also allows you to adjust your helmet to control how the lens reacts to different ambient light sources.
The delay adjustment controls how quickly the lens goes back to the light state after the arc is out. High amperage welds still reflect dangerous rays after the arc has stopped. Increasing the delay will keep the lens darker for longer.
You can have options with more sensors
Another choice available in welding helmets is the amount of arc sensors it has. Most come with 2 sensors that will sense the arc and trigger the lens to darken. But sometimes, those sensors get blocked by the angle you are welding from or by other things in the way. That is why having an option of 4 sensors is such a useful. Welders who find themselves welding in tight spaces often prefer having 4 sensors and will pay just a little more for this option.
Your helmet can reflect your personality
But what about the welding helmet itself? Are they still black, grey and red? Maybe — but they don’t have to be! In the late 1990s, it became possible and financially feasible to create unique graphics for welding helmets. If you’re welding for work, you’re likely wearing the helmet for hours at a time. There’s no need for you to look like everyone else in the factory or the shop or to be bored by the way your helmet looks day after day. If you like a design and the specifications, performance, and quality meet your welding needs, there are many graphic options in the market today.
Custom designs on welding helmets often include flames, skulls, stars and stripes and other patriotic themes. The dominant color is still black, but other colors and designs are available.
Welding helmets have increased points of adjustments
Just like the graphics and colors of helmets are no longer “one size fits all,” the helmet itself now has more points of adjustment for increased comfort. Many welders prefer helmets that include at least 5 or 6 points where they can adjust the head gear. There’s nothing worse than having a helmet either slip out of place all day or give you a headache because it’s too tight.
More ways welding helmets are adjustable to suit your needs:
- interior or exterior adjustments and controls
- lens size for a larger viewing area
- higher definition lenses
- grind mode adjustments
- even lighter weight helmet shells
- wider availability of shade adjustments
Welding helmets can use replaceable batteries and solar power supply
One of the bigger expenses in owning an auto-darkening helmet is replacing the lens itself. If the batteries could not be replaced, once the battery died, that was it. Time for a new lens.
But with the advances in lens and battery technology replaceable batteries allows lenses to last longer than ever.
A solar powered welding helmet doesn’t mean you have to weld outside or keep the helmet in the sun on your days off. Look for a helmet with solar power supply that has replaceable batteries (either CR1025, CR2450, or AAA — all very inexpensive to replace). The battery initially darkens the lens when the arc starts. The solar power or light from the arc keeps your lens dark while welding.
How will welding helmets change in the future?
I grew up with welders and have been in the welding industry myself since 1996. I have seen a lot of changes. The cost of helmets with specialized features has gone down considerably. Younger people are getting interested in the trades and have many options to choose from when shopping for a welding helmet.
Above all, the core purpose of the helmet is to make it easier for the welder to see and manage the weld puddle so they can weld better.
What feature in a welding helmet would make it easier for you to make great looking welds you’re proud of?