Personal protective equipment is a must-have, irrespective of your welding skill level. A quality welding helmet or hood will protect your face area, especially the eyes from those blinding flashes, infrared, and UV rays emitted from the arc.
Without a helmet, prolonged exposure to the sparks can trigger an intense burning sensation in the eyes and extreme sensitivity to light – the classic symptoms of flash burn.
In the worst-case scenario, you could completely lose your vision.
A good welding helmet will provide you with a wide viewing area with glare-free, clear optics. Almost all the basic models come with a fixed shade lens. More premium models will offer an auto-darkening filter to minimize the impact of harmful rays on your eyes.
If you broaden your search to top-of-the-line helmets, you will find advanced offerings like multiple arc sensors, external grinding mode switch, light sensitivity adjustment.
These features come super handy in industrial settings where the welders juggle with different types of welding applications throughout the day.
The ability to adjust the light or darkness according to the welding task at hand significantly reduces errors and improves eye comfort.
To help you pick the best welding helmet to suit your needs, I will be elaborating the distinct features, benefits, downsides of different types of welding helmets available today.
Let’s get to it then –
Welding Helmet Types Based on Functionality
Welding helmets can be broadly categorized into two variants- passive helmets and auto-darkening helmets. All the other types are essentially the sub-types of these two main varieties.
Passive Welding Helmet
Passive helmets are the most common and widely used welding helmets. These helmets are hailed for their wide selection of shapes, designs, and robust construction.
A quality passive helmet will deliver solid protection against blinding heat, UV and IR emissions, sparks, fumes, and flying objects. The lenses on passive helmets are made of a heavy-duty glass of a fixed shade, typically shade #10.
In case you don’t know about welding shade numbers, here’s a quick breakdown-
Welding shades numbers indicate the light-filtering ability of the helmet’s lens. The higher the number, the darker it will get when the arc is active. Welding lens’ shade range from #3 to #13, with the lowest number providing the highest amount of optical clarity.
How much optical clarity and darkening you will need depends on what kind of projects you’re working on.
Low amp projects like plasma arc cutting, SMAW, torch brazing need lower shade value. Whereas high amp flux-cored and gas tungsten arc welding demand a higher shade value for complete eye protection.
This means shade #10 is well-suited for medium amperage gas metal, gas metal, and gas tungsten arc welding.
If you are a moderately experienced welder who will be primarily working with a fixed medium amp, a passive welding helmet with fixed shade #10 will suffice your needs.
Types of Passive Welding Helmets
Now, let’s take a look at the two variants of passive helmets:
Fixed Shade Welding Helmet
As the name suggests, fixed shade passive welding helmets come with a single-shade lens fixed into the hood.
While it does provide a broad viewing area and is very affordable, the downside is that you will have to constantly nod the hood up and down when the arc starts and stops. Also, it’s not an ideal helmet for grinding or plasma cutting projects.
Flip-up Movable Lens Helmet
This kind of helmet requires you to only flip the outer lid up and down instead of the entire shell which reduces neck strain to a great extent. When you flip up the panel, the lens underneath stays in place to provide you with standard vision, allowing you to inspect your weld or do grinding without having to reposition the shell.
The only minor issue you might face with flip-up lid helmets is the constant need for cleaning the slag and debris off the panel. That’s it.[/su_list]
Advantages of Passive Welding Helmets
- The material used for crafting passive welding helmets is extremely heavy-duty and can easily last for years.
- Most affordable welding helmets you can buy.
- Ideal for medium amperage welding applications as well as cutting and grinding.
- Perfect for DIY-ers as well as professionals who don’t want to continuously fiddle with lens reaction or sensitivity settings to get solid protection.
- Low cost of lens replacement.
Disadvantages of Passive Welding Helmets
- Requires you to constantly reposition the shell or lens lid to switch between standard and darkened vision.
- The standard #10 shade lens is not suitable for high amperage welding applications. However, you can choose a higher fixed shade for high-amperage applications.
Auto-darkening Welding Helmets
Kitted out with Auto-Darkening Filter (ADF) lens, these are the top-of-the-line stuff. The lens on these helmets automatically adjusts the visibility level when the arc is active.
It completely eliminates the need to constantly flip the lid up and down or reposition the hood. Although these helmets cost a good fortune, they are worth it if you work on different kinds of welding projects and materials on a daily basis, ranging from low-key repair work to heavy-duty, high-amp arc welding.
You just have to make sure to pick the right shade of lens for the job. There are several subtypes of auto-darkening welding helmets to suit different welding purposes. Let’s take a look:
Fixed Shade Helmets
These auto-darkening helmets condense the affordability of fixed shade helmets and the convenience of auto-darkening into one unit. In this case, the ADF filter will darken to only one shade when it detects light from the arc.
It will switch back to standard vision when the arc stops. If you only do fixed-amp welding projects involving only one kind of material, you will do just fine with a fixed shade auto-darkening helmet.
Just make sure you choose the lens shade according to your welding application. The lens shade for such helmets typically ranges from shade 9-14, with #14 being the darkest, required for applications like carbon arc welding.
Variable Shade Helmets
On the flip side, a fixed shade lens could be a nuisance if you work in an industrial setting where you have to weld a host of materials using different welding techniques.
A variable shade lens has 2 to 4 arc sensors on them which activate when the arc is struck and adjust the darkening level according to the arc type.
Digitally and Manually-controlled Auto-darkening Helmets
Manually controlled helmets are more common and relatively less expensive than their digitally-controlled counterparts. The former will usually have a knob to adjust the shade, sensitivity, and delay time.
Some come with a dedicated button for the grinding mode for easy, hassle-free operation. You can adjust the settings with your gloves on, making these helmets a highly popular choice for outdoor welding.
The digital helmets feature an LCD screen on the helmet, allowing the users to closely monitor all the variables. This increases the quality and accuracy of your welds manifold, minus all the guesswork.
Moreover, these helmets also offer useful features such as auto-off and low battery indicator to help you stay focused and at the top of your welding game. It’s equally ideal for both beginners and seasoned professionals who work on heavy-duty, extremely intricate fabrication projects.
On the downside, you will have to take off the helmet to make the adjustments if you are switching materials, technique, or environment. I think it’s a small price to pay for the kind of efficiency and precision welds it helps you achieve.
Special Features of Auto-darkening Welding Helmets
While all helmets with ADF filters work on the same basic principle, the features, and technology used in them widely vary from product to product. Below I have quickly explained some of the most advanced specs offered you will find in variable shade auto-darkening helmets:
Arc Sensors and Response
Variable shade helmet lenses are lined with two to four sensors. Helmets with two sensors would be sufficient for hobbyists and small home repair projects while 3 to 4 sensors are more geared towards highly obstructive, commercial-grade automotive, fencing, and housing projects.
Higher number of sensors means the lens will continuously detect the arc, even when there’s a lot of sunlight interference and obstructions blocking the sensors.
Helmet sensitivity refers to the amount of light required to activate the sensors. A medium to high-end auto-darkening helmet will allow you to precisely adjust the sensitivity according to the welding environment to obtain a clear, glare-free vision.
True Color Technology
Standard ADF filter lens makes everything look green when you strike the arc. If money is no object and you are going to deal with intricate welding projects, you will highly benefit from a specialized lens enhanced with true color technology.
It will give you a high-definition, realistic vision of the weld pieces and your surroundings which is sure to improve the accuracy and quality of your welds.
Apart from controlling the sensitivity, many premium models also allow you to adjust how long the lens remains dark after the arc stops. This is known as delay time, which can be set to anywhere between 0.5-2 seconds (the range may vary).
Advantages of Auto-darkening Helmets:
- Doesn’t require you to nod up and down the helmet visor constantly when switching materials.
- Variables like light sensitivity, lens shade, lens, reaction time, darkness time are fully adjustable.
- Comes with a larger viewing area with enhanced optics and true color technology.
- Lens filter shade ranges from 3-13 to suit different welding needs.
- Considerably more expensive than any other type of welding helmet.
- The ones powered by batteries require constant recharging or replacement.
Welding Helmet Types Based on Material
In this section, we will discuss and dissect different welding helmets based on the material used in the construction of their shells-
Leather Hood Welding Mask
Leather welding helmet masks have been around since forever. The two things that are different in the modern models are the improved quality and features.
Most leather hood masks manufactured today are required to use fire-proof and heat-resistant material to solidify the protection from extreme heat and fumes generated during the welding process.
Almost all modern leather masks come with an auto-darkening filter and a flippable panel to provide glare-free vision. Therefore, these helmets are perfect for outdoor welding, grinding, cutting, carving, and woodworking.
These masks provide coverage from head to shoulder, providing foolproof protection against splatter, heat, fumes debris, and flying objects.
As for the negative, wearing such a heavy-duty helmet can make you feel terribly uncomfortable in extremely hot and humid weather. So I’d suggest this helmet only if you are going to work in freezing cold temperatures
Pancake Welding Hood
A staple for professional pipeline welders, pancake welding hoods feature a balsa box which is basically a lens holder made of balsa wood. It doubles up as a protective goggle that shields your eyes from vision-damaging spark, UV and IR ray emissions.
In conjunction with the fiberglass or carbon fiber hood, these pipeliner helmets ensure glare-free vision when the sun is positioned right behind the welder. These are great lightweight alternatives to full coverage masks, therefore, are ideal for hot and humid climates.
Plastic and Glass Welding Masks
Apart from the two aforementioned variants, you will also find a plethora of glass and plastic welding helmets, both with or without the auto-darkening feature.
The plastic ones are obviously more economical but are very prone to distort the colors. It will suffice if you take out your welding gun once in a blue moon. For more serious applications, a glass helmet would be much more appropriate.
Welding Helmet Types Based on Power Source
Passive helmets don’t require any external power source to operate. However, you will need either batteries or the energy of the mighty old sun to activate the auto-darkening function of your helmet.
Helmets with Solar-powered Lens
Solar-powered lenses require solar energy, which is both energy-efficient and economical if you only work outdoors. Since there are no batteries involved, you won’t have to go through the hassle of timely charging or replacing your helmet.
Moreover, solar charge can last for several hours, making them well-equipped for time-consuming projects.
One major drawback of these helmets is that you must place the helmet under the sun for a few hours to recharge. Failing to do so could delay your project unless you have a backup option.
Helmets with Battery-powered Lens
These helmets either use replaceable or rechargeable Lithium batteries to operate. Lithium batteries are easily available and the rechargeable ones usually last quite long.
Granted, they do cost a hefty amount of money but at least, you won’t have to depend on the sun to get your helmet ready for an urgent project.
If you weld professionally and a lot of your projects take place inside the factory or workshop, a battery-powered auto-darkening helmet is your best option.
Most manufacturers will combine two or more technologies to amplify the welder’s protection and comfort. Whether you weld professionally or occasionally, you must ensure your welding helmet meets ANSI Z87 .1-2003 safety standards.
Also, keep in mind the weight and width of the viewing area when choosing the helmet. You need to be comfortable, sweat-free, able to view the weld pieces clearly to produce desired results. Hope this guide will steer you in the right direction. Good luck!