In the past and still today many welders use passive or regular welding helmets, which do not darken on their own. Using this type, you need to lift up the helmet and look away from the welding arc or electric spark to see what you are doing. This is a dangerous practice and it can result in serious injury if proper safety precautions are not taken prior to welding.
Today there are several welding helmets available on the market but the auto-darkening helmet is one type that has really gained popularity over the last decade.
These are my top 3 choices I Highly recommend:
TIP: Check my post about best welding helmets for beginners.
Why is a Welding Helmet Necessary?
A welding helmet is critical in protecting the user’s eyes from being exposed to harmful ultraviolet radiation. UV rays are emitted during arc or electric spark welding and can be harmful, especially when welding without proper eye protection.
A welding helmet darkens in response to the brightness of the arc or electric spark taking place. The lens will darken when exposed to bright light, like the light emitted during welding, protecting your eyes (iris) from UV radiation.
As an added measure, most helmets are equipped with side shields that block any peripheral rays of light. Side shields are especially important when welding in tight spaces, preventing injury to your eyes.
Different types of welding helmets
Before we get into this article, we should address some of the basic types of welding helmets that are out on the market today. Here is a quick look at some of your options:
- Basic Welding Helmet – This is the traditional style, passive helmet. It is not very expensive and doesn’t really offer any special features.
- Variable Shade Helmet – This can be either a fixed shade or auto-darkening helmet that gives the welder an option of different shades to select from when welding.
- Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet – These come in both fixed shade and variable shade options. The helmets are connected to a sensor that detects the light created by the welding arc or electric spark. The lens reacts instantaneously darkening to offer protection from any potential rays given off during the welding process.
- Solar Powered Helmet – This is an auto-darkening helmet that does not need batteries, but instead is powered by a small solar panel. This is another popular option for some welders.
Why is important to have a Quality Welding Helmet?
No matter which type you choose, there are several reasons why it’s important to have a high-quality welding helmet. Here are just three reasons why:
Your number one concern when welding should be safety. In the past, we mentioned how dangerous it can be to lift up a regular helmet, look away from the arc and then put it back down. A quality auto-darkening helmet eliminates this risk and offers you superior protection when you’re welding.
Comfort and Fit
The helmets come in different sizes and can fit either snugly or loosely. You need to get a helmet that fits snugly and provides you with comfort and the ability to see your welding project easily. If it doesn’t fit right, it will cause more problems than good and become an annoyance while you’re working.
The helmets can be used for all different types of welding including stick welding, MIG welding, TIG, and more. A good helmet will adjust easily to different situations and give you all the options you need with various shades and features that make it easy to see your project and protect yourself with quality protection.
Why is Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets Best Option?
So now that we have introduced some of the other types of welding helmets, let’s take a look at why the auto-darkening helmet is your best choice when it comes to welding.
Quality and Technology
The newer helmets use the latest technology available and offer a wide variety of features to give you all the protection you need when welding, including shading capabilities that monitor light conditions, memory modes where you can set your preferred settings for different types of projects, etc.
Because the older helmets only have one shade, you might have to keep adjusting it all the time when doing different types of welding, compared to the auto-darkening type, where you get a variety of shades that allow you to use the same helmet.
NOTE: You will see that more expensive helmets have usually more features for you to set and will probably save you more time adjusting proper shades for your next project. You just need to figure out, how important is this feature to you.
The helmets can be practical for everyday use and allow you to see your welding project while protecting your eyes. This is especially important when it comes to doing light welding.
The cost for an auto-darkening helmet can be a bit expensive compared to the basic welding helmets. However, the difference is not that big, you won’t be able to afford it.
Are auto darkening welding helmets safe?
Yes, they are. The technology of the auto-darkening welding helmet is much better than before, they are easy to use and offer excellent protection against the intense light produced during the welding process.
Auto-darkening helmets now feature variable shade settings, allowing for very precise control of light intensity. They have a wide viewing area and can be flipped up or down quickly depending on your needs. The lens responds very fast, usually in a fraction of a second, which is just what you need when welding.
The one drawback to these helmets is that they are a bit more expensive than regular or passive welding helmets, however they are well worth the price for the added protection they offer.
Why are basic or passive welding helmets not safe?
Basic regular or passive welding helmets are designed with an outer and inner lens. These two layers are connected by a hinge. The outer layer is for protection from debris and sparks while the inner or lower lens allows the welder’s eyes to remain open and see the welding arc. While welding, both outer and inner lenses are down.
However, when you stop welding the inner lens automatically lifts up to provide you with an unimpeded view of your work. This is where the safety aspect turns hazardous in the case of a regular welding helmet. You must lift up your head and look away from the arc to see what you are doing. This practice should never be done as it can cause serious injury.
If you are just starting out as a welder or if you have been using the regular helmet for a while, it might be time to switch to auto-darkening type.
What makes a good auto-darkening welding helmet?
When you are ready to purchase your helmet, there are some important features that will make it a good choice.
You know how difficult it can be to see the weld puddle and base material with poor lighting which can lead to costly mistakes and injuries. This is where Welding Lens comes into play! Higher quality welding helmets like Lincoln Viking are designed to help you see better in both light and dark conditions.
This is especially important if you spent a lot of time welding.
Large field of view
You need to see what you are welding and the area around you so you can avoid accidents. The lens must be large enough to give you a good field of view and not obstruct your work while giving you protection.
NOTE: Normally larger the view, the higher the price.
Variable or Fixed Shades
It is important to choose a helmet with different shade settings so you can match the level of darkness for your task. When you buy A Variable Shade helmet, you are buying a helmet that can be adjusted to different levels of shade. (for example, Lincoln helmet above can shade from 5-13)
This way, you should be able to adjust the shade depending on the type of welding you are doing.
NOTE: Some auto-darkening helmets have fixed shade so they are offering only darkening function which passive helmets don't.
The first generation of welding helmets had one arc sensor, which was used to detect the small electric current produced during welding. Now auto-darkening helmets feature multiple sensors (up to 4), allowing them to respond faster than ever before.
Reaction time and Delay
Helmets have different arc-sensing delays. They are measured in milliseconds and represent the time it takes for the lens to darken after coming in contact with an electric current. This is important because you can see what you are welding, even if it is on the move. Also, the quick change to dark mode will ensure that your eyes are not exposed to harmful light.
TIP: The most advanced helmets like Lincoln Viking need 1/25000s to darken. Take this in consideration when searching for best option.
The transition between weld and grind mode
When you grind or cut, you want a clear view of your arc without any shade so switching from welding to grinding mode on your helmet should be easy to do. Better quality helmets normally have a switch or button placed somewhere on them.
Welding helmets do weigh up to 1 pound. When welding a lot, comfort plays a big role in the overall user experience. This includes a headband that is sturdy and adjustable, a padded chin strap, and an ahead cushion if the helmet has one.
It is important to look for welding helmets that are certified to meet safety standard requirements. In countries like America, helmets are tested to meet ANSI Z87.1. (American National Standards Institute) requirements. However these standards are not mandatory. It is up to the manufacturer whether they adhere to this standard or not.
Auto-Darkening Helmet Care and Maintenance Tips
Maintaining your welding helmet is important to ensure that it remains functional. Below are some tips you can follow to help keep your helmet in top shape.
- Clean the lens often: The helmet lens should be cleaned regularly to make sure it doesn’t obstruct your welding and limits its lifespan. Never use any type of solvent or chemicals as it may damage the lens. Use soap and water and be sure to rinse it thoroughly.
- Do not scratch or poke: When the helmet lens is exposed, it is vulnerable and you may damage it accidentally. If it gets dirty, use a soft cloth to wipe the lens without applying too much pressure. If the lens is damaged, replace it immmediately.
- Storage temperature: When storing your helmet, make sure to use a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. Store it on normal home temperature; Not to cold, not to hot.
- Test sensors before each use: Perform easy sun test mentioned in post below before each usage.
- Check your knobs – Sometimes the knobs on helmets wear out or need to be tightened. Inspect these knobs before each use and make sure that they are not loose or broken.
- Charging – When your helmet’s battery is low, you will see an indicator on the helmet ‘s exterior. Make sure you your welding helmet properly charged before use
Is Solar-Powered Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets a Good Choice?
Welding Helmets with Solar-Powered Auto-Darkening are a great option. It can operate on both solar and battery power. When you save money on batteries, the higher price will pay for itself.
Great advantage of solar powered helmets is weight. If you weld a lot and in multiple positions, this might be a deal braker.
Can I use solar-powered helmet indoor and outdoor?
Yes! They can be used both indoors and outdoors. Keep in mind that solar-powered helmet is powered both with sunlight and UV light from the arc.
NOTE: First welds are usualy performed with help of battery power so the helmet starts charging itself from UV light made during welding proces.
It is important to test that the welding helmet properly darkens as the arc flashes. The easiest to perform is the so-called sun test.
Take your helmet outside in the sunlight and turn it on. Look towards the sun and see if the welding lens shades to your required level. Now place your hand in front of the lens for a few seconds to see if the lens shades in time.
The welding helmet has a photoelectric sensor that senses light and dark conditions. When you are in a dark or poorly lit environment, the sensor will act as a sensor, allowing you to see your weld puddle. When the sensor detects bright light (welding arc) it automatically darkens, allowing you to see clearly. This will protect your eyes from the bright light and prevent retina damage.
It usually takes an hour or two under intensive sunlight to fully charge your welding helmet. Never charge it under direct sunlight as this will damage the battery. I like to leave it near my window to ensure it is charged for the next use.