So, you have decided to try your hand at welding. Great! You can look forward to a tremendously rewarding feeling once you complete your first project. Then afterward, you will see your welds improve as your skills improve over time. Once you have a good understanding of the fundamentals of welding you could even enter into a career in welding. Or simply weld around your home as a hobby welder and making repairs where needed. Either way, you need to know the protective equipment essentials for the beginner welder.
Whether you decide to enter into a career in welding or keep your newly-found skills confined to your home projects, you will need a number of welding tools and pieces of equipment to ensure your success. This article outlines the 7 most essential pieces of welding equipment you should purchase first. Primarily in the form of safety gear known as Personal Protective Equipment or PPE. Under each item’s description, you will find additional information about the most economical as well as the highest performing PPE product for that group.
For the purpose of this article, it is important to note that these essential safety products conform to industry standards. Therefore, even those items considered most economical should be appropriate for use during your welding processes. Please use the best judgment and read manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using any equipment.
Safety is always the highest priority on a welding job site. A worker can always repair a piece of equipment or grind out a bad weld and re-weld a joint. However, a personal injury can be permanent. Hazards in welding can include hot metal burns, arc burns, hearing loss, dismemberment, and loss of eyesight. All of these potential hazards should be taken very seriously. Which is why there are plenty of product offerings to choose from in the personal safety category. Before starting any welding operations, safety equipment should be purchased or borrowed then used.
Please consider obtaining these 7 Protective Equipment Essentials for the Beginner Welder, listed in order of importance:
Your eyesight is your greatest tool, hands down. You should treasure and protect your eyesight at all times. The welding process can be hazardous to your eyesight, whether it is from stray bits of flying metal from a grinder, spatter from a welding arc, or hazardous welding arc rays. You should get into the habit of always wearing your PPE when in a work environment.
Always wear clear safety glasses while near welding or cutting areas. It is also recommended to wear specially shaded goggles while cutting with a torch or gas welding. As a general rule of thumb, wear a #3 shade lens for cutting with a torch. A #5 lens is recommended for brazing. Since application varies, consult the lens manufacturer’s recommended shade level for your use.
Safety glasses and goggles can be quite inexpensive for the budget-minded shoppers. You can pick up a pair of safety glasses for less than $5. Most online industrial retailers and welding supply stores carry them in this price range. Economically priced safety glasses typically don’t offer the features the wearer might want for extended use. Comfort features such as flexible nosepieces and ergonomic fit will make long-term use more bearable. The detail to look for when selecting an economical pair of safety glasses is the rating of the glasses. The rating is typically embossed on the inside of the temple support. You should only wear safety glasses in an industrial area that are rated ANSI Z87.1.
You can find high-performance safety glasses to suit your needs in the $50-200 range. Thankfully, glasses in this price range should last you a long time. High-performance safety glasses usually come with ergonomic fitment features such as an adjustable nose piece, adjustable and ergonomic temple supports, and anti-fog coatings on the lenses. These additional features allow the user to wear a pair of safety glasses for extended periods of time. The quality level of safety glasses in this category is on par with glasses users might wear for poor eyesight. Popular brands in this category include ESS and Oakley.
Your second most important piece of personal protective equipment is hearing protection. Hearing loss is serious because it is often permanent. Loud job sites can easily reach and exceed the 85-decibel (dB) level. At this level, OSHA requires hearing protection. Welding processes are inherently loud. For example, an angle grinder can be at the 110 dB level. A carbon arc gouge process can be up to 118 dB. In the example of carbon arc gouging, 118 dB is considered very loud. 118 dB is very near what an airplane taking off produces. The rule with dB levels is that prolonged exposure to higher dB levels will cause permanent hearing loss unless you wear your hearing protection equipment.
Foam expanding earplugs can be quite economical at an average of about 2 pairs for $1. No two people’s ears are exactly the same and some people like foam earplugs but some people don’t. For what they are, foam plugs are quite economical and provide proven protection. The alternatives to foam expanding earplugs are silicone barbed earplugs and over-the-ear ear muffs. For many, the silicone earplugs don’t seat in the ear canal as well, and ear muffs typically don’t fit nicely under a welding helmet.
Not commonly used in the industry, but available from some manufacturers is the specialty custom molded earplug. Musicians, plant workers, and motorcycle riders most commonly use custom molded earplugs. The price can range between $60-600 per set depending on the quality of components used in the device.
As previously discussed, ear muff style hearing protection is not as desirable while worn under a welding helmet. Ease of use is not as big a factor as is overheating the wearer. This being said, there are some quite extraordinarily high-tech ear muffs. These are commonly used in shooting sports. High-performance ear muffs include features such as ergonomic adjustments and pass through sound technology. This allows the wearer to hear the person in front of them, but not hear high dB background noise.
Steel Toe Boots
The purpose of steel toe boots is quite simple. They are to protect your feet from falling objects. Which in a welding shop would most likely be a piece of metal. It is important to know your work area well. Especially since the environment you work in will dictate your footwear. Whereas a small welding shop might only require composite toe boots for a lower standard of safety, a shipyard with multi-ton objects being moved around would require a different pair of boots. If you ask any seasoned welder they will tell you that being comfortable is important. Comfort is king because comfort means more attention is paid to the task at hand.
Economical versions of steel toe boots can be found at department stores in the $60-160 price range. Popular brand names in this category include Caterpillar and Stanley. Economy grade boots should still carry the ANSI safety standard label. This marking identifies the boot as conforming to established industrial safety standards. Boots in this category are not known for their longevity. But, you may be able to find a good value when purchasing boots in this category.
You can get lost looking through the options on the market today for high-performance steel toe boots. Online retailers sell boots in this category between $160-500. Thorogood and Wolverine are a couple of well-known brands. Both have many product offerings in this high-end category. Features which come with boots in this category include premium insoles and linings to wick away moisture. Premium leather and high-quality sole materials are normal in this category. As is, of course, improved styling.
For additional information on the best boots for welding, check out an earlier post here!
Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet
The most obvious piece of PPE to perform any welding task is the welding helmet. Welding helmets come in 2 main categories, auto-darkening, and fixed shade. Auto-darkening welding helmets have ultra-sensitive sensors in the front, facing the weld. And, once the welding arc starts the auto-darkening mechanism darkens the lens. It is hard to believe that the automatic lens can react and darken so quickly. Incredibly, the technology is such that the auto-darkening feature turns the lens from lightly tinted to full dark in just milliseconds. This is achieved by sending an electrical current to liquid crystal cells inside the lens. This signal functions to turn the lens dark. It is easy to understand how this product made the 7 Protective Equipment Essentials for the Beginner Welder.
Depending on your particular application and environment, you might not want to use an auto-darkening helmet. If you are stick welding long beads, for instance, you may not really need a see through the lens. One advantage, however, of having an auto-darkening helmet is that you can adjust the sensitivity with a simple turn of a knob. This comes in handy when you are TIG welding. The TIG arc is small so need the lens needs to sense the arc better plus, you don’t want the lens to be as dark as you would have it for stick welding or MIG welding.
In the past 10 years, the price of an auto-darkening welding helmet has decreased significantly. The big brands in welding still produce their welding helmets. But thankfully, there are smaller companies producing welding helmets at lower price points. These are usually manufactured overseas and sale in the $30-$60 price range. Also in this price range, you can find the non-auto-darkening welding helmets. If you don’t need the auto-darkening features and don’t want to ever change the batteries in your welding helmet, the fixed lens is your best bet. Non-auto-darkening welding helmets can also be made from more durable materials since they are often used in stick welding. The stick process is harsher on all equipment due to the increased welding spatter it produces.
High-performance welding helmets can range in price between $100-2,000. Welding helmets in the $2,000 price range are offered by industrial supply companies such as 3M. These types of welding helmets are reserved for welders who weld on a continuous basis all day long. They have features such as a highly ergonomic headband and sometimes a built-in respirator. The respirator would help to help prevent the operator from breathing in hazardous welding fumes. High-performance welding helmets in the mid-range price category can be found in the offerings from brands such as Miller Electric, Lincoln Electric, Jackson Safety, and ESAB. Check out this short video from Lincoln Electric about their new helmets.
While working on welding projects, you will learn very quickly not to grab metal in welding areas. It is wise to tap it with your
hands first to make sure it isn’t hot. Welding gloves will certainly help insulate your hands from extreme temperatures which come from hot, molten metal. When you need to move a plate of metal which you have just welded on, don’t grab it with your gloves. Even if your gloves insulate your hands from high temperatures, those temperatures could burn your gloves shrinking the leather using them up prematurely. Instead, use pliers or clamps to move your metal workpiece around. As far as thickness goes, welding gloves can be split into two categories. These two categories are Heavy duty welding gloves for stick and MIG welding and thinner gloves for TIG welding.
Since welding gloves can be considered consumable items, most of them fall within the cost effective price range of $20-$50. Gloves intended for stick welding are generally heavier duty with maximum heat protection due to the inherently messy process. MIG welding gloves are similar to stick welding gloves in that they are heavier duty, but these gloves are also built for flexibility due to the need for mobility. TIG welding gloves are usually quite thin and are focused on maximum flexibility in their design.
High-performance gloves are similar in appearance to the economical gloves but are typically manufactured with higher quality materials and designs. Welding gloves in this category are typically made from premium cuts of leather. They include padding, heat reflective layers, seams sewn together with Kevlar thread, and improved styling. Popular brands in this category include Miller Electric, MCR Safety, Tillman, and Lincoln Electric. These brands are offered with price points in the $60-150 range.
You will quickly understand the safety risk of not wearing protective clothing while welding once you have experienced weld spatter burning a hole through your favorite shirt! Leathers or a flame-retardant coat should be worn when you are welding. While stick welding you should always wear leathers to prevent arc spatter from burning your skin. Especially while welding out of position, vertically or overhead. Leathers typically consist of a bib front with full sleeves. Or they can be a full jacket design. Both of which will be sufficient for stick or MIG welding. While MIG or TIG welding a flame-resistant coat will be adequate.
Fortunately, both leathers and flame-retardant jackets can be found at economical prices. Either can be found online and in welding supply stores. Standard leathers and flame-retardant jackets can be found in the $50-100 range. Popular brands in the economical category include Black Stallion, Lincoln Electric, and Miller Electric.
Higher performing products in this category will have more premium materials and designs. For example, Miller Electric sells a premium combination welding jacket (leather upper body area and fabric lower portion) for approximately $165. This higher pricing is due to the premium designs and premium materials. Leather jackets which cover your entire torso, the same way a regular jacket would, costs more than a jacket which only covers your shoulders and the front of your torso. It is important to remember that leather jackets cause you to get very hot in an already hot welding environment. Therefore, combination jackets like the one Miller Electric sells can increase your comfort while still providing good protection.
Everyone with hair on their head, both men, and women, need to consider wearing headwear or a welding cap while welding. Sparks from welding bounce out of the weld and can land in your hair. This can happen especially while stick welding, and especially while stick welding vertically or overhead.
Most of these flame-retardant headwear caps can be placed in the economic category since they typically have a simple design. These flame-retardant caps can be purchased for approximately $5-10 each.
Since the economical category encompasses the majority of the lightweight headwear products on the market, the high-performance category focuses on full head covers which are worn under welding helmets. These flame-retardant hoods help prevent burns from weld spatter from overhead welding operations. They are designed to wrap around your entire head and cover your shoulders. They range in price between $20-80.
Conclusion for the 7 Protective Equipment Essentials for the Beginner Welder
Every beginner needs to understand the serious safety risks inherent in the welding process. Yes, welding can be very rewarding but can also be hazardous. If safety precautions are not taken you can damage your eyes, your hearing or worse. Fortunately, the welding industry has developed safety equipment and procedures to mitigate the risk of injury from the process. If you will use the personal protective equipment outlined in this article, along with any other safety equipment required, you will be well on your way to producing excellent welds in a safe manner!