Welding can be a rewarding career for many and a great side gig or hobby for others. Finding the right welding helmet is important no matter what type of welding you do. There are lots of different styles available, so it’s important to know what to look for so that you can make sure you find the right one for you, no matter how often you’ll use it.
A helmet’s primary function is to protect your eyes from sparks, molten metal, and potential damage from the ultraviolet and infrared rays of the welding arc. Secondarily, a helmet also protects your head and face from burns. When it comes to head and face protection, the type of welding you do should be your guide. If your work involves a lot of tight-space or overhead welding, find a helmet that covers as much of your head and face as possible. You can get away with less coverage if you only engage in workbench-type welding.
A welding helmet lens, or eyeshield, can be adjustable or fixed in terms of darkness level. If your welding jobs are consistently the same, you might be able to get by with a fixed darkness lens in a shade appropriate to your type of work. Most welding helmet lenses are universal and removable, so you should be able to swap out different lenses if you need to. Adjustable darkness lenses can either be self adjusting or manually adjustable. You should opt for an adjustable lens if you do many types of welding that subject your eyes to a variety of brightness levels. Self-adjusting lenses are the most convenient for situations where you experience frequent light changes during the course of a single job since you don’t have to take the time to adjust the darkness level yourself. Many self-adjusting models allow you to set the sensitivity and delay, giving you more control over how quickly or slowly your lens reacts to changes in light.
Another thing to think about when looking at welding helmet lenses is the clarity you’ll get. Some lenses tend to be a little blurry and offer a night-vision type of view, which can make close inspection of your work hard to do without removing your helmet. Also be sure to understand how any lens works in your usual work lighting. Some models are better suited for lower-light applications, while others are designed for brighter outdoor welding.
If you opt for a model with manual controls that you’ll need to access “on the fly,” make sure you find one with exterior controls. These are easier to reach, but are also more exposed to sparks and more likely to be damaged if the helmet is dropped or handled carelessly than interior-mounted controls.
When it comes to comfort, especially if you intend to wear the helmet for long periods of time, weight is a huge concern. Usually, you should look for the lightest helmet that meets your needs. A difference of as little as a pound can feel like so much more when it’s worn on your head for long periods. Given the usual position for welding, this extra weight on your head can lead to serious neck strain and even some back problems. I say “usually” because some helmets are built in such a way that their weight is so well distributed that the helmet actually feels lighter than models that weigh less. Your best bet will always be a helmet that, when you hold it in your hands, feels well balanced and lighter than you expected.
The last feature to consider is whether or not you need a helmet with a facemask that can be lifted up. If your work involves frequent stops and starts, you’ll definitely want a facemask you can raise so that you don’t have to keep taking the whole helmet off and putting it back on. Some masks have to be held in the flipped-up position; others can be locked in the upright position, which can be super convenient.