Joining metals is an integral part of metalwork and has been since as far back as the Iron and Bronze ages. Welding two different types of metals together allowed blacksmiths and other artisans to create metal joints that were far stronger than joining two of the same types of metal together.
As the profession progressed, welders played a hugely important part in the Industrial Revolution. Their work facilitated the building of steam engines, locomotives, looms, machines and many other inventions that transformed the world. It still is an equally important job in the 21st century. New technology has allowed welders to create stronger materials and work in environments that previously didn’t seem possible, such as underwater.
Becoming a welder today can lead to jobs in creating jet fuel tanks and other aviation equipment, pipe welding and water supply, and other manufacturing careers. Some people simply take it up as a hobby to complete small personal or household projects like making furniture, clocks, shelving and stoves.
Regardless of whether you’re a hobbyist or you hope to make welding your career, you’re going to need the proper safety equipment to prevent injury to yourself and others.
Welding Safety Gear
Personal protective equipment for welding includes:
- A helmet
- Eye protection
- Heat resistant clothing
- Ear guards
- Safety boots
- Insulated gloves
In this guide, we’re going to focus on why a helmet is the best choice for full head protection. We’ll discuss how to find the best welding helmet based on several factors and features, as well as for those on a budget.
Why Use a Welding Helmet?
Firstly, why choose a helmet over eye cups, glasses or safety goggles?
Welding involves working with extremely high heat to melt strong metals. The danger of sparks, molten metal, sharp fragments, debris and getting burnt mean that the risk of injury is almost certain if full protective clothing isn’t worn, especially on the head, face and eyes. Simply covering the eyes is not enough when you need to get up-close to your metalwork while using a flame-throwing welding torch.
Helmets also cover your mouth to protect you from inhaling metal particles and dangerous gases, and shield your ears from hearing damage caused to workshop noise.
Possible injuries caused by welding without proper safety equipment include electric shocks, inhaling toxic fumes, hearing loss, sight damage and serious burns.
All in all, a welding helmet is one tool that you definitely want to spend a little extra on to get the best protection. Below is some more information about picking a high-quality helmet and getting the most advanced features for your money.
How to Pick a Welding Helmet
Welding helmets have advanced a long way since the early masks that looked like buckets with a small viewing window. They now more closely resemble motorcycle helmets and feature cutting-edge technologies that ensure your senses and skin are fully protected.
Choosing the best welding helmet for you involves weighing up a few factors that we’ll discuss in this guide. However, there are a few essential qualities that all models should have. The best welding helmets generally feature:
- A weight around 20 oz. Headgear that weighs too much can lead to neck strain and cause the wearer to become fatigued. Headaches, discomfort and fatigue can distract the worker and lead to severe injury.
- Visor shade options. You won’t always be welding in the same light conditions, but will always need to see clearly. Adjustable shading is vital for providing clear vision as well as adequate eye protection.
- Auto-darkening technology protects the wearer’s eyes from sparks and flashes. The best welding helmets feature sensors that accommodate for the fluorescent lighting used in many workshops. Helmets that don’t take this into account can stay rather dim, making it hard to see.
- Tailoring to the type of job. Nowadays welding helmets can adjust to different jobs and types of welding. But, for more niche jobs, helmets with specialist features might be needed. For example, an underwater pipework welder will need advanced high-tech specs in their helmet in comparison to one worn by a hobbyist making a candlestick in their garage.
These points should give you an idea of the dangers of picking the wrong helmet. Welding is by nature a dangerous undertaking, but wearing the wrong helmet compounds this. Permanent injury, loss of senses and severe burns are a big risk if safety precautions aren’t closely followed.
Budget is also a factor that will come into play. The best budget welding helmets might come with many of these qualities. However, it is safest to spare no expense and buy the best welding helmet for your money. If you don’t weld on a regular basis, you could rent a high-quality one for short-term projects without splashing out on one to keep.
Lower priced options are okay for beginners working on small-scale projects, since they won’t be wearing the helmet all the time. For professionals though, all factors and safety issues should be carefully considered.
Important Factors for Choosing a Professional Welding Helmet
The following questions should be asked before purchasing a welding helmet that will be used on a long-term basis. These are most applicable to people who generally work in workshops on large- or medium-scale projects.
- Is the helmet auto darkening?
The best auto darkening welding helmets react quickly to changes in light and UV rays to shield your eyesight automatically. Workers needn’t stop what they’re doing to adjust their visor shade – the helmet does this for them. Welders are exposed to many dangerous wavelengths of light, which if not properly protected against can cause ‘Arc Eye’ – an extremely painful condition where the back of the eye is burned by UV rays, similar to getting sunburnt skin.
Therefore, one of the most important factors to consider when looking into welding helmets is whether it has an auto-darkening feature. This is especially important for those who pick up their welding torch on a daily basis.
- How many sensors does the helmet have?
Auto-darkening helmets are equipped with arc sensors which allow them to react to changes in light. Typically, helmets for professionals have four sensors.
With four or more sensors, it is possible to work in more challenging environments outside of the workshop, like pipework in darkened areas. Some more basic helmets have two sensors, though there’s a risk that the visor will fail to react to flashes in time, and there’s a higher chance of injury.
- What are the lens shade options on the helmet?
The number of lens shade options offered by the helmet is also an important factor.
- It is standard to offer up to shades 9-13, with 13 being the darkest. Arc welding requires a helmet offering darker shades.
- A 6-13 shade helmet is an option that allows the wearer to not have to turn their helmet off when grinding materials.
- For most common types of welding, like stick and TIG, shades 10-11 are sufficient.
- Some of the pricier best welding helmets will offer down to a shade 5. This is generally used for oxy-fuel or plasma cutting.
- There are even some helmets on the market that come with a magnifying lens. This allows the wearer the ability to see while completing intricate jobs.
While 9-13 shade helmets are enough to accomplish most jobs, buying a model with more lens shade options allows you to take on a wider spectrum of work.
The purpose of the lens shade is to protect the eyes from the levels of light emitted by different types of welding. This is why auto darkening helmets with a variety of lens shade options are so useful for advanced welders. Using an auto darkening helmet with a wide shade range means you can rest assured your eyes will be protected whatever work you’re doing.
- Battery powered or solar powered?
Modern welding helmets are either battery-powered, solar-powered, or both. Here are some pros and cons of each power source to help you decide which is best for you:
- Charged by renewable energy – free and eco-friendly
- You do NOT need to leave the helmet in the sun to charge. Batteries can utilize the light from a welding arc for power
- Automatically turns on/off – instantly functional as long as battery is charged
- Most have a lithium battery back-up
- The power source generally isn’t replaceable, so once the rechargeable battery dies, the entire helmet will need to be replaced (though this won’t generally happen for some years)
- Battery can be replaced or recharged when it runs flat/malfunctions
- Usually powered by standard AA or AAA batteries (cheap to obtain)
- Being able to replace the battery means you won’t have to stall a job
- Slightly heavier
- Batteries need to be replaced often
- User must remember to manually turn the helmet on and off. This could cause injury if a wearer forgets to turn it on before use, and forgetting to turn it off can damage the battery
Most welders will recommend a solar welding helmet with a battery back-up. These have a better longevity than models use a single power source and are hugely convenient with their automatic power functions.
- Is there a large enough viewing area?
It is also important to compare the viewing area of different helmets. A wider field of vision means the welder isn’t restricted and can complete better work, faster.
The desired viewing area is really a matter of personal preference. As a point of reference, anything over 3.34 x 3.74 inches is considered a large viewing area.
- Does it offer respiratory protection?
The best welding helmets should offer protection from toxic fumes and gases created during welding. Inhaling dangerous toxins given off by burning metal, and small particles of matter, can cause serious diseases and injuries. For specialist protection, some models feature built-in fume extractors.
It’s also important to remember that your breathing protection needs may change depending on the work you’re completing. It’s best to be prepared, or get your hands on a helmet with fume extraction technology if you’ll be working on a more dangerous job.
- How well does the helmet fit?
The final thing to factor in is making sure your head gear fits well. This is a major safety issue because any areas of skin that aren’t protected could be subject to burns from UV rays, arc rays and any spatter.
Welding with aluminum is especially dangerous because of its high capacity for reflecting light. One of the options for dealing with this issue is getting a welding bib that can be attached to the helmet. While this will add a fair amount of extra weight, it will offer more layers of protection.
You must weigh up protection, weight and comfort for each job. Regardless, your helmet should fit your head well, cover as much skin as possible, and be light enough to complete a day of work without hurting you. For instances where you need to attach a bib or use a heavy helmet, you should take regular breaks.
Should You Buy or Rent a Welding Helmet?
Again, this is another decision that mostly comes down to personal preference. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you will be welding on a regular basis or as part of your job. If the answer is yes, then purchasing a helmet is a good investment that will save money in the long run. You can buy one tailored to your needs that is fitted correctly to you.
Beginners and people who will only be welding every now and then might be best served by renting. You can find rental helmets at your local home improvement store. This can save money by not having to constantly replace batteries, as you won’t need to service them yourself.
Investing in one main helmet suited to most jobs and then renting ones better suited to specialist jobs is a good idea for professionals.
So, Which Helmet Should You Pick?
There are now so many options on the market that it’s normal for beginner welders to be overwhelmed. Dozens of brands sell different helmets with vastly different specs, and it’s up to you to narrow down which features you need in a welding helmet.
Below are some brands that produce top-quality welding helmets according to different categories:
Auto-darkening helmet brands
Lincoln is a brand known for making some of the best auto darkening welding helmet products currently out there, and is a top choice of expert welders.
Budget welding helmet brands
Honeywell, Kimberly-Clark and 3M produce some of the best budget welding helmet models. All three companies are respected international businesses that have been around for decades, and their longevity and experience show in their quality products.
Welders looking to spend under $100 dollars on a helmet have numerous options. However, they need to remember that inexpensive models may not offer enough protection for some jobs.
The Arcpro20704 and the Miller251292 are considered to be some of the best welding helmets under $100. They both come in just under $100 dollars and feature all the basic requirements welders like to see in their helmets. Bear in mind that these should be kept for small or personal projects only.
Best helmets for MIG Welding
The best welding helmet for MIG welding can be found from the likes of ESAB or Lincoln. Because of the intricacy of using metal inert gas to perform this type of work, safety gear for MIG work needs to be made of the strongest materials and offer superior protection.
Deciding on a welding helmet is a huge decision for a welder. It’s the arguably the most important item of personal protective equipment, as it protects the eyes, lungs and heads from serious damage. Picking the wrong equipment could lead to serious injury, but choosing the right one will keep you safe and even enable you to work better than ever.
We hope this guide has pointed you in the right direction for finding the best welding helmet for your needs. There is no one ‘best’ welding helmet out there; but taking the time to research the available options will ensure you pick a helmet that won’t let you down.