If you enjoy a job or hobby as a welder, you know that a good helmet is a necessity. Even the most highly-skilled welders need the protection that a helmet offers. Flying sparks and molten metal can cause serious burns to face, hair and scalp, and eyes. Additionally, eyes need protection from the extremely bright light and the damage that can come from prolonged exposure to the infrared and ultraviolet rays emitted by the welding arc. Finding the best helmet for you means knowing what various helmets offer in terms of convenience and functionality relative to the type(s) of welding you do. A good helmet will also be light enough to make long hours of work more comfortable and less likely to lead to neck strain.
When it comes to how much coverage your helmet should provide, think about the type of welding you do. If your welding is entirely workbench-related, meaning you’re always looking down or straight ahead at your work, you’ll probably do well with a helmet that only covers your face and the top of your head. If, on the other hand, you spend any amount of time doing overhead welding or welding in tight spaces, you definitely want to find a helmet that covers as much of your entire face and head as possible since you’re more likely to need protection from sparks and molten metal coming from multiple directions.
As for the type of eye protection offered by a welding helmet, you have multiple options. Again, your choice should be dictated by the welding you do. If your work mostly consists of one type of welding in one type of setting (indoor versus outdoor, for instance), you’ll generally be okay with a fixed-darkness lens. Fixed darkness lenses are available in different darkness levels designed for different types of work. Make sure any model you consider has a darkness level appropriate for your type of welding. If you occasionally do welding that requires a different darkness level, it’s likely that you will be able to readily swap one fixed-darkness lens for another fairly easily, as the lenses in most helmets are universal enough to allow this. For welders whose work varies greatly from one project to the next, an adjustable lens is a better choice. Manually adjustable lenses allow you to control how dark the lens is via controls mounted either inside or outside the helmet. If you want to be able to make adjustments on the fly, exterior controls will be more convenient. If you don’t want to spend time making frequent adjustments, you can opt for a model that is self-darkening. As the name suggests, these lenses will lighten or darken based on current conditions. Some models allow you to adjust the delay and sensitivity, giving you better control on how fast or slow the lens darkens or lightens when light conditions change.
Another aspect of eye protection and comfort has to do with lens clarity. Some lenses are designed to work best in brighter daylight conditions, while others are better for lower-light jobs. Some lesser-quality lenses tend to have a somewhat blurry, night-vision type of view, which can make it difficult to do close-up inspections of your work as you go without lifting up the face mask or removing the helmet altogether.
Whether or not your face mask lifts up is a convenience factor to consider. Some welding helmets are one solid piece, so there’s no face mask to be lifted. If you want a lens-free view, you have to remove the helmet altogether. Others offer a face mask that can be flipped up. Of the flip-up models, some have to be held in the upright position, while others can be locked in the flipped-up position.
The last major consideration in terms of safety and comfort is the weight of your welding helmet. Look for the lightest model that meets your needs or a model that distributes extra weight so evenly that the helmet feels lighter than it actually is.
If your welding job requires that you wear a hard hat, be sure to limit your search to models designed to be hard-had compatible.