A Simple Guide to Selecting the Right Welding Helmet in 2021
Before you select a welding helmet, it’s important to ask what you need it to do.
This answer may seem obvious. You need it to protect your eyes, right? Of course! However, there’s a variety of other factors to consider.
- Do you need it to cover the top of your head?
- Your throat?
- The nape of your neck?
- Do you need air filtration or ventilation?
- Do you need a fixed shade lens or auto-darkening?
- How many sensors should it have?
- Are you working indoors or outdoors?
In this article, we’ll help you find the answers to these questions and ultimately select the perfect welding helmet for your needs.
How was the Standard for Modern Welding Helmets Developed?
The first welding helmet was invented by Fibre-Metal founder Frederick M. Bowers in 1905. His early design looked more at home on a medieval knight than the modern welder. It took him 10 years to receive a patent, and 12 more to begin selling his invention commercially.
For many years, welders’ choices in eye protection were limited and welders didn’t pay much attention to the harmful effects of radiation. There was no standard related to safe practices for welding prior to 1944 when War Standard ASA Z49.1-1944 was developed under the auspices of the American Standards Association. This standard has been updated over the years to its current version, ANSI Z49.1:2005, which is also the basis for OSHA Standard 1915.153.
What shade of lens do I need?
According to the selection guide in ANSI Z49.1:2005 (AWS F2.2), the shade you should use depends upon the welding process being performed and the arc current amperage.
Soldering and brazing may only require a shade 2-4, while high amperage arc welding may require a shade 11-14. For the most common welding practices, a shade 8-10 lens is appropriate.
A lens shade that is too light will not provide adequate protection from the welding arc and may cause the wearer to squint to block some of the intensity of the arc. A lens shade that is too dark will not allow the wearer a sufficient view of the weld zone.
This is one reason why adjustable auto-darkening filters have become so popular for welders who perform a variety of processes.
Should You use a Helmet with a Passive lens (fixed shade) or an Auto-Darkening Lens?
This is largely a matter of personal preference. Welders who perform a variety of processes typically prefer a helmet with an auto-darkening filter that is adjustable on the fly.
Welders who work in dynamic light conditions (partially shaded areas or areas with competing bright light sources) may find that the sensors in their ADF helmets do not perform correctly under these conditions.
It is also possible for dirt, debris, or other objects to block light sensors, leading to inconsistent and dangerous functioning of the helmet.
This is why most premium auto-darkening helmets will have multiple light sensors. Pancake and Pipeliner-style helmets are popular with welders who regularly perform welding processes that generate a high amount of spatter, such as stick welding (SMAW) and flux-core welding (FCAW).
How much coverage/protection do I need?
At a minimum, a welding helmet should cover your eyes and face, from your chin to the top of your forehead and your ears. Ideally, your entire head and neck would be protected.
Realistically, you’ll have to balance the level of protection with the level of comfort and practicality.
If you are welding at waist level at low amperage, a beanie or cap may be sufficient protection for the top of your head. If you are welding overhead in the 4F or 4G position, you will most likely find that a beanie offers poor protection from the shower of hot sparks raining upon your head.
Alternatively, if you have a beard, you will most definitely want to tuck it into your shirt or wear a helmet with a fire-resistant bib.
If your work environment requires you to wear a hard hat, you will need an adapter or bracket to allow your welding helmet to attach to your hard hat.
In confined spaces, a traditional welding helmet may not work and a welding mask, such as those available from Miller Welding and Jackson Safety, may be needed.
How will I protect my lungs?
Although this may seem like an odd question to ask when considering welding helmets, it is one of the most important.
Inhalation hazards are ever-present in the welding world and respiratory equipment should be worn which is compatible with your welding helmet. At a minimum, welders should be wearing a NIOSH N-95 rated mask under their helmets to reduce the amount of dust and particulates they inhale.
Many welders have chosen to upgrade to powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) units which are made specifically for welding and attach to the welding helmet.
These systems provide a consistent flow of cool, filtered air to the welder and are highly effective in preventing welding-related illnesses such as metal fume fever.
If you opt to go without respiratory protection, you should at least make sure that your workspace is well-ventilated or that you have some sort of fume extraction equipment available to draw contaminated air away from your face.
How much does a quality welding helmet cost?
The short answer to that question is “a lot less than the medical expenses related to not using one”. The long answer is that it depends on what features you want.
Basic helmets can be had for less than $40.00 while premium PAPR equipped units can run in excess of $2,000.00. If you’re unsure what to buy, go see your local welding supplier.
They will be more than happy to point you in the right direction and keep you safe.
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