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Which auto-darkening welding helmet is right for you?

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Welding fumes can be deadly. If welders are welding in a well ventilated workshop, arc welding mild steel in an outside area, or with the correct PPE, then there is no problem.

But when welding more out-of-the-ordinary materials fabricators and co-workers should take extra care.

Welders should take extra precaution when working with exotic materials such as cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorides, manganese, nickel, silica, zinc and even stainless steel.

Chromium poses a cancer risk while silica can cause silicosis and zinc, found in galvanising, could cause fume fever.

A welding helmet could be the most important piece of personal safety equipment a welder can have. The latest helmets have considerably advanced and provide more functionality than those of even 10 or 15 years ago.

Even the basic helmet must satisfy strict safety standards that tackles issues like light leakage and flame, impact resistance, and in some cases ventilation or fume protection.

A good helmet will not only shield the eyes and skin from dangerous sparks but also from ultraviolet and infrared rays emitted by the arc that could damage vision.

Welders may need to wear protective helmets all day so it is imperative they choose the right helmet that combines protective features with comfort considerations.

The right helmet will have flexible adjustments and protect the wearer’s eyes and face from spatter, sparks and harmful light rays.

Some welders, especially professional pipe welders, still prefer traditional helmets with the conventional glass lens and fixed shade, which remains darkened at all times.

While they do provide inexpensive protection for harsh circumstances, they also have a few drawbacks. Firstly, welding helmets have a fixed shade which means a welder will have to lift the helmet every time they want to examine the weldment and joint.

They have to set their position and prepare for welding and then flip the helmet down again when it is time to strike the arc. This repetitive movement can result in neck strain and weariness after a full day’s work. Moving the helmet up and down can get tough in compact, restricted spaces. 

Newer helmets are lightweight, making welding safer, easier and more comfortable. Many weigh only between 534 and 602 grams, including full-coverage shell. Some models with smaller view sizes and shells are as light as 425 grams.

Those who are new to welding might also find it difficult to keep the MIG gun, TIG torch or stick electrode in the right position to start welding in the joint after the helmet is lowered into position. This can mean poor weld starts which can mean weld defects.

To avoid all of this, professional welders should opt for more advanced auto-darkening helmets with continuously variable controls that alter the shade from a light state to a dark one and back.

The helmets have a quick-changing liquid crystal display technology in the auto-darkening cartridges which enables it to darken to almost any pre-selected shade in milliseconds and always protect the welder from harmful light emissions.

Also, because welders can see clearly even while the helmet is in a down position, setting up to weld in a weldment joint can be done with the hood in position. There is no need for stop-and-start time or for the welder to readjust a helmet and set up positioning.

When it comes to selecting auto-darkening helmets, it is important to look for models that have a full-coverage shell that sheds spatter and resists impact. Welders should also consider viewing size. The amount of out-of-position welding performed can impact the amount of viewing area needed in a helmet.

The largest viewing sizes can measure 97 x 62 mm or larger, which along with the LCD technology, allows a clear, natural view for the welder.

Another criterion to look at is the helmet’s light sensitivity settings. Helmet settings can toggle between ranges, from six to nine or nine to 13. This scale lets welders optimise the shade for more comfort on any job.

If a welder moves between applications, needs changes in welding machine voltage, amperage or wire feed speed settings or changes between welding processes, they will find this flexibility useful.

For instance, if a welder is welding on thick materials at high amperages, they may need higher shade levels for better visibility of the welding arc puddle. 

Auto darkening welding helmets have either external or internal controls for functions like shade or grind control. The external controls allow some adjustments to be made while the helmet is on the head. On the other hand, external controls include additional wiring and can be exposed to additional impacts or damage as they are positioned on the outside of the helmet.

Auto-darkening helmets are powered in different ways. While some have replaceable lithium batteries, others use a combination of solar cells and user replaceable lithium batteries. Then there are those with solar power with a battery assist. It is up to the welder and their preference.

Helmets with user replaceable batteries have a longer total service life of the helmet as those with non-user replaceable batteries usually have a service life of five to seven years. If the helmet has an on/off switch, the welder must turn it off after use.

Welders should always have replacement batteries handy. Especially if the battery pack is located at the bottom of the welding helmet, as the operator’s sweat has been known to short the helmets.

Users should make sure the helmet fits tightly around the head and adjusts up, down, forward and back. Some headgear assemblies may not contain fore/aft adjustment to set the helmet’s distance from the face. This can affect those with large heads or facial features.

The standard sweatband at the forehead is an important feature to check. It should be soft and absorbent and should prevent perspiration from the eyes.

Helmets can also include useful features like a magnifying ‘cheater’ lens which allows older and/or near-sighted welders to see weld puddle clearly. If a welder needs to wear a hard hat, adapter can be built in to some models which let the welder wear both the hardhat and welding helmet for full site safety compliance while welding.

Some have grind modes, meaning helmets can double up as grinding shields. This is useful for weld prep or post-weld clean-up activities.

But welders do not need to look at just safety features. They can personalise the look with jazzy colours and designs, some designed with female welders in mind. From novelties to comic book super heroes, hot rods to skulls, tattoo patterns to angel wings, go forth and make the helmet yours. 

There is a sea of helmet options available for welders in every welder’s budget. Before choosing designs and graphics, welders should look at safety features, comfort options and convenience.

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