Choosing a welding helmet

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by Jamy Bulan

Balancing safety, productivity and comfort

It’s important to consider several factors when choosing the proper welding helmet. The primary objective is to ensure the user’s eyes and skin are protected from severe sparks, and ultraviolet and infrared rays emitted by the arc, but other considerations also come into play.

Safety and application
Welding helmets must meet relevant safety standards. In North America, applicable standards are ANSI Z87.1 in the US and CAN/CSA Z94.3 in Canada. Before purchasing a helmet, be sure the helmet meets industry and regulatory standards.

Your choice also should be governed by the type of welding you intend to do. Amperage ratings associated with various welding applications generate different levels of light emission, requiring different shade levels.

Review the helmet’s light sensitivity settings. Advanced auto-darkening helmets offer a shade range of up to 6-13 with additional grind modes, allowing welders to optimize the shade for protection and greater comfort. This is beneficial to welders who make frequent changes between welding processes
and applications.

Tradition vs. technology
Some welders prefer traditional helmets with glass lenses and fixed shades that remain darkened at all times. While these helmets provide rugged and inexpensive safety protection, they can create difficulties and discomfort, especially over time. A welder must lift the helmet every time he or she wants to examine the weld and joint, set position and prepare for welding, and then flip the helmet back down again when it’s time to strike the arc. This repetitive movement can lead to neck

strain and fatigue after a full day’s work. In restricted spaces, it can be difficult to move the helmet up or down.

For less experienced welders, it can be difficult to keep the MIG gun, TIG torch, or especially, stick electrode in the correct position to begin welding in the joint once the helmet is lowered into place. Improper positioning can result in poor weld starts, and, ultimately, weld defects.

Advanced auto-darkening helmets protect from harmful light emissions at all times and darken to almost any pre-selected shade in milliseconds, thanks to quick-changing LCD (liquid crystal display) technology in the auto-darkening cartridges. With auto-darkening helmets, welders can see clearly while the helmet is in the down position, so that setting up to weld can be performed with the hood in position.

Ups and downs
Newer, lightweight helmets make welding safer, easier and more comfortable. Many weigh as little as 18 to 21 ounces (534 to 602 grams), even with a full-coverage shell.

Try a helmet on, and make sure that the headgear adjusts up, down, forward and back. Also, make sure it can easily tighten around your head, and determine whether the rate of fall and degree of tilt allow it to lower in a controlled manner. Some helmets have no damping function, which can be jarring for the wearer when it falls into position. Others allow the user to set resistance, which controls the rate of fall and the end point at which the helmet stops when lowered into welding position. Also, make sure that the helmet locks softly into place when moved to the upward position.

A welding helmet must remain a comfortable piece of gear throughout the day.  Image: Lincoln ElectricComfort over time
Many welders wear their helmets for several hours in a single shift, so the helmet must remain a comfortable piece of gear throughout the day.

Look for a shell made of thin-walled plastic that’s still durable enough to withstand sparks and molten metal. The headgear should be engineered to distribute the weight of the helmet as evenly as possible. A helmet designed with a single band concentrates the full weight of the helmet on that single band. Multiple bands displace the load, making the helmet feel lighter and more comfortable. Look for adequate padding at all of the touch points, including brow and back of the neck.

The personal touch
Today’s welding helmets come in a variety of colours. Many also offer personalization kits with decals. Others come with pre-imprinted graphic themes, including flags, tattoo patterns, hot rods, skulls, comic book superheroes and even angel wings.

Other considerations
First, some helmets feature replaceable lithium batteries while others use solar power with sealed battery assist. Battery models may have a longer service life than the sealed units, but the operator must have replacement batteries on hand. Second, review the warranty. Top manufacturers are now offering three year warranties rather than one or two years. Last, look for information about the EN379 Optical Clarity rating. Helmets with a perfect 1/1/1/1 score provide a more clear view with minimal stretching, dark areas blurriness or angle dependence. SMT

Jamy Bulan is product manager, commercial products, Lincoln Electric, Cleveland, OH


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