As a welder, your helmet is critically important. A proper helmet will protect your eyes from the damage of prolonged exposure to infrared and UV light coming from your arc. It also protects your eyes, face, and head from flying sparks and molten metal. Long hours of welding can be hard on your neck and back, so finding a helmet that offers appropriate protection without being too heavy is critical. Below, we’ll look at some of the features that separate various models, which can help you find the best one to meet your needs.
The easiest decision you’ll probably make when choosing a new welding helmet is how much head coverage you need. If your welding is all done standing over a workbench or other tabletop-type setting, you can probably get away with face and top-of-the-head coverage. If, on the other hand, you do overhead or cramped-space welding, you should look for a helmet that covers as much of your head as possible since you’re likely to have sparks flying at you from multiple directions.
When it comes to eye protection, there are a number of options to consider. Some helmets have fixed-darkness lenses, meaning that the level of darkness does not change. If your work always involves the same type of welding, you can definitely get away with this type of lens unless you want a lens that will lighten enough to allow better helmet-on visibility when you stop to inspect your work. Most welding-helmet lenses are interchangeable, so if you usually do one type of work but occasionally do work of a different nature, it’s possible to have a couple of different lenses at your disposal.
There are also helmets that have self-darkening lenses that work in much the same way as eyeglasses that lighten or darken based on current light. This type of lens allows you to move back and forth from one type of project to another with greater ease. It’s as simple as brighter light equals darker lens. These lenses are handy not only for those who do multiple types of welding, but also for those who could find themselves welding indoors one day and outside the next. Among these models, there are some that allow you to set sensitivity and delay controls, which gives you better control of how light or dark your lens gets and how long it takes to get darker or lighter when the ambient light changes. The controls could be mounted either inside the helmet or on the outside. Outside-mounted controls are easier to adjust on the fly, but are more exposed to sparks and molten metal and may be more likely to be damaged if you ever drop your helmet. In many cases, these controls do add a bit of extra weight to the helmet, so you’ll need to decide if the convenience is worth the added weight.
The other lens-related issue you’ll want to understand is clarity. Some lenses simply offer a clearer, crisper view than others. If you do a lot of fine work that involves frequent stops to do close inspection, you’ll likely find that a clearer lens offers you a better chance to do these inspections without flipping up or removing the helmet.
Speaking of stops and starts, if you need to be able to do frequent naked-eye inspections, you might want a helmet that has a mask that can be flipped up as opposed to a solid-piece construction that requires you to remove the helmet altogether. Some flip-up masks have to be held in the upright position, but others can be locked, allowing you to keep both hands free for inspection or a quick break.
A lighter helmet, or one built so well that weight is distributed so evenly that it feels lighter than it is, will help you work longer with less worry about neck strain. Even a one-pound difference is huge when that one pound is weighing on your neck.
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