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Selecting the Right Welding Helmet For You

While welding helmets are designed to protect you from the visible and invisible (ultraviolet and infrared) rays a welding arc emits, not all helmets are created equal. There are numerous options: passive or auto-darkening lens, fixed or variable shade, two, three or four sensors, viewing size. Taking the time to find the right helmet for your needs can increase your productivity and weld quality, as well as your comfort.

First, any helmet you choose should meet ANSI Z87.1 - 2003  (also referred to as ANSI Z87+) standards, which ensure that helmets and lenses have passed independent testing to show they can survive high velocity impact from flying objects, provide 100% ultraviolet and infrared filtering regardless of shade setting and meet advertised switching speeds and darkness shades in temperatures as low as 23° F and high as 131° F. Low temperatures have been known to cause delays in LCD switching times.

Passive vs. Auto-Darkening Lens

Welding lens shade numbers refer to the lens' ability to filter light¾all auto-darkening welding helmets meeting ANSI Z87.1 provide 100% protection against harmful infrared and UV rays¾ and may range from a #8 shade for low-amp applications up to a #13 shade for high-amp applications. (See chart.) Top-line helmets may include additional ranges (#3 to #8) for grinding or cutting.

A passive lens helmet uses UV- and IR-coated dark-tinted glass with a fixed shade value, usually #10.  The passive helmet is worn in the up position while the electrode, gun or torch is positioned. Then with a quick nod or snap of the neck, the operator flips the helmet into position immediately before striking an arc.

While passive lens helmets have passed the test of time and provide an economical choice, they have a few shortcomings:

An auto-darkening lens directly addresses these issues. In its inactive state, an auto-darkening lens usually has a #3 or #4 shade, which is relatively easy to see through. When sensors on the helmet sense an arc start, the lens darkens, in a fraction of a second (typically 1/12,000 to 1/20,000 of a second for industrial-grade helmets), to shade #8 to #13.

Because the helmet stays in position before, during, and after the weld, an auto-darkening welding helmet enables you to set up your welding joint with the hood in position.  No more head snaps to lower the helmet.  No more sloppy starts because the torch moved. No more raising and lowering the helmet for tack welds. This not only has the potential for improving weld quality, it can ease the neck strain associated with snapping the helmet into place.

Ed Forbes, vice president of operations for Engineered Metals & Composites, Inc. (EM&C) in West Columbia, SC, said his company has never even allowed a traditional welding helmet into its plant. EM&C, a leading designer and manufacturer of aluminum components for small boats and yachts, is known for its high-volume, high productivity TIG fabrication skills.

"We knew that repetitive stress injuries can and do occur as a result of using traditional welding helmets, so we standardized all 105 of our welders on auto-darkening helmets right from the start," Forbes said. "Because auto-darkening helmets are all we use, we've been able to reduce our workers compensation insurance rates and had fewer trips to the emergency room from arc-flashed eyes than companies that use traditional helmets."

EM&C isn't alone in this regard. To encourage operators to use an auto-darkening helmet, companies such as Vermeer Manufacturing Company ( split helmet costs 50-50 with the operator, and the operator owns the helmet outright after three years. To make the helmets easy to purchase, Vermeer's welding supply partner maintains an on-site inventory.

Auto-Darkening Options

Auto-darkening helmets are available for every welding level, from the hobbyist to the professional. If you've decided to go with an auto-darkening helmet, consider:



Other helmet considerations

A lighter weight helmet minimizes strain on the user's neck reducing fatigue and increasing comfort. You will notice a big difference between a helmet that weighs one pound vs. one that weighs two pounds. While one pound might not seem like much for a few short welds, the more you weld, the more you and your neck will appreciate the difference.

Finally, the latest entries into the auto-darkening helmet field provide benefits specifically for the industrial welder: aluminum heat shield to protect the lens from high heat (300+ amps) applications, silver coloring to reflect the heat away from the wearer, gaskets for shock absorption and increased longevity and commonality of parts to decrease inventory requirements for larger organizations.

If welding is, or is part of your career, take the time to find the helmet that's right for you. While it may be tempting to buy the least expensive helmet at the local hardware store, taking the time to explore all of your options can have long-term benefits.

For more information on auto-darkening or finding the right helmet for your needs, visit




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