Whether you're planning on starting a career as a welder or want to take it up as a hobby, you know that you need a good welding helmet. The primary function of a welding helmet is to protect your eyes from flying sparks and from damage due to blinding light and the strain of going from bright to dark and back again. In addition to keeping your eyes healthy, the best helmets also protect the rest of your face and head from being burned. Finding a helmet that offers maximum protection along with comfort and ease of use can be the difference between a rewarding career or hobby and a literal pain in the neck or, worse yet, permanent damage to your eyes or face.
Since eye protection is priority one, searching for a new welding helmet should start there. There are different size eye shields or lenses available. The eye shield’s size doesn’t impact the level of protection offered, but it is something you want to consider in relation to the type of welding you’ll be doing. Eye protection comes from the level of darkness your shield offers. Some eye shields have a fixed darkness level; others offer auto-darkening lenses. The appropriate fixed-level of darkness can work for you if your work is limited to one type of welding. Many helmets come with or accommodate multiple lenses that can be readily swapped out for different jobs. How often your job type changes should determine whether or not a fixed level lens will work for you. When it comes to self-darkening lenses, make sure you know what the built-in delay time is or, with some models, what optional settings are available. This delay determines how long it will take your lens to go from one level of darkness (or standby mode) to another and back again. If your work involves frequent starts and stops, you’ll want a model with a shorter delay time.
Another function of these lenses that affects the level of eye strain you might experience has to do with clarity and ambient-light handling. Some lenses tend to produce more of a night-vision-green and less clear view, whereas other models offer better clarity in ambient light. Better clarity makes it easier to inspect your work without having to remove your helmet.
Many helmets offer adjustable darkness and delay controls to allow you to further customize protection and convenience. If you opt for such a model, make sure you know where the controls are located. Some models have these controls on the inside of the helmet, making it difficult, even impossible, to make adjustments on the fly.
After establishing your preferred levels and methods of eye protection, there’s the rest of your head and face to consider. How much of your head and face need covering depends on the type of work you do. For instance, if you do any overhead or close-quarters welding, you run a greater risk of sparks coming into contact with the back of your head.
Now that your eyes and the rest of your head and face are covered, it’s time to think about finding the most comfortable helmet possible. Two pounds might not sound like much, but carrying even that amount of weight on your head for long periods of time can lead to neck strain, especially if the weight isn’t well distributed. Look for the lightest helmet that meets your specifications or one that distributes a slightly higher weight so well that the helmet feels lighter than it actually is. Adjustable straps (usually rubber or ratcheting) and adequate internal padding can help you achieve a near-custom fit.
The last thing to consider is how often you might need to flip up your helmet for closer inspection of your work. Some models flip up, but don’t lock in the upright position; some don’t flip up at all. Others, though, can be locked in the upright position, which is more convenient and can save time.
Here is a list of several top models, along with pros and cons of each, to help you find your best welding helmet regardless of your budget considerations.