From the high heat to the flying sparks to the bright flashes of UV, welding safety gear and PPE is essential for a lot of construction jobs that need to use welding to join materials together. Your eyes, face, hands, and body are all vulnerable to welding injuries and hazards. One of the most important and recommended safety features is a welding helmet. As long as they’re chosen properly, all welding helmets will keep you safer on the job, but choosing an auto-darkening welding helmet over a passive one might benefit you more in some situations.
What’s the Difference Between Auto Darkening and Passive Welding Helmets?
The major difference between these two types of welding helmets is how complex they are, and the other differences go from there. Passive helmets have a standard dark absorptive lens, usually in shade 10 with ultraviolet and infrared protection baked in. They can be lifted up and down with a nod to allow you to inspect the weld and reposition your torch. They’re lightweight, easy to use and take care of, and cheap to acquire and maintain.
Auto-darkening welding helmets have a filter lens made of a special type of liquid crystal that’s powered through rechargeable batteries, solar power, or a combination of the two. When activated, the helmet can detect changes in light and reduce the auto darkening filter (ADF) shade to fit the situation. The helmet’s sensors can tell different kinds of light apart, so you don’t have to worry about natural light or light bulbs setting it off or not being able to pick up on the welding arc.
The best helmet is the one that works for your on-the-job needs. However, auto-darkening helmets have changed a lot of industries for the better and can make your work easier and safer. They also come in an array of options for the hobbyist and the professional, meaning that with the help of a safety expert, you can find the set of features that fit your needs.
Advantages of Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets
One of the biggest advantages is the efficiency that an auto-darkening helmet provides. Unlike passive helmets that require you to flip up the helmet and readjust your position before welding again, you won’t need to change the positioning of the torch. You won’t have as many bad starts because you won’t be nodding as much and can be focused for longer. The fact that you don’t need to be nodding constantly means that auto-darkening helmets can also be used in tighter areas with less room to work, and you’re reducing neck strain. Some auto-darkening helmets can be used for many different jobs at the same time, depending on their settings, which means not having to switch out gear in between jobs. Finally, one of the biggest advantages is that there are hardly any issues with ADF delay settings, which dramatically reduces the danger from arc flashes. They’re also a good match for beginner welders because they don’t require the wearer to make many manual adjustments during the welding process. However, professionals can benefit from the time-saving features that go along with having your productivity and workflow enhanced.
Disadvantages of Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets
With more features comes a higher price tag. Auto-darkening welding helmets are more expensive than passive helmets, and repairs and replacement parts won’t come as cheaply either, given the electronics and complexity of this gear. There’s also the downside of the limited shade options available. While welding, you’ll only have up to a shade 10 darkness: when you’re not, you’ll have to settle for 3 or 4.
Tips for Choosing Your Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet
When you choose an auto-darkening helmet, there are still more choices to make thanks to the number of options available. There are some general features that apply to all auto-darkening helmets regardless of who they’re made for and the kinds of work they’re specialized to do. Think about these points before you go shopping so that you can more easily find the helmet that’s the best and safest option for you.
Lens reaction time. Your helmet will protect your eyes as long as it complies with industry standards ANSI Z87.1 and CSA Z94.3, even when the lens isn’t darkened. However, the time that it takes the lens to darken can affect your comfort levels. Faster or slower reaction times, depending on the situation, can cause more eye strain and fatigue over time.
Fixed vs. variable shade lenses. Some auto-darkening helmets will automatically darken to shade 10, which is common and might be good enough for some jobs. If you do different types of welding, you might want more of a variety in your shades. Market standards for most shades are between 8 and 13, with 13 being the darkest.
Adjustable delay and sensitivity controls. These let you configure the level of brightness a lens can detect before darkening, which is useful if you’re around coworkers or doing a lower-amperage job. You can also set how long the lens remains dark once the arc ends.
Viewing size and number of sensors. This is largely a matter of preference, although a larger viewing area can give you greater peripheral vision and easier positioning, but could mean a heavier helmet. A smaller viewing area offers a more focused view of what you’re working on. More sensors mean more coverage, which is an advantage when you’re out of position and might be blocking a sensor (four is usually optimal for most jobs).
Power source and control panel positioning. Your helmet needs a power source, and a combination of solar and battery power can help prolong your battery life. Some helmets come with external control panels that let you adjust the helmet settings without removing it, but could be more vulnerable to damage.
The best way to figure out which helmet is right for you, though, is to try some out. Figuring out what works best for your job and comfort is the only way to be sure. When trying out welding helmet shades, start working with a shade that’s too dark for you to see what you’re working on. Proceed to a lighter shade that will let you strike the right balance between viewing your work properly and the minimum level of protection that you need to avoid injury.
No matter what welding helmet you decide on, always wear all of the other protective gear for your application. A helmet is very good protection, but incomplete without safety glasses. A helmet won’t do much good for the rest of your body when the sparks start flying. Make sure that you keep the outer cover lens of your helmet free from slag, splatter, and other obstructions so that you can see what you’re working on and what your worksite looks like at all times.
Welding PPE from PK Safety
We’ve been in the safety business for decades. PK Safety’s safety experts personally vet all of the safety equipment and PPE that we sell, including everything for welding. Anything that we would trust to keep ourselves safe is equipment that we would trust and recommend to our customers as well. Your eyes are essential tools that need the protection of darkening welding helmets to do their job so you can do yours. Our website is a source of valuable information with blog posts and product descriptions. You can contact one of our Safety Experts online or by calling 800.829.9580.