Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets
The big drawback with standard welding helmets is that you have to keep lifting them to see your work. Auto-darkening models go clear when you’re not welding, so you don’t need to do that. It’s more convenient and means you can work faster.
We’ve put together a quick guide that will help you choose the right one, and we also have a few recommendations at the end.
Our top pick is the Jackson Ultra-Light Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet. It comes from one of the leading manufacturers and offers high-end protection for welders of all skill levels.
It’s actually quite a simple concept. Instead of plain dark glass, these have an LCD (liquid crystal display) and between two and four light sensors.
As soon as the sensors detect the welding arc, an electrical charge is sent across the LCD, making it go dark in a fraction of a second.
Your eyes are instantly protected. Power is supplied by a small battery (usually rechargeable lithium-ion) so there’s no restriction on movement.
Depending on the model, reaction speed is between 1/10,000 and 1/25,000 of a second. To cope with different welding (which produces different brightnesses), the LCDs usually have variable sensitivity.
The shade range will typically be between 9 and 13, which covers both MIG and TIG arc welding. Many also offer a different setting for grinding.
Solar-powered auto-darkening welding helmets are becoming increasingly popular, but it’s important to understand their function. They gather power from the arc light, rather than the sun, so they work fine indoors.
They aren’t a replacement for the battery, but an addition that charges the battery, so you don’t have to do it so often.
A lightweight helmet with good adjustment of the headgear generally provides more comfort, but it’s important to check shell structure. If it’s too thin, it might be prone to cracking if knocked or dropped.
Small things like ear protection, a browband to absorb perspiration or air vents to keep you cooler can make a big difference if you’re wearing your welding helmet for extended periods.
A larger screen makes it easier to see what’s going on, but as they are LCDs any additional size often means more expense. You also want good optical clarity. Cheap models still go clear, but the view can be slightly fuzzy.
A rating system exists, and an undistorted lens is designated as 1/1/1/1, though 1/1/1/2 is also widely considered a professional standard.
The amount of control you have over sensitivity and speed varies from one helmet to the next, so you’ll need to check those.
It’s also worth thinking about where dials are located and how easy adjustment is. It soon gets frustrating if you have to keep taking your helmet off for minor changes.
What Welding Helmets Are For You
If you only weld occasionally, you can get an inexpensive auto-darkening welding helmet for around $40 to $50. Spending $60 to $120 will get you a faster, more comfortable helmet, though pros can spend as much as $350 for high-end models.
A. It can be if you’re using the helmet all day. Even though speed differences are relatively small, the effect can add up during long work periods and might cause headaches. However, if you weld for just a couple of hours a day, you probably won’t notice.
A. There are. Any auto-darkening helmets sold in the US (regardless of where they’re actually made) must conform to ANSI Z87, which sets standards for ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) protection.
Our take: A fully featured model for the welder who demands maximum performance and control.
What we like: All-day comfort from lightweight and great adjustability. Big screen with four sensors. Quick, with variable delay and sensitivity. Meets U.S. and Canada safety requirements.
What we dislike: Shell material feels thin (though breakages aren’t common).
Our take: Low-cost model offers excellent protection for the hobby welder.
What we like: Lightweight welding helmet has four sensors and meets ANSI Z87 standard. Variable delay and sensitivity. The design offers good neck protection. Simple switch for grinding function.
What we dislike: Modest durability. Inconsistent quality control.
Our take: Popular and comprehensively equipped model for skilled amateur or pro.
What we like: A large screen with four sensors and True Color technology gives an impressive view area and good clarity. Solar panel increases battery life. Meets US, Canadian, and European safety standards.
What we dislike: Adjustment is a bit fiddly. Rare faults with auto-darkening.