Finding the best auto darkening welding helmet will be one of the most important pursuits you’ll make as a professional welder, so you should invest wisely.
Here are 13 things you should look for when considering a new hood:
Top 13 Traits for the Best Auto Darkening Welding Helmet
The weight of the helmet is an important factor when considering a new hood.
Welding 8 -12 hours a day will take its toll on even the most experienced welders. A couple hundred grams can make a big difference if you weld all day. Thankfully, these days most helmets are light enough to reduce neck pain and minimize fatigue so you can focus on the job and not your neck.
2. Headgear Comfort
Another major factor is a comfortable and easily adjustable headgear. You’re going to be wearing this thing all day long, so it better be comfortable. Fortunately, technology has come a long way and any decent hood will come with nice fitting headgear. Look for something with a padded front strap cover for added comfort.
3. Lens Size
The standard lens size is 2” x 4” which is fine if you’re welding in a standard work environment. But a lot of times you’ll be working at awkward angles in cramped spaces; this is where the size of the lens comes into play. The bigger the lens, the more you’ll be able to see, increasing the quality of your work. It also ensures you’re using the best auto darkening welding helmet.
4. Lens Clarity
Lens clarity is rated by the EN379 standard with four considerations in mind:
- Accuracy of vision
- Diffusion of light
- Consistent shade
- Angular dependence
A perfect rating is 1/1/1/1.
Unfortunately, only a few manufacturers have managed to get this rating. Jackson Safety and Lincoln Electric are two that have successfully achieved this. However this shouldn’t be a deal breaker when choosing a helmet, as most other lenses are easy to see through.
5. Number of Arc Sensors
Arc sensors are what keep you safe from getting flashed. The amount of sensors range from 2 – 4.
It really depends on the type of welding you’ll be doing. If you’re working in an environment free of obstructions, two sensors is more than enough. But if you’re working in cramped spaces or at unnatural angles where a sensor could be obstructed, more is always better. The best auto darkening welding helmet will have at least three (preferably four).
6. Shade Range
Make sure the hood you’re buying has the right shade range for the type of welding you’ll be doing. The resting state of an auto darkening welding helmet is three or four, allowing you to prep the weld and start exactly where you need to.
As a bonus, look for a helmet with grind or torch modes. It will save you from having to take it off when performing other tasks.
7. Reaction Time
A quick reaction time is necessary for preventing welder’s flash.
Reaction time refers to the period the lens takes to switch from light to dark when the arc is detected. The quicker the better. Look for something with at least 1/10,000 (.0001) second reaction time to reduce eye strain. The higher end helmets can have reaction times of 1/20,000 (.00005) second.
8. User-Friendly Controls
There are two types of controls: digital or analog. While it mostly comes down to preference, digital tends to be more accurate but harder to adjust with gloves on. Analog is easier to adjust but you have to play around with it to get the knobs to the appropriate settings.
Another factor to consider is whether the controls are internal or external:
Internal: Most helmets have internal controls, forcing you to lift up the hood to access them. On the plus side, you can actually see what you’re adjusting.
External: Hoods with external controls are much easier to access but unless you take the hood off, you must adjust by feel.
9. Sensitivity and Delay Settings
Any good welding helmet will have sensitivity and delay settings. But the best auto darkening welding hoods will have adjustable settings.
Sensitivity: This refers to how bright the arc needs to be in order for the auto darkening feature to turn on. It’s ideal if you’re switching between processes with different amp levels. For example, tungsten inert gas welding isn’t as bright so a high degree of sensitivity is needed.
Delay: Delay is the amount of time the lens stays dark after the arc is completed. With higher amp welding, the area stays bright even after the arc stops so looking at it immediately after can cause discomfort and fatigue. Delay ranges from .5 – 2 seconds.
10. Appropriate Safety Standard Rating
This is necessary when choosing a helmet if you don’t want to seriously injure yourself or have OSHA knocking on your door. The standard rating is ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 – 1989, 2003 or 2010.
It ensures the helmet and lens have passed independent safety tests. It protects you from high velocity impact, IR and UV light, sparks and spatter and more. It also ensures that the advertised reaction time and shade settings are correct. Not all helmets are rated by this standard so keep this in mind when looking for the best auto darkening welding helmet.
11. Power Source
Solar: Solar powered helmets a great choice if you don’t want to worry about replacing batteries. These helmets can be charged by the sun if you’re outside or by the light of the arc if not. These often require a charging period on the first use.
Battery: You can use it right out of the box, just remember to have a spare set of batteries on hand. Most helmets will have a low battery light or indicator of some sort to let you know when to change them.
Battery with solar assist: This is probably the best option. You don’t have to worry about charging it and if the batteries run out, the solar assist will be there to back it up.
12. Hardhat/Cheater Lens Capable
You’ll often need to use a hardhat while on the job so a hood that fits properly over top is a must. Be careful when selecting the best auto darkening welding helmet because not all of them are compatible with a hardhat.
Cheater lens’ are a bonus if you need a closer look at the weld puddle, but you’ll likely need to buy this separately.
This is usually an afterthought, but I’ll include it anyway. Most companies offer a 2-year warranty on their hood, while some like Jackson Safety offer 5 years.
Bonus: Cool Paint Job
Some hoods have unique graphic designs on them. Jackson, Hobart and Save Phace have some pretty cool paint jobs. There are even some companies that will airbrush custom designs to suit your style.
Written by Eric W, topside welder and creator of Top Welding Helmets where you can find reviews, guides and ratings on the best welding helmets in the industry.