How to choose a welding helmet

Choosing the right welding helmet is critical to protecting a welder's eyes and face from the harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays emitted by welding processes. Dynaweld takes a look at the various available welding helmets to choose from.

Welding helmets fall into two main categories, passive and electronic/auto-darkening helmets, each with associated features and benefits.

When choosing a welding helmet, you may consider variables such as viewing area, lens shade range, fixed shade (passive) versus electronic auto-darkening models with adjustable settings such as sensitivity, shade delay and grind mode controls.

As well as providing appropriate protection, choosing a fit-for-purpose welding helmet can increase productivity, weld quality, safety and comfort.

Above all, welding helmets must comply with Australian and New Zealand Safety Standards AS/NZS 1338 & AS/NZS 1337 to ensure the helmet and the lens provide protection from impact as well as hazardous levels of UV and infrared light (IR), which can cause cataracts and retinal damage.

Lens shade range

The shade number of a welding helmet lens refers to its ability to filter light. The higher the shade number, the darker the lens and the higher the level of protection.

Shade numbers and ranges may vary based on your chosen welding helmet.  Each welding process has its own optimal shade range as recommended by Australian Standard 1338.1:2012.

Passive welding helmets

The simple option, passive welding helmets are fitted with a UV and IR tinted glass of a fixed shade, typically #11.

The helmet has a clear protective cover along with a flipable holder containing the protective shade lens. The work area is viewed through the clear window and the shaded lens holder is flipped down before starting to weld. The dark lens requires the operator to flip the helmet up when inspecting the weld.

Passive welding helmets are usually lightweight, however, operators tend to flip the whole helmet up and down repeatedly to position the electrode and inspect the weld area, which can cause fatigue and possible repetitive strain injuries (RSI).

Additionally, if the user fails to flip the helmet down before welding they may be exposed to hazardous light.

close up of welding helmet

Electronic/auto-darkening welding helmets

Electronic welding helmets use sensors to detect the start of a weld and automatically darken the lens accordingly. When inactive, the lens is typically a shade #3 or #4. When activated, it darkens to between #5 and #13 depending on the model and settings.

Modern electronic helmets with auto-darkening lenses offer clear visibility and evaluation of the weld without requiring helmet removal between welds. This can increase productivity, accuracy and safety.

There are two types of auto-darkening welding helmets: fixed shade and variable shade. Some advanced models may have features such as adjustable sensitivity, shade delay and grind mode settings. 

High-quality auto-darkening helmets provide UV and IR protection even when the helmet is inactive, so the user’s eyes are always protected. However, for maximum protection and comfort, look for a helmet with a response time of 4/10ths of a millisecond. Less than a millisecond is not perceivable to the human eye, and this reaction time will provide the greatest comfort.

Fixed or variable shade automatic welding helmets

When a fixed shade, auto-darkening welding helmet senses an arc it darkens to a fixed shade.  If you are using a single welding process on similar materials of similar thicknesses with limited amperage range, a fixed shade helmet may be the right choice for you.

If you use a combination of welding processes including MIG, TIG and arc/stick welding or vary your amperage and therefore the brightness of the arc, a variable shade lens will offer suitable protection. Most variable shade lenses range from a #5 to #13. 

 

Number of sensors and lens reaction time

The number of electronic sensors used by an auto-darkening lens ranges from two for an entry-level welding helmet to four for an industrial grade helmet. More sensors increase the helmets ability to sense the arc initiating.   

 

Adjustable sensitivity controls

Most auto-darkening helmets allow the user to adjust how much light will trigger the lens to darken. Sensitivity control is often used when welding at low amperages, especially when TIG welding, where the arc is less bright than other processes.

Sensitivity controls allow the welder to adjust the setting according to their individual comfort level.

Adjustable shade delay controls

The delay function of a helmet controls the speed that the auto darkening filter will become activated once the light source hits the arc sensors. You can adjust the delay function to speed up or slow down both the sensing of the arc and the ending of it for smoother switching of the automatic filter.

Grind mode

Grinding requires the use of high impact rated face shields and lenses and welding helmets used for grinding must be high impact rated and comply with AS/NZS1337 for eye and face protection.

Some auto-darkening welding helmets have a specific “grind mode” that disables the automatic darkening function, turning the helmet into a face shield and offering clear visibility while maintaining protection.

man with three welding helmets on tool bench

Powering electronic welding helmets

Electric helmets can be battery powered, cell powered and solar powered. Batteries will require changing, cells require recharging and solar powered helmets rely on a combination of changeable batteries and UV rays produced by the welding arc.

Comfort

Many welders wear helmets for several hours over the course of a single weld. A comfortable helmet increases productivity and reduces fatigue.

An adjustable harness will distribute weight evenly over the head and is an important accessory to consider when purchasing a welding helmet.

Taking the time to research the available options and choose the right helmet for you will support long-term comfort and safety.

Find the right helmet for you

We offer a wide range of both passive and auto-darkening welding helmet options.

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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