Welding helmets are a non-negotiable item for protecting your eyes while welding.
In a recent Facebook poll, my friend asked if people would rather be blind or deaf. Overwhelmingly, the participants voted for deafness.
Our eyesight is precious and something that must be protected.
Even from a distance, the electric arc from welding is extremely bright. If you ever make the mistake of looking at it unprotected, you are instantly rewarded with pain and the desire to look away. If you continue to look at the arc flash, you can enjoy sandpaper-feeling eyeballs and seeing black spots for the next several hours.
In the worst cases of “welder’s flash” or Photokeratitis, we’re talking about a “sunburn” of your eyeball. The symptoms include eye pain, seeing spots, a headache, and even temporary blindness.
Your eyes and head should not hurt after a day of welding. The right gear keeps that from happening.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a good welding helmet. The level of darkness it can create, as well as the visibility it offers at the darker levels, is a major determining factor. Equally important are things such as it’s comfort and ventilation.
My goal is to help you find an affordable welding helmet that will protect your eyes over your long career as a welder.
- The 10 Best Welding Helmets
- Lincoln Electric Viking 3350
- 3M Speedglas Welding Helmet
- Miller Digital Elite Welding Helmet
- Jackson Safety BH3
- ESAB Sentinel A50 Auto Darkening Helmet
- Hobart Impact Welding Helmet
- Lincoln Electric Viking 1840
- Jackson Safety 46131
- YESWELDER Anti Fog Auto Darkening Welding Helmet
- Antra AH6-260-0000 Welding Helmet
- DEKOPRO Welding Helmet – Cheap Auto-Darkening
- Deciding Factors When Buying A Helmet
The 10 Best Welding Helmets
Lincoln Electric Viking 3350
This Lincoln Electric Helmet is considered one of the best options among professional welders. As an auto-darkening welding helmet, it is able to switch modes in 1/25,000 of a second. As soon as one of the four arc detectors pick up on welding activity, the auto-darkening kicks in to protect the vision.
The big selling point is that it has 4C technology. This refers to the superb Clarity, Color, Carat, and Cut. With most other welding helmets, you begin losing clarity of vision. As you go darker, it protects your eyes better, but it becomes more difficult to see the arc and the puddle.
With this Lincoln Electric model, you are able to better see the real color of your work and the puddle, even on the darker settings. It also keeps this high level of functioning no matter what angle you are working at.
This helmet is also very lightweight and offers better comfort thanks to the 6 points of contact on the band. It balances well on your head for all-day comfort, and the X6 headgear might just be one of the best in the business.
For those of you working on building projects that require wearing a hard hat, there is a hard hat adapter available that connects this helmet to a hard hat.
The other handy feature is the low profile button that switches between welding and grinding mode. You can tap it, and it lets you see your work clearly without any darkening. Tap it again to go back into welding. You don’t have to take the helmet off and can keep working at top speed.
With the three year warranty and the Lincoln reputation, this is a top choice for welders who need to put long hours into their helmet.
3M Speedglas Welding Helmet
3M brings three very unique innovations to this helmet design that makes it a top pick for the production line welder.
The first thing is that this glass sits a little closer to the user. This means that there is more peripheral vision available, allowing the welder to see what is going on around them while they work. Further enhancing this side vision are two, shade five lenses that sit on either side of the main lens.
When you work in a shop where heavy metal is always being moved, this can provide an added sense of safety.
The second feature is the extra-wide vents. This allows all of your breath to easily escape the mask, making it feel cooler and more comfortable. You can leave the mask down and keep working with fewer interruptions.
The biggest selling point, however, is the clarity that the lens offers. With a 2.8″ x 4.2″ viewing area, you have ample room to see the entire project (plus the peripheral vision). But when welding, the auto-darkening filter offers excellent real-world color, allowing you to see the arc and the puddle clearly.
It flicks out of weld mode in about 40 milliseconds, allowing you to easily check the weld pool and re-engage with the next task. There is also a grind mode available, but the extremely short switching capabilities reduce the frequency where you need this feature.
Miller Digital Elite Welding Helmet
Miller Electric welding products are among some of my favorites, and this helmet is no different. It is a strong contender to the SpeedGlas and Viking, and most professional welders spend hours agonizing over these top three choices.
This Miller Electric Helmet separates the darkening options into the three categories of grinding, cutting, and welding. The grinding is the lightest with a Shade 3. You can easily see what you are doing with no interference from the lens.
The cutting mode uses shades 5-8. This is great for working with your plasma cutter or acetylene torch for those times that you still need to protect your eyes.
And then you have the welding modes that take it to the darkest levels with shades 8-13. The lens itself has aluminum shielding to protect your investment against the heat of close-proximity welding.
There is also an X-mode that eliminates interference from sunlight, making this a top choice for outdoors welding under a full summer sun. Basically, this helmet has everything that the Miller Digital Infinity has to offer except a larger view screen and usage tracking.
With a 9.22-inch viewing area and four sensors that can even detect low-amperage tig welding work, this is an all-around workhorse that is good for all welding applications.
The digital controls are very intuitive and easy to set up, so you won’t lose time switching between your types of work.
Finally, there is an additional hard hat adapter kit you can purchase that connects this welding helmet to your hard hat.
If you need one that will make you money, this Miller Digital Elite is going to fit the bill.
Jackson Safety BH3
Jackson Safety is a helmet that shows a lot of promise. Priced for the professional welder, it emphasizes excellent optical clarity on your welds. Its true-color performance is on par with Lincoln Electric’s 4C product.
The 2.70″ x 3.80″ viewing area gives you 10 square inches of the lens, which is a good spot to be between the 9 -inch and 13-inch industry standards.
The rounded edges help with reflecting heat off the hood while maintaining that light, nimble feel every helmet should have. This one is also a hard hat compatible. You can add the optional hard had a system for staying in compliance with building codes.
The switching speed is 1/6667 second, which is still faster than a blink of the eye, but slower than many of the other models. It also only has two arc sensors, which is why some folks go with one of the other options instead of this one.
The quality of the picture you get during the weld is what really sells this model. The downside is that it is solar-powered, and the batteries are not replaceable. There have been some concerns with Jackson honoring their 5-year warranty. However, in 2019 it appears that they were acquired by SureWerx, and they now have a warranty center in Elgin, Illinois. (Warranty Claim Program)
With so many great options out there, Jackson really has their work cut out for them in delivering a product that stands out.
ESAB Sentinel A50 Auto Darkening Helmet
If you are tired of shopping for look-alike helmets, ESAB has something new to offer you. Shaped like the helmet of a futuristic warrior, this professional-grade tool brings the best features.
The fit is one of the most remarkable things. It balances better on your head than the older, square models that are still so popular. It’s smaller size fits any head shape, but doesn’t have the same edges that catch on things when working in a confined space (such as when doing auto bodywork)
With a 9 square inch window, it isn’t quite as large as the Lincoln discussed above, but still offers more than enough space to see the area you are working on. It has a color touch screen with externally lit buttons that make it super easy to setup. The presets feature is especially nice as you can choose your setting based on the most common types of welding you do.
As with the Lincoln, what really sells this helmet apart is the clarity that you get with this lens. With the true blue color, you have no difficulty seeing exactly where the arc is and what your puddle looks like. It’s an impressive enough picture that folks are starting to switch from the more established brands to try out the ESAB.
As with the other high-end brands, this one has a lens shade four grinding button that lets you easily switch between modes.
The only downside is that the cover lens doesn’t hold up to the heat and proximity that is required from TIG welding. The melted lens seems to be a recurring problem. So opt for this one if you are a heavy MIG welder, but give it second thoughts if you spend a lot of time doing TIG work.
Hobart Impact Welding Helmet
The Hobart brand is actually part of the Miller family, explaining why their products are so reliable. The Hobart 770753 auto-darkening welding helmet leads our list with some of the most desirable features that you only find on some of the higher-priced models.
The large 9.3-inch viewing screen with LCD technology that powers the auto-darkening feature is what really sells this helmet. The screen is large enough that you never feel claustrophobic, and you always have a good viewing field of your working area.
It has four arc detectors. This is important since it ensures that you’ll never be blocking the arc sensor with your hands when doing close work. The last thing you want is a helmet that fails to darken. With a 1/25,000 second interval to engage, this helmet is on par with some of the more expensive units.
It uses a lithium CR2 battery. This little battery is lightweight and yet has plenty of power for long weeks of working without needing to recharge or replace. There are several rechargeable CR2 batteries available if you want to invest in them.
This lens is going to adjust from a #8 to a #13 in darkness. The visibility you get even at #13 is pretty good. If you are doing a heavy amperage project, you will be glad for the extra coverage.
The headband is one feature that you might upgrade down the road. There are some excellent after-market headbands to consider if you are using this helmet for all-day projects.
Lincoln Electric Viking 1840
One of the neat benefits of buying from Lincoln Electric is that their high-end technology tends to trickle down overtime to their more entry-level products.
That is the case with this Viking 1840 helmet.
The 4C technology that gives you a truer, full-color view of your welds and your beads, is now available on this starter helmet. When one of the two arc sensors pick up on the welding arc, the auto-darkening filter protects your eyesight while still giving you a full picture of the area you are working on.
This also helps when you have to move your head during the weld. With a lot of these helmets, moving your head can create a “fisheye” effect and distort the picture you are seeing. With the 4C technology, you get a good view of your project from every angle.
This one offers a 9-13 variable shade and activates in 1/25,000 of a second to comply with all safety laws.
The ratcheting headgear guarantees a comfortable fit, especially when paired with a welding cap or bandanna. There is also an available hard hat adapter that lets you convert this helmet to work with a hard hat.
The included grind mode makes this helmet a cinch to use, even when you are wearing your gloves.
The only downside with this model is that the viewing area is quite a bit smaller. It only offers a 3.74″ x 1.38 viewing area. Frankly, considering the optical clarity you get, I don’t think you will notice the smaller window. But it does do better in a well- lit workplace.
Jackson Safety 46131
The Jackson Safety auto-darkening welding helmet is another strong contender for our list.
You’ll notice that the 3.93″ x 2.36 lens size gives you that 9-square-inch viewing port that is so common among the different welding helmets. The nice thing is, this screen is common for several of the Jackson Safety helmet designs, making replacement parts cheap and easy to find.
This helmet has a narrower range of darkening available ranging from a shade of 9 to 13. There are just four settings here, so that part is pretty easy.
Then, it also offers you some control so you can tune out ambient light. This comes in super handy if you are working outside on a sunny day, as the bright reflections can trigger the auto-darkening filter (ADF)accidentally. With these extra settings, you can customize it to your work environment.
As with most of these helmets, this one has a “grind” mode that is easily available at the touch of a button.
At only 6 ounces, this is one of the lighter helmets that you can find in this category. The included 370 headgear with turn-knob ratchet mechanism gets rave reviews and is quite comfortable.
Overall, this Jackson Safety model is a strong contender for the home weld shop.
YESWELDER Anti Fog Auto Darkening Welding Helmet
This welding helmet looks like it could double as a gas mask. With a unique, direct-vent anti-fogging device, it is a top performer in its breathability ratings.
It also has two side windows that come with a shade 5 (DIN5) rating. Combined with the excellent breathability, these two windows help this mask feel lightweight and non-claustrophobic, allowing you to work easily for hours at a time.
This helmet is excellent for TIG, MIG and MMA work. Simply drop the helmet into place and get to work. Within 1/10,000 of a second from arc strike, the ADF engages, shading the lens from the standard shade 4 to anything in the shade 9 to 13 shade range.
This one only has two arc sensors. In most cases, that is going to be more than enough, and it allows you to save a little money, especially if you are just getting started with your first helmet.
Compared to many of the helmets in this category that use a CR2032 battery, this one comes with the longer-lasting CR2450 lithium battery. An extra one is included as well.
The only downside with this helmet is that the headgear isn’t the most comfortable. The good news is that it is interchangeable with several other models, and replacements are easy to find should this headgear ever fail.
Overall, you are getting a lot of great color clarity and usability at an extremely competitive price point.
Antra AH6-260-0000 Welding Helmet
Many of my readers are just doing hobby welding around the shop. They want something that is better than the cheap welding lens that came with their welder, but not something that is so expensive that they will regret letting their teenagers use it.
The Antra AH6-260 helmet is a perfect choice for this scenario. It offers all of the protection you need, and is easy to use, but doesn’t break the bank.
As with many other units, this one offers a 4-sensor arc detection setup, so that it triggers well with MIG, TIG, Stick and Flux welding. It also uses suppression interference to keep from false activations that can occur from sunlight and other light sources.
The shades adjust from 5 to 13, so you are going to have more than enough coverage to protect your eyesight in any situation. It also has a level 4 grinding shade that is push-button activated. This lets you easily toggle between welding and viewing modes without lifting your mask.
This one is also solar-powered. While it has CR2032 batteries to power the lens when working inside, it can also work off of solar power during outside welding jobs. For the home hobbyist who likely does a lot of outdoor work, anyhow, this is an excellent option.
While the lens is a little smaller than some of the pricier options, it is still ample enough to let you see where you are working.
DEKOPRO Welding Helmet – Cheap Auto-Darkening
There are a lot of readers who just need an easy-to-use helmet that meets the minimum safety standards. This helmet has a base shade of 4 and then darkens to a shade between 9 and 13. With a reaction time of 1/25,000 seconds, it is on par with some of the top options.
The time back from darkness to light can be a little longer, and take up to 1 second before it switches back. Considering the price, that is a workable delay. However, if you are used to using a high-quality helmet, this feature might be annoying.
As a solar-powered helmet, battery life is never really an issue. Just turn it on and go. The adjustable knob lets you switch between welding or grinding.
If you are doing an hour or less of welding every day, the Dekopro is hard to beat.
Deciding Factors When Buying A Helmet
If you are like me, you want to know all of the important factors before buying your first welding helmet.
For me, getting my helmet was a decision that massively effected my safety and the longevity of my eyesight.
In this buying guide, we discuss some of the top features to consider.
When I started welding, the auto-darkening feature with variable shade settings didn’t exist. We just used a simple helmet with one fixed shade.
Over time, I began seeing some of the older welders investing in the new auto-darkening helmets.
Today, this feature is considered a non-negotiable. When the on-board Arc sensor detects that you have started welding, the lens darkens to protect your eyes. Then, when you pause, the light reverts back so you can see your work.
If the helmet took a lot of time to darken, your eyes would be burnt before the protection engaged. In fact, I’ve heard guys complain about that on some of the helmets that came out 20 years ago.
Today, even the slowest reaction times are around 1/7,000 second, which is more than enough to protect your eyes.
There is also a cartridge delay time between when you stop welding and when the lens lightens. However, some of these cheaper options have a longer delay. If the delay is more than half a second, you’ll probably just raise your helmet instead of waiting on your vision to clear.
There is a sensor on these helmets that detect when you start welding and signal the lens to darken.
Most helmets will have at least two sensors. The better helmets have four sensors, in case a couple of them are blocked while you are working.
The brightness of the welding arc can be overpowered by sunlight on a bright day. This can be either trigger a false sensor on the arc that activates the lens darkening. Or, the brightness of the sunlight can hide the arc, making it difficult for the sensors to pick up on the need to activate the lens darkening.
The Miller Digital is one of the best welding helmets for working in bright sunlight, especially if you also need to wear a hard hat while you work.
Hard Hat Compatibility
Many welders are working in a protected environment, where they don’t need to protect the top of their head with a hard hat. Those welders will often use a welding cap to protect the top of their hair from hot sparks and spatter.
However, if you are working on a building site, you’ll need to wear a hard hat in order to comply with the building ordinances. For those scenarios, you’ll want to choose something like the Lincoln or Miller models that let you connect it to a hard hat.
The fixed shade helmets are rather hard to see through. You can see where the tip of the welding gun is, but it is difficult to see the puddle clearly or the other metal.
This new lens technology is a powerful feature that lets you see clearly the weld and the surrounding area as well. This true-color technology allows the craftsman to create the most beautiful beads, while not overheating any area on the metal.
Welding helmets are measured in four areas with a score of 1-3, with “1” being the best and three being the worst. These four areas are:
- Optical Clarity – This is the first score. It discusses how distorted your project is when you are looking through the lens. A high score means that you have the most accurate view while you are working.
- Light Diffusion – As with a fine diamond, the lens can have impurities. A high score here means that you have a lense with little to no impurities that would compromise your field of view.
- Luminous Transmittance – This measurement is important from a safety view. When you have a lens set to “shade 9”, does it provide that same coverage equally across the lens, or are there gaps in the coverage? This measurement verifies that the protection stays consistent.
- Angle Dependence – Similar to the first score, this one measures how much distortion occurs when you are working at an angle. Getting a high score here is going to increase your accuracy and decrease headaches, especially when you are lying on your side or welding upside down.
Lens sizes range from 1×3 inches to 3×4 inches. That means you can have a viewing area of anywhere from 4 square inches on up to 12 square inches.
Ostensibly, bigger is better. However, it also costs more to manufacture — or to replace — a large lens. You can save money by going with a smaller viewing size, and it won’t dramatically affect the performance.
A bigger lens can let you work more quickly and doesn’t force you to move your head as much. It can also allow you to see what your hands are doing, even when working in awkward areas.
Assuming that you are purchasing from a reliable brand name, the warranty that comes with your helmet can give you a good idea of how much trust the manufacturer has in their product.
A high-quality helmet can last ten years or more. When you buy a brand name helmet that has a three year or longer warranty, it gives you peace of mind that this helmet just might hold up well.
When you are doing this professionally, having a reliable helmet can mean the difference between a lost day’s wages or not. Your warranty and customer support system is a good indication of the reliability of your helmet.
Your helmet is good for more than just welding. Most users want a helmet that they can use for everything from welding to cutting to grinding.
If you buy one that has a base shade of 3 or 4, you should be able to see your work clearly while grinding. Then, you can kick it up to a 5 or 8 for your cutting and on up into the 9 to 13 range for when you are welding.
Most of these helmets have a button you can press or a knob you can turn to activate the lower shading and allow you to use this helmet as nothing more than physical eye protection for grinding tasks.
The straps that hold the helmet to your head will make all of the difference during a long day of welding. The more expensive, professional models are designed to balance the helmet and creates greater head and neck comfort.
The cheaper models can still be comfortable, but typically for shorter periods of time.
The other important thing is whether the headgear holds its position when you raise and lower the helmet. It is likely that you will raise your helmet a hundred times a day. If the headgear slips every time you move your helmet, it can be very irritating.
You want one that will stay in place without constantly shifting. The Lincoln Viking, 3M Speedglas, and Miller Digital are all options that come with high-end headgear. A good mention is the Hobart, which comes with more comfortable support than you might imagine.
If you are doing fine or intricate work, you might want some magnification. Most of these helmets have a slot for you to add a magnifying lens while there isn’t any conclusive evidence that a life of welding is any harder on the eyes than computer work is, most welders who have been in the industry for a while like to use their cheater lens.
All welders need a power source. One of the most common options is a solar-powered welding helmet.
If you are frequently welding, these solar cell systems can work ok as the arc from the welder provides a little charge. There is also a small battery on board to help in low-light conditions.
The downside is that they don’t charge under fluorescent lights, so if you can’t set is in direct sunlight or near an incandescent lamp, you might come into a dead helmet.
Additionally, sometimes the batteries get so depleted that they seem never to resume charge. Hopefully, your helmet has replaceable batteries (some don’t).
The other option is to get a helmet that only uses rechargeable replacement batteries. If you are doing a lot of work in a factory, having rechargeable batteries might be the better option.