2.4 Welding Helmet Recommendations

Both of these welding helmets have auto darkening lenses. The one on the left is the one I wear most often, and the helmet on the right is the one that visitors and students use when they're watching.

Welding helmet recommendations

Every welding process requires protective gear of some kind, and MIG welding is no exception. The main safety equipment for MIG welding is a helmet, which sits on your head, or a mask, which is hand held. Both protect your face from sparks, but more importantly they protect your eyes from damage caused by the extremely intense light generated by the electric arc. This protection is absolutely essential.

For beginners, I recommend a moderately priced auto-darkening helmet. These have become much more accessible over the last decade or so. I’ll make specific purchasing recommendations later in this lesson, but for now let me explain what “auto-darkening” is. It’s an important innovation that will help you a lot.

To protect your eyes from light as bright as a welding arc, the glass in the helmet needs to be very dark. So dark that you can’t see through it under normal lighting conditions. For many years, every welder learned to “work blind,” at least until striking (starting) the arc. Only when welding actually began, could the welder see the joint line, the arc and the transfer of metal happening, and only as long as the arc continued.

Back then, all welders would start with the helmet tipped up and all welding gear in place. With a nod of the head the helmet would flip down into protection mode, but it would leave the welder blind. The arc would be struck in the right location by memory only, then the light would allow the weld joint to be seen. It sounds simple, but this routine was one of the hardest things for beginners to master.

All this changed about 20 years ago when an exciting, but very expensive, innovation appeared. Auto-darkening lenses became available: transparent enough under normal lighting conditions to see through, yet instantly dark when you begin welding.

And, yes, it is fast enough to prevent damage to your eyes. Auto-darkening welding lenses can go from light to dark in about 1/25,000 of a second, protecting your eyes as they do. 

Back in the late 1990s, a welding helmet with an auto darkening lens cost more than $500; it was only a realistic option for professional welders. These days prices have dropped considerably and you can get a decent auto-darkening helmet for $100, sometimes less. 

But why bother with an auto-darkening helmet at all? Why not just use the protective hand-held mask that may have come with your welder? Or how about an inexpensive old-school helmet with a dark-all-the-time lens?

An auto-darkening helmet improves weld quality drastically, especially for beginners. The ability to see the weld joint and the gun tip before an arc is struck is enormously helpful. No matter how meagre your tool budget is, save your pennies and buy an auto-darkening helmet as soon as you can. Other than the MIG welder itself, I can’t think of a more valuable piece of welding equipment.

Watch the next video to see auto-darkening in action. I think you’ll find it illuminating.

Auto darkening helmets

Antra Welding Helmet Auto Darkening AH7-360-0000

  • about $50 USD

As an auto-darkening helmet, this model offers very good value for the money. It doesn’t have the fancy graphics of other auto-darkening helmets, but that’s irrelevant in my book. Great reviews and great performance is what counts.

In fact, it was the very positive reviews I read about this helmet that prompted me to buy it to use with my video camera for shooting footage as I’m welding. I remove the strap and simply park my camera inside the helmet when I’m capturing close-up welding footage, as you’ll see later in the course.

Lincoln Welding Helmet, Black, 3350 Series

  • about $290 USD

This high-end, name-brand helmet is particularly comfortable to wear. I use a Lincoln auto-darkening helmet in my own shop and it has worked perfectly for years.

Canadian prices for this helmet are usually high (significantly more than the exchange rate), but if you live in the States or travel there, this one is worth trying on.

YESWELDER True Color Solar Powered Auto Darkening Welding Helmet

  • about $30 USD

The YESWELDER helmet is available with a variety of graphic styles (all for the same price), and includes the option of a magnifying lens, which can help if you normally wear glasses.

This helmet is great value in the US, though the Canadian price (around $119 CDN) is something of a slap in the face for us living north of the US border. I'd be happy to pay $30 USD, but definitely not $119 CDN.

FOOWOO Solar Powered Welding Helmet Auto Darkening Hood

  • about $37 USD

This helmet is also very reasonably priced and performs well. Not as comfortable as higher-end helmets, this model will be fine for hobby use.

I’m not a fan of the skull graphics, but this helmet is also available with a robot graphic theme. Not available in Canada.

Flip helmets (not auto darkening)

Hobart 770286 Flip Front Welding Helmet

  • about $13 USD

This helmet is NOT auto-darkening, but it is inexpensive (at least in the US). It’s a good option for people visiting your shop or learning by watching you weld. Once you get a welder, you’ll probably find your friends are curious to see it in action. This is a good helmet to have ready for visitors and observers.

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