You probably know that you can lose your fingers if you are not careful with welding, but did you know that you can lose your eyesight as well if you don’t wear the right kind of welding glasses?
This is something that a lot of welders take for granted. They mistakenly think that any pair of tinted glasses, including their favorite pair of wraparound shades, would work for welding. And if they find it uncomfortable, they don’t wear a pair at all and just ignore the blinding light as they work.
They are unaware that wearing the wrong eye gear, or worse, not wearing any at all, can have disastrous consequences. To keep your eyes protected, you must use the right kind of welding glasses. There are different shades available for welding glasses but we will discuss the most commonly used ones, which are shades 14, 13, 12, 10, and 5.
Welding Goggles vs Helmet
Wearing safety gear is important whenever you do any kind of welding activity but when it comes to welding goggles vs helmet, you may find yourself confused about which one to use. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
It cannot be denied that a welding helmet offers more protection; after all, this headgear protects the wearer from the neck up. This means your entire face and neck are protected from sparks, fumes, ultraviolet (UV) light, corneal sunburn or flash burn (aka welder’s eye), and infrared (IR) radiation, as well as metal bits from the base material. On the other hand, welding glasses can only protect your eye area.
Because welding goggles are more compact in size, they are less intrusive to wear. Meanwhile, a helmet is much bulkier and can feel constricting for some welders. Helmets can be uncomfortable for some to the point that wearing them can affect their work, that is why they would rather wear welding glasses despite offering less protection.
Goggles used to be preferred by many because it is perceived to be better when it comes to visibility, as helmets with passive or fixed lenses made it a bit harder for the wearer to see clearly. Fortunately, more helmet manufacturers are now offering helmets that offer clearer views as you weld, as well as interchangeable and auto-darkening lenses. But if you are using conventional helmets, you still need to wear glasses together with your helmet to protect your eyes.
For some, helmets are also a hassle to wear because conventional ones with passive lenses need to be in different positions before, during, and after welding, especially for beginners that need to use darker shades. It may be too dark for them to position the torch before starting the weld so the helmet must be put in the up position first and only snapped in place immediately before welding. To do so, they have to snap or nod their necks so that it will go into the right position, which can be straining to the neck.
As a fix, auto-darkening lenses are used so that the welder can simply wear them at all times and the lenses will adjust itself based on the amount of light detected. Helmets with auto-darkening lenses also have varying features available, such as:
- Having a fixed shade that darkens to shade number 10 only when it senses an arc or a variable shade with different shades that darken to an appropriate shade depending on the amount of light detected
- Different reaction times that indicate how fast the lens will darken to a certain shade once it detects light
- Number of sensors installed to detect the light
- Various viewing sizes
- Delay controls that allow you to set how long it stays dark after it no longer detects an arc
- Sensitivity controls that allow you to set the light sensitivity of the helmet before it darkens to a suitable shade
When choosing between welding goggles vs a helmet, it will just be a matter of preference for the welder. The helmet is the best option for those who prioritize safety and don’t mind the added bulk, while the welding goggles are best for those who need a clearer vision when working and with fewer intrusions. But if you decide to wear welding goggles, you need to be extra careful to avoid injury to the exposed parts of your face and neck when working.
Welding Glasses Shade Numbers Explained
If you are getting your first pair of welding glasses, you may notice the different shade numbers available. OSHA explains shade numbers as an indicator of the amount of protection the filter lens provides. In particular, the number represents the intensity of UV and IR radiation that it allows to pass through.
The darkness of the filter increases with the shade number, which then decreases the amount of light that passes through the lens. This means a pair of welding glasses that has a shade number of 14 is darker, allowing less light to pass through and offering better protection from the brightness of the light than a pair of welding glasses with a shade number of 11.
Welding glasses, as well as some helmets, normally use lenses with fixed shades. However, there are newer helmets that come with auto-darkening lenses that automatically adjust the shade when the equipped sensors detect a welding arc. When inactive, it has a shade number of either 3 or 4 and will darken up to shade number 13 when it finally detects light. The maximum shade numbers these auto-darkening lenses have are varied, but the majority of them use shade number 13 as the maximum.
The minimum shade numbers recommended by OSHA will not just depend on the type of welding used but also in the amperage or arc current, but their ideal shade numbers and ranges are as follows:
- Shield Metal Arc Welding or SMAW – from 7 to 11
- Gas Welding – from 4 to 6
- Gas Metal Arc Welding or GMAW – either 7 or 10
- Oxygen Cutting – from 3 to 5
- Flux Cored Arc Welding – either 7 to 10
- Gas Tungsten Arc Welding or GTAW – either 8 or 10
- Heavy Air Carbon Arc Cutting or CAC-A – 11
- Light Air Carbon Arc Cutting or CAC-A – 10
- Plasma Arc Welding or PAW – from 6 to 11
- Heavy Plasma Arc Cutting or PAC – 10
- Medium Plasma Arc Cutting or PAC – 9
- Light Plasma Arc Cutting or PAC – 8
- Carbon Arc Welding – 14
Shade numbers normally range from 2 to 14, with shade number 2 being the lightest. However, there are also special welding glasses that offer zero shade, and even shade numbers 1.5 and 1.7. But for welding activities, they generally require shade numbers higher than 2.
Shade Number 14
If you want the darkest shade of welding glasses, you need to look for one with shade number 14. Because it is very dark, and you can hardly see anything with it, this is not suitable for use outside welding activities. The dark shade allows the filtration of up to 99% UV and IR radiation, which makes it ideal for use when all types of welding, especially arc welding at high amperage like TIG welding. They are typically used for heavy industrial welding and not for small projects like those done at home.
Lenses with shade number 14 almost look completely black and are mostly available with welding glasses and some helmets with fixed lenses. Helmets with auto-darkening lenses often do not have this shade number.
Shade Number 13
You can go a shade lower, which is shade number 13, if you want to keep your eyes well-protected but find shade number 14 too dark for you. In fact, welders who prefer dark lenses on their welding glasses or helmets prefer to use shade number 13 more than shade number 14.
Lenses with shade number 13 are also cheaper, that is why they are common on both welding glasses and helmets, including those equipped with auto-darkening lenses. Shade number 13 is often the darkest shade available for welding glasses that will only be used for non-industrial projects involving both light and heavy-duty welding. You can also use shade number 13 for all welding types.
Shade Number 12
For many, welding glasses and helmets equipped with shade number 12 are more comfortable to use than shade numbers 13 and 14. This is because this shade is just enough to let them see the light coming from the welding arc while being comfortable for them to do so even for hours; some get eye strain when they use darker lenses. Shade number 12 is also ideal for use in all welding types, from light-duty to non-industrial heavy-duty use, especially those with high amperage.
Both welding glasses and helmets offer shade 12 lenses. In fact, most older models of welding helmets with fixed or auto-darkening lenses have shade number 12 as their darkest shade.
Shade Number 10
If you know that your welding projects will only require you to use a medium amperage, welding glasses or helmets that use shade number 10 are suitable for you. This shade is typically considered as the middle ground because they are not too dark nor are they too light for welding. But despite being marked as shade number 10, you can see that different lenses marked as such seem to have different shades; they can either be greenish or blackish.
Welding glasses and helmets that use this shade number tend to be manufactured for specific uses because of this issue. That is, specific models are often created for specific welding types and not for general use. Despite this, shade number 10 can be used for all types of welding, but not when using high amperage. Do note that those welding inside a garage may find this shade to be too dark for them to work with.
Aside from traditional welding glasses, shade number 10 is available in welding helmets with fixed and auto-darkening lenses.
Shade Number 5
For light work, shade number 5 is usually sufficient. However, it should not be used if your welding activity involves arcs, such as MIG and TIG welding, because the shade is not dark enough to shield your eyes from the very bright light of the arc. That is why this shade number is typically used only for cutting, grinding metals, brazing, and other work involving a torch, including an oxy acetylene one.
Welding glasses with this shade not only come in black or green tints, but various manufacturers also make mirrored and polarized versions that make them look like ordinary sunglasses. In fact, there are even some sunglasses with this shade number that you can already use for the light welding-related activities we mentioned.
Keep in mind that if you need to wear prescription glasses when welding, it may be a bit harder for you to choose the right shade number, especially if your pair of prescription glasses is already tinted. In such cases, shade numbers at the middle of the range are a safe bet. Aside from choosing the right shade number, you must also choose the right welding glasses or helmet that can accommodate your prescription glasses at the same time.
Can I Use Welding Glasses to Look at the Sun?
Since you know that welding glasses are capable of shielding your eyes against UV rays, you may be wondering if you can use it to look at the sun, particularly during a solar eclipse. After all, it is not a phenomenon you experience every day.
Yes, welding glasses can be used to directly look at the sun but only with the right shade numbers. This means not all welding glasses or even helmets can be used as an alternative to the proper eyewear when watching a solar eclipse.
According to NASA, welding glasses that can be used to look at the sun should be shade number 12 or higher; any shade number lower than that should not be used for such activities. Shade numbers 12, 13, and 14 are dark enough for you to safely look at the sun. However, what is most recommended is shade number 14, which is the darkest shade available, but some do say that shade number 14 is too dark.
Despite this protection, staring at the sun for a long time is still not recommended. While the risk is minimized, there is still the slightest chance of experiencing long-term issues the longer you look directly at the sun even with welding glasses.