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?
This is something that a lot of people take for granted. They mistakenly think that any pair of tinted glasses, including their favorite pair of wraparound ones, would work. 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. There are different ones available but we will discuss the most commonly used ones, which are shades 14, 13, 12, 10, and 5.
Best welding glasses & helmets
We’ve searched the market for the best welding glasses & helmets to keep your eyes safe! If you’re simply in the market, here are our recommendations. Scroll further down the page to see which shade number applies to each type.
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 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, glasses can only protect your eye area.
Because goggles are more compact in size, they are less intrusive to wear. Meanwhile, a helmet is much bulkier and can feel constricting for some. They can be uncomfortable for some to the point that wearing them can affect their work, that is why they would rather wear 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 welding lenses made it a bit harder for the wearer to see clearly. Fortunately, more of the manufacturers are now offering ones that offer clearer views as you weld, as well as interchangeable and auto-darkening lenses. But if you are using conventional ones, you still need to wear glasses together with your helmet to protect your eyes.
For some, they are also a hassle to wear because conventional ones with passive lenses need to be in different positions before, during, and after being done, especially for beginners that need to use darker shades. It may be too dark for them to position the torch before starting the work so the helmet must be put in the up position first and only snapped in place immediately before starting the work. 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 craftsman can simply wear them at all times and the lenses will adjust itself based on the amount of light detected. Helmets with auto-darkening glasses 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 one with different options that darken to an appropriate protection depending on the amount of light detected
- Different reaction times that indicate how fast the lens will darken to a certain level 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 before it darkens to a suitable level
When choosing between goggles vs a helmet, it will just be a matter of preference for the craftsman. The helmet is the best option for those who prioritize safety and don’t mind the added bulk, while the goggles are best for those who need a clearer vision when working and with fewer intrusions. But if you decide to wear goggles, you need to be extra careful to avoid injury to the exposed parts of your face and neck when working.
Are They Safe?
If you are getting your first pair, you may notice the different options available. OSHA explains welding glass 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.
It’s important to know that they are only safe if you make sure that you get the appropriate rating for the job.
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 glasses that has a number of 14 is darker, allowing less light to pass through and offering better protection from the brightness of the light than a pair with a number of 11.
Glasses, as well as some helmets, normally use lenses with fixed shades. However, there are newer units that come with auto-darkening lenses that automatically adjust the shade when the equipped sensors detect an arc. When inactive, it has a shade number of either 3 or 4 and will darken up to number 13 when it finally detects light. The maximum protection these auto-darkening lenses have are varied, but the majority of them use 13 as the maximum.
The minimum numbers recommended by OSHA will not just depend on the type used but also in the amperage or arc current, but their ideal protection and ranges are as follows:
- SMAW – from 7 to 11
- Gas Welding – from 4 to 6
- GMAW – either 7 or 10
- Oxygen Cutting – from 3 to 5
- Flux Cored Arc – 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
- 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 – 14
They normally range from 2 to 14, with 2 being the lightest. However, there are also special ones that offer zero protection, and even numbers 1.5 and 1.7. But for welding activities, they generally require numbers higher than 2.
Shade Number 14
If you want the darkest possible option, 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 work. The dark shade allows the filtration of up to 99% UV and IR radiation, which makes it ideal for use when all types, especially arc at high amperage like TIG. They are typically used for heavy industrial work and not for small projects like those done at home.
These look completely black and are mostly available with glasses and some helmets with fixed lenses. Ones with auto-darkening lenses often do not have this level of protection available.
Shade Number 13
You can go a shade lower, which is number 13, if you want to keep your eyes well-protected but find shade number 14 too dark for you. In fact, pros who prefer dark lenses often prefer to use these to ones labeled number 14.
These are also cheaper, that is why they are common on any kind of protective eyewear, including those equipped with auto-darkening lenses. This is often the darkest option available for welding glasses that will only be used for non-industrial projects involving both light and heavy-duty work. You can also use this level of protection for all types of welding that you may do.
Shade Number 12
For many, the ones equipped with shade number 12 are more comfortable to use than shade numbers 13 and 14. This is because these are just enough to let them see the light coming from the arc while being comfortable for them to do so even for hours; some get eye strain when they use darker lenses. They are also ideal for use in all types of welding, from light-duty to non-industrial heavy-duty use, especially those with high amperage.
Both glasses and helmets offer these protective lenses. In fact, most older models of helmets with fixed or auto-darkening lenses have this as their darkest one.
Shade Number 10
If you know that your projects will only require you to use a medium amperage, use a product with a shade number 10 as they’ll be suitable for you. They are typically considered as the middle ground because they are not too dark nor are they too light. But despite being marked as number 10, you can see that different lenses marked as such seem to have different shades; they can either be greenish or blackish.
Products that use this level of protection tend to be manufactured for specific uses because of this issue. That is, specific models are often created for specific ‘types and not for general use. Despite this, they can be used for all types, but not when using high amperage. Do note that those doing work inside a garage may find them to be too dark for them to work with.
Aside from traditional glasses, they are available in helmets with fixed and auto-darkening lenses.
Shade Number 5
For light work, shade 5 is usually sufficient. However, it should not be used if your work activity involves arcs, such as MIG and TIG, because they’re not dark enough to shield your eyes from the very bright light of the arc. That is why these are used only for cutting, grinding metals, brazing, and other work involving a torch, including an oxy acetylene one.
These 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 level of protection that you can already use for the light welding-related activities we mentioned.
Keep in mind that if you need to wear prescription glasses if working with these machines, it may be a bit harder for you to choose the right pair, especially if your pair of prescription glasses is already tinted. In such cases, those at the middle of the range are a safe bet. Aside from choosing the right one, you must also choose the right product that can accommodate your prescription glasses at the same time.
Can I Use Them to Look at the Sun?
Since you know that they 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, they can be used to directly look at the sun but only with the right shade numbers. This means not all products can be used as an alternative to the proper eyewear when watching a solar eclipse.
According to NASA, ones that can be used to look at the sun should be number 12 or higher; any one lower than that should not be used for such activities. Ones labeled 12, 13, and 14 are dark enough for you to safely look at the sun. However, what is most recommended is number 14, which is the darkest available, but some do say this 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 the inappropriate type of protective eyewear.