do auto darkening welding helmets work

Do Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets Work? (Unique Facts)

Welding and cutting of metals can cause some fairly serious damage to a person’s eyes. That’s why choosing the right sort of protective gear, like a welding helmet, is so important.  And advancements in auto-darkening technology means you’ve got some pretty cool choices.

Auto-darkening welding helmets work well for all types of welding such as Arc,  MIG, and TIG.  They also find a use for oxy-acetylene cutting. The auto-darkening helmets have three built-in sensors that detect UV radiation, infra-red (heat), and visible light, keeping your eyes safe under multiple conditions.

The two basic types of welding helmet lenses are passive and auto-darkening. Passive helmets do not change shade and require physically placing and removing the mask before and after work is complete. (source)

Auto-darkening welding helmets work well for a variety of welding and steel working applications.  However, they must pass certification to meet ANSI Z87.1-2003 standards. (source)

In this tutorial, we will go over all the basics of auto-darkening helmets, how they work, different lens types, and whether cheap ones are better than expensive ones.

Welding using an auto-darkening helmet.
Welding using an auto-darkening helmet. Image by skeeze from Pixabay

How Do Auto-Darkening Helmets Work 

Auto-darkening helmets have a lense that changes, depending upon the light.  But just how this works is an interesting feat of technology. Let’s jump right in and find out what makes these helmets work.

Auto-darkening helmets work by utilizing multiple layers of lens, each with their particular light manipulating properties.  The combined effect of these layers properties creates a darkening effect for light passing through the lens, controlled by a sensor and microprocessor.

Here’s How They Work:

Several layers make up the lens.  The outer layer is usually a UV/IR Interference filter.  To simplify, let’s say this layer filters out harmful UV.

In truth, this outer layer is one of the most critical and essential filters on the welding helmet. The UV / IR interference filter is usually responsible for absorbing and reflecting 99% or more of harmful IR radiation. It shields your eyes and helps protect not only your eyes but also the other layers making up your auto-darkening helmet lens. 

Next, there is a polarisation filter.  Beside it, a Liquid Crystal, or LC-cell layer.

The previous layers repeat; but, with a 90-degree rotation to the polarization filter.  In other words, there is another polarisation filter next, but it is installed with a different orientation compared to the previous filter layer.  Another LC-cell layer follows.

In most lenses, there is at least one more layer, being another polarization filter layer.

Does a Battery Fail Mean Auto-Darkening Stops And I’m At Risk?

The idea is that at a ‘resting’ state, the LC-cell layers form an opaque barrier.  Only when they are charged, do they allow light through.  This feature of good auto-darkening welding helmets ensures you don’t harm your eyes if the battery in your helmet dies on you during a weld.

When the amount of charge to the LC-cell changes, the cell changes’ opacity relative to the charge.  This is how a small battery can be used to power your welding helmet.  And the dials control the amount and type of charge, which allows for the fine-tuning of the auto-darkening features.

Technology and welding helmets have come a long way. Good quality auto-darkening helmet has an Incredibly variable range and ability to dim shade and change your shade number. It allows for a single helmet to be used for multiple different types of welding.

This versatility in new welding helmet design and technology is often powered by a simple small battery that can last for weeks or even months, depending on its amount of use. 

If you’re doing a lot of MIG welding, take a look at our article 10 Best Small MIG Welders (Smallest and Popular Ones).

A welder uses an auto-darkening helmet as part of his regular PPE.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Are Auto-Darkening Helmets Safe 

If you’re just getting into using an auto-darkening or even just considering your first purchase, then you’re likely going to ask yourself just how safe are these helmets, right?  I know I asked this question myself when I first went out to purchase my first welding helmet.  So, let’s find out just how safe these helmets are.

Auto-darkening helmets are safe and feature an automatic shade increasing system. This helps combat the light radiation produced by welding, for example, from the 2000-20000 degree Celsius temperatures created by arc welding. (source)

Auto-darkening helmets are intended to protect your face from Sparks and burns and protect your eyes from arc flash and other welding injuries caused by bright flashes harming your eyes.

A smart welder is a welder who protects their eyes and skin with a welding helmet. Not using a welding helmet and trying to use safety glasses to weld, one will soon find out what arc flash or similar is.

Something like arc flash can hurt for days, even weeks, and can cause permanent eye damage. That’s why using a quality auto-darkening welding helmet that is suited for your type of welding is essential to a safe welding experience.

Auto-darkening helmets are safe and often recommended for use with welding of many different types. Typically, the auto-darkening helmet is used for arc welding, MIG welding, TIG welding, and multi-purpose processing of steals to protect the eyes and face from sparks and burns.

Ensuring that your auto-darkening welding helmet is certified and meets ANSI Z87.1-2003 standards is vital to ensure your safety. (source)

A welder faces some bright flashes while welding.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Recommended Shade Levels For Welding Helmets

Arc Welding

For shielded arc welding, according to the United States Department of Labor’s occupational safety and health administration or OSHA for short, eye protection for the radiant energy and the requirements are as follows. (source

For shielded metal arc welding or SMAW for short, a minimum protective shade number of 7 is recommended, and the recommended highest number goes up to 14. ANSI and AWS shade number recommendations are ranged from 7 to 14, as per recommended. However, the OSHA minimum ranges from 7 to 11 on the protective shade. (source

Gas Welding & Oxygen Cutting

For gas welding and oxygen cutting, the OSHA recommends a minimum number of 4 and a maximum required minimum number for oxygen is 5. The ANSI shade number recommendations range from 5 through 6. From this, we can deduce again for gas and oxygen, cutting a range of 4 to 6 is required. (source

Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) & Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW)

For gas metal arc welding or GMAW and flux core arc welding or FCAW for short, the OSHA requires a minimum of 7; up to 10 on the protective shade number. The ANSI recommends from 11 through 14. 

So again, if we say 7 to 14 as an overall shade defensive number, then that is a good beginning point for the minimum shade requirements for GMAW and FCAW Welding. (source

Tungsten Arc Welding

For gas tungsten arc welding, the OSHA recommends a minimum of 8; and going up to a 10 for the protective shade number.  Meanwhile, the ANSI recommends for gas tungsten arc welding a minimum of 10, going up to a shade number of 14. (source

Other Cutting Types

There are various other types of cutting that are mentioned in the OSHA these range from air carbon arc cutting where they recommend a minimum shade of 10, the ANSI recommends 12. The air-carbon arc heavy cutting has a minimum OSHA protective shade number of 11, and an ANSI shade number of 14. (source

Plasma Arc Welding

For plasma arc welding, the OSHA protective shade number starts at 6 and goes all the way up to 11 for a minimum requirement.  Whereas the ANSI numbers range from 6 up to 14; depending again on the thickness of the material, amperage, etc. (source

Plasma Arc Cutting

For plasma Arc cutting, the OSHA recommends a minimum shade number of 8 where ANSI requires a minimum shade number of 9 for light-duty cutting. 

For heavy-duty cutting, a minimum shade number of 10 will satisfy the OSHA requirement. In contrast, ANSI has a minimum number of 14 as the minimum requirement. 

Carbon Arc Welding

For carbon arc welding OSHA requires a minimum that is equal to 14, which is also the same minimum for ANSI. (source

———–

With many auto-darkening helmets meeting the above requirements, the auto-darkening helmets are not only deemed safe but also certified by the OSHA.

Make sure that when you purchase an auto-darkening helmet that it shows that it has been certified to the level of certification required in the country where you reside.

A man welds while using a large view lens welding mask.
Image by Jonas Greuter from Pixabay

Doing a lot of welding projects? Check out these great welding tables in our article Best Welding Tables: Portable, Stationary & DIY Plans.

Big Lens Vs. Little Lens 

Lens size can mean the difference between working easily and unimpeded or working with a crutch.  Think of going into a baseball game with one hand. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.  A bigger lens means a bigger field of vision.  But it also means cost, right?

Having a large lens on your auto-darkening helmet is not a requirement, but it is a benefit that is essential to a more comfortable working environment.  However, a larger lens is typically accompanied by a higher cost both initially and to replace the lens when required.

Although small lenses do benefit from providing a more cost-effective solution, smaller lenses become irritating to work with when working with larger projects in the long run.  It is also true when welding on a weekly or even more regular schedule.

Although getting used to small lenses is something that all new welders do, every welder who has spent any length of time in the field can tell you that a larger lens helps do the work safely and efficiently.

The only place where a larger lens does not benefit is when it comes time to replace the lens. New large auto-darkening lenses are quite expensive. The larger the lens, the more expensive it is to replace it. This general rule is not always valid, but it can be assumed in most cases.

A welder uses a budget welding mask.
Image by Mike Flynn from Pixabay

Are Cheap Auto-Darkening Helmets Any Good? 

Even standard-issue auto-darkening welding helmets allow a certain amount of radiation through.  For example, according to one study shared on the Scandinavian Journal of work environment and health, it was shown radiation could pass inside even a decent welding helmet. (source

The study showed that the UVR dose inside the standard welding helmet ranged from 9 MJ per centimeter squared or (3xMPE).  It was on the inside of the helmets to around 15 MJ per centimeter squared or five times MPE, located on the headband location. The headband being, of course, about where the eye level is.

If you’re looking to buy a new welding helmet and an auto-darkening helmet is one of the ones you’re looking at, don’t worry; these helmets can be found at a reasonable price, and they still work well to protect your eyes and face.

You don’t want to spend too little money when it comes to protecting your own eyes and face. Protecting your eyesight is essential to the quality and long-term life.

A welding helmet has many parts, one of which is a shutter assembly using a liquid crystal lens, as defined in this US6070264A patent. (source)

Buying a welding helmet is an essential action when purchasing the tools required to do most welding types. However, sometimes people will be swayed by the price of a good sale. A good deal and a low price does not necessarily ensure that your safety has been kept in mind.

Frequently cheaper auto-darkening helmets work just fine but tend to use the batteries up quickly. In comparison, they may use a solar panel function to power the helmet; however, it may not last very long before it ceases to function correctly.

Frequently one can find a reasonably priced auto-darkening helmet for between $60 and $150 US. It will purchase a helmet of reasonable quality that should last for an appropriate length of time. (source

One should always remember to check when purchasing an auto-darkening helmet, that the helmet frequency or rather the helmet protective shade number range coincides with the type of welding that you want to use the helmet with.

Taking these points into consideration should ensure that your auto-darkening helmet purchase is practical and useful.

A welder holds a Miller welding mask to keep it secure.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Will Auto-Darkening Helmets Go Bad 

Unless you’re using a unique robotic, even cyborg-like welding helmet like an AR capable model that you never worry about harming your eyes, eventually, a lens goes bad. (source

Most forms of auto-darkening helmet run off of a battery and a liquid crystal lens system. Over time these Liquid Crystal powered systems will eventually break down and cease functioning as they initially once did.

All auto-darkening helmets come with a manufacturer’s recommended lifespan. Also, depending upon the particular type of lens system, the auto-darkening helmet manufacturer will include a life expectancy with the helmet’s media.

In your auto-darkening helmet user manual, there will be specifications for the lens and or the battery to be replaced.

A wise move is to keep a spare battery and an extra lens for your auto-darkening helmet on hand. This way, when your battery or lens fails, you will have a spare on hand that you can use to replace and or repair your auto-darkening lens.

Worry not though auto-darkening lenses tend to last for quite some time and many hours of use. And remember, the better the helmet, the longer it should last, and the more effective it should be in protecting your eyes and face from welding burns and arc flash.

How Do I Know When It Goes Bad 

The last thing any welder needs is to continue welding with a failed auto-darkening welding mask.  But will you know when it’s failed?

When a welding helmet fails, you’ll know right away. Most auto-darkening helmets come with a default feature where you will not see through the visor when in a failed state. 

This feature is with the Liquid Crystal lens. When an LC-cell lens does not have a charge running through it, the crystals’ natural orientation creates an opaque lens area that you cannot see through. It is a safety function of auto-darkening lenses.

If an auto-darkening lens has had the battery replaced and is still not functioning, there are still a few areas where the damage may be, and repair may be required. If an auto-darkening lens itself is damaged or expired, then the lens may need to be replaced.

Auto-darkening lenses are often not overly expensive as long as they are the smaller type and not the full face shield size lens.

Changing the auto-darkening lens is often very easy and is shown in your user manual. Always keep your user manual on file so you know the specific type of lens you need to get should you require a replacement.

Always check to make sure that the battery is still functional. It’s often a good idea to keep a spare battery on hand just if your welding helmet stops working. The first thing you should always do is change the battery, as this is typically the first cause for welding helmet failure.

However, it is a good idea to also keep a spare lens on hand even just in case. However, these do not often go, so it may not be required unless the lens has been damaged.

A welder uses an auto-darkening mask.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The Bottom Line

There are many benefits of auto-darkening welding helmets than standard helmets that require one to hold the helmet with one hand. Most auto-darkening helmets have a harness fitting that fits around your head like a hat, fitting in place so that you can work hands-free of the helmet.

There are many reasons why a person chooses an auto-darkening welding helmet; some are as follows.

  • Auto-darkening allows you to work hands-free without holding the helmet.
  • Auto-darkening helmets are comfortable and protect more than just the face by wrapping around your head. 
  • These helmets allow you to work and see clearly with several different types of welding, allowing for a multi-purpose helmet solution.
  • With most auto-darkening helmets, the shade is adjustable compared to standard helmets where the shade is not flexible to adjust; one has to remove the lens or replace the lens with an additional lens.

Add all these benefits up, and you’ve got a pretty strong argument for using an excellent auto-darkening welding helmet.

Looking for more information about welding? Take a look at these articles:

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