Best Welding Helmets
This first and essential basic welding tool is a must-have for anyone welding.
There is a huge difference in welding helmets and you don’t have to spend big money get a good one.
The best welding helmets usually have an auto-darkening face plate incorporated into the welding helmet.
A welding helmet is the most important welding workshop tool you have, so you want something that’s user-friendly.
Your other option is to buy a welding helmet that has a solid shade, but here’s the problem with that. You can’t see your workpiece through the lens, and it could cause your welds to be placed improperly.
Auto-darkening welding helmets are great welding tools for beginners because they allow you to easily see the workpiece before starting your welds, which means more accuracy and less frustration.
How do Auto Darkening Helmets work
Infrared Radiation Sensors
Auto darkening lenses are triggered by the infrared radiation emitted by the welding process.
The front of the helmet’s lenses has small red sections. These are the sensors that detect infrared radiation and enable the helmet to switch to the dark state.
Older or cheaper helmets only have two sensors, whereas professional-grade helmets will have 4 sensors.
Electromagnetic Field Detection
The latest lenses use X-Mode. This uses the electro-magnetic field generated by the welding process to switch the lens to dark mode.
What Is Inside The Auto Darkening Welding Helmet?
The auto darkening lens is made up of several layers. See the below illustration.
Ultraviolet and Infrared Light Filter
This is the layer that gives the lens the pinky purple look. This layer filters out 99.9% of the infrared radiation and up to 99.997% of the ultraviolet light.
The glass is a good UV-B filter (ultraviolet light that causes sunburn). The reflective surface is actually made up of 11 different layers of metallic film.
5 layers of silver and 6 layers of aluminum oxide. The added layers filter out the remaining UV-A and UV-C.
The latest generation of filters now have up to 20 layers, totaling a thickness of 7 microns. Head exploding emoji.
This layer filters the harmful light all of the time. So if you get a flash from the welder and it doesn’t switch, the harmful light has been stopped.
The only effect you will have is the bright light causing you to see stars for a moment.
The polarization filter is another thin piece of glass or plastic, with a thin chemical film applied to it.
A common compound is iodine that has been stretched so all of the molecules are in a straight line.
This only allows the light to pass though in a vertical wave.
The lens requires up to 3 polarization layers to filter the light to a level that the liquid crystal lens can use and the welder can see.
The polarizing filters are placed in 90 degree orientation to one another, to filter out a lot of the light.
Liquid Crystal Cell Filter
The liquid filter lenses are usually made of 2 thin pieces of glass with a thin transparent film of conductive coating. Indium tin oxide is the common surface treatment.
A spacer is used to strictly control the gap between the 2 layers. Inside are the liquid cells.
The liquid crystal cells need the light to be in a single wave form to be effective.
How Do The Auto Darkening Welding Helmets Change Shade?
Once the sensors have detected the arc, the sensor sends an electrical voltage to the liquid crystal cells.
The liquid crystal cells are usually lying flat. But when the cells are activated by the electrical voltage, they can turn 90 degrees.
The amount of voltage they receive will determine how far the crystals turn, limiting the amount of light to pass through.
Recent Improvement In Auto Darkening Lens Technology
Auto darkening helmets have been around for decades now. The first generation of the auto darkening welding helmets were fixed shade.
They were a dark shade 5 to 6 in their lightest state, then switched to a most common shade of 11 for the dark state.
The next generation of helmet technology allowed the shade range of the dark state to be variable from a shade 9 to a 13.
This was a big leap forward in the usability of the helmets.
Soon after the sensitivity of the helmet adjustment was available. This let welders using TIG at low amperage use auto darkening hoods.
Soon after, the ability to adjust the delay of the dark to light state was an added feature.
But all of the welders looking through the lenses of these helmets, had a dark light state and the world had a tint of green to it, limiting the usefulness of the helmet when not welding.
The lens was simply too dark to see much.
If you tried to grind with the helmet on, it would switch to weld mode because the IR sensors would detect heat from the grinding sparks.
Why Do Most Welding Helmets Have A Green Tint
The reason the welding lens has a green tint, is because of the 2 metallic coatings applied to the ultraviolet and infrared radiation filter.
Check the illustration below to better understand how the light is filtered.
For the makers of auto darkening welding helmets, they have the hard job of trying to filter out the infrared spectrum which is very close to the red color wave.
The ultraviolet is very close to the violet and blue shade of light wavelength.
The main colors that could pass through the filters were green and yellow, resulting in the green tint when looking through the welding helmet lens.
The liquid crystal lenses do not filter any of the harmful ultraviolet and infrared radiation.
In fact they would quickly be damaged by them. The LC cells only reduce the massive amount of light generated by the welding arc.
Are Auto Darkening Helmets Safe
Yes. The Harmful ultraviolet light and the not as often thought about infrared light, is filtered out 100% of the time.
The special coating applied to the purplish lens is always active. You will still see the bright light behind the welding helmet but it is not harmful.
Reaction Time Auto Darkening Welding Helmet Speed
The speed at which auto darkening welding helmets switch from light state to dark is measured in 1000’s of a second, or millisecond.
The more affordable lenses switch in 1 / 30,000 of a second. The average for a good helmet is 1 / 25,000 of a second, the fastest being the MIller at 1 / 20,000 of a second.
Do Auto Darkening Helmets Have Batteries
Yes, all auto darkening welding helmets have batteries. Most of the auto darkening helmets also have a solar cell.
The battery is required for the first initial switching of the helmet. Once the arc from the welder is going, the solar cell then powers the liquid crystal cell and chargers the internal lithium battery.
The cheaper welding hoods that appear to have no battery actually do, but don’t give you the ability to change them.
This is why these cheaper helmets don’t last as long and require to be solar charged if not in use for long periods.
What Batteries Do Auto Darkening Welding Helmets Use?
The most common type for the replaceable battery is the CR2450 or the CR2032.
The auto darkening welding helmets with the larger viewing area sometimes require 2 batteries to power the helmet.
How Long Do Auto Darkening Helmets Last
The more affordable auto darkening hoods last for around three years. These helmets often don’t allow the batteries to be replaced.
When these helmets are coming to the end or their service life, you may find you have to leave the helmet in the sun to charge for long periods for it to work.
Premium auto darkening welding hoods can last from 5 to 7 years depending on how you look after them and the welding processes you use.
The top of the range helmets cost more in the beginning but out last the cheaper version while giving better optical quality and faster switching times.
They also have better head gear for added comfort and adjust-ability.
2. Welding Magnets
Welding magnets are an essential welding fabrication tool because they are so versatile.
You can easily hold pieces in place, and create 90 degree angles with any of your projects. I love to use them when I’m building welding frames for tables, fire pit grates, and more.
They come in several different sizes for small welding projects all the way up to large projects. But make sure you buy multiple magnets.
If you’re making a square frame, you’ll want to have 1 magnet on each corner of the work piece holding it in place.
Harbor Freight Tools is a great place to get welding magnets or any kind of welding tools for cheap.
3. Welding Framing Jig
A welding framing jig is NOT a required welding tool for beginners, but I put it in here because it’s so effective at helping you create frames that are square.
Basically, you just put the 2 end pieces of your work piece into the framing jig, tighten it down, and make your tack welds.
Now you have a perfect 90 degree angle. Pretty simple, right?
However, if you get creative with some C clamps you can make one of these and save yourself some money. Just like any welding fabrication tool, the welding framing jig will save you lots of time and frustration, especially when you consider that steel tends to warp when welded.
4. Speed Square
The speed square is a necessary tool, and here’s why…
Let’s say you’re working with a long piece of square tubing, and you just want to cut off about 12 inches of it.
You set your speed square on the work piece, make your mark across the tubing, and now you have a 90 degree cut ready to go.
Plus, if you want to make that cut a 45 degree angle across the steel tubing, you just slide your speed square across until it hits the 45 mark. It’s super easy to use, and a welding tool you can’t do without.
I’ve used mine on numerous welding projects.
5. Sheet Metal Gauge
This next tool is great if you want to find out how thick your metal is.
This is great because most welders will have a chart that says what setting you need to weld on for different metal thicknesses. It’s hard to eyeball the thickness of a piece of metal, so that’s where the sheet metal gauge comes in.
All you have to do is slide the openings over your work piece, and the gauge will give you a reading.
It’s pretty handy when you get to the point where you have lots of metal laying around, and you forgot what thickness it is.
I wouldn’t say this is an absolute must have welding tool for beginners, but it’s handy to have around the shop.
6. Metal File
You’ve probably used metal files before, if not on a welding project, then on your finger nails.
They’re great to use when finishing a project.
When you start cutting your projects (I’ll get to that in a second) you’ll have lots of metal burrs that you want to get rid of.
You could do this metal cleaning with your grinder for bigger stuff, but the files obviously work great on the fine detail stuff.
A great investment, and they’re cheap.
7. Welding Clamps
This next basic welding tool is an absolute must-have.
In fact, you need to get at least 10 welding clamps. You will need them. Imagine that you start a welding project, and you have to fit up the pieces tightly before tack welding them in place.
Without these clamps holding your workpieces tightly together, the metal warpage from welding will throw your project out of square.
I’ve used as many as 10 clamps at one time on a single project.
Here’s the order you want to follow.
- Cut your pieces to length
- Fit your pieces tightly together
- Clamp them in place
- Tack weld
- Remove clamps
- Lay final welds
8. Welding Gloves
Obviously, you have to have welding gloves, unless of course you already have nerve damage on your fingers. In that case you won’t need them.
There are really thick welding gloves (which I recommend for beginners) that you can pick up hot pieces of metal with for a few seconds without getting burned.
Then there are the thin leather gloves. These are great for TIG welding where you need a more precise hold on the torch.
I would recommend that you start with a thick pair like in the picture.
They will last you for a long time unless you pick up lots of hot metal with them. It’s important to note that the temperature at the arc is around 10,000 degrees, so you will definitely feel some heat coming off your welds.
9. Metal Brush
A metal brush is something you’ll need if you’re using a welding process that creates slag.
For example, if you’re welding with a stick welder or flux core arc welder you’ll have to scrape off the slag coating to reveal the final weld.
Chipping hammers and metal brushes are great for this.
This slag coating is created during the welding process because it acts as a shielding agent. The weld puddle has to be protected from the atmospheric contamination.
When using shielding gas, your welds will remain clean.
10. MIG Pliers
For those of you who are readers of my blog, you know that I recommend MIG welding as the easiest process for beginners to learn.
So, if you’re going to learn how to weld with a MIG welder, you’re going to need MIG pliers.
They are simple to use, and have several functions.
Function #1: Remove the hot nozzle
MIG pliers come equipped with a circular clamp so you can remove the nozzle from your gun. Remember, it’s very hot so this feature makes it very easy to not get burned.
Function #2: Remove the contact tip
The contact tip is where the wire comes out of your gun. They are made to match the sizes of your wire.
So, if you have .030 wire then you need a .030 contact tip.
The MIG pliers have a built-in circular clamp to unscrew the tip. You’ll need to occasionally remove your contact tip and replace it with a new one.
Function #3: Clip your wire
Typically, you want your wire stick out to be around 1/4″ before starting your weld. Any longer than that and you won’t get good penetration on your start.
The MIG pliers come with an easy cut-off so you maintain the correct wire stick out every time.
There is also one more feature that comes on the MIG welding pliers. You can see the long need noses on the pliers, right? Well, if you need to clean the weld spatter off the inside of your MIG nozzle, you just scrape it out with those.
It’s very easy to do, and you will need to keep your nozzle clean so the gas can flow out.
Soapstone is used as a marking tool when working with metal.
It’s great because it withstands the high heat of welding and cutting torches.
There are also markers available that will do the same thing. It’s basically like chalk that you write on the metal with.
If you have shapes you’d like to cut out with a torch, you would just draw your shape on the metal, and then cut away.
12. Angle Grinder
Angle grinders are a necessity. Period.
I don’t think you can get by without having one. You can put a grinding disk on to smooth out your projects, put a cut off wheel on to cut metal, put a wire brush on to remove paint, or put a flap disk on for precise grinding.
I recommend always having at least 2 angle grinders. One for grinding and one for cutting.
13. Safety Glasses
When you’re using angle grinders, you need to have some safety glasses on.
Those sparks you see flying off the grinding disk are small pieces of metal, and if one hits you in the eye, you’re done with.
Either get you some safety glasses, or a grinding face shield. Those are great to ensure nothing will hit your face when grinding or cutting.
14. C Clamps
Having an assortment of C clamps will save you a lot of frustration. Being able to secure your workpiece down to a table is extremely important, and C clamps are perfect for that.
You buy all the metal for your project, and take the time to carefully measure and cut. Then you start welding without clamping your project down. What happens?
The whole project will likely be ruined because it’s now badly warped. You should have clamped it down to a table.
You won’t regret have 5 or 10 C clamps of different sizes laying around your shop.
15. Portable Band Saw
A portable band saw isn’t necessary as a welding workshop tool for beginners, but it’s a fantastic piece of machinery.
Basically, it produces clean cuts that don’t need any rework.
If you have material you want to cut to length, having something portable like this is a great option. I use mine all the time.
Occasionally your blade will get dull, and you’ll have to replace it. However, that’s super easy to do.
16. Chipping Hammer
I mentioned earlier that if you’re MIG welding with flux core wire, or stick welding, you’ll have to chip away at the slag coating to reveal the weld underneath.
That’s what a chipping hammer is used for. To chip away the slag.