Comparing The Best Auto Darkening Welding Helmets
Top picks, reviews and buyer’s guide
If you’re looking for the best welding helmet, you’ve come to the right place. To make it to this list, a helmet really has to blow our socks off, and that’s pretty rare. These helmets were tested by our reviewers under grueling conditions and blew us away consistently. Below you’ll find a comparison of the top welding masks, and then the top rated welding helmet reviews.
Lincoln Electric Viking 3350
Jackson Safety W70 BH3
Miller Electric Digital Elite
3M Speedglas 9100xx
|Reviewer Comments||Read Review||Read Review||Read Review||Read Review||Read Review|
|Value For Money||5||4.7||4.8||3.6||2.6|
|Shade Range||DIN 6 to 13||DIN 9 to 13||DIN 5-9, 9-13||DIN 5-8, 8-13||DIN 5, 8-13|
|Viewing Width||3.74in (95mm)||3.8in (96mm)||3.78in (96mm)||3.85in (97mm)||4.2in (107mm)|
|Viewing Height||3.34in (85mm)||2.7in (68.5mm)||2.5in (63.5mm)||2.38in (60mm)||2.8in (72 mm)|
|Grind mode shade||3.5||4||3||3|
|Battery||Solar powered, lithium battery assist||Solar cell||Solar cell||Lithium, Solar assist||2 lithium batteries, solar assist|
|Control settings location||Internal||Internal||External Knob||Remote, Digital||Remote, Digital|
|Weight||20 oz. (567g)||19.84 oz. (562g)||15 oz. (435g)||18 oz. (482g)||15.87 oz. (450g)|
|Warranty||3 Years||5 Years||2 Years On Filter Only||3 Years||3 Years|
|Welder level||professional, beginner, hobby||professional, hobby||professional, beginner, hobby||professional, hobby||professional|
#1 Best Overall – Lincoln Electric Viking 3350
One of the top brands in the welding industry, Lincoln Electric really hit the ball out of the park with their Lincoln Electric Viking 3350 helmet series. The thing we noticed right away when putting on the helmet was the excellent optical clarity. There was absolutely no distortion, no smudging, and everything was crystal clear – just what you’d expect from a 1/1/1/1 rated lens. Another thing we noticed was that the helmet was quite comfortable right away, and with a few slight adjustments, it felt like we’d been wearing it for years. The four arc sensors are cleverly placed so that the helmet darkens properly no matter in what position you’re welding, and even after many attempts at tricking the ADF, we finally gave up without having been flashed even once. This helmet is good for beginners, hobby welders and professionals alike.
The only complaint we had is the shiny black exterior of the hood, which scratches easily, especially if you’re welding in tight spots. Luckily the helmet comes in a couple of different styles, some of which are actually really cool. Overall we gave this helmet a solid 4.8/5 stars, and in our opinion it is the absolute best welding helmet on the market today.
Here are a few different styles you might prefer:
#2 Top Contender – Jackson Safety BH3
Another helmet that impressed us with its crystal clear optical clarity is the Jackson Safety BH3. It uses a proprietary method known as ‘Balder Technology’ to achieve a 1/1/1/1 (the highest possible) optical rating, putting it head a shoulders above most helmets in its price range. The helmet is very comfortable and comes with many headgear adjustments to ensure it’s comfortable for all head shapes. Another great feature is the hoods curved front plate which helps reduce heat buildup and fume deflection.
The main downside to this helmet is the lack of a grinding mode, which means the helmet is not suitable for all situations. Nevertheless we did manage to grind with the sensitivity turned down to the lowest setting, but if you really need a good grinding helmet, you might want to pass on this one.
#3 Best Value – Antra AH6
Surprisingly, the Antra has quite a large viewing size (3.86″x2.50″), sports 4 arc sensors (most of the cheaper helmets only have 2) and has a grinding mode with a shade 4 lens. That’s a lot of functionality wrapped into an affordable package. The helmet itself comes in a variety of awesome designs (the plain black is a little cheaper, but only slightly), and supports MIG,MAG,TIG,SMAW and Plasma Arc welding. This helmet surprised the hell out of us, and we’ve found that it can not only be used by beginner and hobby welders, but by professionals and daily welders as well.
Welding Helmet Brands Reviewed On WeldingHelmetPros.com
While there are a seemingly endless amount of welding helmet brands on offer, the truth is that only a handful meet the minimum ANSI Z87.1 – 2003 (or ANSI Z87+) standards, which ensure the helmets and lenses are being independently tested and passing quality standards such as high velocity impact (this happens more then you might think in welding environments), 100% UV (ultraviolet) and IF (infrared) radiation protection – no matter the shade setting used – and that the specifications advertised by the brands are constantly being tested.
We’ve done most of the homework for you, which is why you won’t find all helmet brands on this website, but rather only the ones that pass our own quality checks.
A good welding helmet is very important when doing any kind of welding. It protects the user from the radiation (UV, IF) emitted by welding arcs, and from heat and debris impact. A helmet with good optical clarity contributes to the quality of welds, as they allow the welder to see the weld puddle clearly.
With non auto-darkening helmets, you’re constantly forced to “head nod” to raise and lower the hood while welding, leading to neck discomfort, loss of focus, and lower quality welds. With an auto-darkening helmet you won’t need to remove the helmet at all – in fact, many of the top brands even offer adjustment controls on the external part of the helmet, or as a separate controller which can be adjusted without even removing your gloves. Now if that isn’t convenient, I don’t know what is!
Not only are these helmets worth the money – they look great too. In fact, some helmets look more like a work of art then a protective tool, and also come packaged with welding stickers to further personalize to your taste.
This is the first decision you need to make when buying a helmet. With standard glass the viewing lens is usually a #10 shade piece of tinted glass with UV and IF protection coated on. With these helmets, welding is done by first nodding the helmet down over the face before striking the arc, and then nodding again to lift the helmet in order to inspect the weld puddle and reposition.
The disadvantage of this over auto-darkening helmets is that the quality of welding suffers, welding in tight spots becomes much more difficult, the helmet nodding causes neck discomfort, and the constant nodding and waiting for the eyes to adjust is inefficient.
Auto-darkening filters resolve all these issues. The filter automatically adjusts the shade of the lens as the arc is struck, removing the need to raise and lower the hood between welds. Welding becomes easier, safer, and even more fun once you take out the inefficiency of a standard glass lense.
The ADF (Auto-Darkening Filter) is a special LCD display, similar to that of a digital clock. It’s usually powered either by solar batteries, lithium rechargeble batteries, or a combination of the two. When not active, the standard lens shade is usually a #3 or #4 shade, making it easy to see through. Once activated, arc sensors (light sensors) on the helmet are used to detect changes of light in order to detect the weld arc and reduce the ADF filter shade appropriately (usually #9-#13).
Some arc sensors are more sensitive than others, and can even differentiate between sunlight, light-bulbs, and welding arcs – and reduce the lens shade only when needed.
The process described above leads to the main advantage of auto-darkening welding helmets, is that the hood stays down at all stages of welding – before, during and after. Welding quality improves. Accuracy improves. No more head nodding. It’s that simple.
There are several things to take into account before buying a helmet. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:
Auto-darkening helmets come with fixed or variable shade adjustable lenses. Fixed-shade lenses are suitable mainly if you’re welding a single type of material, such as steel (with the same thickness, as even the thickness of the steel changes the lenses shading needs), with the same process (TIG, MIG, Stick, etc). In this case a #10 shade is probably all you need.
Most likely you’ll need to weld in more then one type of material, thickness, or process – which is where the variable-shade lens comes in. To properly protect your eyes from the different degrees of brightness resulting from the welding arc, you’ll need to be able to adjust the shade of the lens appropriately. This will also result in the best view of the weld puddle.
This number describes the speed the helmet switches from light/dark and dark/light mode. The smaller the number, the quicker the lens will induce the shading process once the arc is struck, and the faster your eyes will be protected. This number is usually in the milliseconds, meaning almost instantaneous – but make sure to check it regardless. This number directly affects your comfort while welding, as a longer delay will cause a dry, uncomfortable feeling in the eyes, somewhat similar to being flashed.
Some helmets are completely solar-powered. They must be charged for a couple of hours in the sun after first use, as well as after long periods of non-use. Once the battery wears out, they cannot be used and must be charged.
A better option is a solar-assisted helmet with replaceable batteries which allow you to start welding immediately. While lithium batteries have the longest shelf life, some helmets use normal AAA batteries, which are easier to replace, and cheaper.
Most expert or beginner helmets will allow adjustment to the light-sensitivity of the arc sensors, which control at which brightness the ADF will darken. This is especially useful for example with TIG welding, where the welding arc is less bright and might not trigger the sensor.
Delay controls are useful depending on the welding job you’re doing – for very bright arcs it would be more appropriate to have a longer delay to allow the eyes to adjust, while a tack welding job might require a short delay to quickly re-position for the next strike.
Depending on the quality of the helmet, these settings can either be adjusted with a simple toggle switch for cheaper brands, while the more professional welding masks will have a dial with infinite adjustment control.
The weight of the helmet will have a huge effect on your comfort. A lighter helmet will reduce strain on the neck and head, as well as fatigue after long welding sessions.
The arc sensors control the darkening of the lens depending on the external light environment. Lower quality helmets will usually only have 1 or 2 sensors, while the top range helmets should have at least 3. The more sensors, the less chance your helmet will fail to darken.
If you’re doing a lot of out-of-position welding, or you simply prefer a complete and unobstructed view at all times, make sure the viewing size of the helmet is as large as possible. Some helmets even include side windows, allowing a wider, unobstructed and more natural view of your surroundings.
Some helmets have their shade and delay controls inside the helmet, necessitating removal of the helmet to make adjustments. External controls are more convenient: usually they’re either on the external shell of the helmet, or on a separate remote control. This allows you to make adjustments on-the-fly without removing your helmet, but sometimes come with additional wiring which might get damaged.
Not all welding helmets are cheater lens and hard-hat compatible. If you think you’ll need these features, make sure your helmet can easily accomodate them.
The most recent safety standard is the ANSI Z87.1 – 2003. These rigorous tests ensure the quality of the helmet, from validating advertised specs such as lens reaction times, lens shades, and a whole lot more. They also ensure optimum safety, impact protection, radiation protected, and make sure the helmet works in extreme temperature environments.
Beware: not all helmets meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard.
All in all, selecting the right helmet is pretty simple and straightforward. There are a few decisions to make, naturally, but armed with our welding helmet buying guide and the insider tips we’ll provide you throughout the site, you should be up and welding with your new helmet in absolutely no time at all.