Auto Darkening vs Passive Welding Helmets: Why I Prefer My (Passive) Fibre Metal Tigerhood Classic
I was fortunate enough to be a broke-ass college student and unable to afford a fancy ADF Miller Elite because, in all honesty, learning to weld with a passive helmet made me grow confidence and skill when striking an arc; you develop a certain awareness of the joint and electrode, almost a 3rd eye. If you use, and have only ever used an ADF (auto-Darkening Filter), you just don’t have the same experience or that particular skill. If you can overcome being blind from the very beginning, you will be doing yourself a huge favour once you are in the workforce (more on this further down).
Over the last decade I have worked as a welder on military contracts, every level of government, almost every major industry from mining to oil to aerospace. I’ve stood buildings, and welded on bridges. In this time I have owned a dozen or so helmets, and used that many three-fold. All sorts of brands including Lincoln, Miller, Optrel, Princess Auto El-Cheapo, and my personal favourite, Fibre-Metal.
Each helmet has its pros and its cons, and when somebody asks me what I would recommend as a professional, my first response is “What are you going to be doing?” I can’t stress it enough that the helmet best suited for you depends on what you will be using it for. If you’re welding trailer frames in your garage, you probably don’t need to buy a $3000 ADF with a built-in air supply. But, on the other hand, if you’re doing Aluminum TIG on an aircraft assembly, maybe you shouldn’t buy that $9.99 passive helmet from The Home Depot. With everything else in life, there’s going to be a nice middle ground when it comes to welding helmets.
Before my current helmet, I was using a passive Optrel P-250 and an ADF Optrel P-250. The ass-backwards thing is, I had the ADF version and liked the shell so much I opted for the passive model later on down the road. Optrel makes some serious helmets, but the P-250 is low on their scale, even though it boasts a Sperian filter assembly. The most note-worthy is probably the Optrel e680; not only is a beautiful piece of PPE, the filter assembly is probably the best out there for the price you’re paying (roughly $500). If I was to go with an ADF helmet for field welding, it would probably be the e680; the shell is designed for overhead welding. The only brain fart Optrel had with this was putting external shade controls on it, which runs the risk of burning the controls when doing overhead or grinding (but you don’t have to take the helmet off to adjust the shade, so it’s give and take). However, if you like the look of the shell and want a quality product at the same time, but don’t like the price-tag, the e650 runs for about $100 less.
The downside to the high-end Optrels, other than the external controls, is that the replacement ADFs are about 80-90% the cost of the entire helmet. It’s almost better to replace the whole damn thing if the ADF goes on you. The worst part though, is that the front cover lenses, are $6.00. Each.
The best helmet I have ever owned however – hands down – is my Fibre-Metal Tigerhood Classic. It’s a very simple helmet; passive, flip-up window, no interior carriage, and flat grey. I love it. If you recognize the Fibre-Metal brand, I’m not surprised. It’s made by Honeywell, and is probably the biggest name in hardhats. My Fibre-Metal welding helmet snaps onto my Fibre-Metal hardhat and away I go. Now you’re probably thinking it’s only useful in an outdoor setting. Not true. I work inside for the most part these days; welding structural steel columns, beams, and misc. steel. I do GMAW, FCAW, MCAW, GTAW, and SMAW when I’m outdoors with this hood. I opted for the 2”x4” window because I like to use a cheater lense, and I also added a gold shade 10 filter which works wonders outdoors. The flip up window makes a separate face shield for grinding totally obsolete, and this helmet is built like a brick. Once it’s attached to a hardhat, you gain that added protection as well; no more burns to your scalp or neck, and you can feel confident that you’re not going to crack your head on that overhead wire-feeder.
Outside of the Optrel e-series, these Tigerhoods are the most popular I’ve seen used by Iron Workers and general field welders. They are burly, hardy, manly; whatever word you want to use to describe it. And for $70.00 (CAD) it will pay for itself in a day, last a lifetime, and, unlike the Optrels, the cover lenses run you about $0.50 a piece making it a very economical choice.
The only downsides I’ve personally seen to the Tigerhood is since it’s made out of rigid plastic, they can crack when frozen, and if you want an ADF, you have to opt for the Tigerhood Futura; even although it offers a larger viewing window, it doesn’t have the flip-up window for grinding. Lame.
To wrap things up, it boils down to this: Passive helmets are extremely reliable and inexpensive. They will never stop working for you. An ADF needs batteries for the shade and sensitivity controls as well as the digital display (if it offers one). This sucks when you’re in the field and don’t have a spare battery when it dies on you. Also, extreme cold will give an ADF issues, whereas passive helmets will never fail you.
This is not to say ADF doesn’t have its obvious advantages; it’s great for GTAW and SMAW when you have to have good hand control when starting the arc. Remember that an inspector can and will fail a weld for excessive arc strikes, so if you don’t have the hand control SMAW requires at time, get an ADF. And if you do decide to go that route, consider it an investment and don’t be afraid to splurge on a quality hood. If you’re considering production welding and speed is a factor, an ADF is the only way to go. You don’t have to flip your hood every time you move around or set something in a jig.
CWB Certified Welder & Welding Supervisor