Understanding Different Welding Helmet Types

by Steve Darnell
welding helmet

Any experienced welder will agree; the most important piece of equipment in your shop isn’t your welding machine, grinder, or chop saw—it’s your welding helmet. 

Welding is a dangerous trade, and a helmet is necessary to protect your head, your face, and most importantly, your eyes. Welding helmets must be ANSI certified and meet all the required standards to protect you from ultraviolet light, infrared light, and heat.

But what type of helmet is best for you? 

Depending on the type of welding you do, how often you weld, and the materials you work with, there’s a helmet that’s best suited for you. 

Below, we’ve broken down the most popular types of welding helmets and what kind of welder they are recommended for.

Different Types of Welding Helmets

Just like the different types of welding processes, there are many kinds of welding helmets. Each offers its unique benefits and drawbacks. 

There are four main types of welding helmets:

  1. Passive welding helmet
  2. Auto-darkening welding helmet
    1. Fixed shared welding helmet
    2. Variable shade lens welding helmet
    3. Battery-powered auto-darkening welding helmet
    4. Solar-powered auto-darkening welding helmet
  3. Pancake welding helmet
  4. Leather welding helmet

Here’s our review of each of these types of welding helmets do you can decide which one works best for your welding needs:

Passive Welding Helmet

A passive welding helmet is the most basic type of welding helmet available. A passive helmet has a single fixed lens that doesn’t change color. If you want to inspect your weld afterward or make an adjustment before starting, you’ll need to remove the helmet. 

In most cases, a passive welding helmet will have a #10 shade lens. While this is dark enough to protect your eyes and see your work while welding, it will be too dark to look through when you aren’t welding.

This helmet comes with a lot of pros:

  • They are relatively inexpensive and allow you to get the job done
  • It will keep your eyes protected from the intense heat
  • It also protects your eyes from flying objects

There are some cons:

  • You have to take your helmet off to do any work other than welding
  • It allows for limited customization
  • Not recommended for professionals

Even though a passive welding helmet may not have all the features found in some of the more expensive types of helmets, they still get the job done. 

The biggest drawback to a passive welding helmet is that it’s difficult to see through the lens when you aren’t welding. Most of the time, you’ll need to flip the shield up or remove the helmet entirely if you want to inspect your work. 

Despite the lower cost, these helmets will protect your eyes and face from flying objects, ultraviolet rays, and the intense heat that’s emitted when engaged in a welding project.

There are a lot of different manufacturers who make passive welding helmets. In most cases, this type of helmet will be the most affordable option at the store. If you’re a beginner just getting started, an occasional DIYer, or just looking for cost-effective welding equipment —a passive welding helmet is an excellent choice to consider.

PASSIVE HELMET: Best for beginners or DIYers who want an affordable helmet to get started. 

Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet

Of course, you can always upgrade to an auto-darkening welding helmet. 

The auto-darkening welding helmet solves the issue with the passive welding helmet because it can auto-adjust the shade of the lens so that you can see. 

For these types of welding helmets to function, you need to have a power source. The sensors that automatically switch the shade of the lens can’t work without one. Today, there are two ways this is done—solar-powered or battery-powered. 

As the name suggests, this type of helmet has a lens that adjusts automatically to a darker shade. Using batteries or solar power to power the sensors, the helmet can detect the ultraviolet rays created by an arc and change the shade on the helmet’s lens in a fraction of a second.

There are two different types of auto-darkening welding helmets available—fixed shade and variable shade

In reading the below auto-darkening options, consider the following: 

  • Solar vs. Battery-Powered Auto-Darkening Welding Helmets: Both options work great, and the choice comes down to the welder and their personal preference. If you’re new to welding, it might make more sense to go with a solar-powered helmet. A lot of beginners (and even seasoned pros now and then) will forget to turn their welding helmets off and can kill the batteries pretty quickly.
  • Fixed Shade vs. Variable Shade Auto-darkening Welding Helmets: No matter which style of shade you chose, you’ll have to choose a power source. If you’re a DIYer or need a mask to make repairs around the house or fix your kids’ bikes, you might only need one welding helmet, and then a fixed shade helmet would do. However, if you work in a fabrication shop or on construction sites, it likely makes more sense to go with a more expensive variable shade welding helmet.

Fixed Shade Welding Helmet

With a fixed shade helmet, the lens darkens automatically to one shade level—often a #10. While this new technology was great at first, many quickly realized that you’re limited to welding that only uses a #10. 

Since the lens can’t be adjusted, you’ll need multiple helmets in different shades if you regularly work with different types and sizes of materials.

For some, though, this one lens shade might be okay. If you’re a DIYer or need the mask for small fixes, this helmet will do just fine. 

However, if you work in a fabrication shop or on construction sites, it likely makes more sense to go with a more expensive variable shade welding helmet.

FIXED SHADE HELMET: Best for those working with only one weld or casual welders. 

Variable Shade Lens Welding Helmet

A variable shade lens helmet is a step up from its fixed shade counterpart and extremely versatile. 

Most variable shade helmets can easily adjust the lens shade anywhere from #8 to #13. Rather than buying multiple helmets to complete different types of projects, you can invest in just one quality welding helmet.

One thing to note here is that a variable shade welding helmet is the most expensive kind. But since it will help improve your productivity and you won’t have to buy multiple helmets, the cost is easily justified. 

Another cost to consider is batteries. If you go with a battery-powered helmet (which we review below), you’ll want to invest in a set of quality rechargeable batteries and make sure you always have a spare set on hand that’s ready to go. If you go with a solar-powered one, you won’t need to purchase batteries regularly. 

Note that there are batteries in a solar-powered helmet that you may need to replace every 2-3 years.

VARIABLE SHADE HELMET: Best for professionals since the shades can adjust easily by twisting a knob. 

Battery-Powered Auto-darkening Welding Helmets

When it comes to workflow and productivity, any fabrication shop owner will agree that battery-powered helmets help welders work faster. With this type of helmet, you only need to stop working if it’s time to change the batteries out. Even then, it only takes a minute before you’re back to welding. 

Most battery-powered helmets require a pair of standard AAA or AA batteries to work properly. Some welders choose to have a set of rechargeable batteries in their helmets, and others use single-charge batteries. 

Both fixed shade and variable shade come with the battery-powered option.

Advantages: You never have to wait for a charge, and you can control the power

One of the big advantages a battery-powered helmet has over a solar-powered one is you don’t need to spend time waiting for a charge when the batteries in the helmet die. Of course, this means that you have a spare set of rechargeable batteries ready to go. 

Another nice thing about this type of helmet is the control you have over the power. Many of the newer battery-powered welding helmets on the market have power indicators on the LED screen. When the helmet is in use, you can see how much of a charge you have left before the batteries die. 

When you’re making adjustments, prepping, or cleaning up your work—it’s easy to turn the helmet off, so you aren’t wasting battery power.

Disadvantages: The batteries die frequently and can be a hassle

Depending on how much welding you do, you will need to regularly buy replacement batteries for the helmet (although you could figure out a system with rechargeable batteries). 

With a battery-powered helmet, it’s easy to forget to turn the power switch off and have the helmet die. If you’re out working in the field and this happens, your day on the job site could end early, or you’ll be making a trip back to the hardware store if you don’t have any spares on hand.

BATTERY-POWERED HELMET: Best for professionals who don’t work outside often. 

Solar-Powered Auto-darkening Welding Helmets

Solar-powered welding helmets work very similarly to your standard battery-powered ones, except for a few key differences. 

While this type of helmet uses energy from the sun to power the sensors and change the lens shade automatically, you will find a set of batteries inside the helmet. These are used to store and distribute the energy absorbed by the solar cells on the top of the helmet. 

Both fixed shade and variable shade come with the battery-powered option.

Advantages: You don’t have to buy batteries

A big advantage these helmets have compared to a strictly battery-powered one is the cost savings. 

Comparatively, a solar-powered helmet can charge as you work. You can weld for hours at a time without worrying about the batteries in your helmet dying unexpectedly. 

Disadvantages: The sun has to charge it

With a solar-powered helmet, you might have to stop working for a little bit to let the sun recharge your helmet. If you’re uncertain about how well the solar-powered helmet would perform or weather conditions, we recommend getting a battery-powered helmet as a backup.

The one downside is when the helmet does die, there isn’t much you can do but wait for it to recharge. When this happens to a battery-powered helmet, the downtime can be a couple of minutes before you’re back to welding. If it’s cloudy, then your welding job may be shot.

Another factor to consider is the size. Solar-powered helmets require a bit more surface area for the cells to be big enough to gather solar energy. As such, a solar-powered welding helmet will end up being slightly bigger or chunkier than its battery-powered counterpart.

SOLAR-POWERED HELMET: Best for professionals who work outside in the sun often or can charge their helmet in the sun regularly.

Pancake Welding Helmet

Pancake welding helmets look quite different from your standard passive or auto-darkening welding helmet. You won’t find this type of welding helmet around most fabrication shops because the helmet is mainly used by pipeline welders. 

With that being said, pancake welding helmets are really useful if you’re working outside. If you find yourself welding out in the sun often, you may want to consider this style of helmet.

A pancake helmet specs include:

  • A circular shield at the front 
  • An attachment to a square box, which is referred to as a “balsa box” 
  • A secure chinstrap
  • A flip-down lens so you don’t need to remove it as you inspect your work or prep your next weld

There are a few reasons why this type of welding helmet is so popular for outdoor work.

  1. First, it’s a very light helmet. The “balsa box” is generally made out of very lightweight balsa wood. 
  2. Second, and arguably the biggest benefit, is the design of the helmet. Many traditional helmets are great at protecting your eyes, but they don’t stop sunlight from obstructing your view when you’re working outside. 
  3. Although a pancake helmet might look a little strange, they do an exceptional job blocking out external sunlight. 

PANCAKE HELMET: Best for pipeline welders and for welders who work in the sun often. 

Leather Welding Mask

While they aren’t nearly as common as the welding helmets listed above, a leather welding mask is another great option to consider. 

Unlike other helmets that protect your face from the heat, ultraviolet rays, and debris, a leather welding mask protects the user’s entire head. These welding masks fit over your head and protect everything from the neck up. Most leather welding masks feature a darkening lens that the user can flip up or down between completing welds.

Although they aren’t the most popular type of welding mask, they’re a really good choice if you’ll be working in an enclosed space or welding overhead.

When you’re welding overhead, sparks and other debris can sprinkle down on you. Since a leather welding mask covers your entire head and neck, you won’t have to worry about sparks falling into the collar of your shirt and burning you. 

If you find yourself working in the conditions described above regularly, a leather welding mask may be the best choice for you!

LEATHER MASK: Best for professionals who work outside in the sun often or can charge their helmet in the sun regularly.

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1 comment

Tiff Gregers April 29, 2022 - 1:19 pm

How interesting that you talk about what a passive welding helmet is. I am starting a new industrial business this year. I will find a great welding hood service to help.


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