Picture of Seeing as You Weld
I use a 2004 Lincoln auto-darkening welding helmet with a Miller Thunderbolt 225 stick welder (230 volts) and with a Hobart 125EZ flux core wire feed welder. The stick welder throws a lot of light when welding, and seeing the joint as I weld is not a problem with it. Seeing the joint as I weld with the wire feed welder has been difficult to impossible. But, I recently made a very helpful discovery.

The photo shows a weld I have started with the wire feed welder. The weld is on 3/16 inch steel. The ends of the pieces have been chamfered for good penetration of the weld. The weld as shown was made by following what I could see in my auto-darkening helmet. You can see that it follows the joint quite nicely. 
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Step 1: What I had been seeing until recently

Picture of What I had been seeing until recently
Until recently, all I could see of the joint when viewing through my auto-darkening helmet is replicated in the photo with this step. It is the same photo in the previous frame, but manipulated in photo editing software to approximate what I was able to see. The bright blue arc has been created on my computer.
shannonlove2 years ago
I would urge everyone to take welding light protection protocols very seriously. The damage from the UV can accumulate over time and they don't have to blind you outright to degrade your vision enough to reduce your quality of life.

My paternal grandfather had been a pilot since his barnstorming/mail-carrier days in the early 1930s. But, he was also a farmer/rancher/roughneck etc for his working life and welded on an off constantly (that generation had a vast array of skills.) He was always VERY careful about his vision in general and in welding in particular but in 50+ years of welding he had many accidental exposures. 

Each of those exposures let UV radiation permanently destroying a pinprick point in his retina. Eventually, by his mid-60s,  the accumulated damage built to the point where it affected his vision enough that he could no longer fly. He was very fit and lived to be 88. He could have safely flown at least into his early 70s (I think they have an age cutoff now but they didn't back then IIRC.) He voluntarily stopped flying because he realized he just couldn't see well enough. 

It was very sad that for at least 10 of his final 20 years, he couldn't fly, something he truly loved, solely because of eye damage from welding. 

I'm not a safety nanny by any stretch. In fact, I think safety nannies do more harm than good by conflating trivial threats with serious ones so that people can't tell what is and is not significantly dangerous. 

But UV from welding isn't is truly damaging, even in small amounts if you weld often enough. A pin prick here and a pin prick there add up to blindness. Don't end up damaged like my grandfather just because you couldn't spend an extra 15 seconds to ensure your eyes were protected. 

I'm talking to, males age to 16-25 who all think you are immortal and indestructible. 

You almost had a decent message to give until you ended it with a condescending rant on the maturity and age of men. What sound advice resonates through a person who seems to believe they understand all MALES aged 16-25? Not much.

I could go on about the hypocrisy in that last comment, but it would just degrade the comments section. Please be a human, next time, and not a Female.

I am male, was age 16-25 at one time, thought myself indestructible and took more damage than was necessary, from shear arrogant bravado. Some of peer group died of their follies. Thus I know of what I speak.

More over, that males in that age bracket are reckless and prone to preventable injury iis not opinion by objective fact measure by both psychology and insurance actuaries. You may look up such data at your leisure.

In my experience and opinion anyone training males in that demographic who does not ride them repeatedly about their safe work habits and remind them they are at an age where their courage confidence overwhelms their sense of self-preservation, is being an irresponsible trainer.
Phil B (author)  shannonlove2 years ago
Thank you for your comments and cautions. I found an article on ANSI standards for welding lenses, which standards require protection from UV and infra red rays, whether the lenses are made from glass or plastic.
pfred22 years ago
I have an Optrel auto darkening helmet with solar cells. I've had the thing for oh, must be a good 15 years now. I never messed with any batteries in it. I keep my hood under an extra summer jacket bib in my garage. That keeps it pretty clean. It hangs on a capped cylinder tank when I'm not using it.

What I do so that I can see is I protect myself from what I call "back lighting", light that comes in from the back of my helmet. I take my extra summer jacket bib and throw it over the top of my helmet. Doing that helps out a lot. The downside is the helmet can fog up if you're a heavy breather. So I try not to breathe too heavily when I'm welding. If I do manage to fog it up I just flip the hood up for a moment and it clears up.

I told you previously if you hit your work area with some halogen lights, heck you don't even need an auto darkening helmet then. Do that and a 14 shade filter is just like wearing a dark pair of sunglasses. Trick there is put the lights in front of you. Downside is weld splatter can blow up the glass on the halogen lamps. Don't ask me how I know that ... the lamps still work fine though. You can buy a lot of halogen lamp fixtures for even what a cheap auto darkening hood costs.
Phil B (author)  pfred22 years ago
I do have one halogen light, but it would be on the same circuit as my welder. The welder needs all of the current it can get from that circuit, so I am hesitant to use a halogen light when welding. In this house I can weld at the open garage door with a northern exposure in daylight. That works out pretty well, too.

You ought give new batteries in your helmet a try and see if they make a difference.
pfred2 Phil B4 days ago

My helmet has no batteries. It runs on solar cells that are powered by the arc itself. I'm not big on relying on batteries. As long as you're welding my helmet works.

It is a major pain to find them but, there are small fans that clip to hard hats which will direct an air current against the clips surface, you could probably put one of these under your mask which would keep it defogged. A cheaper solution would be a light coat of toothpaste, don't know why it works, but it KINDA does.

Flipping my hood up clears any fog up. Welding is already complicated enough. I'd rather not add anything else to it really.

drissel2 years ago
Who would have thought to replace batteries because the lens was getting TOO dark? Excellent article.

Going by what ive read, a dead helmet defaults to dark. Since we are talking millions of little crystals at a default angle (in this case blocking) in the open power state. I would imagine the shutter speed must remain constant, than perhaps some other function is affected (sensor?) Slowly getting darker instead of the inverse. Im sure this is an engineered safety factor. Cant have dead batteries resulting in flash burn. Im not entirely sure, but im sure reading through the safety specs would give you a better understanding.

I'm pretty sure that the batteries don't power the darkening of the mask but instead power making it transparent. 

That would make sense from a safety stand point. If the mask required power to be darkened than a short or other power failure would cause the mask to go suddenly transparent in the middle of weld and exposing the user to potentially blinding visible light and retina wrecking UV. 

As the batteries fade, they rotate the LCD crystals less and less meaning the mask remains ever darker more and more. 
Phil B (author)  drissel2 years ago
Thank you for looking. I almost did not post this because I thought it was too simple. But, what I learned about the lens going too dark due to weakened batteries caught me by surprise, too. I suppose those with adjustable auto-darkening helmets would just turn the dial until they can see again. But, without realizing what effect degraded batteries can have, they would also replace their old helmet with a new one every five years or so.
yopauly Phil B2 years ago
I think that is a safety feature so that dead batteries makes you pull some maintenance or buy new equipment!
Phil B (author)  yopauly2 years ago
You are probably right. I always had some concern that the lens would not darken sufficiently when the batteries grew weak and I would risk damage to my eyes. It is clever to require fresh batteries for the proper shading and make the modules so they darken too much when the batteries are weak. Doing that saves users' eyes and prevents manufacturers' liability.
ok fine and dandy on the battery repair. no one has talked about respirators, at all those are even important. get a good quality unit. that has replaceable filters. or a type that u can actually c them getting black. it ill save yr lungs
graydog1112 years ago
You are just full of useful information.........I also have a $50 eBay solar powered helmet that has been doing exactly what you describe. I will check it out this morning. THANKS
Phil B (author)  graydog1112 years ago
At $50 the batteries may be encased in plastic. The link to the article about the guy who replaced a bad battery in his Harbor Freight helmet may be helpful to you. As concerns being full of useful information, I seem to have interesting problems I need to solve. There have been a few times when I went to Instructables looking for the solution to a problem, but there was none. I had to solve my own problem and then post the solution for the benefit of others. Thank you.
I read Eric's site and learned quiet a bit. My welding helment is a Chinese with no brand name on it. It is somewhat different than HF’s. I bought it off eBay 3 or 4 years ago. It has been doing what you describe. I could only get into the lens’s electronics by cutting it open very very carefully with a Dremel tool and a really thin abrasive wheel. It was not necessary to remove the adjusting knob. I found one (1) lithium 3v battery inside. I think it is a CR2032, but the strap covers the number. Since I always keep in in a box and light cannot reach the solar panel, it could not charge the battery. I would think the lithium battery would still be good and charge up if it had a light source. I taped it back together temporarily to see if exposing it to a light bulb for 24 hours will charge the battery. Another solution would be to clip the straps welded to the battery, and install a CR2032 Battery Holder and a new CR 2032 3v battery. In either case, I can close it up and seal it with silicone. I will come back here and report on my progress. Thanks, I had no idea it had a battery inside.
you may be able to take it to Batteries Plus and have them replace the battery.
or wire in a AAA battery holder like this RadioShack® 2 “AAA” Battery Holder

Lithium is 3V, two AAA = 3V
Phil B (author)  graydog1112 years ago
Thank you for the detailed report. I have a bicycle speedometer powered by a 2032 battery. If it goes down a tenth of a volt or two it is "dead" for all practical purposes in that application. I will be waiting anxiously to hear how your helmet works for you when all is done.
shannonlove2 years ago
Photovoltaic cells are degraded by ultraviolet light. Welding gives off huge amounts of UV, that is why we need the mask in the first place.

So, people with solar charge mask may find that their mask won't recharge after a say a hundred hours of active use. Not sure what the degradation curve looks like but if the cells are not protected by true glass (which is opaque to UV) then it will probably happen after a few years of weekly use. 
shannonlove2 years ago
Just a note about replacing that lens. If the lens is actual glass and not plastic, then it part of the UV blocking of the mask. If you replace it, you must replace it with glass. I think new mask have plastic but older ones will be glass.
rimar20002 years ago
Very useful info, Bill, thanks for sharing. My helmet is like that of the last step, with solar cells. It has a lot of dirt, I should clean it.
Phil B (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Are you able to replace the battery when it is four or five years old? Thank you for looking.
I don't know, it came without manual. I think is has no batteries, but i'm not sure. It works still well, for my needs. I buyed it two or three years ago, and I don't use it much.
Phil B (author)  rimar20002 years ago
As best I can learn, they all have a battery. It may be you would need to break the plastic case to get into it. Was yours made in China?
It was the cheapes I could get. So, it is propably Chinese, Bill.
Phil B (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Osvaldo, in recent years I often go onto the Internet to search for manuals, and I frequently find them, or I find a manual for something very much similar to the item I have. This can be very helpful when I do not have the original manual for whatever reason, or when the manual is very long and I want to use my computer to search for only those parts of the manual related to what I need to know. Also, we have wanted to reduce the file drawer half-filled with paper manuals to a single disc half-filled with digital manuals. The disc is much easier to store. Plus, we can have extra copies wherever we might want them. Here is a PDF manual for an auto-darkening helmet from Harbor Freight, which is a discount tool store in the USA that specializes in tools made in China. Unfortunately, it is all in English and it discusses only a minimum of technical things. But, some of the photos may be useful. Here is a PDF manual for a cheaper Harbor Freight helmet that uses built-in batteries (that is, not normally replaceable by the owner) with a solar cell array. The second manual contains a bit less information than the first manual I linked, but I would wager one of these describes your helmet. Most of the information in these manuals is "lawyer talk," like, "Caution: Using electric welding machines while taking a bath could result in a serious electrical shock hazard, even death." (That is not an actual example, but is similar to some of the ridiculous things found in these manuals.)
Thanks for your concern, Bill. I will download these manuals.

Warning, if you save your docs in CD or DVD, you could loss them for ever. There are fungus that like to eat the aluminum support of the info.

Hahaha, it is as you say, mostly all manuals has that ridiculous warnings: "don't smash the TV screen with a hammer" or similar.
I don't know, Bill. I have not noticed wear the helmet.
Phil B (author)  rimar20002 years ago
The problem I experienced is that the helmet's performance degraded slowly over a very long time. I did not notice any change, until I replaced the batteries and the helmet suddenly worked better. One of the manuals for a Chinese helmet I linked below mentions it uses solar cells and two built-in batteries expected to last about six years. The link about the man who cracked his Chinese helmet open to repair it may be helpful to you. We were in Germany and I saw the same Chinese drill press I have, but with a different manufacturer's name on it. I expect the Chinese helmet you have is the same one we can buy at discount tool stores in the USA.
iceng rimar20002 years ago
yopauly2 years ago
after purchasing 3 harbor freight helmets(on sale with a additional coupon) I sprung for a Hobart with replaceable batteries. What a difference! My welds are way better because I can see much better. I also use a utility light with a strong magnetic base and a hooded bulb that I can aim at my welding area as a nonhooded bulb causes the auto darkening to take place prematurely. For such a dirty process, cleanliness is a must! Your work area, your equipment and the air you breath must be as clean as possible!
Phil B (author)  yopauly2 years ago
Thank you for your comment. Not only are batteries easy to replace in better helmets, but you can see better and make better welds, too. Thank you for that piece of information. I like the fact the head strapping is better in the more expensive helmets and there are extra features, like grinder mode.
A better way to know when to replace AAA batteries is around when they hit .05V below their rating, since they rarely fall that far below before they are very close to dead. AAA batteries don't really store all that much energy, so that decrease is more significant than with AA, C or D batteries.
Phil B (author)  mettaurlover2 years ago
You make a good point. Now I wish I could find a way to run conductors out of the auto-darkening module so I could connect a voltmeter without dismantling most of my helmet to get at the batteries. Thank you for looking and for commenting.