Seeing As You Weld





Introduction: Seeing As You Weld

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

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. 

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: What I Am Able to See Now

The image shown here is also the same image from the Introduction, but manipulated in photo-editing software to approximate what I see in my auto-darkening hood. Adjust the view angle of your computer screen so you can see the maximum detail. I cannot see as well as I would with my stick welder, but notice the unwelded sides of the joint are visible just ahead of the arc.
As I move the arc side to side a little to weave the weld, I can see the crest of the ground portion of the joint clearly enough to make a straight welding bead. There is often a lot of smoke from the weld, and that can obscure the view some, too. This arc in the photo has also been created on my computer. (This photo is only an approximation for purposes of illustration, and not an accurate depiction of actual light levels visible through the helmet. You may see more or less through your helmet, or on your Internet browser here. But, I was able to see much more due to what I am describing in this Instructable.)

Step 3: What Made the Difference

The big improvement in what I can see is due to fresh batteries in my welding helmet's auto-darkening module. I will say more about that later. But, there are a couple of other things to check, too.

First, your welding helmet has a clear protective lens in front of and behind the auto-darkening module. The photo shows the clear lens from an older helmet with a fixed #10 shade lens. I gave it no thought until one day I removed it. Notice how discolored it is. I replaced it with a new clear lens.

Step 4: Wipe Away the Dirt and Dust

Welding makes a lot of smoke and dirt. Shops are dirty and dusty. The lens of a welding helmet gets covered with whatever is in the air in your shop. I wiped the front lens on my auto-darkening helmet after doing only a few welds, and already I found some dirt on the lens. A dirty lens restricts the view, too. Wipe away the dirt from both the inner and the outer protective lenses.

Step 5: Just Get a New Helmet?

Recently I did an Instructable in which I showed how to make a guide to keep the arc on the joint line. Some said I simply needed more background light from an extra light source, like this one that attaches to the welder's gun. I asked my brother-in-law what he thought about the LED light source in the link above. He said, "If you need to add light to see when you are welding, you just need a new helmet. Those helmets go bad after about five years. Just go to Harbor Freight and get a new helmet!" 

Some have said I need an adjustable shade auto darkening helmet so that I can select a #9 shade when seeing is difficult. But, I looked on-line at the PDF manuals for some different auto-darkening helmets and all recommended a #10 shade for the amperage range my wire feed welder produces. My Lincoln helmet darkens to #10 with no adjustment for other shades provided. In 2004 such features were not available where I bought my helmet, if at all.

The photo shows my Lincoln helmet. As I mentioned, I bought it in 2004. I did not get a wire feed welder until 2009. By that time its performance may have degraded due to aging batteries and I never had the opportunity to see how it worked with a wire feed welder when the helmet was new.. See more about that in step 7.

Step 6: But, I Am Too Cheap to Buy a New Helmet!

I thought for a day or two about buying a new helmet, but wanted to check some other possibilities. I tried illuminating the joint area with supplemental light, but that was not satisfactory.

On a whim I decided to put new batteries in my helmet. The old batteries were not leaking, yet. Although my helmet does not have a low battery indicator and the manual says almost nothing about when to change the batteries, I assumed the two AAA batteries my helmet uses were still good. With no load they show they still hold 1.25 volts each. The auto-darkening module in my helmet still comes "on" when I press the lens to activate the micro-switch behind it. The lens darkens when an arc flashes, even when my grinder throws sparks. The lens lightens when the arc ceases. What more is needed? 

The photo shows the auto-darkening module from my helmet and the battery door on it. 

Step 7: What I Learned

When I installed new AAA alkaline batteries in my helmet; suddenly it darkened a bit less than it had been darkening, and I could see the welding joint while I am welding. I surmised the auto-darkening circuit needs fresh batteries to limit the amount of darkening to the proper level. I have a fixed #10 shade helmet with a new lens. The shade in my auto-darkening helmet using new batteries is now the same as the new fixed shade #10 glass lens in  the older helmet. With partially depleted batteries my auto-darkening helmet was darkening too much. In the future, I plan to check my batteries periodically and replace them when I notice I am not seeing the joint during welding or when they read 1.4 volts. That is an arbitrary figure, but one I will use as a starting guide for myself. I added a label inside my helmet as a reminder to check the batteries. See the photo. Update: my vision during welding is still not all I expect. I believe it may have even declined a little. I ordered a #9 fixed shade lens for my non-darkening helmet, and that has made a big difference. I am 67 years old and it is not uncommon for one's vision to dim with age.

Step 8: "But, My Helmet Uses Solar Cells."

If your helmet has solar cells on its front to capture light for powering the auto-darkening module, that does not mean it does not still have batteries. It does. The batteries may be standard alkaline cells, and there may be a low battery indicator in the form of a colored LED. Or, the batteries may be built-in rechargeables. One weldor brought his inexpensive Harbor Freight auto-darkening helmet back to life by replacing a bad internal button battery. He replaced those button batteries with a battery holder and AAA alkaline batteries. You can read about what he did here.

When I think about the comment my brother-in-law made, there is a reason why helmets last only about five years. Internal recharageable batteries in cell phones and other devices regularly last only about four or five years before they no longer take a full charge and need to be replaced. If you pay $100 or more for an auto-darkening welding helmet, the maker probably sells replacement batteries you can install yourself without breaking plastic to crack something open. If you get a budget helmet, you will either discard it after a few years and buy another, or you will have to improvise to replace the battery. And, the straps in the name brand helmet will last longer before breaking.

The image is from the link above about repairing a Harbor Freight helmet.



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    With time and experience I am finding ways to see better, even when the helmet works properly. It helps to have as much light as possible on the joint. A floodlight can help. Light coming over the shoulder is a problem. A piece of dark cloth over the back of the head would help in many cases. With gas shielded welding I do better when I push the bead rather than pull it.

    Thank you for looking and for commenting.

    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. 

    5 replies

    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.

    Your username does not reflect that of a male. While you may have been a careless, injury prone, and hapless individual; your experience does not translate to everyone else automatically. Auto injuries are not equal to welding injuries, and equating one study to another is ignorant. It is obvious that your have nor ACTUALLY looked up any studies or you would realize that AGE is the deciding factor of insurance premiums.

    It is no coincidence that a field which is dominated by men happens to be filled with their gender next to accident reports. Perhaps you should review law studies conducted on home appliances to see whom experiences the most "accidents". Quit being a biased woman SHANNON and be a human. Such as your experience is does not mean much on the scale to which you preach, I could go a gender bender myself, but would insult much too many good persons who do not fit the stereotype. Be a human, not a feminist, mom, or whatever other persona you have attached your mind to.

    1) You are certainly not alone in thinking Shannon and exclusively a girls name. Certainly, my small-town Texas playground opponents back in the day thought so. You know that Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue?" I've lived it.

    But... I have XY chromosomes, the associated reproductive equipment, as well as the children, grandchildren and the grin on my wife's face to prove it. Would you like a photo of the phenotypical expression of my XY chromosomes? I think secondary characteristics best don't you think? I don't want to frighten the horses or provoke jealousies.

    FWIW, about 10% of individuals with the first name of Shannon are male. There are even at least three male "Shannon Love" s in the continental US. (I checked some while back.) In origin, the name is a gaelic title or rank meaning, "old wise man". Its use as a feminine first name is a 20th century American phenomena, largely in the Northeast where the Irish settled. I carry it because my aunt saw, IIRC, the "Quite Man" with John Wayne, shortly before my birth, heard the name and thought it sounded "interesting."

    Although I admit that for a long time, I had a great deal of fun on the internet keeping my sex ambiguous and letting people just assume I was female. Very revealing. I got dismissed and talked down to as a woman but not by the kind or persuasion of people I expected.

    2) *Sigh* google "automobile insurance rates by sex" and see what you get. Here' the first hit I got " Thus, using automobile insurance rates is good vernacular statistics as it is something most people are familiar with. In fact man die at all ages, of all causes at higher rates than women, including accidents.

    Men, as a statistical population, compared to women, as a statistical population, are more thrill seeking, less compliant with authority figure's advice (like doctor's orders to take medicine or the use of seatbelt) and in general have an overly optimistic belief in their ability to predict harm and control material circumstances. These behaviors are in turn directly related to testoerone levels. (This correlation is so strong that the FDA requires warnings about potential behavior changes on Testosterone treatments.)

    When testosterone levels are highest in their late teens and early 20s, men are less likely to follow safety instructions and more likely to believe they can control the circumstance such that they will suffer no harm. Accident rates, murder rates, imprisonment rates, as well as non-material risk taking eg business, invention, travel and exploration etc all reflect this behavioral bias.

    Neither does it help that young men who do perform dangerous manual labor, like welding, in the modern era tend to come from subcultures that promote an indifference to personal risk because in the past, men had to work "without a net" so they just convinced themselves they didn't need one and scorned anyone who thought they did. (There's a lot of study and documentation about the IIRC, Mohawk "High Steel" workers in the 1930s who built New York's skyscrapers. They were utterly reckless running across i-beams hundreds of feet in the air and taking great pride in their seeming utter indifference to the fear of falling.)

    So, testosterone levels combined with culture can make many young men today taking up welding and other materially productive task to take risk and suffer injuries they could have avoided if they listened to the grey beards.

    "It is no coincidence that a field which is dominated by men happens to be filled with their gender next to accident reports."

    Well, that's assuming that insurance adjustors, OSHA etc and their counter-parts in all developed nations forgot to adjust for the variable of sex, a circumstance which I highly doubt. It is true men still dominate risk fields, 95% of workplace deaths are of men, but there are enough women working in such fields in the developed world at least to get a good statistical picture.

    "Perhaps you should review law studies conducted on home appliances to see whom experiences the most "accidents".

    Firstly, I wouldn't be interested in the most accidents total but rather the ratio between exposure to accident potential by sex and the number of accidents total. See above in your argument about male dominate fields.

    Secondly, why would I look at "legal studies" about accidents instead insurance data or government safety data? Lawyers and "non-biased" automatically don't go together, they are hired guns, trained to win court cases not find the truth about anything, never mind they don't have the training to assess such risk.

    "Be a human, not a feminist, mom, or whatever other persona you have attached your mind to."

    I think feminist are idiots, largely because it is only with in the last decade and then only partially and begrudgingly what they have begin to conceded that all "gender" is not "social constructed" and thus largely arbitrary and programable.

    Heck, when I was college in the early 80s, if you said that any human behavior was innate, like say that homosexual orientation was primarily physiological in origin and innate, "feminist" and the rest of left-wing intellectuals would call you a fascist. As someone trained in biology, I knew better. A decade they flipped 180 degrees, their old absolute assertions went down the hole and anyone who argued that homosexuality was not biologically innate as the fascist. Hard to respect a group of people after seeing an Orwellian shift like that in real time

    The idea that young men are "all-balls-and-no-brains" is a folk wisdom found in all cultures and is backed up by both modern science and statistical data of kinds. Stating the fact openly does not demean either men or women any more than stating that, statistically, men are larger and stronger than women. As in all biology, the benefits of behavioral differences in a sexual dimorphic species like humans represent a tradeoff between risk to individuals versus benefits to groups and lineages. Putting risk behaviors into individually expendable males is just an optimum strategy.

    I argue it is morally irresponsible to the point of negligence not to act upon the best data and actively and continually warn young males of their (individually likely) inbuilt cognitive distortions and, by making them aware of those distortion, give them the ability to compensate for them.

    In any case, if your right and I'm wrong, I've insulted some people but done no physical harm. If I'm right and your wrong, some men end up blinded.

    Which side should we err on?

    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.

    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.

    4 replies

    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.

    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.

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

    3 replies

    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. 

    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.