This section discusses specs and features to look for in welding equipment, cutting tools, safety gear (like helmets), filler rods, electrodes, gases and shop tools.
Regardless of what you learn here, be sure to ask other welders or your shop instructor for recommendations about where to shop and what to buy. Moreover, before you follow the shopping links here and purchase your first welding machine or outfit to use at home, keep in mind that bad things can happen to untrained welders unfamiliar with safety protocols and other rules of the trade.
Although it’s considered a low-risk occupation, welding involves a keen awareness of electrical connections, secured plates or pipes, ultraviolet and electromagnetic radiation, compressed gases, toxic vapors, fire risks, airborne particulates and other potential hazards.
It’s highly recommended that new welders take a class (or two) before starting a home shop, or train under the tutelage of a seasoned veteran.
At the same time, nowadays home hobbyists now have access to the full inventory of products on the market. Here’s a brief survey of tools and equipment:
Now that many affordable helmets are available to the non-professional welder, there’s no reason not to buy an auto-darkening model. The old “fixed-shade” helmets still have their place in certain applications, but they force you to strike an arc in utter darkness.
Not a pleasant experience for the beginner.
“Auto-darkening” means that sensors in the helmet detect the bright light of a welding arc, causing a clear window (aka the view plate) to darken like sunglasses.
Helmets have a variety of shades to prevent ultraviolet rays from damaging your corneas. And you’ll know there’s a problem when the darkening tools isn’t working properly.
Most welders have the sensation of sand in their eyes. That usually happens when you look at an arc repeatedly without your helmet on. It might also happen when using a poor-quality helmet that doesn’t respond quickly enough to the appearance of the arc.
So do yourself a favor and don’t skimp on the price. On the good models, the response time to arc striking will be listed in the specs.
Miller is generally credited with selling the most popular series of general-purpose welding helmets at a reasonable cost.
What you’re looking for, besides a fast arc sensor, is:
- A lightweight (but durable) shell
- Adjustable head straps
- A large view plate
- Reliable power source
Since your eyes can’t be replaced, it makes sense to invest in a quality helmet even as a student welder.
In this regard, the company’s Pro-Hobby series passes with high grades. While professionals will pay over $250 for a better hood, the rest of us have access to one that does almost as good a job for about $150 instead. Here are its features:
- Viewing Area – 3.85 x 1.57 in / 6.06 sq in (97 x 47 mm)
- Variable Shades #8 – 12
- Two Arc Sensors – 1/12,000 sec. lens speed
- Sensitivity and Delay Control knob – Slow to Fast
- TIG rating – 20 Amps
- (This means you can TIG weld with this helmet so long as you’re using 20 amps or more of current. Very thin or heat-sensitive metals might require you to go lower, but most TIG applications use more than 20 amps.)
- Manual-On/Auto-Off power control
- Weighs only 16 oz (454 g)
- (An essential feature as far as comfort goes.)
- AAA alkaline battery plus solar assist
- (Having both battery power and solar cell is ideal. Without power, the lens won’t darken, and solar cells need light to recharge.)
- Low battery indicator light
- Magnifying lens holder
- (It’s actually quite difficult to squeeze a glass cheater lens into the window. You can do it with lots of scotch tape or use a plastic cheater lens instead.
- Meets ANSI Z87.1-2003 (High Impact) standard
- Hard Hat Adapter accessory available
These specs don’t mention the three head adjustment knobs, two on the side and one in the back. This is a godsend for people with small skulls. It also enables you to adjust the distance from the front of the helmet to your face. The helmet also comes with an extra set of plastic lenses, which is a nice perk.
Beware of another, less expensive helmet that sometimes pops up during an online search for the Pro-Hobby. This is the Miller Classic helmet.
This helmet does not have a battery-power option and relies on a solar cell. Its view plate is also slightly smaller and the sensor response time is a tad slower (1/10,000 sec.).
Whatever helmet you buy, be sure to slap a conspicuous decal on the top of it as an anti-theft precaution for work or school. Most welders also spend an extra $20 for a more colorful variation on basic black. Follow the upper links on the right to check out the many different models for sale.
Cheater lenses, which offer basic magnification, are available for about $10 at local welding supply stores. With choices ranging from 1.0 to 3.0, these lenses are calibrated based on an object focus of about 12 inches away. (Reading glasses are calibrated for a 16-inch distance.)
As a general rule, the closer your eyes are to the work, the higher the magnification you need. If the objects you weld are father away than the distance of a book, then the cheater lens you buy should have a lesser magnification than your reading glasses.
Note: Welding regulations require you to wear safety glasses under your helmet if you don’t use prescription lenses. This way, when you flip up the helmet to chip off slag, a hot fragment won’t smack you in the eye.
As self-evident as it seems, the need for well-fitting gloves does not necessarily translate into a wide selection at your local hardware store.
For the standard welding curriculum at most schools, you’ll need a pair of heavy gloves for MIG and Stick, a lighter pair for gas welding, and even lighter, well-fitting gloves for TIG.
Most programs provide gloves, but if these don’t work well for some reason, consider buying your own gloves now, instead of after you graduate.
The most common Stick welding gloves sold are made of split cowhide and stitched with a flame-resistant material. They run from $7- $12. Unfortunately, they tend to be sold in only one size – LARGE. “Side split “gloves offer a better fit but cost twice as much.
In either case, the gauntlets on Stick gloves should be about 14 inches long. That gives you maximize protection during vertical and overhead welding.
MIG gloves are less bulky and made of better leathers, such as deerskin or pigskin. When you’re MIG welding for a fabrication job, you’ll find these gloves much easier to grip with.
TIG gloves are thinner still. This welding process typically involves less current, less heat, and the need for far more precision. Hence, TIG gloves are made of kidskin, goatskin or deerskin. Also keep in mind that TIG requires a high degree of cleaniness, so you don’t want to be dragging these puppies through any soot or grime, or using them for other types of welding.
For detailed info on the advantages of different gloves, visit the Tillman web page. The company doesn’t sell direct to the consumer, but if you type in your zip code, they’ll provide a list of nearby retailers.
For women’s and smaller sized gloves, visit the CharmAndHammer.com website.
Leather Jackets, Bibs, Sleeves & Aprons
One of the first things you learn in welding school is that bare arms are prohibited in the shop. Likewise, no shorts are allowed. Besides that, you can’t wear any synthetics, like polyester or acrylic, since those fabrics will start melting or combust on contact with a torch flame.
In TIG welding, you can sometimes get by with just a long-sleeved cotton or flannel shirt and your gloves, but most other processes require a lot more garment protection.
To make things simple, you can buy a single long sleeve jacket with a collar that folds upward to guard your neck. Since leather isn’t cheap, and you’re going to get it dirty, check local thrift shops to see if you can find an old, intact leather jacket.
If you don’t see anything there, most online welding supply stores sell protective clothing, some at reasonable prices.
Be sure to read the descriptions, though. Just because it’s called a welding jacket doesn’t mean it’s made of leather.
As durable as the material is, leather can get mighty hot in a welding shop. That’s why many professionals skip the jacket and use a welding apron, bib, or long leather sleeves in its place.
What to wear depends on the welding process and the welder’s position. And by using only what you need to get the job done, you won’t have to perspire five gallons of sweat every hour.
Finally, nothing says “I’m a welder” at a job interview like the insignia apparel of a major brand. Lincoln Electric, Miller Electric, BSX and Black Stallion are a few of the companies that sell jackets, some for work and others for leisure wear.
Next: Buying a Welding Machine