Once you see the light and realize the importance of quality, then you can weigh the "variables"--in shading and control features. Obviously, not all auto-darkening helmets are created the same, as not everyone welds the same, let alone with the same type of machine. Therefore, you have to consider your own personal needs when selecting the range of shade as well as the switching speed, which is the time it takes the lens to go from light to dark. Typically, the faster the better--but with increased speed comes increased price. For an individual who welds regularly on a daily basis, it pays to have a helmet with a 1/20,000-second reaction time; an occasional welder may not require that level of sensitivity, thus a standard 1/16,000-second switching speed is sufficient (and more affordable). On top of reaction time, you'll also want to make sure the lens darkens accordingly with the type of welding you perform--as a general rule, the more amperage produced, the more shading that's required. So while most helmets filter from #9 (light) up to #12 (darkest) with a #3 or #4 natural light shade, you may need a higher adjustment level, in which case you'll need one that is capable of darkening to #13 (or higher, which isn't common though). For TIG applications, you'll need a suitable low-amperage capability. Additionally, many newer helmets have different work mode options that allow the user to perform even more tasks than just welding.

Finally, after considering the darkening aspects make sure the helmet you choose is fairly easy to use. Most intermediate-level models feature internal controls (meaning the helmet must be removed to adjust levels of darkness, sensitivity, and delay, if applicable), but externally mounted controls are available. Power-wise, along with having solar-assist, a replaceable battery is preferred, as the internal/non-replaceable batteries can be an issue, especially when they run low and you're left relying on the sun to recharge (that is if you're welding on a sunny day to begin with!). Lens replacement is unavoidable, so it's nice to know whether or not they're available when the time comes, if not included with the helmet to begin with. Lastly, as previously mentioned, take into consideration the particular weight of a helmet--if it feels a little heavy at first, just imagine how much heavier it'll be after you've been welding for any decent length of time. A mere pound might seem insignificant initially, but it's better if that pound's in the minus category rather than the plus. However, quality headgear with ample padding will carry some of that load, but ultimately, it's your neck muscles that will truly benefit from a lighter weight helmet.

Between HTP, Hobart, Miller, and Lincoln, we've compiled a variety of welding helmet options for you to choose from. Along with the garden-variety "cheapies" we've warned you about, there are also higher-end helmets currently available--but for those who weld at that level, you shouldn't need our advice in the first place!

Miller Electric | www.millerwelds.com

Miller's Performance Series helmets are perfect for the hobbyist welder--and priced accordingly. Featuring the same shade/filtering characteristics as the Digital Elites, these come with a standard-size lens (with external-replacement cover plates) and are available in a variety of styles--shown is the Fireball model. Comes with 2-year warranty.