The safety equipment needed for even a home-based metalworking shop is not expensive. It can be VERY expensive if you try to do without it though!
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Welding Safety Equipment - 1

Keeping hot stuff off of your hot stuff!

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted – 2-7-2011

One of the certainties in life is that welding creates small (and some not so small) airborne lumps of molten metal that will burn whatever part of your body on which they land. It is eerily common for the supposedly random flight path of these molten missiles take tend to terminate on the worst possible places on your body. If you’ve ever watched a still-molten BB-sized piece of steel burn through the denim and drop inside your jeans you may have realized that the time for bravado just ended and the search for legitimate protection is now urgent.

In addition to the pure heat of welding and related sparks we also have to be aware of the intense light produced by all forms of arc welding. The intensity of the arc-generated light is dangerous when not viewed through the purpose-designed shaded lenses of welding helmets. That includes unsuspecting people within eyesight who can be “flashed” just as hard as the welder can. The light from arc welding also contains rays with an intensity that makes them capable of producing serious “sunburn” type injuries on unprotected skin.

Controlling the Light

Containing the light generated by welding in a home-based or commercial shop is legally smart as well as just good public relations. For some creating this protection can be as easy as closing the door or covering windows while welding. It is also common to create an area within a shop space to isolate the harsh welding rays from other workers or visitors in that same space. In these cases welding curtains can be a simple, cheap and effective at preventing flash-related injuries as well as related legal issues.

Welding Curtains

Welding curtains are available in all sorts of configurations including the semi-clear one that I use. It cost me less than $40 but works well. It lets lots of light in (left) but when viewed from the outside (right) tames the harshness of the arc to safe levels.
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Welding curtains are available in an array of colors and sizes as well as custom-made systems that let you design the protection around your welding space. Welding curtains are specially tinted to reduce the harsh glare created by welding to safer levels yet the semi-transparency allows people outside to see that you are welding so they do not enter the area unprotected.

You can buy welding curtains with frames so all you have to do is set them up or you can build your own support fixtures to suit your shop needs. Welding curtains usually come with hemmed edges that sport grommets spaced around the edges so that you can hang them with whatever fasteners fit your situation. This is the style of welding curtain that I use across my garage/shop door. The welding curtain is about 2-feet wider than the door opening which eliminates gaps at the sides that could allow outside people to be flashed. I installed a few large screw eyes above the door opening and use spring-loaded clips to hang the welding curtain across the door. This is a very simple, easy-to-use system that keeps everyone outside of my shop safe.

You can also buy welding curtains in strip form like those hanging strip “doors” on loading docks. This strip type curtain allows people to come right through the strips with the protection automatically closing behind them. The strip versions are also transparent enough so that people can readily see that you are welding before they enter.

The welding curtain in this story is 6-ft by 10-foot and cost a little under $40.00. (2-2-2011)

Auto-Shade Helmets

Auto-Shading helmets (left) are the norm now and do a remarkable job of letting you see the work with the hemet down and then going to the dark shade in thousandths of a second when the arc is struck! Inside better quality helmets (right) are controls for how fast it goes dark how sensitive and how dark it gets. You can tune these helmets to suit your needs and preferences.,
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Since the electronic wizardry of the auto-shade helmets flashed upon the welding world the old flip-down or hand-held single state shields have largely fallen by the wayside. The auto-shade helmets let the welder see the work in front of them before and after striking an arc. When the arc begins the auto-shade lens changes to the darker state in thousandths of a second. It does this so quickly that the eye does not see or get flashed by the arc. When the arc stops, the auto-shade returns to its “off” state and the welder can again see the work without lifting the helmet. This auto-shade system not only means that welders accidentally flash themselves less but that they are more accurate because they can see where their stick or gun is positioned to initiate the arc exactly where they want.

The better auto-shade helmets like this Hobart Hood are adjustable in terms of how quickly they return to the “Off” state and how dark they go when the arc is started. This allows the welder to tweak the lens performance to fit their work and preference. I have found that I can adjust the dark state on my Hobart Hood so that I can see more or the area around the arc itself which makes keeping the weld where I need it much easier.

Another admittedly less safety-oriented attraction of modern welding helmets is the wild graphics manufacturers are applying. In the old days welding helmets often had unusual saying scrawled on them by the user but modern technology has unleashed the artistic style of helmet designers that make a necessary piece of safety equipment better looking.

The Hobart Hood used in this story cost $159.99 (9-9-2010).

A good pair of leather glove designed for welding, like these from Lincoln (left) offer lots of protection yet allow you to manipulate your welding tools and equipment. The leather apron (right) does protect you when standing but offers even more lap-saving protection when welding in a seated position.
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Gloves

There is no shortage of people making leather gloves but not all have features we need for welding. Leather itself offers good protection from the heat welding generates, to a point. If we forget just how hot we are making things and grab them anyway leather will delay the onset of pain but not protect you from it for very long at all.

The sparks virtually all forms of welding create can burn the stitching on gloves not meant to be used in the welding environment. I have a pair of welding gloves sold by Lincoln and they added a couple things such as heat resistant Kevlar stitching and an inner liner that breathes. They also add a second layer of leather across the palm where we grab or hold things most.

Welding gloves also have an extended cuff that overlaps the long sleeve shirt or leather arm coverings that you should be wearing. That overlap of protection layers is important to help keep bits of molten metal from finding their way inside a glove or sleeve.

While protection is the primary idea we still need to maintain a good level of dexterity to manipulate MIG/TIG guns, electrode holders and rods. The better leather gloves fit better and with a bit of use break in so that picking things up or operating our welding equipment is much easier without having to take one or both gloves off repeatedly.

The welding gloves in this story are from Lincoln Welding and cost under $15.00. (2-2-2011)

Welding blankets can help protect objects near to your welding position. These work great for covering other machines and such but are not a great idea for covering your lap because so many contain fiberglass.....
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Aprons

It shouldn’t take long after you start welding to realize that some major protection for the front or your body would be an exceptionally good idea. If you do any welding in a sitting position you are no doubt way more certain of this need than someone who stands while welding. The human lap makes a great landing zone for hot bits of metal launched by welding – if you can stand the pain.

Once again leather is the most effective and cost effective choice. There are a bunch of apron styles and lengths available so finding one to fit your needs should not be an issue. I opted for a 48”-long leather apron because I do roughly equal amounts of welding standing and sitting.

While apron designs are understandably similar manufacturers do add their own touch in terms of pockets, straps and other features that they think you want. For me the primary concern is keeping non-flammable leather between my heat-fearing body and the low speed projectiles created by welding.

The leather apron in these photos is 48"-long and cost about $38.00 (3-2011)

Welding Blanket

Most of us would like to be able to do our welding in a totally non-flammable environment but that just is not possible in many shop settings, particularly home-based shops that share space with other family needs. A good welding blanket can make working in your space much safer.

Video Tutor

Usually made from treated fabrics, fiberglass and others a good welding blanket resists heat very well. It also protects other equipment and surfaces near where you weld form the sparks that could cause them damage or ignite flammable materials.

Welding blankets come in a variety of sizes so you can build the protection that you need in your shop. Most welding blankets come with hemmed borders and grommets that make it very easy to hang or secure them in the needed position. Or you can do as I often do and just drape the welding blanket over whatever is next to where I am welding.

Just a welding blanket usage warning. Before I got my leather apron I laid my welding blanket across my lap after a few near misses with molten bb’s and body parts that I consider important. The fact that the welding blanket contained fiberglass didn’t sink in until later that night when I felt like the blanket was still rubbing on my legs. And that aggravating sensation continued that for another day before it went away. Get a leather welding apron and leave the welding blanket for covering machines and other inanimate things.

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