Air Fed Welding Mask & Welding Helmets

How does a welding helmet protect you?

Welding masks are essential to protect the wearer from the side-effects of welding. Flash burn, arc eye, sparks and excessive heat are all common risks in the welding process, and welding helmets and masks provide much needed protection for the welders face and eyes. Choosing the right product is critical for adequate protection of the welder's eyes and face from flash burn, arc eye, excessive heat, sparks, ultraviolet, infrared rays and welding fumes with air fed versions. Comfort is important especially when welding for long periods of time. Please see below some recent advice and guidance which we feel you will find helpful when making this decision in finding the correct welding mask for your application, and whether an air fed welding mask should be a priority.

How does an air fed welding mask work?

A welding mask is connected to a respirator unit via an air tube. The unit is clipped around the waist and powered by a battery which pulls the air through a tube into the respirator unit via a filter, preventing the welder from inhaling harmful gases. Clean air is then fed into the welders mask.

Are air fed welding masks required by law?

With immediate effect, there is a strengthening of HSE's enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

Action Required:

  • Make sure exposure to any fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically LEV)

  • Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes outdoor use

  • Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume

  • Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and tests where required

  • Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE programme. An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer

Should I buy an air fed welding mask?

In February 2019 the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) issued Bulletin Number: STSU1 – 2019. In this bulletin, they outlay the serious dangers of exposure to fumes. The decision around which welding helmet to purchase was effectively turned on it's head forever, following HSE's announcement in February 2019 that welding fume was to be considered a carcinogen and has been linked as a cause of lung cancer. Meaning that by law you must protect your workers by controlling the health risks from welding fume including mild steel and now stainless steel. Consequently, if you are looking to purchase a welding helmet, then we strongly advise that you consider an air fed version.

Should I use air fed welding masks with LEV already in place?

The HSE state in their bulletin Number STSU1 – 2019, “where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume.” In reality LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) units such as mobile fume extractors are often not adequate to remove enough fume due to access restrictions. Also, the fact that they constantly need repositioning so as to function correctly during prolonged welds or if the fabrication process involves changing location of the process. In these situations, air fed with an adequate filtration system are the most suitable form of RPE available to offer the level of protection required.

What are the disadvantages of auto-darkening welding helmets compared with fixed-darkening masks?

Fixed-darkening usually has a flip-up face shield, so you can see normally when you are not welding, and then nod your head to put the mask in place once you are ready to weld.

Auto-darkening helmets use a polarizing filter that automatically prevents harm to the welders face and eyes. This has the advantage that the wearer doesn't need to adjust their helmet for working, saving time and effort. As they don't need to be adjusted, they reduce the risk of exposure to harmful light.

The major disadvantage of a darkening welding helmet is that they are often more expensive that their fixed-darkening. It is important to choose a welding mask best suited to the welding process.

How do welding masks work?

A welding mask is a protective head shield that covers your face and eyes. It darkens your view of the weld so you can concentrate without your eyes being damaged. They are typically constructed of fibreglass or polyamide offering sufficient protection while remaining relatively lightweight.

What level of protection do I need when choosing an air fed welding helmet?

When choosing air fed it is important that the correct filtration efficiency is chosen offering you the level of protection required. The Max-Arc MK11 and MK12 PAPR units offer in excess of 99.8% filtration efficiency, making air fed a safe choice in the environment.

Which welding lens is best?

The lens - when it comes to protection, it’s the lens of the welding mask that stands between you and the harmful light and radiation produced when welding. The best welding masks has a lens that’s made from heat resistant, high quality mineral glass, with a sufficient shade rating and size. The bigger, the better is the general rule of thumb.

Shade rating - lens shade level is measured according to DIN specification, which is the German industrial standard. A welding mask with a lens shade up to DIN 8 is regarded as being suitable for low-amperage welding. Masks with a lens shade level ranging from DIN 9 up to DIN 13 are used for high amperage tasks. A welding mask with a rating of around 11 DIN should be sufficient for the majority of medium to high amperage welding.

Lens size - when comparing lens size, you ideally want to go for the biggest surface area that your budget allows. Sizes generally range from 44mm x 93mm up to 73mm x 107mm.

Lens Technology Advantages Disadvantages
Passive Relatively inexpensive. Traditional. Requires repeated lifting and lowering of the lens. Potential safety risks should there be a delay in the lens being lowered.
Auto-Darkening No intermittent lifting or lowering required. Mask remains stable potentially improving weld quality and increased comfort levels. Solar powered requires sufficient light level. Lithium battery powered will need to be replaced. Lens reaction time means there’s inevitably a marginal amount of exposure to the welding arc.

Passive Welding Lenses

A passive helmet has a dark tinted lens, typically a shade #10. When the helmet is down, you'll see through the dark lens. The lens will not switch from a light state to a darken state., it remains dark. Therefore, when inspecting the weld you'll need to remove the helmet. These helmets are generally lightweight, however because you can’t select your shade level and the constant dark tinted lens, certain welding processes and viewing your work between welds may be difficult.

Many welders still prefer a passive welding lens, although as auto-darkening welding lens technology has advanced, more and more welders can see the benefit of this more recent technology, and have moved on, especially as the price of this technology has reduced significantly.

Auto Darkening Lenses

Auto darkening helmets are available for every welding level, from the hobbyist to the professional. Fixed-shade combines the economical advantage with the benefits of auto darkening. If most of your welding involves similar material using the same welding process, a fixed-shade auto-darkening helmet may be the right choice.

Alternatively, variable shade allows you to select your preference, this allows you to adjust the shades based on different welding processes and applications. Typical weld shade ranges are between shade #8 to #13. When the helmet is down, you will see through a light lens allowing for clear visibility of the weld and surrounding area. Once the weld arc is struck, the helmet will automatically darken to the shade you have selected maximising both visibility for the welder and protection from ultraviolet and infrared rays.

When not in use, the lens will be at a shade roughly similar to sunglasses, easily usable when you're not welding, this of course removes the need to flip the helmet up and down.

Auto darkening lenses come with either fixed or variable shade. Fixed shade lenses are usually best for one kind of use (welding process, metal being welded etc.) as the shade doesn't vary. Variable shade lenses are best for varying tasks that create different degrees of brightness in the arc. The user can adjust the shade level to the application on the fly. Variable shade lenses also help cater for those with particularly high or low bright light tolerance.

Switching speed (also known as lens reaction time) is important too. Basic lenses often are rated at 1/3,600 of a second switching speed. Superior lenses and those for the professional can switch at far quicker speeds - 1/16,000 or more. A faster switching lens is more comfortable and leads to less stress & fatigue for the users' eyes. The welder will notice the difference after prolonged welds regarding dry and sore eyes.

It's generally best to find high quality products that have a response darkening time of 4/10ths of a millisecond or more. Less than a millisecond is not perceivable by the human eye and will provide the most comfort, but of course will be more costly.

Lens Shade Selection Table

Process Electrode Size Arc Current in Amperes Minimum Protective Shade No. Suggested Shade No. (Comfort)
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) Less than 3/32 (2.4)
3/32-5/32 (2.4-4.0)
5/32-1/4 (4.0-6.4)
More than 1/4 (6.4)
Less than 60
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)
Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
Less than 60
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (TIG) Less than 50
Air Carbon Arc Cutting (CAC-A) Light Heavy Less than 500
Plasma Arc Cutting (PAC) Less than 20
Plasma Arc Welding (PAW) Less than 20

Welding lens functional features

  • Auto-darkening filter technology (ADF)
  • Flip-up lens
  • Grinding function
  • Storage bag
  • Low battery indicator
  • Adjustable sensitivity
  • Extra lenses supplied
  • Flash decay time control
  • A lens which offers the maximum level of UV and IR protection
  • Lengthy warranty – some manufacturer’s offer lifetime warranty
  • Arc sensors (2 min/4 max)

Welding lens comfort features

  • Forehead cushion
  • Adjustable headband – no-slip fit
  • Ergonomic adjustable shade and sensitivity knob/dial
  • Removable & machine-washable sweatband
  • Lightweight
  • Magnification lenses for users who normally wear glasses and/or adjustable headband rack/pinion adjustment

Number of sensors

The number of sensors ranges from two for a hobby level helmet to four for an industrial grade helmet. More sensors mean better coverage, especially for out-of-position welding where a sensor could be obstructed. Three sensors may be sufficient for production work or when you have a clear line of sight to your work. Four is optimal for most fabrication and out-of-position work.


Determines the amount of light required to darken the welding filter. Most auto-darkening masks allow the welder to select how sensitive to light the welding helmet is.

Viewing area

A welding helmet can come in a multitude of viewing areas. A larger viewing area provides more visibility to the weld and weld area while a smaller viewing area provides a more focused view. For larger viewing areas, the weight of the helmet may be a consideration.

Once you have selected your welding helmet remember to always wear protective clothing appropriate for your welding application. Always wear your safety glasses under the welding helmet. For consistent visibility of the weld, ensure the outer cover lens of the welding helmet is free from slag and spatter.

If welding is your career, take the time to find the helmet that's right for you. While it may be tempting to buy the least expensive helmet, taking the time to explore all of your options can have long-term benefits.

Dangers of welding mild steel?

The fumes produce manganese can cause neurological damage that leads to Parkinson’s Disease as well as cancer.

Which gases are produced when welding?

Ozone, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Auto darkening welding helmets – top 10 factors to consider

  • Helmet weight and comfort
  • Viewing area
  • Optical class
  • Arc sensors
  • Helmet power source
  • Sensitivity control
  • Lens shade options
  • Lens reaction time
  • Personalisation
  • Safety standards
  • Price

Importance of comfort when wearing a welding helmet?

You may not notice the weight of a helmet after the first use, although over time or prolonged use, it can potentially strain the neck and become uncomfortable and even painful, lighter helmet designs with padding that fit well reduce the chance of injury. You’re much more likely to be happy when welding if you’re comfortable.

Is FFP3 suitable for welding?

Yes, ensure the respirator complies to regulations and it should have an activated carbon layer filter as this protects against poisonous gases and fumes produced when welding.

Do welding helmets need batteries?

Most auto darkening welding helmets require batteries for the auto darkening feature.

Welding Helmet Features

Lightweight is always preferable, especially for long periods of use. High quality welding helmets generally utilise low weight materials that are usually stronger too.

A helmet featuring a sensor bar is also very useful. With this feature, it will limit the field of response so the helmet will not be triggered by those in close proximity, this feature is not necessarily needed if the user is in a single welding bay or by themselves. However, for large workshops, it is heavily recommended.

A clear spatter shield over the optics provides the best optical clarity so you can see clearly, protecting the helmet from damage. In addition, a helmet that is fully adjustable is usually a good idea. This means the user can adjust how close the helmet is to the users face, which is when wearing glasses.

Auto-darkening often have the ability to adjust how much brightness will trigger the lens to darken in response. Sensitivity control is useful when welding at low amperages such as with TIG, when the arc isn't as bright as it is with other welding processes. It is best to consider your needs as a user and whether you require this.

Always search for a reputable manufacturer that offers a warranty and replacement parts. We offer reliable and well-known brands such as Miller, ESAB, 3M Speedglas, Balder, Fronius as well as free expert technical support so you get the perfect welding mask for your needs. By opening an account you will gain access to live stock levels on our website for important spare parts, lenses, and so on. We also offer UK next day delivery, international shipping and tracking for all orders. Utilise 20+ years of experience by calling us free on 0800 975 9710.

Please note that all welding helmets can be damaged with improper use. Cracks can compromise protection from harmful rays, thus, it helps to purchase from a quality manufacturer.

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Company Registration: 07988136 Registered Office: Olympic House, Collett, Southmead Park, Didcot, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, OX11 7WB


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